After working as an assistant in 2002, Gary Larkin was named Head Coach of the HCC Volleyball team, the Lady Hawks, in 2003. Larkin is also a full-time instructor of writing and English literature at HCC. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Boston College, where he was a student athlete in the sport of lacrosse, and an M.A. in creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. When Gary and I talked, our conversation revolved around three major points: (1) his roles as teacher and coach; (2) his volleyball program; and (3) his athletes, the Lady Hawks.
MC: Gary, you teach in a classroom and coach on the volleyball court. How are these roles similar and/or different?
GL: Both involve teaching. To be an effective teacher and coach it comes down to communication. As a coach I teach physical skills and as a teacher it is academic skills. You need to break down skills so that students and players retain those skills. Good communicators are good coaches and teachers.
MC: How would you compare your first season as coach to the 2011 season?
GL: Our team had a successful season the first season that I was head coach. However, the program was not as successful in terms of my finding a good balance between finding local students to recruit and students from farther away. Also, there were certain obstacles. As a Division I junior college, we may award tuition, books, housing, and meal stipends. We are not as heavily funded as the other top 20 teams. We had to find ways to lure high quality recruits. We also had to figure out what kinds of students would be successful in a two-year community college and then target them. We did go to State [championship] that first season but there were a lot of ups and downs. Florida is more competitive now. There are four to six strong teams. Now we are competitive on a yearly basis. We’ve been to State in 2006 through 2009 and again in 2011. One more game win last year would have taken us to Nationals.
MC: What are your goals for next year?
GL: The goals are to win State and the next goal would be to go to Nationals. Two teams from Florida go to Nationals. We are missed when we are not there. We have good recruits coming up. The freshman class is good but unproven. We have two returning middle blockers and an opposite hitter. The other positions are wide open. This is not uncommon. Some years we may have good freshmen that are able to start for two years, and we may be higher up in the polls. Other years we have to start over, but we're used to it. This is our job in junior college.
We have a lot of support and we worked hard from the administration on down to the managers which makes the victories special.
MC: Is there anything in particular that you would like to highlight about the program, your roles as faculty and coach, or your players?
GL: The program is a year-long commitment. We have many activities in the off-season. The players train year round. They volunteer at the Academy Prep Center in Ybor. Student athletes do community service there. They help in physical education classes and coach youth volleyball and referee. This helps them become involved in the community.
We have scrimmages with other teams in the off-season. We’ve scrimmaged against USF, UT, and St. Leo. Years ago, these four-year schools didn’t schedule us but now we are useful to them and they want to scrimmage us. That speaks to how well the team has developed.
The volleyball program helped me feel closer to the students and the community. It can be hard to develop relationships during the academic year when you are teaching five classes each semester. You are lucky if a student takes you for a required course and an elective you may teach. Being involved with the volleyball program has helped me to develop relationships with students. They may be in my classes or I see them training in the weight room. Coaching has also given me opportunities to connect with other departments in HCC like the Student Government Association. My colleagues and the administration have been very supportive.
During our conversation, it became very clear to me why the Lady Hawks have been so successful. As Coach Larkin talked about the program and the team, I could see pride beaming on his face. Team accolades include: 2009 – Gulf District Champions, Suncoast Conference Champions, NJCAA Championships, 7th in Nation; 2008 – Gulf District Champions, Suncoast Conference Champions, NJCAA Championships, 8th in Nation; 2007 – Gulf District Champions, NJCAA Championships, 11th in Nation; and 2006 – FCCAA State Champions, Gulf District Champions, NJCAA Championships, 11th in Nation
Article Written By: Michelle Carlino.