Cathy George: Rising to the Top

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Cathy George is no stranger to volleyball—she's been coaching for 37 years, including 17 years at MSU and 11 at WMU. She became the first woman to coach in the NCAA D1 Final Four when she took her University of Texas-Arlington program to the national semifinals in 1989.

While George admits it's been a challenge to be a strong coach, a mother and wife all at once, she's invigorated for the opportunities that lay ahead. George now leads the Grand Rapids Rise, West Michigan's first major-league women's sports team, as Director of Volleyball Operations and Head Coach.

With professional volleyball being wildly popular overseas, we caught up with George to learn more about the team's arrival in West Michigan.

What does it mean to have the first professional women's sports team in Grand Rapids?
I was very optimistic about the Pro Volleyball Federation from the start and actually was the first coach to sign on. I believe in the backing of DP Fox Sports and what they've done here. I trust them, and with people who are energized about volleyball, we can make this happen. I have this passion to see this league grow into something special and be a positive step for women athletics. It means more to me than just coaching. It's setting a foundation for the future so it can be this great opportunity for people down the road. If everyone is moving in the same direction, we'll certainly make a lot of history.

How has your own professional experience prepared yourself to lead GR Rise to success?
No matter what, there's a business side to everything. How do we grow the sport, be mentors for young people, grow a fan base? That's always been on my mind. When you try to pull a team together, there are a lot of roadblocks and successes. Now, we have to look at it on a bigger scale. We have to put a plan in place that will be sustainable for years to come. Every single piece matters to me, and I want to ensure we're setting it up for success. If we can get the foundation right, we'll have fewer bumps along the way. In every business, you have to take a leap of faith and everyone has to be all in.

What would you say to folks who might be considering coming out to a game?
You're going to have a ball! Most people I invite to a game will come back. They always say, 'That was way more athletic, exciting and nothing like what I expected volleyball to look like.' Those people often become season ticket holders and buy suites and courtside seats. It's not just the game but the event around the game—the whole package. I think everyone is going to be excited about the level of players we're bringing in; it's going to be a very competitive league. Whether you know volleyball or not, come see what it looks like. I think you're going to be pleased!

Learn more at grrise.com.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.

This article originally appeared in the Aug/Sep '23 issue of West Michigan Woman.

 Photo Courtesy of Michigan State Athletics. 


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