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Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Definition of Morgan State Volleyball: The Ramona Riley-Bozier Story

By Alexis Davi

The Ramona Riley-Bozier era of Morgan State volleyball almost did not exist. But the hundreds of young women who have put on their knee pads in Talmadge Hill Field House are beyond grateful to live through this historic time.


“To know her is to love her,” University of New Orleans head volleyball coach and former Morgan State assistant coach and player Ashley Preston said. “(Riley-Bozier) has a big heart and she will help any and all of us if she can. She loves Morgan State. She loves coaching and I just appreciate that our relationship has grown from player to coach to a colleague and now to friend. It’s not too often that people are able to build a relationship like that with their coach.”

Being a MEAC Hall of Fame volleyball coach was not at the top of Riley-Bozier’s to-do list when looking at what her professional life had in store for her. Her track coach and athletic director at Morgan State, Leonard C. Braxton, called Riley-Bozier and explained the volleyball program was in need of a coach.

“He said they needed a coach right away just to get through the season,” Riley-Bozier said. “I had just turned 24 and I got the call in the month of July asking me if I would come to do it. I actually told him no a couple of times. I told him I was not interested in coaching someone else’s kids. I remember this so clearly.”

Riley-Bozier was initially skeptical because she did not have any experience coaching. MEAC Hall of Fame inductee Braxton (2002) reminded Riley-Bozier that she was the captain. 

“He told me to just go out there and be a leader,” the winningest coach at Morgan State said. “I told him I would do it that year to get them through and give them time to bring someone else in and that never happened, as you can see 34 years later.”

After only five years of being the head coach of Morgan State volleyball, Riley-Bozier brought home her first MEAC title. She would go on to repeat that three more times. 

One of Riley-Bozier’s tactics for being an outstanding coach was analyzing the skill level of her players and meeting them where they were to produce better-quality results.

“Her level of communication when going through a drill or skill really helped to meet players where they were at,” Preston said. “I think her prior experiences with communication styles that differed also helped out.”

This method translated into her players earning a spot in the NCAA Division I Tournament in 1997, making the team the first Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to get a chance at the big tournament. 

Riley-Bozier admits one of the main dilemmas she faced during her first few years as a coach was coaching young women who were also her former teammates and getting them to see her in an authoritative light. To complete this task, she relied on her volleyball fundamentals from high school.

Preston faced a similar obstacle during her first year of coaching. Riley-Bozier’s former prized libero and outside hitter struggled with how to deal with players occasionally letting her down. But Riley-Bozier had the perfect words for the young coach.

“I asked her what should I do to get over a player disappointing me,” Preston said. “Coach told me to think about it the same way a parent gets over their child disappointing them and that always stuck with me. If they disappoint me, I have to let it go, because I still have to love them.”

Morgan State’s beloved coach’s love for volleyball sprouted in a small gym class at New Mark Middle School in Kansas City, Mo. With a little encouragement from her gym teacher, she decided to take it seriously and try out for varsity once she was a student at Oak Park High School. Riley-Bozier earned a place on the varsity roster and got the next-level training she needed by attending volleyball camps under the mandatory demand of her coach. 

“If you did not go camping then there was no need for you to try out the rest of your time in high school,” Riley-Bozier said.

Preston explained Riley-Bozier was tough but with love. Riley-Bozier’s love for Morgan State goes beyond sets, digs, and nets; she was also a part of the 1986 track and field team as a Lady Bear and went on to be the first leg of the record-breaking 4×100-meter team and still holds the record of 44.47 seconds. Being on many collegiate teams also taught Riley-Bozier the importance of developing a skill set beyond the hardwood or net.

“I was not just concerned with making athletes better volleyball players,” Riley-Bozier said. “My biggest thing was I wanted to help them become strong women which is something I do not think I got in high school, someone who was really concerned with my well-being off the court. This even became more of my focus than teaching them how to pass the ball. I felt like this would help them believe in me, feel that I care about them and work hard for me.”

This love and care have transcended into a lifetime of producing players that would turn into coaches who coached their teams the same way.

“The longer I coach, the more I become more and more like her (Riley-Bozier),” Preston said. “One of the main things I took from her that I implement with my team is the overall focus on academics. You are here because you are a student first and an athlete second.”

While Riley-Bozier roamed around Morgan State’s homecoming, a player who she had not seen in over a decade ran up to her with her arms open.

As the two embraced, the former player burst into tears. The player expressed to her how the majority of the lessons Riley-Bozier tried to teach came full circle once she became a parent to children who play sports. As another one of her players, Preston was also able to use some of Riley-Bozier’s wisdom to navigate her heading coaching role.

Another ingredient to Riley-Bozier’s Hall of Fame recipe is the importance of knowing the true definition of team. She constantly asked each player to put their individual accolades aside and to show for the greater good. 

“I would sit a starter if she was having issues with another player on the team and you could begin to see that on the court,” Riley-Bozier said. “The starter needs to make those adjustments. If they did not make those adjustments, then they were just going to sit until we figured it out.”

This willingness to force players to put the team first and Riley-Bozier’s own dedication to team greatness is what have positioned her perfectly into her induction. Even with all the accolades to prove it, the call to deliver the Hall of Fame news still took the decorated coach by surprise.

Although Riley-Bozier’s days of coaching have come to an end, due to her nature to go over the moon for Morgan State, a position was created to keep her around. Riley-Bozier is now the Assistant Director for Intramurals and Wellness.  

“I do not really like to use the word ‘retired,’” Riley-Bozier said. “It is not a word that I have ever said. I am just no longer coaching volleyball at Morgan State. Because I have always run a clean program, I have always shown Morgan as first.”

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