Chip Will runs the Grand Rapids Community College volleyball program with a family feel. Certainly, he’s no stranger to success.
Those things are not coincidental. They go hand-in-hand for the Whitehall native.
GRCC has been abundantly successful during Will’s 16 years at the helm. He earned his 400th career victory on Oct. 7, and the Raiders (19-5 overall) are showing no signs of slowing down as the sixth-ranked team in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II poll. They remain unbeaten in the Michigan Community College Athletic Association Western Conference at 13-0.
Will embraces the concepts of family and playing with passion. That culture permeates his program.
“It’s a culture where you feel like a family and you want to come back later,” Will said during a recent phone interview with CatchMark SportsNet. “I think every kid in our program is a better person after they’ve left, regardless if we win a national championship or not. It’s one thing that we’ve always been able to hang our hat on.”
During Will’s GRCC tenure, the Raiders have captured 10 regional championships and nine MCCAA Western Conference titles. They reached the pinnacle in 2012, when he guided them to the national championship. The Raiders have played in the nationals nine times under his watch.
Along the way, Will earned a National Coach of the Year award in 2012, plus six coaching awards at the district and MCCAA levels.
The modest coach makes no mention of his personal achievements. Rather, he focuses heavily on those of his players and coaching colleagues.
Will is driven to earn another national title, but his primary focuses continue to be on the program’s culture and family feel. Those ideals, along with his passion for sports, did not develop overnight. He learned by watching his father, Mark Will, who coached girls basketball at Whitehall High School.
“I grew up in the gym with my dad coaching basketball and I was able to see what it was like to coach female athletes,” Chip Will said.
He may not have known it at the time, but that was a launching point for what Will would become as a coach himself.
As a high school athlete, Will molded his competitive nature and began to understand the true definition of a team. Will earned all-conference honors in tennis and he was a standout golfer.
After pushing basketball to the side late in his high school career, opportunity knocked in the volleyball coaching realm. He assisted former Whitehall volleyball coach Bryan Mahan, who is currently the Vikings’ boys soccer coach. That’s when Will first recognized his calling.
Upon graduating from Whitehall in 1997, Will attended Ferris State University. Inspired by his high school tennis coach, Dick Morley, Will set his sights on completing the Professional Tennis Major Program in Big Rapids.
“Dick Morley played a huge role in all of our lives,” Will said about his mentor. “He helped develop my love for tennis and for coaching.”
Tennis definitely had a place in Will’s heart, but he kept getting pulled back to volleyball.
As a college freshman, Will was offered a chance to coach volleyball by Ferris State head coach Tia Brandel, who also is a Whitehall alumna. Again, Will jumped at the opportunity and he spent his time developing more of an in-depth understanding of the game.
Will attributes his Whitehall roots to the shaping of his career as a volleyball coach.
“A lot of good Whitehall connections helped to be able to start my volleyball coaching career,” he said.
Upon graduating from Ferris State in 2001, Will accepted a volleyball coaching position at Grand Rapids West Catholic, where the daughters of former Grand Valley State University athletic director Tim Selgo played.
After Will spent a few seasons with West Catholic, Selgo connected him with GVSU coaches Deanne Scanlon and Jason Johnson. The opportunity and experience at GVSU gave Will the push he needed to start developing successful programs independently.
“I was able to spend a couple years learning how to build a program and learning how to build culture,” Will said about the GVSU experience.
With a fundamental understanding of culture and program structure, Will ended his stint at GVSU to create something of his own. The still young but highly motivated Will found himself coaching for a Class A state championship at Forest Hills Northern in 2007. The Huskies fell just short of that goal, but Will soon received a new opportunity that he could not pass on: The head-coaching position at Grand Rapids Community College.
Relationships were important then and they remain that way for Will. He referenced some 20-plus-year friendships that have helped him developing the Raiders program that prospers today.
“I think having a relationship with coaches like (Whitehall’s) Ted Edsall, (Fruitport’s) Nicole Bayle and (Grand Haven’s) Aaron Smaka is definitely a positive situation,” Will said. “I have respect for the type of kids those coaches coach and raise. You know you’re getting a great kid when they come from one of those programs.”
“For them, they have a trust that their kids are going to move on to a place where they are going to be happy and have a chance to be successful on and off the court. Its a win-win situation that those coaches trust me, and I just trust them.”
You don’t have to go too far back for evidence on Will’s connections in the coaching fraternity. Charlie Baker, a 2021 Whitehall alumna, is currently playing for Will at GRCC as a defensive specialist. She helped lead Whitehall to a Division 2 district title last season.
Will has built his GRCC rosters with a heavy influx of West Michigan talent and he’ll continue to take that approach. He’s developing players and helping them move to the next level, too, as 72 of them have earned scholarships at four-year colleges.
“Kids are able to get their bachelor’s degrees and still play if they want to. We truly live by being successful on and off the court,” Will said.
Will’s stop at Forest Hills Northern was not impactful just from a volleyball standpoint. It’s where he met his wife.
Tracy Will was a teacher and gymnastics coach in Forest Hills.
“I was the volleyball coach and we were fighting over gym time,” Chip Will said with some laughter. “A couple years later, we are married.”
Upon accepting the head coaching position at GRCC, Will’s time commitment toward volleyball increased dramatically. Between his day job at Michigan Volleyball Academy as a tournament director and master coach and the commitment to his GRCC team, it became difficult to balance everything.
When Chip and Tracy Will had their first child, Logan, who is now 12, Tracy decided to put her coaching career on the backburner. Chip said she did that so he could continue chasing his coaching passion. He was afforded that opportunity as a young boy, so he thought it would be good for his children, too.
“You grow up valuing how athletics can really shape you,” he said. “I was blessed to have those life experiences and I wanted the same for my kids.”
Will’s parents, Mark Will and Julie Lukanic, still find time to make it to Raiders volleyball games and to watch their grandchildren compete in athletic events of their own.
Looking past all of his statistical success, Will remains loyal to his family-oriented mentality and his passion behind the true meaning of sports.
In many ways, Will is still pinching himself at the success he’s enjoyed along his coaching and athletics journey.
“You don’t always think about it in the moment and when you’re surrounded by them, but after leaving the area you realize how blessed we were in the late ’90s with fantastic role models — from Red Heeres to Dick Morley to Kirk Mikkleson and the Huizes (John and Kurt Huizenga),” Will said.
“It’s pretty awesome to go back and see how many of those teachers and coaches shaped your life and how are many are still around today shaping the kids at Whitehall.”
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