A quirk of fate resulted in Brenda Gray becoming head volleyball coach at Sam Houston in 1984.
The two-year starter for Bearkats teams that rolled up a 93-31 record in 1980 and 1981, Gray received her Sam Houston Bachleor’s degree in 1982 and her Master of Education in 1983.
She already had accepted a high school coaching job when then Sam Houston head coach Rebecca Bilsing was diagnosed with cancer.
“I was headed to Lee High School but took over as coach here because Coach Bilsing was sick,” Gray said. “Coach Bilsing was such an inspiration to all of us. We had a great season that year, going to the NCAA Division II Final Four and I stayed.”
Now, three decades later, Brenda Gray is on the cusp of an NCAA milestone.
With the volleyball team's fourth victory of the 2013 season, Gray will become only the 26th head coach in NCAA Division I women's volleyball to amass 600 career victories.
The 2013 volleyball season begins this weekend with a road trip to the Appalachian State tournament. Sam Houston plays its first home game Tuesday Sept. 3 against Texas State at 7 p.m. at Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum.
“The idea of winning 600 matches as a coach never entered my mind,” Gray recalled. “I didn’t expect to stay here this long. It just happened.”
Coming into the 2013 season, Gray stands 15th among active NCAA Division I coaches with a career record of 596 victories and 422 losses in her 29 seasons at the helm of the Bearkat program.
Gray's accomplishments as Sam Houston State University head volleyball coach include NCAA Division I playoff appearances in 1993 and 1996, an NIT trip in 1994, Southland Conference regular season championships in 1993 and last year and four conference “coach of the year” awards.
“Sam Houston State is a great place to work and, if you’re happy where you work, you become passionate about it,” Gray said. “I love what I do. I love coaching and training student-athletes on the court. It’s a thrill to watch kids develop and improve.”
Gray has tutored two NCAA All-Americans, seven NCAA All-Region players and 38 all-conference players who have earned that honor a total of 64 times.
“Getting to see a player develop and succeed is why you do this job,” Gray said. “I love to watch good players come in and become great.”
Last year, Gray received Southland Conference “Coach of the Year” honors after directing the Bearkats to the 2012 league title, a school record 15 league victories, the program’s highest overall win total (21) since 1996.
“All the victories are great but there are so many other things that mean more,” Gray said. “Our program’s graduation rate is one of those things. Just about everyone that has walked out on the floor for us has earned their college degree.”
The volleyball team has led all 17 sports programs in overall squad grade point average (GPA) three times in the last four years. Thirty-eight Bearkats have earned Academic All-Southland Conference honors.
One of Gray’s biggest thrills as a Bearkat has come from her son Timothy and daughter Tayler. Timothy was a four-year baseball letterman for Sam Houston. Tayler, a senior setter for the 2013 Bearkats, earned All-Southland honors on the championship team.
“Having my son pitch for the Bearkat baseball team and my daughter as our setter has been an indescribable pleasure,” Gray said. “The passion for Sam Houston is deep in our family.”
The Texas State match Tuesday will be one of 12 home contests for the Bearkat volleyball team. Sam Houston opens Southland Conference action on Friday, Sept. 13 against Lamar.
“It will be exciting when we reach that 600 victory mark,” Gray said. “But give all the credit to the outstanding young women that have worn the orange and white for us on the floor.”