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 four GNAC championship trophies, to go along with its 2017 NCAA New England Region Championship and 2018 Regional championship final appearance.
In addition to her coaching duties, Somera serves as the department's assistant athletic director and senior woman 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 141-28 record, including a 53-5 GNAC mark. Over the last three seasons, Johnson & Wales has been one of the most dominant teams in the country. The Wildcats have a 101-4 record during that time and have only lost 25 sets. The top hitting team in the country the last three seasons, JWU also led the NCAA in assists per set in 2018 while ranking second in kills per set.
After cracking the Top 25 for the first time in 2017, the 2018 edition soared to new heights. Johnson & Wales started the year at number six and moved up to number five after defeating top-ranked and defending national champion Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. It was the first win by any JWU program over the number one team in the country. The Wildcats achieved the highest ranking in program history when they ascended to number two on October 17.
Named AVCA National Coach of the Year (2017) and three times named AVCA New England Region Coach of the Year (2016, 2017, 2018), Somera's players have had unprecedented success. Kate Walker, Maria Coniglio, Brylee Frank, Katie Leidhold and Elyssa Nicolas were named AVCA All-Americans. Walker was the school's first, First-Team All-American as well as the 2017 AVCA New England Region Player of the Year and Coniglio followed this year with a spot on the First Team.
The program has also achieved in the classroom during Somera’s tenure. In 2017, Kate Walker became the team’s first CoSIDA Academic All-American. She was joined on the 2018 team by Coniglio and Katie Leidhold. Johnson & Wales has earned an AVCA Team Academic Award the last four years for having a cumulative GPA over a 3.30.
Over the last three seasons, Johnson & Wales has been nearly unbeatable at home. JWU had a 60-match home court winning streak, the third-longest in NCAA Division II history. Johnson & Wales has won its last 38 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 (now the Pac-12) 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, attacks, digs, digs per set, service aces and service aces per set.
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.