The meteoric rise of the Johnson & Wales University women's volleyball program has been artfully crafted by head coach Nancy Somera. Somera took over a Johnson & Wales program in 2014 that was coming off three-straight losing seasons. In her first season, she had the Wildcats back in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Tournament finals and the following year JWU hoisted the first of three GNAC championship trophies, to go along with its NCAA New England Region Championship.
In addition to her coaching duties, Somera serves as the department's senior women's administrator. She is also head of the marketing and communications team and has oversight of women's ice hockey, field hockey and men's volleyball.
During Somera's time as court boss, the Wildcats have a 108-26 record, including a 41-5 GNAC mark. Over the last two seasons, Johnson & Wales has been one of the most dominant teams in the country. The Wildcats have a 68-2 record during that time and have only lost 16 sets. For nearly two months in 2017, the Wildcats did not drop a set as they won 64-consecutive sets, coming two sets short of tying its own NCAA record set in 2016. The Wildcats have led the nation in hitting percentage for the past two seasons and were fourth in opponent hitting percentage this past year.
There were a number of firsts for the Wildcats in 2017. A 3-0 win over #14 MIT on September 29 was the program's first against a ranked opponent. The following week, JWU earned its first national ranking, and finished the season ranked #6 in the AVCA Coaches’ Poll. In post-season, the program won its first-ever NCAA match, before winning two more to capture the Regional Championship and a trip to the NCAA Championship Round of 8.
Named AVCA National Coach of the Year (2017) and twice named AVCA New England Region Coach of the Year (2016, 2017), Somera's players have had unprecedented success. Kate Walker, Maria Coniglio, Brylee Frank and Katie Leidhold were named AVCA All-Americans. Walker is the school's first, First-Team All-American as well as the 2017 AVCA New England Region Player of the Year.
The last two seasons, Johnson & Wales has been unbeatable at home and in the conference. The victory over MIT was JWU's 41st-straight home win, the ninth-longest streak in NCAA history. Johnson & Wales has won its last 26 conference games, dating back to October 22, 2015.
Somera has more than 25 years of volleyball coaching experience, including 17 years at the Division I college level. She served as head coach at the University of South Carolina for two seasons in 2005 and 2006, before leaving the coaching profession to work in the private business sector for several years. While at USC, Somera coached the program’s first-ever All-American and SEC All-Freshman team selection. After leaving the Gamecock program, she became head coach at Heathwood Episcopal High School and was Director of Midlands Volleyball, a youth club program in Columbia, SC.
Before taking the reins at South Carolina, Somera served six years as the head coach at Oregon State. Her 2001 Beaver team became the first Oregon State volleyball unit to get to the NCAA Tournament since the school joined the Pacific-10 and the second in program history, finishing the year with a 17-12 record and a fifth-place finish in the Pac-10. Oregon State finished at .500 or better in one of the toughest volleyball conferences in the country in three of Somera's six seasons.
Prior to Oregon State, Somera served as an assistant coach at Southern California for eight seasons, making the NCAA Tournament during each of her years on staff. Seven of those teams made the regional semifinals, with the 1994 squad advancing to the regional finals. Southern California was 174-64 (.731) overall and 100-44 (.694) in league matches with Somera and finished fourth or better in the Pac-10 in each of her eight years on staff.
In 15 years of Pac-10 coaching, Somera was involved with training and mentoring 10 All-Americans and 21 All-Pac-10 award winners. Somera was an assistant coach at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif., in 1990 before joining the Southern California staff. In her one season, GWC won the state championship.
Formerly Nancy Hillman, Somera was a four-year starter for Southern California from 1985 to 1988 and was a member of the 1985 Final Four team. She was an All-Pac-10 selection in 1987 and 1988, and was a three-year team captain that never missed a match due to injury or illness. During her four years as a player, the Glendale, Calif., native set five single-season and career records. Somera is still ranked among the top 10 in Southern California's career records for kills, kills per game, attacks, digs, digs per game, service aces and service aces per game.
During her senior season, Somera was awarded the Pac-10 Conference Gold Medal, which is given to one athlete in each sport who best demonstrates the qualities of leadership and outstanding scholastic achievement. She was also a four-year Scholar-Athlete Award honoree. In 1990, she was named to Southern California's All-Decade Team.
Somera graduated in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism/broadcasting, and in 1994, she earned her master's degree in education from Southern California.
Somera and her husband Ben, have two children: son, Sam, and daughter, Maile.