High School Sports

Former Hancock coach sees 'great opportunity' with Gulfport volleyball

JAMES EDWARD BATES/SUN HERALDDavid Irwin
JAMES EDWARD BATES/SUN HERALDDavid Irwin

The ultimate goal between the two programs is clearly the same. One program has been to the mountain top. The other hopes to get there soon.

More than a decade ago David Irwin built Hancock's volleyball program from practically nothing into a perennial contender.

Now he's looking to do the same thing as Gulfport's new coach.

"I told them the first time we met the goal is to win a state championship," Irwin said, of the first GHS team meeting. "That needs to be where we're working toward."

Irwin was approved by the Gulfport School Board last month after long-time coach Shelley Williams resigned from her post.

At Hancock, Irwin won seven division titles, the Class III state championship in 2010 and was a three-time runner-up in 2009, '13 and '14.

After a decade leading the Lady Hawks, Irwin stepped down following the 2014 season due to a "parting of ways," and sat out a year. He said he was unsure if he wanted to get back into coaching, but the opportunity at Gulfport seemed too good to pass up.

"I believe there is (potential)," he said. "I believe that the players are there. The commitment has to be there. It's one thing to have players, but it takes a lot of commitment these days.

"Ten years ago it was a little easier (to win big), but everyone has gotten so much better that you have to work at it all the time."

Gulfport athletics director Bryan Caldwell said the school district identified Irwin very early in the coaching search.

"We're very excited to have David Irwin join our athletics department," Caldwell said. "He's a great teacher of the game and a proven winner. We feel like he can take us to a championship level."

To achieve sustained success, Irwin said they'll need to start at the youth levels and build toward the high school ranks.

"The program is going to be 7th through 12th grade," he said. "The sooner we can get to the elementary kids and get them involved in leagues and clubs and make volleyball an exciting and important thing, the better we'll be.

"There's no question about that. It starts at the youth level and the girls have to commit to being involved in volleyball year-round. That's how we'll start to get better."

Irwin will place an increased importance on playing hard and fundamentally sound on the practice court. Once good habits are developed, the Lady Admirals will begin to see results.

"For volleyball that's really important," Irwin said. "You have to be able to do the little things. That's what separates the great teams from everyone else."

In his final six seasons at Hancock (2009-2014), Irwin's teams eclipsed 30 wins three times and won at least 22 matches annually. He takes over a program that won 17 matches in 2014 but 11 in 2015.

Asked about the 2016 season's prospects, Irwin reiterated: "Gulfport has a great opportunity. We'll see in the next couple of years."

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