Feb. 4, 2010
Alma Kovaci has a list. So much has been crossed off, yet pages of unchecked boxes remain. The list isn't complete, but what has been accomplished makes one proud. Each bullet point tells a story -- stories that she'll reminisce years from now when shesettles down on an island, any island.
Right now, her Paradise Island isn't an island. It's West Point, N.Y., on the banks of the Hudson River. As coach of the Army women's volleyball team, Kovaci has been basking in the success she has brought to the Academy. With 76-14 record in three years at West Point, the Albania native has had the most success of any coach in Army history during a three-year span. Her rise to success was not easy. There were many obstacles that she had to overcome, but she checked those triumphs off her list a while ago.
Rise of a Star
She picked up volleyball at the age of seven. By 18, she was one of Albania's most coveted players. It was a time of political unrest in Albania as the call for Democracy was growing louder in louder in a Socialist nation.
"The conditions there were not good," she said. "I thank my parents for giving me the right direction."
During this time, Kovaci, with the support of her father and mother, Yllka, finely tuned her volleyball skills. At 18, as part of Albania's "Vision 2000" campaign, she was selected as the country's top volleyball player. That honor, however, was not how she made it to the United States.
Instead, it was a video that brought her stateside. Temple University coach Bob Bertucci was introduced to a video of one of Albania's top volleyball players, but when watching, he pointed to a different player. It was Kovaci. Soon after that, she was dominating the court in the United States, earning All-America honors as a senior at Temple.
"I had never planned to come this far," she said. "It wasn't planned, but it found its way on her list.
A Change In Culture
Kovaci shouldn't be coaching. It's not what her native culture expects of women, but her family never held her back.
"Coming from Albania, women are not supposed to do all this crazy stuff that I do," she said. "My family allowed me to be myself and they have always have been supportive."
Their support is a little different than one might think. Her parents and younger sister, Olta, have never seen her play or coach in America. They know that she is coaching, but they do not know of her accolades. They do not
understand what a Patriot League championship is, which Alma led the Black Knights to this season.
"They don't know about all that stuff," Kovaci said. "They just ask if I win and if I eat."
She has done both since coming to the United States. From an
All-America player at Temple to an assistant at Army to becoming the head coach at West Point, Kovaci has been a winner, and of course, she has never gone hungry. After graduating from Temple in 2002, she was a volunteer assistant at Centre College in Danville, Ky., before then-Army coach Glen Conley insisted that she be his assistant.
Not being a citizen of the United States was an obstacle that Kovaci had to overcome to join the Army coaching staff, but Conley told the administration that she was the person he wanted for the job. Four years later, Conley left West Point to coach Kent State near his family, and Kovaci was offered the Army head coaching job on the spot.
Island of Her Own
She came to America alone. Maybe that is why she loves traveling to islands all over the world. One in particular has stolen her heart -- a place where if she were to pack up and leave right now, she would go there immediately.
"Kauai," she said with little hesitation. "I'd go there. I'd love to just open up a Mom and Pop shop there."
The oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is about 22 times the size of West Point's campus. Volleyball has allotted her the opportunity to do many things. It first brought her to Philadelphia, where in her first year at Temple, she had thoughts of leaving. Her assistant coach convinced her to keep going and she remained. Years later, her decision has proved to be the best one she could have ever made. At West Point, she is guiding young cadets toward prosperous lives and she loves every minute of it.
"How could you not come to Army?" she asked. "It is a great
education and the girls that come here are definitely the best of the best."
The same could be said of their volleyball coach, who is nowhere near ready to leave for Kauai.
It is pages and pages away on her list.