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Volleyball coach Ahen Kim talks returning to competitive play

Coach Kim discusses team morale, senior send-offs, recruiting in a pandemic

Ahen Kim, head coach of Brown Women’s Volleyball, is leading his team through a fractured era in the sport as some collegiate leagues continue to play while others, including the Ivy League, remain on the sidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Kim joined the University in January 2018 after six campaigns as assistant coach at American University. In Kim’s first year as head coach, the team posted an 11-13 overall record, its most wins since 2014, and produced two All-Ivy athletes. In 2019, he led the Bears to their first winning season and most wins since 2001, finishing fourth in the Ivy League. Under his stewardship the Bears have captured three American Volleyball Coaches Association Academic Awards, which extends their winning streak to ten consecutive years. Due to his dedication on and off the court, Coach Kim has been selected for this week’s edition of The Herald’s Coaches Corner.

The Herald: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown’s volleyball team could not play last fall and still doesn’t know when they will be authorized to return. Although the NCAA volleyball season was postponed to the spring, the Ivy League announced that fall sports would be cancelled in the 2020-2021 academic year rather than postponed. How have you sustained team morale in the midst of this uncertainty? 

Coach Kim: (NCAA) volleyball is being played this spring, which means our national championship was moved to April. The Ivy League’s decision not to play this spring was definitely not news we wanted to hear, but it at least created some clarity in terms of what we are preparing for. My heart goes out to my seniors. The mentality (we’ve adopted) is actually trying to think about ways to be grateful. Our vision is a lot clearer, and we're just focused on (the) fall of 2021 now. There is some clarity as things get more normal and we start to build a new paradigm, because this team will be very young and very new.

In the meantime, we hear that some of your athletes are involved in COVID-19 prevention and cure efforts?

Initially, when the pandemic began, sisters Gabrielle Moriconi ’21 and Camberly Moriconi ’21 went back home and were doing some frontline screening so people could return to work. And Kristin Sellers ’22 was, I believe, working for a biotech firm, on some kind of medicine to combat the symptoms of COVID-19, which was especially pressing at that time. I know Kaitlyn Wong ’23 has done a lot of Zoom volunteer work and Zoom internships working on community outreach for clinics in Northern California — talking to families, being a liaison between doctors and providing medical and social support. She continued that all through the year until she returned to campus this spring. It was great that they could be involved in these efforts. That’s one of the reasons why athletes choose to come to Brown, because it prepares them for unique opportunities like those. As awful as COVID is, and even considering the athletic opportunities it has taken away, it has reminded them of the investments they made to come to a school like Brown and the doors that open up as they get to senior year.

The University recently announced plans for a modified commencement, with in-person students and virtual guests. How does this impact your vision for the senior send-off?

I don't have a clear vision for this year yet. I know everyone, President Christina Paxson (P’19 P’MD’20), our Athletic Director Jack Hayes and the medical team on campus, are working really, really hard to make life possible for everyone this semester. We're waiting patiently for a time where we can get together as a team so the freshmen and seniors can finally meet. Last year we did an online virtual commencement, just within volleyball. We surprised them with a lot of our alumni jumping on (the call). It was a beautiful moment and we had alumni crying and sharing their experiences, meeting other alumni that they'd only known of through stories or seeing their pictures in the locker room through the years. So, we might do something like that, but I certainly hope it will be in person. Parents won’t be there, it won’t be normal, … but I think we’re all Zoomed out.

The variation in competitive play has affected high school leagues as well as college, leaving students who dreamed of playing for Brown fearful that a cancelled season may put them at a disadvantage. What do you recommend athletes who were unable to play last year due to COVID-19 restrictions do to remain competitive in college recruitment?

The recruiting landscape has been very challenging for high school athletes. I know a lot of high school athletes are having to choose between high school teams and clubs because their (school) season was moved to the spring, and I think a lot of the high school athletes will choose club if push comes to shove, because typically, athletes that play club are making that extra investment to prepare for a level beyond high school … so (they face) harder competition. So right now, the best thing high school athletes can do is put film together in club practices and, while some have been cancelled and some are postponing, there are tournaments happening all over the country. Definitely play with a club team if you have any aspiration to play after high school. And in terms of communicating with coaches, the best thing you can do is put some film together and send it to us and give us that chance to watch you, because we cannot go out and recruit until after the April dead period (when coaches are not allowed to recruit players)

When not coaching, how are you spending your quarantine?

I got engaged. It just happened on Christmas. My fiancée and I are very happy. It was nice to spend quarantine together where we had each other. It was one of those things where our relationship was either going to be strengthened or tested away. So, I'm glad she said yes. We’ve been watching a lot of shows in quarantine. We watched “Ozark” straight through. My parents are from Korea, so I’m fluent, but my fiancée has started taking a liking to K-dramas all on her own and brought the interest to me. We watched “Crash Landing on You,” and I highly recommend it. It’s in subtitles, but if you can get past that, it’s very entertaining.

What are you most looking forward to about returning to volleyball post-pandemic?

Our team is really eager to represent Brown when the opportunity comes. We have a lot of work left unfinished since 2019, and we would love for people to grow with our team and be a part of what we're doing. So, wear a mask, be socially distanced and do your part. But when we can also be together and do in-person activities, please take advantage of the opportunity to come to some volleyball matches in the 2021 season. I would love to see people out there, and we're going to spend some time with anyone that comes out to watch us

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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