Long Beach State women’s volleyball assistant coach Debbie Green and senior setter Nicole Vargas have some commonalities. First, they are slated to play in their final NCAA Tournament; second, they are both setters; and third, they are mother and daughter.
The mother-daughter duo and the rest of the 49er women’s volleyball team are set to play Pepperdine in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday at Stanford University.
Both grew up in the world of volleyball, but Vargas said it’s different being coached by her mother.
“It was harder when I was a freshman and sophomore because I’ve never really had my mom coach me,” Vargas said. “But now that I’m older, I think I appreciate it more and we both know how to deal with it better. We just had to set boundaries between coach and mom, player and daughter.”
Many parents can relate to the feelings garnered from watching their son or daughter compete in the world of sports. But for Green, switching from “coach mode” to “mom mode” can be a little bit difficult.
“It’s hard because a lot of times at home I want to talk about volleyball and Nicole’s practice,” Green said. “But then I realize OK, we’re at home and it’s a day off, I’m not her coach.”
Green has another daughter, Dana, who is a sophomore setter at UC Santa Barbara. She said having two daughters at different schools in the same conference is hard because of their competitive natures.
“Everyone’s always asking if I’m excited to see my daughters play against each other,” Green said. “I’m not, because I know it’s hard for both of them. They’re both very competitive, I’m very competitive and we’re the team that needs to win.”
Even Vargas finds it hard to play against her sister.
“It’s different,” she said. “I want to see her do well and I thought it would be more competitive, but it’s not. I’m glad I don’t have to play her anymore.”
Green is in her 23rd season with The Beach. She is a two-time U.S. volleyball team member, a silver medalist and still considered the best setter in the history of women’s volleyball. She will be retiring at the end of the current season — just in time for Vargas’ graduation.
“I just thought it’s a good time to end with her [Vargas] as the last setter that I train,” Green said. “I was pregnant with her when I took the job, so she’s definitely grown up here.”
Vargas is excited to be leaving the team with her mom but will always remember the times her mom spent with the team at practices and games.
“It’ll be fun, she’s been here for 23 years, so it’s about time to move on,” she said. “But it’ll be weird not seeing her on the bench because I always remember her being here for the practices and going early to the games.”
In retirement, Green plans to support her younger daughter for the remainder of her time at UCSB, fix up her house, spend time with her new dog, travel and spend time with her parents.
After graduation, Vargas wants to play overseas for a year, then maybe get her teaching credential.
“But I also want to see how long I can play,” she said.
Vargas has grown up with volleyball players as her role models, including Olympic champion Misty May-Treanor, who Vargas knows on a personal level.
“I’ve known her my whole life,” Vargas said. “I mean I know her as the Player of the Year, All-American and Olympian, but I also know her as my babysitter. She used to baby sit with my sister and I. I watch her house when she’s gone and I walk her dogs.”
With 23 years of coaching under her belt, Green definitely has some memorable moments from her career.
“I think winning the three championships was great,” she said. “But even matches like when we beat UC Davis last year and Cal Poly this year … there’s just too many.”
Vargas’ most memorable match was against Southern California last year in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, despite the loss.
“No one even thought we could go five sets with them, and I thought that was the best we’ve played together,” she said.
The LBSU women’s volleyball team is set to play in the NCAA Tournament Friday in Palo Alto, Calif. and Green and Vargas are looking for the perfect ending to their last year with the team. Both have the same postseason goal in mind: to go as far as they can.
“Looking at past Final Fours, there have been teams that no one thought could do it; you just have to take it one match at a time,” Green said. “You just have to have the desire and confidence to do it. I would love to end my career with a championship or Final Four appearance.”