Loyola women’s volleyball coach Amanda Berkley spent her school years playing volleyball at University of Wisconsin-Madison, but occupied her summer working volleyball camps hosted by her sister, Susie Johnson. It was after one camp that Johnson, the current head coach at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, tipped her sister off to coaching.
Berkley was majoring in kinesiology and physical education with hopes to become a physical education teacher after graduation. But her sister turned her a different way.
“Not everybody is a great camp coach,” Johnson said. “She was able to pick up the things we were teaching, bring it to her court and really thrive. I just noticed that she was good at it. She really understood the game. It just made sense to me.”
Berkley was skeptical at first, but ultimately took Johnson’s advice. She headed to graduate school at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and became a graduate assistant there. The two-season stint in 2008 and 2009 with the Warhawks solidified her passion.
Berkley transitioned from Wisconsin-Whitewater to University of Southern Mississippi in 2010, where she spent three seasons as an assistant coach before she hit a major challenge in her career. In 2013, Southern Mississippi hired Berkley as the interim head coach — a job that Berkley said was rewarding, but brought a unique set of challenges.
“The uncertainty of not knowing if you’re going to be coaching the team the next year [was challenging],” Berkley said. “The previous year we were 8-20, so I knew in order to hopefully get the job, I’d have to have a significant turnaround.”
The Racine, Wisconsin native described it as “coaching for her job.” Not only did she have to turn the program around, but she had to impress a new athletic director all while creating a new set of expectations for the program. Berkley said the challenge made her a better coach in the end.
“[It’s] taking each situation and not panicking or making it seem like it’s the end of the world,” Berkley said. “You just have to figure out a way. ‘How do I solve this problem? How do I make this person better or how do I, basically make the situation better?’”
Those new philosophies carried Berkley into a four-year tenure as the head coach for the Golden Eagles. She turned the team from a losing record to having its most victories since 2009 in 2015. In 2016, the team reached a No. 2 seed in the conference tournament and helped five different players to all-conference USA players the most in school history.
After her time at Southern Mississippi, she took over the head coach position at Loyola in 2017. She led the team to one of the biggest turnarounds in NCAA history. She helped the Ramblers to 16 wins — after only having five the previous season.
Additionally, she guided Loyola to an eight-match winning streak early in the year, and the Ramblers were able to close out the year with a winning record for the first time in three years.
“I’m a fairly positive coach and that’s one of the things the team needed at the time was positivity,” Berkley said.
Berkley’s second season improved even more. The Ramblers established a single-season program record for conference wins by going 14-4 in Missouri Valley Conference play. Their second-place finish was their best since joining the MVC in 2013.
The growth of the seniors on the team was Berkley’s favorite part of the season. The eight seniors on the team went from having poor records to shocking the conference in their senior year.
“They’ve had a very different college career and it was really cool to see them have that success,” Berkley said. “And adding it to the tournament and being the two seed and finishing in second place in the conference was really cool to see, just that growth that they showed in their four years here.”
Now, Berkley is preparing for her third season as head coach for Loyola.
Berkley’s path of success hasn’t gone unnoticed. Johnson has been coaching at Wisconsin-Milwaukee for 22 years and has been a collegiate coach even longer.
“It’s cool that she’s been able to navigate her path in her own way,” Johnson said. “She has her own name for herself. I’m very proud of her. It’s a tough job.”