Chris Willis took over as head coach at Davidson at the start of the 2012 season. He is entering his sixth season with the Wildcats in 2016.
2015 saw much improvement from its first season in the new conference. Willis guided the Wildcats to a 6-8 overall mark. Under his tutelage, Sabrina Shepherd was named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. Shepherd became the second Wildcat to earn the honor, and the first since Michele Augustin was named Southern Conference Freshman of the Year in 1992. Morgan Shannon ’16 represented Davidson on the conference’s all-academic team for the second consecutive season.
Willis led the transition into the Atlantic 10 in 2014. In the first season in their new conference, the Wildcats posted a 2-12 mark. Davidson rallied to overcome a 2-0 deficit to defeat Atlantic 10 foe St. Louis, Oct. 5. Morgan Shannon ’16 represented Davidson on the conference’s all-academic team.
The Wildcats started the season with a 3-0 showing at the Wildcat Classic to claim the championship, including a season-opening win over cross-county rival Charlotte. Davidson also claimed wins over Sam Houston State, High Point and Winthrop before going 7-9 in SoCon action. Despite finishing one game out of the SoCon Tournament, the ‘Cats took down top-ranked Georgia Southern on Senior Day to finish their home slate. Freshman Mikayla Derochie turned heads, claiming SoCon Rookie of the Week honors a league-record six times before earning all-freshman team accolades. Both Caroline Brown and Tindall Sewell graduated with their names etched in the Davidson all-time record books, with Sewell departing as both Davidson and the SoCon’s all-time leader in hitting percentage. Brown also earned all-conference second team honors for the second straight season.
The ‘Cats went 11-16 in 2012 with junior Caroline Brown earning All-SoCon Second Team honors for her stellar play throughout the season. Both Molly Crenshaw and Ariel Ley finished their careers ranked inside Davidson’s top-10 for digs and assists, respectively.
In his first season, then-sophomore Brown earned All-SoCon Second Team honors, finishing the season ranked second in the conference in both kills and assists. Middle hitter Tindall Sewell led the SoCon and the nation in hitting percentage, while setter Ariel Ley ranked third in assists.
The ‘Cats picked up nonconference wins over UNC Wilmington, NC Central, Coastal Carolina and Gardner-Webb, among others, before embarking on a 5-11 SoCon campaign. As a team, the Wildcats finished the season ranked fifth in the league in hitting percentage (.220) and digs (15.84).
Willis, who was an assistant coach at Davidson under Lisa Marston for two seasons from 1995-97, joined the Davidson staff to begin the 2011-12 season, after spending the past seven years as the head volleyball coach at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.
At Missouri Southern, Willis led the Lions to their first NCAA Tournament bid and a Top-25 ranking for only the second time in program history. He compiled a 104-126 overall record over seven seasons to leave as the program’s third winningest coach, and coached one Division II All-American, six all-region and 19 all-conference players over his tenure. Four of his seven teams were ranked in the regional polls, and in 2006, he led the Lions to a 23-12 record, a national ranking, an appearance in the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) Tournament and a berth in the NCAA Division II South Central Regional.
Willis’ teams have also been successful off the court, earning the athletic department’s Highest Team GPA Award at Missouri Southern for the 2010 winter semester. Over seven seasons, he placed 40 student-athletes on the MIAA Commissioners Academic Honor Roll.
Prior to taking over the program at Missouri Southern, Willis worked as an assistant coach at Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo., for five seasons (1999-2004), where he was responsible for setter training, game management, film exchange, scouting, booster clubs and summer camps. He helped the team to its first Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Championship and NCAA tournament bid in 20 years, and coached an All-American, an MVC Conference Player of the Year and 26 all-conference selections.
Willis also spent two seasons as an assistant at both Northern Arizona University (1997-99) in Flagstaff, Ariz., and Davidson (1995-1997). At Northern Arizona, Willis was responsible for outside hitter training, maintaining and developing the recruiting database, film exchange and managing the Lumberjack Court fundraising project and summer camps. He coached six all-conference players, including one Big Sky Conference Player of the Year.
Under Marston, Willis was responsible for training setters, developing and implementing the strength and conditioning program, film exchange and analysis and handling travel arrangements during his two seasons at Davidson. He began his coaching career in 1994 at Harris Stowe State College in St. Louis, Mo., where he was responsible for all aspects of coaching, training, recruiting and development within the volleyball program.
In addition to his coaching experience, Willis has taught classes in social aspects of physical education, lifetime wellness, volleyball theory and volleyball at Missouri Southern, Missouri State and Northern Arizona. He was a member of the NCAA D-II Regional Advisory Committee from 2005-07 and the NCAA D-II Awards Committee from 2006-10. An American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) member since 1994, Willis was the MVC representative on the AVCA D-I Assistant Coaches Committee during the 2003-04 season, and he is CAP Level II, IMPACT teacher and ACEP certified.
Willis earned his B.A. degree in psychology in 1991 from Baylor University, where he was a four-year setter and team captain for the men’s volleyball team. He also holds an M.S. in human performance and sport studies from the University of Tennessee, where he was a setter for the 1993-94 men’s volleyball team. Willis and his wife, Leslie, have two daughters, Hayden and Harper.