David Rehr reflects on his ‘fun, nerve-wracking’ first season, heightens expectations for second year
When head volleyball coach David Rehr joined the Cougars on March 27, 2019, the program’s expectations were almost nonexistent from the outside. The team was projected to finish in 10th place in the American Athletic Conference heading into the season.
Rehr, however, tuned out the predictions and was excited for a new challenge, which resulted in a program renaissance. In his first season, he led the volleyball team to a winning conference record and a postseason tournament, which was the first postseason appearance since 2000.
“Year one is always fun and nerve-wracking at the same time,” Rehr said in an interview with UH Athletics. “It’s the fear of change and leaving what you know to embark on a new adventure with something you don’t know.”
For the 2019 AAC Coach of the Year, the biggest factor in the team’s success had everything to do with the players themselves and their open mindset to change.
“They were so willing to learn and so willing to buy into what our vision was,” Rehr said.
Beginning in the spring with the returning players to after the freshmen joined the team, the head coach’s challenge was to teach 21 athletes a new system and style.
The 2019 season could not have started off any rockier for a new coach as the team lost its first four games of the campaign, but then the Cougars rattled off five straight wins until dropping five in a row again right before conference games began.
Once AAC competition started, however, the team caught lightning in a bottle and began taking off on the court, until an unexpected roadblock set the team back again.
“That magical run of starting 7-0 made it a little more fun,” Rehr said. “We started feeling good about ourselves, but then we had an injury that changed everything.”
The injury was to senior setter Abby Irvine, which forced the team to change its style of play.
When reflecting on the 2019 season, Rehr thinks back to multiple games where a few plays could have changed the outcome of the contests and could have given the Cougars a higher seed once the postseason began.
“(Multiple times) I thought we should have won,” Rehr said. “A lot of that was not having Abby Irvine. That’s part of life, but it’s tough because you want to win every game. I want to win every game. It becomes a fun dance with how you prepare your team… We hate to lose.”
Looking forward to the 2020 season, Rehr has a new challenge, but he is not alone in getting the team to the ambitions it has as he is counting on the returning players to set the culture and lead the team.
“I think the big part with us is that Abby Irvine is going to be that rock for us and bring that stability to us,” Rehr said. “She hates to lose as well, so it’s bringing that back into the rest of the team. We thrusted Abbie Jackson, Isabel Theut and Rachel Tullos into a lot of roles last year (as well).”
The Cougars are no longer the underdogs. They are expected to be one of the heavyweights in The American, or as Rehr put it, Houston is now the attraction game when it comes to town. The “free pizza” game.
“Everybody has a promotion for the game they want to fill the gym for,” Rehr said. “Usually, it’s a dollar hotdog or free pizza. We became everybody’s dollar hotdog night. One of the games we went to after the seven-game run, we were someone’s pack the gym night.”
The Cougars are far from satisfied, however. 2019 was a good start, but the team has bigger goals. They want to get far in the AAC tournament and qualify for the NCAA tournament, not the NIVC.
“Last year was not a one and done thing,” Rehr said. “We’re building this into a stable program.”