Laura Kuhn had to feel in her element Wednesday afternoon while being introduced as the Texas A&M volleyball coach. She was forming new relationships.
With players, athletic department staff, future assistants and the media gathered at Reed Arena, Kuhn put everyone at ease immediately with her story about her nickname "Bird," which she says her father gave her because she had small calves.
"Bird legs my whole life," Kuhn said, adding that she answers to the nickname and that many people don't know her real name.
A&M announced it had hired Kuhn on Dec. 30. She is taking over for Laurie Corbelli, who resigned after 25 years in charge of the program. Corbelli led A&M to 20 NCAA tournament appearances and a 519-252 overall record.
Kuhn, 35, seemed excited to meet as many people as she could Wednesday.
"The feeling here is comfortable, laid back and everyone wants to be here and wants to support each other," Kuhn said. "It's the reason I've made every move I've made -- it's the people you are surrounding yourself with and that are going to have your back and be working with you."
Kuhn spent seven years as an assistant to Ray Bechard at Kansas, where she built a strong reputation as a good recruiter and coach. With Kuhn on his staff, Bechard led the Jayhawks from a sub-.500 team to the last six straight NCAA tournaments, reaching the Final Four in 2015 when they finished third in the final national rankings.
A&M's players already seem ready to work under their new head coach.
"I'm super excited that Bird is such a relationship person," said A&M freshman setter Camille Conner, who started every game last season. "That was our team last year. We just all love each other and wanted each other to get better, and we cared about each about, and I think that is what we are going to build on with Bird is that she loves people and building relationships. That is going to be a great thing with this team."
The Aggies went 10-15 overall and 7-11 in Southeastern Conference play last season. Eight of the 15 losses came against teams that made the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight.
Kuhn made no specific promises about how quickly the Aggies can reverse their fortunes but saw no reason it can't happen soon.
"I think with the recent success, they won the SEC in 2015, it's not like it's some far off feat," Kuhn said. "Once we get our culture established and we get our system on how we're going to train, I don't foresee this long, lengthy thing. It could be a couple of years. The success can happen pretty fast, especially with this group. It's going to be challenging, exciting and there is a lot of personality and training and things to get done this spring. They have great energy, just talking to them on the phone and with recent success it's going to be."
Kuhn knows about lifting trophies. The Jayhawks won the Big 12 in 2016 in a conference dominated by national power Texas. She also helped turned around Miami's program in her three years at Coral Gables, Florida, with the Hurricanes making the NCAA tournament her final two seasons.
Kuhn also coached at Appalachian State after a four-year career as a middle blocker and right side hitter at Georgia Tech.
The Aggies only lost four players from last year's team -- starting outside hitter Kiara McGee, starting libero Amy Nettles, defensive specialist Gabby Litwin and opposite side hitter Ashlie Reasor, who was injured for much of last season.
"[Corbelli's resignation] was definitely hard for everyone," freshman outside hitter Samantha Sanders said. "When we found out, everyone's jaws just dropped, hard to believe because they've been here such a long time. But at the same time I think it's going to be easy getting to know Bird and having the same relationship with her as the Corbellis."
Kuhn said she hadn't spoken to the Corbelli yet, but that she was looking forward to reaching out to Corbelli and her husband and longtime assistant coach John for what they've done for A&M volleyball.
Kuhn will be busy the next few months getting to know the team and welcoming in a top 25 recruiting class that includes three early enrollees.
"Life is about timing," Kuhn said. "The timing of this was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. I have in the past. I've had other opportunities, but I felt right now was the time."