Rehr: Houston’s turnaround season just a start
For the Cougars, the 2019 season was a strong and quick turnaround for a program that had been underachieving for years.
Houston made it the American Athletic Conference tournament and also qualified for the National Invitational Volleyball Championship, which was the first postseason tournament the Cougars had qualified for since 2000.
These accomplishments are the reason first-year head coach David Rehr was named the AAC Coach of the Year.
“I’m honored, the biggest part of being honored is the fact that it came as a vote from the other coaches, so that means the respect of the league’s there,” Rehr said on the award, however, he is not satisfied with an individual award. “I would trade it in for a conference tournament win.”
Houston finished 2019 with a 10-6 record against the American Athletic Conference, which was six more wins and eight fewer losses than 2018’s 4-14 conference record, and Rehr believes that the success this team reached is only the beginning.
“This coaching staff hates to lose,” Rehr said on the mentality he preached to the team. “We hate to lose. Even losing to, at the time No. 5 Baylor, we lost to them in four sets… but it was something that we didn’t enjoy — losing.”
For a season that saw a lot of success under Rehr in his first year as head coach, the team faced a great deal of adversity in the beginning.
“Definitely an adventure for sure,” Rehr said on summarizing the year. “Beginning the season 0-4 kind of grounded the team and grounded me a little bit. We knew it was going to be a tough start just coming into our opening tournament at home.”
Houston started the season with a tournament at Fertitta Center, which saw the team face off against tough competition in Arizona State, LSU and UT-Arlington all within a span of two days.
Houston lost every game.
Much like the team did the entire season, the Cougars bounced back from a rocky start by winning five games in a row, which included sweeping the UTSA Invitational. However, the team ran into another wall when they traveled to Baylor to play in yet another tournament.
Houston lost every game in Waco that weekend, but they had no time to reflect as they hit the road the next weekend for another tournament, this time in Lubbock.
“Going to Texas Tech, it was the last straw for us as far as a coaching staff,” Rehr said. “We weren’t doing the little things that we felt we needed to do right, and we weren’t playing up to our potential.”
For Rehr, the struggles at the beginning of the year were due to a lack of practice time.
“On Monday we had to get ready for Tuesday’s game, so you’re not really practicing,” Rehr said. “It was more like prepping routine for Tuesday and then on Wednesday, you practice to get ready for Friday’s game because Thursday you’re traveling, so you’re always just (trying to) stay ahead of the curve versus trying to work on yourself.”
Once the weekend tournaments that occasionally sandwiched a standalone weekday game ended, the team was able to practice, and they began to see a turnaround.
“The remarkable part that happened to us was, and you’ll see the run that happened was right after conference play started, there were no more midweek games.” Rehr said. “I think that started to make us better.”
The run that Rehr alluded to was the seven-game winning streak the Cougars opened conference play with, which helped boost the team into the conference tournament.
“We excelled expectations,” Rehr said. “We exceeded expectations, but it was something that was a goal for the coaching staff before we came into it.”
The Tampa, Florida native believes that setting goals before the start of conference play played a huge role in the success the team achieved.
“If you don’t put your goals down to be high then you’re just settling and we wanted to teach this group not to settle,” Rehr said.
Despite the new coaching staff, the players themselves were the biggest part of the program’s turnaround.
“I can’t even quantify how much this team did not like to quit,” Rehr said. “They (did not quit) at all because how many times were we down, how many times did we play sets to five, how many times were we down 0-2 and still came back and won.”
With his first season in the rearview mirror, Rehr has new and more ambitious goals for the program going forward.
“It’s not about getting back to the conference tournament,” Rehr said. “If you don’t start talking about winning the whole thing, if you don’t talk about the NCAA tournament, then what are you playing for?
“It’s about trying to win championships because that’s what Houston is supposed to be about.”