TORRINGTON – Dante Geoffrey has been in town a month now and is already starting to feel at home.
In December, Geoffrey accepted the offer to become only the third head coach in Eastern Wyoming College volleyball history but wasn’t able to move to town until March.
Geoffrey is no stranger to smaller communities, having spent time in Powell and Lamar, Colo. which has made the transition easier.
“The EWC community, the Torrington community has been great,” he said. “Anytime I’ve had a question, it has not been hard to find someone with a thoughtful, kind answer. It was easy to find a place to live. It was easy to get my bearings, as far as where do I go for what here on campus.”
One of the things which caught his attention in the early going is the area’s desire to see the college succeed.
“The campus and the community is very much a place that wants this athletic department to succeed and is willing to do its part as a community,” Geoffrey said. “I can feel that after being here only three or four weeks.”
Getting into coaching
Geoffrey has a background in volleyball, having played the sport in high school and college, but after his college days, he ended up in Powell working for the Powell Tribune as the paper’s sports editor.
During his time at the Tribune, Geoffrey became friends with Shaun Pohlman, who was the head coach at Northwest College at the time.
After grinding many hours in Pohlman’s office, a need arose for an assistant coach and Pohlman did one of the things he does well – recruit.
“He knew I had a background in volleyball,” Geoffrey said. “I had played in high school and played a little in college. He needed an assistant, and he asked me about it.”
It was something he initially laughed off because it was a part-time position and presented a conflict of interest with his position at the paper.
“He was persistent,” Geoffrey said. “He proved why he is a good recruiter. He eventually convinced me to give it a go because it was something I might enjoy.”
Pohlman was correct, but Geoffrey quickly learned coaching is much more complicated than he imagined.
“I was starting with a basic knowledge of the sport, but nothing on the coaching side and how much goes into it,” Geoffrey said. “It’s a much deeper profession than I knew from outside covering sports. That gave me a great perspective. These coaches are going through so much and making decisions that we never know about behind the scenes. It gave me a greater appreciation for coaching.”
After two seasons at Northwest, where Geoffrey helped the Lady Trappers to two Region IX North championships, making back-to-back Final Four appearances at the NJCAA National Tournament, he decided he wanted to go full time into coaching.
Geoffrey ultimately ended up at Lamar Community College, a place which allowed him to get his foot in the door as a head coach at the two-year level.
“It was a program that allowed me to try some things,” he said. “They allowed me to fail and get better. That’s something you need when you start. It was a great blessing and a big, big help.”
In three seasons at Lamar, Geoffrey didn’t have a losing season and saw the program take positive steps which it had never seen.
“Some people might say we over achieved at Lamar when you look at that program’s history,” Geoffrey said. “It was never at the top of Region IX South, but we were able to do some things and think outside of the box that helped us narrow that gap between what was the cellar-dweller and the top teams in that conference”
Along the way, his teams had an NJCAA National Player of the Week, athletes who finished in the top 10 in statistical leaderboards and beat a ranked opponent for the first time in program history.
Following the 18-14 season in 2018, Geoffrey decided it was time to take the next step in his career.
“I think we can compete at a higher level at Eastern Wyoming,” Geoffrey said. “I’m a very competitive person, and that is something I was looking for.”
He knew there was a ceiling with what could be accomplished at Lamar and feels that ceiling is much higher at EWC, considering the history of success for the Lady Lancer volleyball program.
Some of the things he learned in Colorado in his first stint as a head coach, he hopes can apply to EWC and help turn the program back around.
“I’m hoping to apply some of the same tactics and philosophies to this program,” Geoffrey said.
It starts with developing players to their full protentional, creating a strong team atmosphere so nobody feels like they are forgotten or left out or here just to fill a roster spot, focusing on the process and controlling what you can control.
“Process over outcome. Process over results,” Geoffrey said. “We want to focus on the little things and trust if we do enough of the little things in the right way, the outcome will take care of itself.
Geoffrey wants the community to see his program developing his players for the future.
“Whether you are the star, go-to player or a role player for a couple years, we have your best interest in mind. We want to develop you for your future,” he said. “We can get that higher level of talent here. Then we can develop that.”
That’s one of the reasons why he believes the ceiling is higher at Eastern Wyoming than at Lamar.
“We are lucky here at Eastern where we can fill a roster 1-14 with very talented players,” Geoffrey said. “Players 12, 13, 14 might not play a ton, but they are going to have a huge impact on our practices, on getting quality reps for everyone.”
Despite not arriving in Torrington until March, Geoffrey has been hard at work shaping next season roster.
He got started on that process back in December shortly after taking the job.
“So far, it’s going well,” Geoffrey said. “We’ve got the roster just about half complete.”
There are still ongoing conversations with many players from the US and overseas as recruiting is continuing.
“I’m very confident with how the roster is going to turn out,” Geoffrey said. “There is still some work to do, of course.”
He praised the college for its efforts in the recruiting process to bring the best possible student-athletes to the campus.
“It goes back to the opportunity that Eastern provides. Every recruit that has come on campus on their visit has been very impressed and remarked about how well they’ve been treated,” Geoffrey said. “(EWC) has that personal touch where you are going to know the person in admissions by first name basis or the administrative assistant in the business office by first name basis.
“The experience for recruits on campus has been very, very positive,” Geoffrey said. “That’s a huge help. Obviously, the burden is on me to identify the right talent, to identify the right character that we want on this team. Once I get them on campus, it’s a great team effort and really nice to have that support.”
Since arriving on campus a month ago, he has already been hard at work with a squad who only won four games a year ago.
“Hats off to the players. They have been so open and accepting of change. I know it’s not easy. When your boss changes, it can be scary. All the players here – freshmen or sophomores – have been open to new coaching and just excited to see a different perspective,” Geoffrey said. “I’m really appreciate that from them. They would have had every right to say that’s not my coach, this isn’t who recruited me here and I’m going to tune him out. Every practice has been high energy, high effort.”
He’s used the time for evaluation and just getting to know his new squad.
“We are trying to figure out where everyone is and how that will try to fit where this program is going next year and beyond,” Geoffrey said.
The Lady Lancers won’t be attending any spring tournaments but will continue to get reps in the Verl Petsch Jr. Activities Center.
“I don’t know, in this transition, how beneficial it would be to me, the program and the players,” Geoffrey said. “We are certainly going to get plenty of reps and plenty of touches in this gym in the spring. Yes, it’s different when it’s not six on six, but at the same time, with what I feel like I need to extract out of this spring, it wouldn’t be super beneficial.”
Looking ahead past spring and into the 2019 and beyond, Geoffrey is looking forward to the challenge of returning the Lady Lancer program to their winning ways.
“It’s a cliché, but I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. I know there were other high-level candidates,” Geoffrey said. “This program, at the two-year level, it’s a gem of a school and an athletic department to be working for especially with the volleyball program’s history of success and try to get it back to that level and recapture that glory. It’s exciting and challenging. It’s something, as a coach, that will push me and to strive for.”