Ball State men’s volleyball alumnus Jeff Aucoin returned to Worthen Arena on Jan. 15, but as a coach for the opposing team.
Aucoin is in his third season as both the Harvard men’s and women’s assistant volleyball coach, and came back with the Crimson to face off against his former team and coach.
Aucoin spent one year at Ball State while finishing his master’s education. It also allowed him to play one last season on the court.
“I went to a bunch of Division I schools across the country to see what kind of programs were available in terms of a master's,” Aucoin said. “Ball State had coaching, and that was what I wanted to get into. It was the perfect opportunity.”
Aucoin began his college career at the University of New Hampshire, where he was a four-year player. The 6-foot-0 outside attacker guided the Wildcats to a National Collegiate Volleyball Federation Division 1-AA National Championship appearance in his final season. He earned the Most Valuable Player Award in that tournament.
To add to his list of accomplishments, Aucoin was a two-time All-National honoree, four-time All-New England Collegiate Volleyball League recipient and First Team All-Tournament selection in the regional championship each season.
The credentials were there, but one issue remained – Aucoin already had four years of play under his belt, making him ineligible to play according to National Collegiate Athletic Association rules.
He needed special permission to play one last season on the court while pursuing his master's.
“I had to get a waiver for that one year, and [head coach Joel Walton] was one of those guys who offered it to me,” he said. “He took a chance on me, and it was fun for that one year.”
Aucoin took a rather unorthodox way of finding Ball State, as campus visits and in-person meetings were not a part of his process. His main, and sometimes only, method of communication to Walton was email.
“The fall before I came here, I emailed coaches, and I got in contact with [Walton] and it took off from there,” Aucoin said. “I never got to visit him, I never got to see the campus and I didn’t even have an apartment until about a week before classes started.”
Without ever seeing the university, facilities or even having a face-to-face conversation with the head coach, he was taking a risk.
“I took a leap of faith and went with it,” Aucoin said.
The leap paid off. During his time at Ball State, Aucoin played in 15 matches and 37 sets while earning his master’s degree in physical education and sport. Following the 2012 season, he was awarded with an Academic All-Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association award.
Aucoin returned to New Hampshire after his time at Ball State, where he began his coaching career in 2012-13. His main focus was defense, and the Wildcats moved up 72 spots in digs per set rankings compared with the season before he returned.
This was no small feat on Aucoin’s end – and Harvard took notice.
In 2013, Aucoin accepted a full-time job in Cambridge, Mass., where he remains today. He credits his success in coaching to the outreach Ball State volleyball has on the rest of the country.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into with the coaching tree that’s involved [at Ball State],” Aucoin said. “I began to think coaching was going to be a career, and coming out to Ball State, … there was a lot of networking opportunities.”
Aucoin has competed against Ball State in each of his three years at Harvard. Currently, he is 1-2 against the Cardinals after the Crimson’s 3-1 loss Jan. 15.
Despite his limited success against the Cardinals, playing in Muncie provides a familiar atmosphere for Aucoin.
“It’s always great to see the familiar faces. … Those were the guys who gave me a chance to come back, and it’s great to see them play,” Aucoin said.
Ball State hadn't played Harvard for a number of years prior to 2013, when Aucoin took a job there. While he doesn't take credit for the scheduling, he is always pleased to see his former team on the schedule.
“I didn’t have anything to do with that, but it was nice to see that it was on the schedule and able to keep those connections and see those guys every year, even if it is on the other side of the net,” Aucoin said.