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Grambling State fires volleyball coach who cut whole team after taking job

Grambling State women's volleyball coach Chelsey Lucas was fired this week, just five months after being tapped to lead the Tigers' program. (iStock)
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A previous version of this story read that seven Grambling State women's volleyball walk-ons were told their spots on the team would be renewed. They were told that their spots would not be renewed. This version has been corrected.

Within three months of her hiring at Grambling State, women’s volleyball coach Chelsey Lucas was making headlines.

A 2007 Grambling graduate, Lucas starred on the court for the Tigers, making her a familiar face upon being tapped in February to lead the program. But by April, she had drawn the ire of athletes, parents and alumni after dropping all 19 players from the roster. Grambling State, whose administration initially supported Lucas’s actions, announced Tuesday that it fired the first-year coach amid an ongoing investigation into her decision.

“The decision was made due to the determination of an internal investigation within the volleyball program,” the school said in a statement.

Grambling State’s women’s volleyball team went 11-17 last season under previous coach Demetria Keys-Johnson, who stepped down in December to take another position at the university. Lucas was then hired Feb. 14 after compiling a 37-44 record in three seasons at Arkansas Pine Bluff, including an 18-15 mark last year.

Lucas’s relationship with Grambling State players was tense from the beginning, according to multiple reports, which cited players who speculated that Lucas remained bitter over an incident that occurred last season when Arkansas Pine Bluff played Grambling State.

“When we played them at home and we beat them, our school has like this chant, but at the end of the chant you say, like, the B-word,” senior Sheila Borders told Andscape. “I guess she thought I was calling them B-words, but, like, the whole school says it. They say it at basketball games and football games. It’s nothing personal.”

During her first meeting with Grambling State players, Lucas reportedly said: “I bet you didn’t expect to see me again. I bet y’all will think twice about who y’all call a b----.” In the weeks after her appointment, Lucas held three practice sessions, “most of which consisted of very few volleyball related drills and a lot of punishment-related running,” according to the Monroe News-Star.

Some of Borders’s former teammates tried to push past the icy reception and develop a relationship with Lucas. Borders’s mother turned to the transfer portal, looking to fact-check rumors that Lucas’s former Arkansas Pine Bluff players intended to transfer to Grambling State.

“The girls know the girls at UAPB. They’re in the same circle of sport,” Tasha Bryce, Borders’s mother, told the News-Star. “So they were told [by the UAPB players] that they were going to enter the transfer portal and then they were going to come over. Not going to lie, I fact-checked. . . . Sure enough they were all there.”

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On April 4, Lucas reportedly called individual meetings in which she informed the 12 scholarship players that she would not renew their scholarships for the upcoming season. Seven walk-ons were told their spots would not be renewed. Lucas reportedly offered four former scholarship players the opportunity to remain on the team as walk-ons, but all four declined.

Grambling State’s administration publicly supported the decision, with Athletic Director Trayvean Scott issuing a statement at the time that said, “Just as the transfer portal empowers student-athletes, our coaches are also empowered to make the decisions they deem necessary to advance their programs.”

The decision left Grambling State players scrambling to find new programs late in the offseason, with some short of graduation by a few credits.

“[Lucas] said that we weren’t able to practice much, which we weren’t, and she said based off of that she was not able to renew my scholarship, so I didn’t really get any time to show what I could do,” junior Maurisa Harris told KSLA News 12. “When I was in there and she told me, my heart completely broke. … I didn’t cry in there, but I did when I left, and it just hurts really bad, the fact that it was snatched away so fast.”

In the aftermath of those April meetings, players who had been removed from the program started a Change.org petition calling for Lucas’s job and for the school to reinstate players’ scholarships, which garnered more than 3,700 signatures. Grambling State in early May said it hired an outside firm to open its investigation into the allegations involving Lucas and the program. That same month, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith amplified the situation during a segment on “First Take.”

Lucas, who had not publicly commented on the matter until after her firing, told KSLA that she was ordered not to speak to the media about the situation. In an interview with 247 Sports, she disputed details surrounding the allegations against her.

She said the school’s administration was not only aware of her roster decisions but that Scott, the athletic director, suggested she “get rid of ’em all.” Lucas claimed she met with only 14 players April 4 and that some were offered the chance to stay.

“There were girls that … I gave them reasons of why that you would no longer be a part of Grambling State University program, and there were young ladies, there were student-athletes, that I asked, that I asked, ‘I want you to be a part of this program,’ ” she said.

“The narrative of this team, even when I came in, from the administration, [was] that this was a bad character team. That’s what I was getting, but at the same time I wanted my administration to give me a fair chance to make sure I go in and be able to be the coach for them and evaluate and assess these young ladies on and off the court.”

Scott declined to comment through a university spokesperson. In its statement, the school called student-athletes a priority but said “any additional comments will be held until the conclusion of the investigation.”

“As we move forward in this transition and commence a national search for the next coach, all volleyball student-athletes who received scholarships for the 2022-23 academic year will keep their scholarships and remain on the team,” Scott said in the statement. “Walk-ons will also continue to hold their roster spot.”

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