ILWACO — The Ilwaco volleyball team is embarked on its fall journey dedicated to their coach’s “3 Cs” mantra:
Head Coach Stephanie Ellsworth believes that will help create a positive team.
“I love volleyball and enjoy watching the girls grow,” she said. “We have got a lot of coachable girls… I am optimistic.”
Covid safety restrictions caused the WIAA to move volleyball from fall 2020 to this past February and March.
Ellsworth, a medical professional, has experience with recreational volleyball and has officiated the sport in Wyoming and in this area. She stepped into the coaching role six days before the first game of the February-March season.
The Fishermen had a 5-5 record, losing to Wahkiakum in the first round of the district playoffs.
The unusual season included a game against Ocosta (which Ilwaco was winning) that was cut short by the sudden onset of snow which meant a scary bus journey home as highway conditions worsened.
A fresh start
Ellsworth is candid in noting that she is eager for a fresh chance to build team unity.
But first a fourth “C” — conditioning.
One recent evening, she and Lanie Kary, who coaches the JVs, spent considerable time having the players run, stretch, crunch, and stretch again, before a ball was even introduced on the court.
“Feel your abs,” said Ellsworth, indicating that after a practice athletes’ muscles should reflect the vigor of a workout. “They should be on fire.”
“They are already on fire!” wailed a plaintive voice from the athletes circled on the gym floor.
In addition to encouraging active participation during the conditioning drills, Ellsworth’s C-for-commitment portion is demonstrated by achieving one key standard. “They have to be able to run one mile in 12 minutes to be on varsity,” she said. “It’s conditioning. They have to be able to play five straight games. Stamina is hard.”
Ellsworth’s C-for-communication was highlighted as she gathered her attentive players into a line across the court. “You have to listen to your team mates when they are talking to you,” she urged.
Players circled up and demonstrated that skill, batting the volleyball high toward the gym ceiling, calling for the ball on its return if they were best placed to play it next.
Together like family
With five seniors lost to graduation, and only three seniors on the fall squad, coaches will draw leadership from younger student-athletes.
Ellsworth noted that her C-for-coachable part of the philosophy is evident in two returning players who she expects to play significant roles.
Olivia McKinstry showed enthusiasm as the practice bounced back and forth between conditioning and on-court skills. “I am excited,” she said. “It is good to be back for a full season. It will be fun.”
McKinstry, a junior, also plays basketball and softball. She embraces her coach’s concept of team trust.
“I think the important thing for a lot of girls is being together like family and learning together,” she said. “It’s like being part of a family, as well as being athletic — it’s a big part of my life.”
Julianna Fleming brings middle school experience and is playing in a second year at high school. She hopes the fall season will get her in shape for basketball. “It is a younger group of girls,” Fleming said. “We are trying to teach them the ropes while we are still learning ourselves.”
She, too, embraces the “family” concept to make the team gel. “It’s being able to know that other people on the court can cover your back,” the junior said. “I know that we have that close bond — it’s just being able to trust your team member.”
Starting with smiles
Ilwaco’s season was beginning Sept. 7 hosting Willapa Valley before a Sept. 9 trip to 1B Naselle playing for South Pacific County “bragging rights.” The next early contests will be trips to South Bend on Sept. 14 and Raymond on Sept. 16.
As the first game neared, perspiration and puffed cheeks were evident midway through a practice. But there were smiles, too.
“I am excited to be here — back in the gym!” grinned McKinstry.