The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi volleyball program is gaining new fans everyday as over 220 kids participated in the recently completed summer camps put on by the Islanders and head coach Tony Graystone. With a full year under his belt as the leader of the program, Graystone and his staff increased the attendance to this year's camps by over 35% after having just over 160 kids last year.
The increase is due to several factors, the most important being the coaching staff building relationships in the region after coming to the Coastal Bend from West Texas A&M in March of 2009. Graystone and his coaching staff have worked hard to become one of the best in the nation while at WTAMU and brought their determined attitude to the region.
"I think the biggest thing is that we have been trying to reach out to the local coaches, make sure we are accessible and build good relationships," said Graystone. "We did a good coaching clinic in January that helped to get everybody knowing each other and getting local coaches more comfortable sending their players to us.
"That's been a big priority, just getting out, meeting everybody and letting them know what we are all about."
Assistant coaches Kendra Potts and Rachel Altman have been a big part of the process, helping get the word out to players in the state.
"We haven't done a ton of advertising, we've been going off of our website and a lot of email," said Graystone. "That has been the biggest thing Kendra has been doing, a lot of emails, getting the word out that way and then every chance we get to talk face-to-face with a parent of coach we do that.
"The most amazing part of this increase is that we haven't been out just pounding it every day, we have been working with our database and doing it that way."
The building of the local relationships has helped in the younger age groups while their name recognition around the state has helped for the high school camp.
"I don't know what the breakdown is exactly but I can tell you that especially with the middle school and the position camps, those numbers have been primarily local players," said Graystone. "With the high school camp we get a little more diversity, the high school camp is the one that grew the most this year, it is up about 60% from last year."
The natural attraction of the Island University is also one of the selling points that the coaches use to bring in campers from around the state.
"We have a lot of area kids, but also a lot of kids from San Antonio, Austin and Houston area," said Graystone. "Being on the coast and the way we formatted the camp gives the out-of-town kids a good reason for their families to come with them and make it like a little mini-vacation while they are down here.
"A lot of kids are coming in because they want to be considered to play here and get a good look while also having a good camp and enjoying some time in south Texas. Whatever the reason, we are happy to have them and it's been really nice."
The time spent on campus is also a bonus for the attendees as they get to experience the surroundings in the area and see what would be in store for them if they choose to attend A&M-Corpus Christi.
"A lot of the first-time campers, especially the high school girls, have not been on the campus before so they are always impressed with the campus and surroundings," said Graystone. "They get to meet the players and coaches and get a relationship going that way so it really builds that interest in playing at the next level and helping us get to know them."
As the summer camps wrap up, the coaching staff will be looking forward to getting new faces on campus as players report on Aug. 6 to begin preseason preparation. With several signees attending the camps, the Islander coaches have already had a chance to see the future of the program.
"The format has been pretty friendly to bring in out-of-town players, it's been a really good two weeks, we were happy to see everybody here," said Graystone. "It gets the coaches excited about kicking off our season next month."