Q&A: Hilliard discusses return to Peterson Gym, adjustments to training during pandemic


Courtesy of University of San Diego Athletics

USD then-head volleyball coach Brent Hilliard instructs his team during his tenure with the Toreros.

by Breven Honda, Senior Staff Writer

Last month, San Diego State volleyball resumed indoor activities to practice and scrimmage inside Peterson Gym and they’ve done it without a single positive test — all while having a first-year head coach. 

Brent Hilliard, who was hired in January as head coach, is familiar with America’s Finest City coaching and recruiting in San Diego for more than 20 years.   

The Daily Aztec caught up with Hilliard about finding his way during the coronavirus pandemic as well as some benefits to the extended offseason. 

The Daily Aztec: What has it been like to coach a team during a pandemic? 

Brent Hilliard: “Especially starting a team for your first year, that’s been interesting and it’s finding a lot of silver linings. It’s been a lot about being patient and trying to get through the manaughtny of repopulating your gymnasium or even when it was we had to be outside. It was about learning how to play a sport that wasn’t designed to be played that way. Some challenges, but when you’re at the point that we’re at right now where we’re playing and our team hasn’t had any positive tests since they’ve been back on campus so we’ve been really good at our version of the bubble. It’s really rewarding.” 

DA: What goes through your head about having to wait to coach your first match for SDSU? 

BH: “That’s another thing that has been a silver lining for me. We have a new class, so a lot of transfers, a couple freshmen that needed that time. It was a gift that they didn’t have to start three weeks after they would normally start with the team. When getting them acclimated, it’s been good because if we had to play a match next week or next month, this team would be in a much better place than if we started in August — our normal start date. We needed that time to bond and they needed to understand my philosophy model and it takes time. It wasn’t to be done in a month.”  

DA: What has it been like to work with assistant coach Steve Timmons? 

BH: “Great. That’s been one of the biggest rewards, including the staff that was held over from Deitre’s last staff. They’ve been really nice surprises. I’ve been really fired up about how good of a recruiter (Melanie Greene) is. That is one thing I didn’t know how they were going to recruit and she is a great recruiter. Kara Burkdoll manages our team great. I can delegate just about anything to her. Yasser (Aguila Todd) has been a genius on our recruiting strategies and working on our database. Coach Timmons knows more volleyball than I will have forgotten more than I will ever know. When he speaks, everybody listens. He has that respect.”

DA: What has the vibe been like to go from practicing outside to inside? 

BH: “The first month I was here back in March, they were kind of quiet and I couldn’t get a feel for what the energy level was like for this team and how well they liked each other and how well they listened and how well they learned. Now, it is almost like they feel the season is around the corner and we’ve developed that chemistry to where they can be themselves and I allow them to be themselves. It’s an outgoing group, which I like. It fits my personality better.”

DA: What are the expectations for this team before the end of the year and into next year for a spring season? 

BH: “As long as we can stay healthy — and it is a big if sometimes — but I feel really confident about this team. I have no problem setting goals that might seem a little bit of a stretch for a team that finished .500 (last year). I feel like we can win conference and we can contend with top-25 teams with the talent we have. I am expecting that and set that as our bar. Whether we get there or not is a whole other story. I feel comfortable because of the offense we have. I would not set the goals if I felt we didn’t have it.”