Nathan to Niagara
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It started with a man and a clipboard.
Janzen would track stat after stat, not for anyone, but for himself.
“Throughout my university years at Mac I was regularly attending games. I would go with a clipboard and just track stats,” said assistant coach Nathan Janzen. “I just wanted to understand the game. I have a very analytical mind. I like to figure out how things work, especially in sports.”
Watching Mac volleyball games wasn’t the first time he started tracking stats. Janzen started when he played a season for Mac’s baseball team.
“I played for Mac in my second year. Even then I had a clipboard. I was tracking pitches, at-bats, and then I started doing the same thing in volleyball. I was tracking rotations, attacking tendencies and setting tendencies,” Janzen said. “I just wanted to know what was going on, and more importantly for me, I wanted to predict what was going to happen next.”
Following his graduation from Mac, Janzen spent short stints coaching at Toronto’s Bloor Collegiate Institute and the Ottawa Mavericks. In 2010, Janzen and his wife moved to Dundas, ready for a new beginning.
“I emailed Coach Preston and wanted to coach club, but he told me he had a different plan for me,” said Janzen.
Preston introduced Janzen to a program called DataVolley, which allows you to track all actions in a volleyball game and save them for analysis and study. It has been a staple in McMaster’s preparation the past half-decade. Since 2011, Janzen’s analytical mind found a home in one of the country’s best programs.
“He opened a door that I never thought was possible,” Janzen said.
His favorite McMaster memories come from 2013 — his first year coaching both teams.
“We won OUA championships on the same weekend. The women won in Toronto and the guys won at home. It was definitely a highlight of my career,” Janzen said.
While his impact on the court was significant, his impact off the court may be even larger.
“Another part of my job was athlete support. I would have coffee with athletes and try and get to know them so I could help them. I was just a sounding board for life,” Janzen said. “As much as I would love to believe that this is just about volleyball, it’s not. It’s about people and making an impact in their lives where you feel like you can make a difference for them. Student athletes require an element of support that goes beyond the court.”
One Mac volleyball player said that losing Coach Janzen is like losing an entire lineup. While his impact on student-athletes has been profound, Janzen insists it goes both ways.
Just ask him about his four year-old son, Eli.
“Rebecca Steckle babysits my kids all the time. My boy Eli is four years old. He plays balloon volleyball in our living room. He plays this game and he pretends he’s guys on the team,” Janzen said. “McMaster Volleyball has been life for a long time now. I’m really proud of what the young men and women I’ve gotten to work with have become as players and people. I don’t think they even begin to understand the impact they’ve had in my life and my family’s life as well.”
On March 18, Janzen officially began his first day as the Head Coach of the Niagara Knights Women’s Volleyball team, but it was the outcome of a vision birthed in him a few years ago.
“Three years ago I told Coach Louks about a vision I had and wanted to know what he thought. Part of my vision was to make coaching a career in three years. He thought it was possible so going into this year, I knew it was at least time to start applying for head coaching positions,” Janzen said. “I didn’t have any expectations at first, but I knew that it was definitely the next transition for my career.”
“As mush as I would love to believe that this is just about volleyball, it’s not. It’s about people and making an impact in their lives where you feel like you can make a difference for them.”
The Knights posted their head coaching vacancy this past Christmas and before McMaster entered the postseason, Niagara offered Janzen the job.
“It came about pretty quickly. I thought it was a great fit. They want to win and that falls in line with how I want to operate. I think that Niagara is a fantastic segue for me. I’ve learned to coach under McMaster’s winning environment and coaching at an institution that wants to win is the type of environment I want to coach in,” Janzen said.
Janzen is thrilled for this new season in his life, but admits leaving McMaster was very difficult.
“I’m excited to join Niagara College and be their head coach, but I’m leaving a place that I love. The athletes that I’m leaving behind are incredible people. This is so often not just about volleyball. It’s about people. I’m going to miss the people a ton,” said Janzen. “My time at Mac was life changing. Six years ago I never imagined I would be stepping into a head coaching role at a different institution. I can’t speak enough about how much I’ve learned from Coach Louks and Coach Preston. I’m very excited, but it’s definitely bittersweet. There were tears for sure.”