Cape Henlopen High School’s boys volleyball state championship victory over Salesianum School on May 23 had a strong connection to the Diocese of Wilmington. The Vikings’ head coach and one of their assistants have deep ties to multiple Catholic entities, including Salesianum.
Tyler Coupe, who coaches both the boys’ and girls’ teams at Cape, is a 2011 Salesianum graduate, where he played for Jeff Gricol, who still leads the Sals. He was a two-time player of the year when boys volleyball was a club sport, reaching the county championship each of his final three years at Salesianum. Those teams were loaded with talent, with some going on to play in college at the Division I level. Those memories have remained with Coupe as a coach.
“Our practice scrimmages were such a competitive atmosphere and helped shape how I approach our practices now,” he said. “Encouraging kids to compete with each other, to try and beat the kid next to you because it’s only going to push our team to higher and further successes.”
He credits Gricol with instilling the fundamentals among “a hodgepodge of athletes, with a majority never having played actual volleyball outside of a gym class.”
Gricol said he first met a 7- or 8-year-old Coupe at Immaculate Heart of Mary School, where Gricol and his wife were in an adult recreation league with Coupe’s parents. Coupe’s mother, Pam, told Gricol that her son was going to play at Salesianum one day.
“Back then my first impression of his skill level was that he could pass better than most of my Sallies JV team,” Gricol said. “He just oozed a passion for volleyball.”
Coupe’s interest in the sport dates back to his days as a student at Holy Rosary School in Claymont, where his sister Jocelyn was a member of the parish’s Catholic Youth Ministry teams and his mother was a coach. He would attend practices and stand off to the side, mimicking the drills the girls were doing.
He eventually got involved with the practices and got to know the nuances of the game. That gave him an advantage as he moved to Salesianum, he said.
Gricol said Coupe was a coach on the court, even as a freshman on the varsity. A setter, Coupe still has the school record for assists; Gricol said he’s the best setter in Salesianum history. But his value went beyond his on-court skill.
He had “a natural ability to receive respect from everyone on the team. Anytime Tyler was on the floor, everyone around him elevated their game,” Gricol said.
Coupe, 30, attended West Chester University, where he played club ball. While in college he spent two seasons on the coaching staff at Ursuline Academy, where his mother was also an assistant. Coupe said the time on the bench under Raiders coach Sue Heiss was invaluable for more than just strategy.
“She really taught me a different way of leading with compassion and emotion toward the students. She showed me it was OK to express your emotions while coaching, that you don’t have to bottle everything in. I am so grateful for her trust in me and letting me join her staff,” he said.
After graduating from West Chester, he moved to Rehoboth Beach with his parents, where they are members of St. Edmond’s Parish. Cape Henlopen took a chance on a 22-year-old recent college graduate, hiring him to lead the girls’ program in 2015. Pam Coupe is part of his staff, and after the final point against Salesianum, mother and son enjoyed the moment together. Tyler Coupe called it a unique experience.
“She’s such a vital part of creating the culture that has led us to our successes,” he said. “She pushes the boys hard and really holds them to a standard of being a good kid. It was funny. There were some moments where she’d go toe-to-toe with players and I would just stand there and think to myself, ‘Oh my, I know exactly how this kid feels.’ She’s been a source of constant support to not only the team but to me as well. I’m extremely appreciative of her.”
As a coach, he thinks back to his experiences at Holy Rosary and Salesianum, and not just in the gym. He said the structure of organization and promptness he learned at those schools stays with him, and he has made that part of the volleyball programs at Cape. He gives his athletes as much freedom as he can but holds the kids to a high standard of responsibility and accountability.
Among his biggest wishes for his players is to get them to fall in love with the sport and to continue after they leave Cape Henlopen. Coupe played in adult rec leagues after graduating from college, and he has taken to beach volleyball since moving to Sussex County. Volleyball, he said, has introduced him to some of the most important people in his life. Whether it’s volleyball or something else, he wants that for his players.
“If I can potentially open a door to give them an opportunity to have something they can experience and do the rest of their life, then I’d view that as a success.”