Lizzy Stemke had just faced one life-changing event when the call came for another.
Phillip Faulkner/UGA Sports Communications Georgia volleyball coach Lizzy Stemke instructs three-year returning starter Carla Tietz during practice earlier this month.
University of Georgia
Within weeks of having her first baby, she decided to take a new job as Georgia’s head volleyball coach.
Athletic director Greg McGarity announced Stemke’s hiring on Dec. 22, a little more than two weeks after she gave birth to daughter Kerrigan Jane Stemke on Dec. 7.
“To me, one big life event plus another equals perfect timing,” Stemke said. “Let’s do it all at once. You can’t always control timing. I wasn’t necessarily searching to leave Nebraska, especially with having a baby on the way.
“But head coaching has always been a goal and a dream of mine, and I had been waiting for the right opportunity. The right opportunity came at a period of my life where a lot of things were going to change, so we decided to do all the change at once.”
This is Stemke’s first head coaching job after spending the last three seasons as an assistant at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers won the Big 12 title all three seasons Stemke was on John Cook’s staff.
Stemke replaces Joel McCartney, who was relieved of coaching duties on Nov. 1.
“We felt like we needed somebody that had excelled in the sport at a very high level,” McGarity said. “We wanted somebody who had coached under a great college coach. We wanted somebody who had international experience in the world of volleyball and we wanted somebody who had a pedigree that wrapped everything together.
“At the end of the day, Lizzy was at the top of the list.”
Because of her pregnancy, Stemke could not travel to the job interview, so McGarity and the search committee flew to Lincoln, Neb., to meet her in person about a week and a half after the birth.
When the time came for the campus visit, Stemke still could not travel, so she sent her husband – former Wisconsin punter and Ray Guy Award winner Kevin Stemke – to scout the territory.
“I’m so grateful to everybody because they were really patient with all the things that I had going on at the same time,” Stemke said. “That really said a lot to me that they would be that supportive and that helpful. Even though the timing wasn’t great with my personal life, I knew this was the right place to come.”
Although Stemke has not coached in the Southeastern Conference, she knows the territory.
Stemke grew up in New Orleans. Her father Billy Fitzgerald played football and basketball at Tulane. Her older brother Edmond Fitzgerald played basketball at Ole Miss. Her sister Meg Fitzgerald played volleyball at Florida and her younger brother Robert Fitzgerald played baseball at Tennessee.
“I am very familiar with the SEC because so much of my family has been part of it,” Stemke said. “My family has always given me a hard time for going up to the Big 10 (Wisconsin) to play volleyball. I’ve got a lot of family in the Southeast. More importantly, I knew I wasn’t going to make a move without the full support of the athletic department and the athletic director in particular. I felt a really strong commitment to getting this sport going here.”
Stemke inherits a team that is coming off an 11-14 season with 6-14 mark in conference play.
McCartney was relieved with seven games left in the regular season when the Bulldogs were 2-11 in SEC play.
The Bulldogs return setter Kathleen Gates and libero Carla Tietz, who are both three-year starters.
“We need to build a solid foundation,” Stemke said. “We’ve been given time, patience and resources and we’re going to take advantage of that. We want to build it the right way. We’re going to set the terminology and the priorities and the gym culture.
“We’re going to stress solid fundamentals. We’re going to break down every skill. We really want to break down the core fundamentals of passing and serving and defense and really teaching the game. I want this spring to be about teaching the game and teaching the fundamentals that we can build from.”
Lizzy Stemke File
Native of New Orleans
Played at Wisconsin 1998-2001
Played for United States National Team 2001-2003.
Central Florida volunteer coach 2003.
North Carolina assistant coach 2005-06.
Nebraska assistant coach 2007-2010.