Gooden looks back on 20 years at NIU

The volleyball head coach talks about his growth during the two decades at the helm of the Huskies

Courtesy of NIU Athletics

Head coach Ray Gooden coaches his team from the sideline during a match September 18 at Victor E. Court. Gooden has been coaching at NIU for 20 years.

NIU volleyball head coach Ray Gooden is entering his 20th season with the program, leaving his mark at the university even though his journey here is still ongoing.

Gooden is the NIU program’s all-time leader in wins with 333 and second among active Mid-American Conference coaches with 171 MAC wins. Over the past nine years, Gooden has led the Huskies to seven 20-win seasons, three MAC regular season championships and five MAC Tournament Finals appearances.

Gooden’s current players, freshman middle tackle Charli Atiemo and senior middle tackle Jasmine Kemp have spoken of being coached by someone with all the experience and success that a coach of Gooden’s caliber has had over the years.

“20 years is a lot,” Atiemo said. “Coming in, I knew I was going to learn at least five things on Ray’s first day. Every day I find myself learning more things. Whether it’s volleyball IQ or just being a better person, he also has a great character.

The coach I am now, I pray, has more wisdom and experience than the coach I was when I started… Every player and coach has taught me something, not just in my job but in my existence.

— Ray Gooden, Head Volleyball Coach

Kemp spent four years being coached by Gooden and explained what the experience was like during that time.

“With Ray, you just have to be a sponge,” Kemp said. “He knows the game well and I learned so many lessons from him outside of volleyball that I haven’t had a chance to learn from others,” Kemp said. “So I’m very lucky to have had the chance to play for this program.”

Gooden’s journey was also a learning experience for him. Gooden spoke about what his time here at NIU as a head coach has taught him over the years.

“The trip was a blessing,” Gooden said. “I have been coaching college volleyball since 1994. To have the opportunity to coach NIU at age 30, I feel blessed and very lucky to do what I have been able to do in that time.”

Coaching for two decades means you have all kinds of different players with different playing styles, personalities and team chemistry. Gooden talked about what those experiences with all those different teams he coached at NIU taught him.

“It was a learning experience,” Gooden said. “The coach I am now, I pray, has more wisdom and experience than the coach I was when I started. A lot of the older players I see from my debut, I try to apologize to them as much as possible because I feel like I’ve grown over time. Every player and coach has taught me something, not just in my job but in my life.

The learning experiences Gooden has had over the years have led to new goals and adjustments each season for what he wants his players to achieve.

“My goal as a coach is to help our players improve on and off the pitch,” Gooden said. “Whether it’s what they have to do as volleyball players or what they can do as young women. Stay true to our foundation and try to be as current as possible to relate to our team and our program. There are certain things that are locked into our fundamentals, like love, trust, respect, effort, and attitude. These things have been with me since day one.

With a coaching career as long as Gooden’s, his approach in 20th grade is a far cry from what it was in freshman. Gooden talked about what he would think two decades ago.

“Year 20 Ray tells freshman Ray that you can’t do it all at once, number one,” Gooden said. “You have to evolve the person rather than just evolving the stats. Being vulnerable and showing love can be just as strong as showing how to improve your skills to win a game.

Gooden is looking to continue his success with the Huskies as they are 9-10 this season and 3-6 in conference, trying to finish their 2021 season strong. The Huskies have nine games left on their schedule, seeking another MAC championship.