Western Nebraska Community College has hired a familiar face to serve as interim head volleyball coach as Fatima Balza returns to WNCC to guide the volleyball team.

                Balza officially started her role as interim coach in late April after arriving on campus.

                Balza is excited to be back at WNCC, a place where she started her collegiate volleyball career.

                “Taking over the volleyball team holds significant personal meaning for me because WNCC has always held a special place in my heart,” Balza said. “Having been involved with the WNCC volleyball program as a player back in 2007/ 2008 and then as an assistant coach from 2011 to the spring 2014, to now stepping into the position of interim head coach feels like a natural progression and a return home. I am incredibly excited and grateful for the opportunity to lead the team in the upcoming 2024 season.”

                Balza, who decided to return to WNCC where she helped the Cougars to their first NJCAA National Title in 2007. Balza then went and won two national titles at Penn State in 2009 and 2010.

                Balza also came back to WNCC as an assistant coach under Giovana Melo for a couple years and helped Melo lead the team to a runner-up finish at the national tournament.

                In Balza’s time at WNCC under the head coaching of Chris Green and Melo, the Cougars lost just four matches in two seasons. WNCC went 54-2 in 2007 under Green, earning the national title. Her sophomore year under Melo, the team went 59-4 and finished third at the national tournament. Balza was a NJCAA First Team All-American in her sophomore year after earning Honorable Mention All-American honors in 2007.

                After WNCC, Balza played professionally in Ireland and Poland while also holding training sessions for players and teams in Europe. She went to Europe to play after she left WNCC as an assistant coach.

                “I went to Europe where I work with multinational corporations as well as volleyball clubs,” Balza said. “First, I went to Dublin, Ireland, where my sister was living at the time. I completed a sports massage course and I was involved with volleyball from 2014 to 2018. I played and coached for Gardians women volleyball club where they played in the Irish league Division 1. This is the highest level in Ireland. I also took on coaching duties for one of the men’s team in the Irish division 1 league.

                “Additionally, I was called few times to assist with national training camps for the Irish women’s national team, focusing on both indoor and sand volleyball sessions. An exciting highlight was representing the Republic of Ireland in an international tournament as a player. In 2018, I relocated to Krakow, Poland. Initially, I played for Sunrise volleyball club while also coaching the team. Later in 2019, I transitioned to playing for Apollo volleyball club.

                Balza was then faced with a life change in the covid year 2020 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Still, Balza stayed active in coaching volleyball.

                “In 2020, I faced a significant challenge when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, leading to a long stop from playing. Despite this, I remained actively involved (2020/2021) in coaching at Apollo volleyball club, running indoor drills with the head coach and taking over practices during the summer season for beach volleyball trainings. Once I was fully healthy, I continued to play for Apollo but started to coach at Dragon Balls volleyball club, coaching men and women at all levels, beginners, intermediates and advanced.

                Balza said she is excited to work with the talented nine players that will be returning to the Cougar program next year as well as settling in the valley. She likes what she has seen of the returners for next year.

                “Based on what I have seen in the last week, I can say I have a promising group of nine returning freshmen, which brings considerable talent to the team. But, talent is not everything,” she said. “Right now, the team is split into different groups, and that’s something we need to work on. My focus going into next year is to bring everyone together as one cohesive team, so we can perform at the best of our abilities as a team and not individuals. It is crucial that the returners set the example for incoming players and prioritize the team’s success over individual achievements”

                Her goals are simple as the ninth head coach to lead the Cougars since the program was started back in 1974.

                “My goal is to create an environment where each player can reach their full potential, both as athletes and individuals, while also striving for success as a team on the court,” she said. “This involves more than just teaching the technical/tactical aspects of the game; with the returners is very important to foster teamwork, sportsmanship, and personal growth among the players.”

                Balza said that she wants to bring leadership to the team and have the team be good people on the court, off the court, academically, and in the community.

                “To the team, I bring structure with my coaching experience. I am here to not only boost their volleyball game but also help them master time management as student-athlete. I also bring lots of positive vibes, a solid framework for success, and great communication skills,” Balza said. “To the college, my coaching style fits smoothly with college policies. I am big on seeing my players succeed both academically and athletically. Plus, I am super excited to be back and pitch in with the college and community activities through volunteering.”