Three former student-athletes have transitioned from player to coach. Those athletes are Rylan Theyard, Kelsey Bennett and Kacper Dworak. Their sports are track & field, volleyball and tennis, respectively.
Originally, I contacted Theyard to do an interview with a different story in mind. Unfortunately, he wasn’t interested. That was… in the story just being about himself. He would agree to do it, but asked if I would be interested in including both Bennett and Dworak as well.
I accepted his offer without hesitation. Theyard just wanted to shine a light on his peers, but that moment shows exactly the type of person that he has always been: an extraordinarily selfless one. Making his transition from competitor to mentor all the more fitting.
During my interview with Theyard we spent a good bit of time going down memory lane as we had been teammates from middle school through high school. By the end of the interview I was certain of one thing: Theyard hadn’t changed. Not only was he still a first class teammate, but he had always been an accomplished competitor.
Theyard was the first leg in the 2018 LHSAA 3A state champion 400 meter relay. He would go on to have great success as a Ragin’ Cajun over his five year career: collecting a plethora of top three finishes in high jump, triple jump and long jump at various track meets across the United States.
Theyard finished 2nd in the triple jump and 3rd in the long jump at the Sun Belt Indoor Track and Field Championships. A conference that has seen an influx of talent within the sport.
As a coach, Theyard described himself as an “energetic educator.” He doesn’t want to be a robotic, stiff coach who the players don’t respect.
Theyard wants to come to practice everyday with a high level of energy. As a believer in both Ragin’ Cajun athletics and Theyard, I have faith that Theyard’s infectious spirit will have a massive influence on every athlete he interacts with.
Theyard’s job is not only on the track, but in operations as well. He would dive into the details of his role with the team by stating that he will, “help booking hotels, putting people in rooms for hotels, organizing jerseys, giving out gear, and making sure paperwork is right.” Theyard says he still plans to get back on the track and jump with his athletes.
He went as far as saying that he intended to run the stadium to prove that he practices what he preaches. If my opinion matters, Theyard will go on to be a fantastic coach and an even more fantastic role model. When you have a son, you hope he is half the person that Theyard is.
Bennett was described as a “Dawg” by Theyard during our interview and he even went as far as to tell me to “Check her accolades.” So I did just that and found out that Theyard was correct. Bennet was an outside hitter for the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Volleyball team from 2018-2022 where she joined the 1,000 club for both digs and kills.
She generated a whopping 41 double-doubles, which stands as the second most all time according to her RaginCajuns.com profile. Her high level stats led to some high level accolades including two All Sun Belt Conference Selections, three time Sun Belt Player of the week in 2021 and setting the school record for single season Sun Belt Player of the week selections. Whether she’s a “Dawg” or a G.O.A.T., her athletic prowess is unquestionable.
Not only was Bennett an all time great athlete during her time at the University but she has also given back to the Lafayette community. During our interview Bennett stated that she had been coaching club volleyball for the last few years.
My assumption was that this took place in her hometown of Allen, TX, but my assumption was wrong. She worked with Louisiana Volleyball Lafayette, a program that has sent multiple athletes to both the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Louisiana State University.
Bennett is joining the Ragin’ Cajuns Volleyball staff working both as coach and in operations. Bennet does everything from coaching up the outsides to coordinating the team’s flight and hotel. When asked if joining the staff was always the plan she said “[she] had no idea what [she] was going to do” when she finished her career.
The Ragin’ Cajuns volleyball head coach Kristi Gray asked Bennett if she wanted to join the team as a coach, but Bennet said she was “kind of just ready to be done with volleyball” and initially turned down the offer.
Following a change of heart, Bennett headed back into coach Gray’s office and asked her if the position was still available. Gray confirmed that it was, then immediately got the ball rolling for Bennett to join the Ragin’ Cajun’s staff.
When I asked Bennett about where she sees herself down the road, she held a perspective very much similar to Theyard. Bennet stated that she strongly believes in “being where your feet are.” Meaning that she isn’t worried about what the future may hold. Right now she’s taking nothing for granted, smelling the roses and pouring back into the program that she dominated in.
I was unable to reach Dworak for comment, but again Theyard had a more than stellar review of his tenure as a Ragin’ Cajun. Dworak came in the same year as Theyard. Originally from Poland, Dworak spent five years as a Ragin’ Cajun. Dworak compiled a list of accomplishments longer than the grocery list for a family of five. In his senior year Dworak won seven singles matches and ten doubles matches.
That season Dworak would finish ranked third in the Sun Belt conference during the regular season. The previous year Dworak won nine matches in both singles and doubles. He was later awarded the Sun Belt Conference postgraduate scholarship for his academic, athletics and community service contributions.
These Ragin’ Cajuns are going to be great additions to their respective coaching staffs. It is always great to see an athlete make the transition into coaching and I am certain we will be hearing more about these three former athletes very soon.