By Craig Morgan, thesundevils.com Writer
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Stevie Mussie understands and embraces the importance of becoming just the second women's head volleyball coach of color at a Power-5 conference school (N.C. State's Linda Hampton-Keith is the other).
"(Linda) and I talk about it all the time. What does it mean for us? How do we continue to pave the way for everyone else?" Arizona State's new coach said Monday at her introductory press conference at Karsten Golf Course.
Being a pioneer won't change Mussie's approach, however, as she takes over a program that has been to the NCAA Tournament four straight seasons.
"I want to be successful regardless," she said. "This place can be something very, very special."
Mussie's race was little more than a coincidence for Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson when considering an array of candidates.
"Our responsibility is to pick the best person and the best skill set available to lead our men and women as head coaches," Anderson said. "The additional opportunity to provide a young woman with her first opportunity to be a head coach was certainly something we were proud of, and to have an opportunity to have that woman be a minority is something we are proud of. At this institution, one of our core values is inclusion -- diversity and inclusion."
"But make no mistake, Stevie Mussie is our head volleyball coach because she was the best person available out there."
Mussie, 30, has impressive playing and coaching credentials.
As a player at Washington, she was an All-Pac-10 honoree, a member of the Huskies' 2005 NCAA Championship team and she was named most outstanding player at the 2006 NCAA Seattle Regional.
As an assistant coach at Penn State, she helped lead the Nittany Lions to the 2014 NCAA title and the 2015 NCAA Sweet 16. In her two seasons in Happy Valley, Mussie served as a mentor to six American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-Americans, including 2014 National Freshman of the Year, outside hitter Ali Frantti.
The last two years also afforded her the chance to work with and learn from Nittany Lions' coach Russ Rose, whose .865 winning percentage, ranks first in NCAA Division I history.
"With him, it really taught me it was about letting the players be who they were and trying to make them as good as they can be," Mussie said. "At Washington, they played us in a system so that was very different from Penn State and what my background was. That part really helped me evolve as a coach."
Mussie has a pair of inherent advantage on previous coach Jason Watson, who left to take the head-coaching job at Arkansas. First, she is a woman so she can relate to her players on a level Watson never could. Second, she has every intention of relating to her players on a personal level.
"I'm excited about the experience the girls are going to get over a four- or five-year period. I think it’s more than just the wins and losses," Mussie said. "I want to be a part of their life outside of volleyball. I was that as an assistant but now finding the balance to still able to do it as a coach is one of the most exiting things for me.
"I obviously will have to wear a lot more hats but who I am is a players' coach so I want them to be able to relate to me and I will always be that way regardless of what I'm doing."
Mussie cited a few of her core values before a healthy contingent of media on Monday. She will adapt her system to the personnel she has, she will focus on convincing the state's top prep talent to choose ASU and she will embrace the school's philosophy of community engagement and involvement to grow the game on all levels.
It's a combination of skills that led Anderson to decide she was "just the right fit for our culture and what we're trying to do in terms of advancing ASU as an academic and athletic and socially-embedded and community awareness culture.
"It was very clear that Stevie got it and she could take us where we wanted to be in terms of being a first-class, elite added-value-to-our institution-and-to-our-community type of program."