Mark Hardaway came to Youngstown State with an extensive background in winning, and it hasn’t taken long for him to immediately turn the Penguins into a team to be reckoned with in the Horizon League.
In a short time, Hardaway has led a complete turnaround. The Penguins posted three consecutive winning records for the first time in the program's history from 2012-14. The Guins have had their three best seasons in the Horizon League under Hardaway.
In 2014, his third season, Hardaway guided the Penguins to 17 victories, the most by the program since 1999. The Guins tied the school mark with seven Horizon League wins and advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament for the second straight year. In the regular season, YSU ended up in a tie for fourth in the HL, which was its best finish since joining the league in 2001.
The Penguins won their first six matches for the first time in program history and earned nine victories in the non-conference season. Among those were a win over Virginia, YSU’s first over an ACC team in 12 years, three over Missouri Valley teams and one against OVC runner-up Belmont.
On the court, YSU’s .218 attack percentage was its best since 1999. Val Jeffery was voted the Horizon League Setter of the Year and All-Horizon League. She finished averaging 10.47 assists per set, the most by a YSU setter since 2005. Nikki Thompson set a school record for digs in a season with 495 in 2014, passing Heather Luben’s mark of 448 in 1996. Lexi Egler became just the fifth player in school history to record both 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs. Sam Brown led all Horizon League freshmen with 293 kills, and she led all league players with 42 aces.
Hardaway earned the 200th win of his head coaching career in the season-opening victory over Evansville in August 2014.
In 2015, outside hitter Sarah Varcolla was named to the Horizon League's All-Freshman Team. Varcolla led the conference with 40 aces, and she ranked third among all Horizon League freshmen in kills with 236. YSU led the Horizon League with 1.55 assists per game, the most by the program since 2005. Thompson eclipsed her season-record for digs in 2015 finishing with 510 for the campaign.
YSU's senior class of Jessie Gerig, Aly Ryan, Lauren Thompson and Nikki Thompson will leave Youngstown State with 58 victories. The Penguins had won 25 matches in the four years combined prior to their's and Hardaway's arrival.
In 2013, his second season, Hardaway led the Penguins to 16-15 overall mark and a school best 7-7 record in Horizon League play. YSU earned a berth in the conference tournament for the second straight season, and it advanced to the tournament semifinals for the first time since joining the conference in 2001. The Penguins beat regional rivals Kent State, Akron and Cleveland State in the same year for the first time in school history, and they added a win over Robert Morris to go 5-0 against teams located within 75 miles of campus.
On the individual level, the Penguins had two all-conference honorees for the first time in 14 years. Senior Jenna Cavanaugh was voted the Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year as the league’s top blocker for the second straight season, and she was joined on the All-Horizon League team by Alexis Egler. Egler added an all-tournament team nod to her list of accomplishments during the season. The Penguins had a league-high four different players be named Horizon League Player of the Week.
Hardaway led YSU to a 15-14 record YSU in his first season, which was the program's best mark in 13 years. The Penguins won more matches in 2012 than they did in their previous three seasons combined, and their 10-win improvement tied for the 10th-best improvement in the country. Further, their 99-spot improvement in the RPI was 15th-best in the country.
The Penguins lost the first match of the season in five sets to immediately hint at an uptick in competitiveness, and they got a huge confidence boost after taking a set from Michigan State the next day on Aug. 25. Hardaway got his first victory on the YSU bench against McNeese State later that afternoon, and the Penguins went on to win eight straight matches. That was tied for the third-longest winning streak in school history, and, more impressively, it represented more victories than the program had posted in the previous two seasons combined.
The Guins finished the non-conference season with a 10-4 record, and a 5-9 mark in Horizon League play earned them a spot on the conference tournament. It was their first tournament appearance since 2008.
On the individual level, Missy Hundelt earned All-Horizon League honors as a right-side hitter. A two-time Offensive Player of the Week, Hundelt ranked fourth in the league in kills per set while ranking fifth in double-doubles. A vastly-improved Cavanaugh led the Horizon League with 1.23 blocks per set, and she set a new school record with 13 block assists against UIC on Sept. 28. She was part of a middle-blocker unit that was leaps and bounds better than it was in 2011.
Hardaway came to Youngstown State having been on the bench for 344 victories at the Division I level. He was most recently an assistant at Bowling Green, and he spent his career developing ties in Ohio and throughout the Midwest.
Prior to his arrival in Youngstown, Hardaway spent 24 years as a collegiate coach, with 10 years each as an assistant at Bowling Green and a Division I head coach. He served two stints at BGSU coaching with Denise Van De Walle. He was on her bench for two seasons from 1991-92, and he returned for another eight seasons from 2004-11. In between, he was the head coach for two years at Western Kentucky and eight years at Evansville.
With Hardaway on the bench, Bowling Green went 206-122 and had 25 All-Mid-American Conference selections. The Falcons finished with at least 20 wins in five of those 10 seasons. Bowling Green went 29-5, won the MAC Tournament Title, advanced to the NCAA Tournament and finished ranked 19th in the final NCAA poll in his first season in 1991. The Falcons then went 30-8 and finished as the runners-up in the National Invitation Volleyball Championships in 1992. Bowling Green had six winning seasons and a pair of second-place finishes in the MAC East Division upon his return.
He twice served as interim head coach while Van De Walle was with the USA Women's National Sitting Team at the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics and led the Falcons to a 15-3 mark. BGSU went 7-1 and won the Marquette Challenge with Hardaway at the helm in 2008. The Falcons then went 8-2, including a 4-0 record at the West Virginia Invitational and a 2-0 start in MAC play, in 2008 under Hardaway.
Hardaway earned his first Division I head coaching job in 1993 and proceeded to go 45-27 in two seasons at Western Kentucky. Hardaway coached two All-Sun Belt selections, two all-tournament picks and five academic all-conference honorees in his two seasons with the Hilltoppers.
Hardaway went on to coach Evansville for eight seasons and led the Purple Aces to their first winning season in 10 years in 1998. In 2000, Hardaway's team set school records for most Missouri Valley Conference wins (10) and highest MVC finish (fifth) that still stand today. His players went on to earn 11 all-conference, five all-newcomer and 20 academic all-conference selections. Two Aces were also drafted into the U.S. Professional Volleyball League.
Hardaway's first head coaching job at the collegiate level came at Defiance College. He spent two years at the college in Northwest Ohio and led the Yellow Jackets to their second winning season in 10 years with a 19-16 record in 1990. Prior to that, he spent a year each as an assistant at Pittsburg State and Missouri Southern State College.
Outside of volleyball, Hardaway also served as the head diving coach at Western Kentucky and a facility coordinator at Defiance.
He was an accomplished varsity diver for two seasons at Evansville before turning his attention to volleyball. Hardaway played on the club team at Eastern Kentucky in 1980 and the varsity team at Cincinnati in 1981.
Hardaway earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physical education from Missouri Southern State in 1988.
He and his wife, Ann, have two sons - Christopher and Matthew.