Towel Talk – Michelle Clark-Heard: “Bigger, Faster, Stronger”

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Wave the Red Towel: This might be the easiest question I ask, it might be the most difficult: How have you been able to do what you’ve done in your two years here? Back to back 20 win seasons, a conference championship in your second year here, turning around a team that didn’t even win ten games two years ago, with a majority of the same players. How has all of this been possible?
Michelle Clark-Heard: I think I’ve got to just give a ton of credit to the players that are here and are just buying into our system and what we’re trying to do. And I think just the chance to build a relationship with them and to bond with them, I give a lot of credit to my staff. We came in as one big family and wanted to do everything we possibly could to be the best that we could be. The first year, we started out and won some close ball games, and I think that helped a lot with our players confidence, and then we just continued working and to get better and we had some people – Chaney Means was here – we just had different people step up and really took everything and really ran with it. It’s been awesome.

WTRT: You were a player here before your coaching career began, and then you were an assistant over at Louisville. What was the process like to come over to WKU and become head coach? How’d you hear about the job? What was the interview process like? What factored into your decision to leave Louisville to come to the Tops?
MCH: At the end of the day, you said it, I played here. This is, forever, an unbelievable opportunity. I was very humbled when I received the phone call from, then assistant Athletic Director [ed. note – now current AD Todd Stewart] Todd, and so the process just went from there. I had an interview with him and the former AD Ross [Bjork, now AD at Ole Miss] and, it was always something I felt like, if the job ever came open, I’d love to come back. Anybody would love to have a chance to come back and coach at their alma mater. I had a lot of, and still do, have so many fond memories of Western Kentucky. We did a lot of amazing things when I played here – the fans and just everything about it. Coaching at the University of Louisville was an opportunity for me, because I felt like it helped me prepare for this opportunity to be a head coach. Coaching against the best, scouting against Big East opponents, and all the teams we played against – Jeff Walls was an awesome coach, who let us as assistants do a lot of different things. So, I think I was prepared coming from UofL, but also being a Division II head coach for those two years really helped me a lot too. It’s just been a really amazing transition, but I have unbelievable staff and support staff around me, and I think that’s really important.

WTRT: You’re the latest in a long line of coaches – Coach Jason Neidell at soccer, Travis Hudson at volleyball, even Ray Harper (men’s basketball) – who see WKU as the place to be. In terms of basketball, it’s the UNC, the Syracuse, the Duke. Kind of the pinnacle. What is it about Western Kentucky that those coaches have bought into, that you’ve bought into, to make it what it is.
MCH: I think at the end of the day, it starts from the top. President Ransdell, and what he’s invested into this campus, and into this university first and foremost, because at the end of the day, they are student athletes. And I think WKU has a ton to offer academically, I think our campus is beautiful, I think that when you have been apart of something special, it’s now in a different light that I have an opportunity to give back, and I feel like that’s what I’m doing. And, being able to be in the role that I’m in as a head coach, I feel like every day I’m getting to give back to Western Kentucky what they gave me when I was 17, 18 years old.

WTRT: You won the Sun Belt Conference tournament last year, punched your ticket to the NCAA tournament and played Baylor close…even the TV announcers were saying this game was putting WKU women’s basketball back on the map, somewhere they’re used to being. How big was that game for the program? And even in the close loss, what did you tell the girls afterwards to keep their heads up and tell them this is just the beginning, we’re building to something greater?
MCH: I think you said it. Western Kentucky, like you said, has always been a power house in women’s basketball. Our goal as a staff and as a team is to help continue to build the legacy that’s already here. I think that’s something we talked about – we talk about all the time – I never want to have a chance where I let the girls ever forget that. Because of all the coaches and players that were here in the past that have paved the way for me to sit here, and for the players that are here now.
So, what did I talk to them about? The opportunity that they had to go out and play the way that they did. I talked to them about how proud I was of them, and how we were able to show the world how we competed the whole season. We won 1o games in a row before we got there. I think that says a lot – there’s a lot of teams that don’t have the opportunity to do that. It was a special group, and at the end, I hated to see that it had to end that way. But we were really excited with how we competed, and we knew, ultimately, that we had a lot of players coming back, so we talked about that in the locker room. About the future.

WTRT: I talked with Travis Hudson before the volleyball season began, so I want to ask you – They were reigning conference champions coming into a new conference, and you and the team are in the same boat. Do you feel the pressure of being a defending conference champion, even though you’ve never played a game in Conference USA? Or do you feel a target on your back because you’re one of the knew kids on the block, and you feel like everyone wants to prove you don’t belong?
MCH: I think there’s no pressure. I think in this game, and any sport you compete in at this level, you know what the stakes are. Competition is what it’s all about. We’re really excited to be in Conference USA, and we’re excited the coaches voted us to be preseason #2, but at the end of the day, it’s about what happens at the end. And every single day we’re working to get better and better, and so we’re excited about everything. We’re going to compete, we’re going to play hard, and we’re going to go out every day and be the best that we can be.

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