From the Summit to the Valley: Get to know SIU volleyball head coach Kari Thompson

Provided photo via Saluki Athletics.

Provided photo via Saluki Athletics.

By Nathan Dodd

At the culmination of the 2016 season, the SIU volleyball team found themselves without a head coach. On May 17, Saluki Athletics announced that Kari Thompson would be the ninth head coach in school history.

Coach Thompson is no stranger to collegiate volleyball having previously played and coached in various programs. She is also no stranger to competition.

“I’m extremely competitive,” Thompson said. “I always tried to do things first and better.”


Thompson’s competitive nature led to her beginning her collegiate playing career at Concordia-St. Paul in Minnesota playing one season for the Bears.

She later finished her playing career at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay where she was a letterwinner in three seasons as a middle blocker and right side hitter. Thompson also got her first taste of coaching with Green Bay, helping lead the team to the NCAA tournament.

“I was going to go architecture school,” Thompson said. “I just could not give up volleyball yet.”

Thompson’s love of volleyball led her to the University of Alabama where she served as the Graduate Assistant for Volleyball Operations. In her stint with the Crimson Tide, the team achieved a 44-20 record.

In 2006, Thompson found herself as an assistant coach at North Dakota State University and took over as interim head coach in 2010. She eventually took over the head coaching job officially in 2011.

The Amherst, Wisconsin native led the NDSU Bison to a career record of 102-98 and a 66-38 in Summit League play.

Having led the Bison to two NCAA tournament appearances, Thompson now finds herself leading the Salukis in Carbondale in a highly talented Missouri Valley Conference.

“It is a great community,” Thompson said.  “They love their SIU athletics and have great academics and great people.”

Thompson has seen strong competitors from her experience in the Summit League and Southeastern Conference. The current team and competition of the MVC played a role in attracting coach Thompson to SIU.

“I like how hungry the players are here,” the Saluki coach said.  “The competitiveness of the MVC is always enticing and helps recruiting.”

With only months between her hiring and the beginning of practice, coach Thompson calls the lack of time as “irrelevant” in hindsight.

“Maybe the timing wasn’t necessarily great,” Thompson said. “But when you’re invested with people in a program and if you can see yourself competing and being successful, then the timing doesn’t have to be great.”

Thompson finds that the next day is the most exciting part of the job so far.  She explained that every day could be something totally new and diverse when stepping into a new program.

Thompson enters her second collegiate head coaching job with expectations to compete for the MVC championship.  She also wants to make this season special for her senior athletes.

“I don’t want the senior class to have any regrets,” Thompson said.  “I don’t want them to walk away wishing that they had done something differently.”

Values and morals are of utmost importance in the head coach’s philosophy. Thompson tries to teach her players how to be successful on the court and hopes that her personal ideals will transfer to her players.

“They’re people,” she said. “I’m going to push them as a player, as a person, and as a student to be the best that they can be on and off the court.”

Thompson also tries to teach her players integrity as athletes and human beings. She tells them “just to be a good person at the end of the day.”

The former communications major focused on how vital it is that her team appreciates and communicates with one another so that they can enjoy their time together this season.

Communication and unity are critical for the Salukis this year as Thompson is not the only new member of the coaching staff.

Joining coach Thompson are assistant coaches, Justin Wells and Lea Hartigan.

Wells joins the staff with an extensive resume of coaching experience, most recently at the University of Tennessee. Hartigan also brings an impressive coaching background from various collegiate levels.

Coach Thompson discussed how important it was to bring in assistant coaches that were experienced in head coaching and recruiting.

“It’s kind of all our freshman year for coaches and players,” Thompson said.  “It’s been a good bonding experience for us all to go through this together.

SIU volleyball has been highly competitive in recent years and coach Thompson encourages that anyone who is interested in the team or volleyball to come watch the Salukis take the court in Davies Gym this season.

Thompson explains that the smaller capacity of Davies makes the volleyball experience more intimate and exciting for the fans and players.

“If you come to a game, come get to know us after it’s over,” Thompson said. “If you have any opportunity to experience us play and meet our student athletes, it’s pretty impressive.”

Sports writer Nathan Dodd can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NathanMDodd.

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