Friday, November 8th, 2013
By Robb Hemmelgarn
Former coaches recall trips to state tournament
Robb Hemmelgarn spoke to a group of former local volleyball head coaches to get their insight into how volleyball has evolved through the years. Today's story is the final of a four-part series.
Preparing for an appearance in the state volleyball tournament has become a regular ritual over the past decade for the Marion Local community.
While most pundits predict the Blue and Gold to raise the championship trophy for the fifth time in school history this weekend at the Ervin J. Nutter Center, it will be difficult to find anyone on the floor prouder than assistant coach Mary Lou "Shorty" Bruns, who was in charge of the program from 1995 through 2002.
During her sixth campaign on the sidelines, Bruns and the Flyers landed in the state tournament for the first time in school history in 2000, an experience that she will never forget.
"My first thought after winning the regional championship was, WOW!" explained Bruns, who finished her career with a 148-52 record in eight years at Marion Local. "The experience was both exciting and overwhelming between all of the paperwork that needed filled out, media and telephone interviews, along with planning the agenda and other decisions. I tried to mostly focus on preparing my team for our next opponent but I must say the week went extremely fast. It felt good to leave town to get on with the show."
Unfortunately for the Flyers, awaiting them on the other side of the door at the Nutter Center were the Hopewell-Loudon Chieftains, a powerhouse in the midst of a five-year winning streak of state championship hardware. Although the Chieftains bumped them from the postseason, Bruns' girls left it all on the court.
"I can't say I was nervous, I was more worried about my team and how they would react walking in the big arena," she pointed out. "We had a great week of practice preparing for the defending state champions and we were looking for the upset. We went there to play one point at a time and enjoy every minute of it while playing our hearts out."
Bruns' coaching mentor DeDe Stoner was the first coach in the Grand Lake area to guide a team to the state championship game when she took St. Henry to the Class A finals in 1985. The Redskins opened the tournament at St. John Arena in Columbus with a victory over St. Bernard-Elmwood Place before dispatching unbeaten Ashland Crestview in the final, 15-3 and 15-6.
"Between media requests, visitors and balloons being sent to practice, it was always difficult to keep the same schedule the week of the state tournament," recalled Stoner who led the Redskins to the state tournament in 1985, 86, 87, 88, 90, 94 and 1995 while winning it all five times. "It was difficult controlling those distractions, so I let them enjoy it and take it all in because they earned it all. We went down a day ahead of time so we could watch a couple of games and I can still remember walking into St. John Arena with the girls. It was amazing. I think if we had arrived there the same day we played, it would have just been too much for the girls."
Four years following Stoner's initial trip to the "big show", Chuck Braden steered his New Knoxville Rangers to the Class A semifinals at the University of Dayton Arena. The Rangers were booted from the tournament by the eventual state champion Newark Catholic Green Wave.
"We went early to the arena and it was really neat seeing how big it was, but it was also sort of disappointing," Braden admitted. "They beat us in the first game and controlled the first half of game two. It seemed like it took until that point for my girls to get comfortable and really start playing well, but by that time it was too late. We gave up too much of a lead and that was it. I can remember how fast the game went as well. You could sort of control the pace before the state level but there the ball is already waiting to be served almost as soon as play is dead. The pace really took some getting used to and as young as my girls were, it took a little bit to really get focused.
"I wish we could have had another opportunity to play that game but Newark Catholic was very good. A friend of mine was the head coach at Ashtabula St. John's and lost to them in the final. We actually played Newark a little tougher but that was really no consolation for losing, we fell to a really good team," added Braden.
Todd Henkle began his second stint at Parkway in 1995 following a one-year hiatus, and the Panthers made their debut in the Division III state tournament the following season. They opened with a victory over Marion Elgin before raising their first of two straight state championship trophies with a triumph over Loudonville in two games, 16-14 and 15-2.
"We had our gameplan completely laid out ahead of time in order to keep focused and get acclimated to the surroundings," said Henkle, whose career record at Parkway was 257-152. "The atmosphere at state is one that a lot of teams struggle with sometimes and I wanted to be sure we were prepared for it. I gave the girls an opportunity to relax before the game, but once we hit the court everyone knew what was expected from them since there wasn't a lot of time to think about it."
Although Mary Lou Bambauer didn't have the opportunity to guide her Celina Bulldogs past the regional tournament, her career record of 328-61 and winning percentage of .843 with 11 Western Buckeye League titles afforded her an abundance of winning experiences. She was the first former coach to answer when asked if the scenario were perfect whether she would ever coach at the varsity level again.
"I loved it while I did it," she professed. "However, I wouldn't get back into it again. It is a completely different game now with so many demands."
Bruns' response was also relatively quick and simple – "No, I just don't see that happening."
Henkle agreed with Bambauer and Bruns and realizes that getting back into the varsity scene just isn't feasible.
"If I could simply walk into the gym and coach for a few hours and walk out, then yes I would definitely love to get back into coaching, but that isn't possible," he explained.
Braden hesitated, but soon concurred.
"I'm not so sure I wouldn't coach again," he said. "But I have to agree with Todd, I don't know if I could do as much of the extra things and that wouldn't help the girls or the program to get better, so it would be tough to go back. One reason all of us were so successful was because of the extra work we put in to help promote our kids and make them better."
Stoner's reply was cut-and-dry.
"No way. I have been asked to help out, but I am not willing and can't put in that much work anymore. Being a parent took a back seat when I was coaching. Now I am a grandmother and fortunately or unfortunately for my kids, I am able to give my grandkids more than I could my own children, and I wouldn't change that for anything. I wouldn't want a player to be there and only give 50 percent, so I am not willing to do that either."
Their choices will certainly draw a sigh of relief from the rest of the head coaches from across the state.
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