As Hofstra women's volleyball coach, Kristina Hernandez is appropriately full of "pride." She's proud not only of her Pride squad and her Team USA Junior squad, but of her adopted beach town.
When Hernandez took the job at Hofstra two years ago, she had to find an apartment quickly, so she rented a one-bedroom in the back of a house near the beach on Indiana Avenue. A year later, she found her own place right on the beach, still in the West End. "I am from a small town in Texas, and Long Beach has that great small town local feel," said Hernandez, the former head coach at Loyola in Baltimore.
Hernandez loves the connection between Long Beach and her profession. It's a natural fit that brings all the elements of her life into harmony. "Long Beach is a very unique place for volleyball," she said. "Everyone plays and everyone is in a league. It is one of the most unique beach towns I have ever been to in my life."
At Loyola Hernandez honed her playing and coaching skills and overall philosophy, which said is to always have the athlete at the forefront of every decision, as well as to teach them life skill through volleyball that will help guide them throughout their lives.
"We have high demands and expectations on our team and help them set goals everyday to perform to that level and are constantly making them understand how to be more mentally engaged in the process of their development," she said.
Christina Greenup is Hernandez's assistant coach at Hofstra, and is a direct beneficiary of her approach and style, having played for four years under her at Loyola. "After my third year, I remember I respected her and trusted her on and off the court," Greenup said. "She would bend over backwards to help you in a time of need, but will still make sure you're getting your job done in the gym. Not a lot of coaches are able to separate the two."
It's this understanding of the relationship between life and sports that has propelled Hernandez to the top of her profession as the head coach of USA Volleyball Women's Junior Continental Team. The international coaching experience gives her an opportunity to work with and against the best athletes in her sport from around the world.
But she remains a local girl at heart. The same community vibe she gets playing volleyball in the beach leagues with friends and neighbors on the sands of the West End inspire her in the gym on Hempstead Turnpike.
"Coaching my Hofstra team is different in the sense that it is definitely closer to my heart," she emphasized. "My relationships with my players are something I truly value. I love walking into our gym everyday ... It is my heaven. Seeing all the banners hanging gives you a huge sense of pride and purpose, and we talk about that everyday with our team."
Since Long Beach is such a hot bed for volleyball talent, Hernandez has the additional advantage of being able to recruit in her own backyard. It helps, too, that the assistant coach at Long Beach High School is a Hofstra alumni, Beverly Rivera-Monahan.
"We see them a few times a year, especially once playoffs start for them," she said. "We also run a club volleyball program out of Hofstra. It helps us develop talent in the area."