Sue Subich and Jen Lauber may be diminutive women, but they left big shoes to fill.
Subich, the matriarch of the Madison volleyball program who led them to their only state championship in 1998, and Lauber, her replacement who took the Rams to three Final Four appearances, both earned well over 500 wins in their careers.
Brian Votaw thinks his feet are big enough follow in the footsteps of one Hall of Famer and another who will be in due time.
“The expectations are high,” the first-year coach at Madison said. “You’re expected to go to the Final Four, and if you don’t, it’s a bad season. I like those expectations because that’s what I expect and want.”
Votaw is no stranger to the game. His career record is 232-123. He also is no stranger to the area, building a Gilead Christian program from scratch and taking it to a 26-1 record and No. 8 ranking in the 2009 state coaches poll, a season where he earned Central District Coach of the Year honors in Division IV.
In 2010, he moved down the road to Highland where the Scots were 18-7. In late summer of 2011, he got a call he couldn’t refuse. Votaw became a head college coach, taking over a struggling program at Bluefield College in Virginia.
In the seven previous seasons, the Rams won just 23 percent of their matches. His first year the team went 8-26, but last year with a lot of his recruits on board, the squad improved to 16-22 and qualified the Mid-South Conference tournament.
For family reasons, he decided to leave the college game and come back home.
“It was the right thing for me to come back here,” he said. “If I came back, there were a few schools I’d like to coach at. I’ve done built my programs.”
When Ken Brubaker, an assistant under Subich and Lauber, left after one season and a respectable 17-6 record to take over another heavyweight program at Buckeye Central, one of Votaw’s dream jobs came open.
“It’s amazing, the program and the support the community has,” he said.
And like the ladies who preceded him, Votaw has the Rams rolling. Madison is 12-1 and ranked fifth in the state coaches poll in Division II.
“We feel good about where we’re at, but we have a lot of work to do if we’re going to hold up to the standards of Madison and what my standards are,” he said.
Votaw inherited a talented and experienced squad that’s led by a junior class with state tournament experience. His was a different voice than what they were used to with Lauber, then Brubaker.
“When we first met him, we liked him, but after the first practice we weren’t sure and wanted Jen back,” junior libero Chase Carper admitted. “Now we know he knows what he’s talking about and he’ll pull us through. He’s going to take us a long way. No worries.”
Junior setter Katie Wagner admitted it was rough going through their third coach in as many years.
“He didn’t know anything about us,” Wagner said. “We’re finally learning what he wants and what he expects, and we’re trying to execute and give it to him. It’s finally clicking.”
Votaw agreed the first weeks were trying.
“I love the kids to death, but they are big-time personalities, so you have to sometimes stroke them and sometimes scream at them and sometimes hug them and sometimes set them down,” he said. “I’m sort of figuring that all out with who responds to what. There are growing pains still even at our stage of where we’re at.”
Growing pains or not, Votaw sees success not just this season, but for seasons to come at Madison.
“I came here to build this program to where it needs to be and continue on with the tradition that’s been here,” he said. “I want to be here as long as they’ll keep me and as long as things are going well for us.
“There’s talent here. There’s volleyball support. As long as there’s that, it’s a great place to be.”