2012 Coaches Series: Bobby Blanken
November 21, 2012
SANTA CLARITA, Calif. -- The Master’s College women’s volleyball program has seen a drastic turnaround in their 2012 campaign under the leadership of third-year coach Bobby Blanken. Coach Blanken has guided the Lady Mustangs to their finest season in program history, and has most recently been named the Golden State Athletic Conference’s “Volleyball Coach of the Year” by the conference coaches.
The Mustangs currently boast a 26-5 regular-season record, have earned a No. 6 spot in the NAIA's final regular-season Top 25 Poll, and have qualified for their first-ever appearance at the upcoming NAIA Volleyball National Championship later this month in Sioux City, Iowa. Blanken's overall record at The Master’s College is 53-42.
The Master’s College Sports Information department recently interviewed the third year coach with hopes of better acquainting the TMC community to the man behind the surging Lady Mustangs.
TMC: How did you become a coach at The Master’s College?
BB: I was at Village Christian High School coaching for the women’s and men’s volleyball programs while teaching PE, earth science, and health. There was an opening for the volleyball head coach position here at TMC, so I applied, got an interview, and the rest is history. It’s always been a dream of mine to coach on the collegiate level, and be involved here in the highest level of academia as possible.
TMC: Your 2012 campaign has produced the best season in program history. What’s been the difference this year from the two previous seasons? What’s been the driving force behind the success?
BB: My coaching philosophy hasn’t changed at all. The biggest change has been the commitment to who we are as a team. A coach will always have a philosophy, but it doesn’t necessarily work with the people that are a part of the organization. It may sound cliché, but you’re not a leader if no one is following you. We now have people pushing and following in the same direction. Our first year there was new leadership and not an awful lot of trust. My second year here we saw a gradual change and shift with more buy-in to the program. And this year we’ve seen whole-hearted commitment which has produced great results.
TMC: What was your first exposure to volleyball?
BB: I was a fifth grader in Mr. Allison’s PE Volleyball class. We played a game called “Jailbreak,” where a ball is thrown over the net and you have to catch it. If you don’t, then you’re out. I’m not exactly sure if you can call it volleyball, but I really enjoyed it.
Later, in my freshmen year of high school, I actually tried out for the baseball team and did not make it. The coach told us that we needed to wear cleats during try-outs, but I didn’t want to go buy new cleats with my hard-earned money. He told me directly to buy new cleats, and I said in my head “I’m not going to buy new cleats for a team I don’t know for sure I was going to be on,” so I didn’t, and during try outs I was sliding all over the place because I didn’t have cleats on. I didn’t make the team, and when I was walking away on the last day the coach told me I would have made it if I would have bought a simple pair of shoes.
At that point I realized that I needed to do something with my time…so I tried out for volleyball! I was arguably the worst player on the team and was so for three years. By my senior year I started growing into my body, and became a contributor rather than a dead weight.
In short- you can thank a simple pair of baseball cleats (or lack thereof) for my volleyball career.
TMC: How long have you been coaching at TMC? Where and how long did you coach prior to your time at The Master’s College?
BB: I coached Canyon High School’s JV team from 1999 to 2002 while simultaneously coaching a club volleyball team called Synergy. After that I moved from Santa Clarita to San Luis Obispo and served as a volunteer assistant for the women’s volleyball team at Cuesta College. I learned a ton up there, and then moved to the Midwest where I finished up school and worked as a varsity assistant and JV coach at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School in Shawnee, Kansas. I did that for a few years and eventually got into management for Starbucks out there and stopped coaching. After that I came back to California and coached at Village Christian High School.
TMC: What was your most memorable experience at The Master’s College?
BB: Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the pre-season team retreats. More specifically, at our most recent one at Bass Lake I felt as if the Lord laid some solid foundations for what was about to happen this season. We sat under the falls at Yosemite and talked together as a team on what we wanted to accomplish. Being able to see the trust in each other’s eyes and set our focus on the year really helped us. We were able to be very honest with each other and talk about what we valued. We all share a common bond in our faith, and being able to express and share that was very special.
TMC: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve experienced coaching while at TMC?
BB: Changing the culture of a program – hands down. Having a “championship mentality” while making sure you’re treating your teammates with the respect and love they deserve as Christians didn’t exist when before I got here. Having to develop that has been a struggle, but also a joy all along the way.
TMC: What do you love the most about The Master’s College?
BB: I love the commitment to God-honoring education, and that the entirety of the staff and administration has the same mindset. We’re all on the same page and are moving in the same direction. We see a lot of great results because of that. I believe the mission of the school is accomplished because we’re all like-minded.
TMC: What character qualities do you look for in an ideal athlete?
BB: I look for charitability, work ethic, and enthusiasm. Those three qualities lay as the fundamentals of our team mission. Above all, our mission is to honor the Lord through our pursuit of excellence, which is defined by us by obtaining a National Championship. How we go about achieving that mission is seen through our fundamentals – charitability, work ethic in both body and mind, and finally with enthusiasm in all we do.
TMC: In what ways do you view coaching as a ministry?
BB: Life is missional, so in our vocations we should be doing ministry on a daily basis. I’m a husband and father also, and that is a ministry to me. I see each of the girls I coach as human beings that the Lord has created and designed uniquely, and I know that the Lord has placed me in their lives to help them along in the process of becoming women of character and to better love the Lord.
TMC: How would you describe a perfect season?
BB: That’s a fairytale, and it doesn’t exist. What is perfection? There’s no such thing. You can’t go through an entire season and make zero errors. Even if we made it to the championship game and won it all, we could still look back on that game and the entire season and realize that we could have done somethings better. Would we be perfect in a human stance? Sure. But we’re constantly striving for excellence because we know in that pursuit we’re honoring the Lord.
TMC: What cultivated your passion for coaching volleyball?
BB: The Lord put great leaders in my life that planted my passion for coaching volleyball. One of the most notable ones was Spencer MacCuish. He genuinely loved and cared for me, and was a graduate of The Master’s College. I met him when I played volleyball for Canyon High School. During my senior year I was dealing with a lot of circumstances. My mom had a form of cancer called Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which she eventually passed away from. It was all pretty dramatic and heavy on me. At the same time, my faith wasn’t real and I wasn’t living a life for the Lord. One practice, Spencer stopped everything and pulled me aside asked me “What’s going on in your life?” He knew my life wasn’t honoring the Lord and called me out on it. He asked difficult questions which came from a heart of love. At the time I felt we were butting heads, but now that I look back on it, I see that he really cared for my heart and where I stood with the Lord. At that point I realized it was more than just the game of volleyball. When it comes to coaching, the things you teach goes beyond the court and bleeds into all aspects of life. That cultivated my desire to coach and do the same for others.
Bobby and his wife Sara have a son and two daughters, Isabelle (6), Thomas (4), and Elise (2 months), and currently reside in Canyon Country, CA.
Blanken and the Mustangs will continue their season by opening up pool play for the 2012 NAIA National Championships, held in Sioux City, Iowa, on November 27th in a 5:45 PM (CST) match against CSU San Marcos. To review the Mustangs’ full 2012 schedule, please click here.