The last time Fresno Pacific looked for a volleyball coach, Tracy Ainger-Schulte gave it some thought but felt she needed to stay at Fresno City College.
Five years after saying the timing wasn’t right, Ainger-Schulte has decided to return where she flourished as a player. On Tuesday, Fresno Pacific announced the hiring of the ex-Sunbird and Fresno Athletic Hall of Famer as the sixth coach in program history.
Ainger-Schulte hopes to reinvigorate a program that dominated for years at the NAIA level, winning six national championships, including four in a row under Dennis Janzen, before Kelly Winter took over and shepherded the team’s move to NCAA Division II. Winter stepped down in July to take a teaching job at Reedley College, remaining on the staff while assistant Matt Terra took over on an interim basis for the 2015 season.
The last couple of weeks of how a lot of things transpired and unfolded. I just felt like God was opening a door and calling to me.
Tracy Ainger-Schulte on being named the sixth coach in the 34-year history of Fresno Pacific volleyball
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“The last couple of weeks of how a lot of things transpired and unfolded,” Ainger-Schulte said, “I just felt like God was opening a door and calling to me. I was just kind of going with it and seeing how it was going to unfold and develop. It just seemed to be the right time and right place. A few weeks ago I wouldn’t have known that. I felt like it was out of my hands and I was just going where my heart and God was leading me to. I thought the hiring process would’ve been done and they would’ve hired their candidate.”
Ainger-Schulte was an assistant at Fresno Pacific from 2003 to 2005, with the 2003 team winning the NAIA title.
As a player from 1994 to 1996, she led the Sunbirds to three straight conference titles and two NAIA final fours, and was a three-time first team All-American and the 1996 NAIA National Player of the Year.
Ainger-Schulte was in the Class of 2010 for the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame, which called her “quite possibly the best all-around female athlete in Fresno County history” including her basketball, volleyball and tennis careers at Reedley High and then-Kings River Community College.
She was named to the NAIA Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Fresno Pacific Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009. Her No. 11 jersey is the only number in Fresno Pacific athletics history to be retired.
We wanted someone who truly cares about this place and has the credentials of a volleyball coach and we felt she was the best fit.
Fresno Pacific athletic director Aaron Henderson
“It’s definitely been a long process of once the season finished from the time we opened up the job to where we are today,” said Aaron Henderson, a first-year AD making his initial coaching hire. “But I think as a committee we said we would rather wait to find the right person and have the right person come along than to hurry up and just name someone because the (women) needed a head coach. We’re trying to hire someone for the long term.
“We wanted someone who truly cares about this place and has the credentials of a great volleyball coach and we felt she was the best fit. I think there are other people who could’ve done the job well, but we felt she was the best fit and we’re excited to have her come back to FPU.”
Fresno Pacific has an all-time record of 985-255 in 34 seasons, with its six national championships and 17 conference titles. But last season, the Sunbirds went 13-12 and finished fifth in the Pacific West Conference.
Most of the glory years came during the 26-year run of Janzen, who stepped aside to focus on his duties as athletic director and was replaced by Winter – also a highly decorated Sunbirds All-American and assistant.
The Sunbirds, after being ranked as high as No. 10 nationally in their first season at NCAA Division II in 2012, have averaged a fifth-place conference finish over the past three seasons.
Ainger-Schulte spent the past nine seasons at state community college power Fresno City, winning conference titles each year and making two state final four appearances. The Rams were 205-45 overall and 124-2 in Central Valley Conference matches, including a league record 62 straight.
Credit goes to her past players at Fresno City, she said, for helping her become the coach she is today.
2,618 Digs by Tracy Ainger-Schulte in her three-year career at Fresno Pacific, No. 1 all-time
“It feels right for me in this instance, that five years difference from when this opened up before to where I am now,” Ainger-Schulte said. “The experiences that I’ve had and everything I’ve learned and gained as a coach and the relationships I fostered with my athletes for five more years … that’s been a huge part in all of that. It was so worth it, I wouldn’t go back and change anything I’ve done up to this point.
“You talk about winning programs, I guess that’s all good and well. But what I’m going to miss more are the connections I’ve had with my players and the alumni base we’ve built, and the parents and special people that come to be a part of what I feel like we have created and the culture we’ve established here in nine years. That’s the hardest thing to let go of.”