James Finley
Year: Eighth season (126-110, .533)
Previous College: Sul Ross State '83
Title: Head Volleyball Coach
Phone: (804) 828-3024

 James Finley isn’t one to run from a challenge. That was evident when he jumped at the opportunity to leave successful Arizona Western College for the chance to turn around the VCU Volleyball program in 2005, and it still rings true today as Finley steers the Rams toward national prominence.

“I always perceive myself as being a builder,” says Finley, entering his seven season with VCU. “I like to take something that’s dysfunctional and turn it into something special.”
 
True to his word, Finley made a splash in 2005 when he took over a 6-21 squad and guided the Rams to unprecedented heights. VCU finished 22-12 in 2005 and captured its first Colonial Athletic Association Championship and NCAA Tournament berth. The Rams’ 16-win improvement was the second-largest turnaround in the country that season.
 
In the following years, Finley led the Rams to three more appearances in the conference championship match (2006, 2009, 2011), as well as the program’s first CAA regular-season crown in 2009. He’s racked up 126 wins along the way, which stands second all-time to Wendy Wadsworth (169) on the school’s career list.
 
In 2008 the Rams finished 10-4 in CAA regular season action, their best since joining the league in 1995. VCU was 19-13 overall that year. In 2009, Finley's squad won 27 matches, the most by a Rams' squad since 1985, and claimed the CAA regular season crown with a 12-2 league mark. VCU earned the right to host the CAA Tournament that year, a first for the program, and reached the championship match for the third time in five seasons.
 
It’s a staggering turnaround for a program that once languished at the bottom of the CAA. Prior to Finley’s arrival, the Rams hadn’t posted a winning conference record in 14 seasons of CAA play, placing no higher than fifth over that period. VCU is 39-17 in conference play over the last four years and has finished in the top four each season.
 
Although an eye for talent has been critical to his success, Finley believes an ability to maximize a player’s athletic abilities may be the most important thing a coach can do. On the sidelines, Finley is often an enthusiastic cheerleader, as opposed to the stoic authoritarian commonly associated with the coaching profession. It’s this approach, Finley says, that allows his players to perform when it matters.
 
“When you’re in a crucial time in a match, as an elite athlete, you really put a lot of pressure on yourself to be successful. I think it’s really important as a coach to relieve some of that pressure and not add to it,” says the native Texan. “I’ve seen a lot of coaches just crush players in that time. So, I try to be very encouraging, give a lot of information that they can process to stay ahead of the game.”
 
He also believes in two critical philosophical ideas, relationship-building and the pursuit of excellence.
 
“We really want the players to be able to trust each other,” Finley says. “When you play alongside somebody, you want to trust that they’ll give maximum effort and that they know their responsibility and you can count on them to take care of that responsibility, on and off the court.”  
 
Meanwhile, Finley is trying to stay ahead of the game himself as he looks to move the VCU program forward. The Rams have been aggressive in both recruiting and scheduling.
 
In 2010, VCU played six ranked teams, further evidence that Finley is willing to jump into the fray if he thinks it’ll transform the Rams into a perennial NCAA Tournament contender. Finley also believes that can be achieved by recruiting the best available athletes.
 
“We’re working hard on recruiting a student-athlete that can play higher above the net,” he says. “Ultimately, my goal for this program is, when we get to the last weekend for the conference tournament, that the outcome of that tournament is not going to determine whether we go to the NCAA’s or not.”
 
In that regard, Finley has shown a penchant for player development. In his first six seasons, Finley's players garnered four First Team All-CAA citations, more than the previous 11 seasons combined. Ludmila Francescatto, who transferred with Finley from Arizona Western in 2005, was named AVCA All-Region Honorable Mention in 2005 and 2006, the first Ram to gain that distinction. Michala Kvapilova also earned that distinction following the 2009 season.

A former high school and club coach, Finley moved into the collegiate ranks at Texas El Paso, where he served as an assistant for two years. He became head coach at Arizona Western College in Yuma, Ariz., in 2001.  In four seasons there, the Matadors won four NJCAA Region I Division I championships. The team was ranked in the top 10 nationally each of the four seasons. His overall record there was 137-37. His teams performed away from the court, too. Finley coached eight academic All-Americans at Arizona Western.
“James may be one of the most committed coaches I have ever been around,” said former VCU Director of Athletics Norwood T. Teague.  “He lives and breathes VCU volleyball."

Finley earned a degree in range science from Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas in 1983. He has one son, 30-year-old Carlton, who resides in Richmond and works at Richmond Ford. Finley and John Sternlicht were married in 2010 and reside in Richmond with John’s youngest son Jeremy.  John’s other son David graduated from Washington and Lee in 2011 and resides in Arlington, Va.
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THE FINLEY FACTOR
YEAR
SCHOOL
OVERALL
%
CONF.
PLACE
NOTES
2001
Arizona Western (JC)
36-14
.720
--
--
Region 1 Champions
2002
Arizona Western (JC)
38-9
.809
--
--
Region 1 Champions
2003
Arizona Western (JC)
24-7
.774
--
--
Region 1 Champions
2004
Arizona Western (JC)
39-7
.848
--
--
Region 1 Champions
AWC
4 years
137-37
.787
--
--

2005
VCU
22-12
.647
11-7
4th*
CAA Tournament Champs
NCAA 1st Round
2006
VCU
16-18
.471
8-10
6th
CAA Tournament Runner-Up
2007
VCU
12-21
.364
6-8
T-7th

2008
VCU
19-13
.594
10-4
2nd

2009 VCU 27-9 .750 12-2 1st CAA Regular Season Champs
2010 VCU 13-20 .394 9-5 T-3rd  
2011 VCU 17-17 .500 8-6 T-4th CAA Tournament
Runner-Up
VCU
7 years
126-110
.533
64-42
--

             
OVERALL
11 years
263-147
.642
64-42
--



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