When Chris Gravel was handed the keys to the Hillsdale College volleyball program in the spring of 1996, he wasn’t looking at a lemon, but a vehicle that definitely needed more than just fine-tuning. Now, as the 2016 season approaches, Gravel remains at the wheel of a finely tuned machine that has roared its way past the competition and into the nation’s elite.
Going into his 21st season as head coach, Gravel has pushed the Chargers to the top of one of the most competitive volleyball conferences in all of Division II. While leading the program to more than 300 wins since his arrival, Gravel and his players have racked up numerous honors, both athletic and academic in nature, culminating in a 2011 season that saw the program honored like no other time in its history.
“Anyone who is coaching understands that success gets traced back to the players you have,” Gravel said. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to have great players who are also great people throughout my time here at Hillsdale.”
Under Gravel’s leadership, Hillsdale has won an unprecedented three straight GLIAC Tournament championships, and in 2011, led the program to the NCAA Division II regional title, a first for any Hillsdale College athletic program. He’s was also named the Midwest Region Coach of the Year in back-to-back campaigns in 2010 and 2011.
In 2012, he led a squad with little on-court experience to its second straight appearance in the NCAA Sweet 16. As the new season approaches, his expectations are higher than ever, which is exactly how he likes it.
He has four career GLIAC Coach of the Year honors, and since 2006, has coached a staggering seven different players who have received a total of 11 AVCA All-American honors. Three of his players were named GLIAC Player of the Year just since 2006 and he’s taken the Chargers into the NCAA Regional Tournament in nine of the past 12 seasons. In three of those seasons (2006, 2010, 2011), Hillsdale College acted as the host school and number one seed for the regional tournament.
As much as his team and players have achieved on the court, Gravel’s program has been well-represented with off-the-court accolades. Since 2004, more than half of his players have made the GLIAC All-Academic Team, and his 2004, 2005 and 2006 teams earned academic recognition from the AVCA. For four years in a row, one of his players received the prestigious GLIAC Commissioners Award, which recognizes not only high athletic achievement, but excellence in the classroom and community. His program has the most number of commissioner’s award winners of any at Hillsdale.
In the Spring of 2016, setter Marissa Owen was named recipient of the GLIAC Post-Graduate Scholarship, becoming the only female student-athlete in the GLIAC to receive the award. It was another first for the program under Gravel's guidance.
“I feel great about the position our program is in today,” Gravel said. “But I want to win a national championship. That’s the long-range goal I have in mind every day when I’m coaching our players. I want their goals to match mine because the kind of effort and dedication I demand from them, combined with what they give, can allow us to achieve our goals.”
In the 2008-09 academic year, Gravel had the title of “Assistant Athletic Director” added to his day-to-day job duties by athletic director Don Brubacher.
Prior to taking over the Charger program, Gravel served as an assistant coach at GLIAC programs Grand Valley State and Wayne State. A 1992 graduate of GVSU, Gravel has also coached at the club and high school level throughout the state of Michigan.
Always by his side, in coaching and in life, is his wife of 19 years, Stephanie. They have a 15-year-old daughter Brooklynn and they reside in Osseo.