Ben Wallis is Proof That a Winner Can Revive A Bad Program
There are certain college athletic programs that seem like lost causes. At UTEP, the women's volleyball program was one of them. Other than the 2005 season with Scott Swanson (21-10, 10-6), the Miners had not won 20-plus matches since all the way back to 1988. At that time, UTEP was still a pretty good power as an independent under longtime head coach Norm Brandl. However, the last 20 years have not been kind to the volleyball program and some wondered if it would ever return to the glory days of the 1980s. The answer is yes, thanks to head coach Ben Wallis.
He arrived in El Paso on December 19th, 2018 after spending the previous six seasons with New Mexico State as an Assistant Coach and later an Associate Head Coach under the great Mike Jordan. Over the 23 years he has been in Las Cruces, Jordan built the Aggies into a volleyball power and 10 NCAA Tournament appearances. He is just seven wins short of 500 for his career, compared to just 204 losses. Wallis was Jordan's right-hand man and he was long considered his successor at NMSU. However, UTEP Director of Athletics Jim Senter had other ideas and he hired him away from his I-10 rival to take over a Miners volleyball program that was at rock bottom.
UTEP had won just a total of 34 matches over the previous five seasons under head coach Holly Watts. Prior to that, the Miners were an average team at best, but they were at least competitive under coach Ken Murphy. Wallis had a large task ahead of him, but he arrived in El Paso confident that he could transform the Miners into a winner just as his mentor had done in Las Cruces. After just two seasons, Wallis and the UTEP volleyball team appear to well on their way to start hanging C-USA title banners at Memorial Gym.
How did he do it in such a short amount of time? First, he knew the formula for success from Coach Jordan, since you can make a lot of comparisons between the Miners and Aggies. X's and O's can make a big difference and Coach Wallis knew the style of play that would transform to UTEP. He also has a larger budget at UTEP, which (prior to COVID) has helped him bring in the kind of talent to turn around a program. He also tackled the losing culture by showing success. All of a sudden, the team started believing in each other and the wins began piling up. As the Miners won more matches, they forgot about the prior losing seasons. Now, the veterans are hungry and ready to next step. Finally, as a head coach, Ben Wallis has the mix of positive energy and passion to win, and it has quickly spread to his roster.
C-USA is a volleyball power, and six of their 14 programs have been ranked in the Top 100. UTEP has never been a serious threat to schools like Rice and Western Kentucky, but that could soon be changing thanks to a coach who has the right formula for success.