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New London - For Laurie Whalen, it was love at first spike.
Whalen fell hard for volleyball from the time she first starting playing the sport as an eighth-grader.
"I just loved it," Whalen said. "I knew it was my sport right away."
She pursued her passion, going on to have a successful playing career at East Lyme High School and Keene State College in New Hampshire.
Now she has entered the coaching ranks, being hired as an assistant on volleyball coach Josh Edmed's staff at Connecticut College.
And, yes, her fondness for the game remains as strong as ever.
"I absolutely love it," said Whalen with a mixture of enthusiasm and excitement in her voice. "I've known Josh for several years, so it's great to see him from a different perspective. The girls are awesome."
While she's worked numerous camps and clinics, including at Conn College, she's never coached on the college level.
Her status as a newcomer hasn't held her back. She's jumped right in, taking charge and speaking up in practice. She's already developed a bond with the players.
"Their skill level is way beyond what I've coached, but it's been a great learning experience," Whalen said. "I watch and learn from Josh. I'm teaching the girls new things and they're also teaching me at the same time.
"… I've never seen such a hard working team. The team chemistry is awesome."
She knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a successful volleyball program.
During her playing career, she had a vital leadership role at East Lyme and Keene State College in New Hampshire.
She helped the Vikings win three Eastern Connecticut Conference titles and reach the Class L finals in 2007. She earned all-state honors as a senior and set season (839) and career (2,015) assist records.
At Keene State, she was part of an NCAA tournament team and won an ECAC championship. A setter, she made the Little East all-conference team as a senior. She also was a member of the conference's all-academic team. She finished school a semester early last December and graduated last spring with a degree in psychology.
"It went really, really well," Whalen said of her college experience. "It was much better than I could have dreamed. … It was great. My teammates and I became family. It was something that I never will forget."
Coaching seemed like a natural next step. She knew as far back as her freshmen year at Keene that she wanted to stay involved with the sport after graduation.
"I never want to stop," Whalen said.
Whalen also is adding to her academic resume, taking two classes with the goal of entering a master's degree program at Conn College. She hopes to be a counselor and work with children.
She's living at home with her parents, John and Kathy, her two biggest supporters. They regularly made the trip north for Keene State games.
"If she wasn't there," Whalen said of her mom, "she was devastated. She'd watch it online."
Now her family members, including sister Jen, are huge Camel fans.
The Camels are off to an impressive start, going 12-2 overall.
"We're on a roll right now," Whalen said.