Playing follow the new leader

Traditional powers Liberty and Centennial enter the season with first-year coaches

Varsity -- Fall Preview

Volleyball

August 29, 2007|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Two of the metro area's top three volleyball teams from last season have new coaches after the departures of Centennial's Jerry Hulla and Liberty's Dave Trumbo to the collegiate ranks.

That's where the similarities between the two situations end.

While new Centennial coach Larry Schofield's ascension from the school's junior varsity was part of a plan that was months in the making, the hiring of new Liberty coach Laura Ritter was anything but.

In fact, before Ritter's hiring in late July, Liberty's prospects for a new coach were so barren that some associated with the program even considered letting the players essentially coach themselves, with a parent assuming the role of figurehead.

"We were concerned, but I think we always knew that somehow everything would work out," Lions senior Katie Dell said. "We've always had a great volleyball program, and no matter what happened, we knew that as a team we'd be able to get through it."

Though Trumbo announced his resignation in January to accept the head coaching job at Villa Julie College, Ritter didn't hear about the opening until mid-July. Just a few days later, while on vacation in New Hampshire, she accepted the job.

A 1993 Liberty graduate who went on to play as a defensive specialist at McDaniel College, Ritter said she had always dreamed of becoming a coach, but figured a high school job was out of the question since she wasn't a teacher and had no formal coaching experience.

"I was just amazed when the opportunity came up," said Ritter, who was able to rearrange her schedule at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, where she works part time. "I was hearing how they may have to have someone coach who didn't even know anything about volleyball. I started thinking about how I would feel as a senior player. Your senior year is so important to you as a player, especially when you've been on a winning team."

Liberty became quite used to winning under Trumbo. During his 11 years there, the Lions went 167-31, including a metro-area record 49-match winning streak and Class 2A state titles in 2003 and 2004. They also won nine Carroll County titles.

"The timing was right [to leave]," Trumbo said. "Pretty much, I've done everything that I could possibly do at the high school level, so I wanted to see what I could do at the college level."

He has not totally abandoned Liberty, however. He has spoken with Ritter by phone several times, and has even invited her and JV coach Jackie Otwell to his home, where they spent more than two hours going over every aspect of running the program.

"It was a very difficult decision to leave them, so I'm trying to help the coaches as much as I can," Trumbo said. "At the same time, I told [Ritter] basically that I was just going to stay away from the team, because they just don't need to see me around. The girls have a new coach, and that's who they need to look to."

Ritter has been accepting of the tutelage, which has ranged from running practices and game strategy to how to feed the players on road trips.

"He obviously was a well-established coach with an immensely successful record. You want to try to take some things out of his playbook," she said. "For such a long time, they were scared that they wouldn't have a coach at all. Now, they're just so thankful to know that they have some leadership and they'll have a team that can play."

That's never been an issue at Centennial, even though the Eagles now have their third coach in as many years. Schofield, the school's JV coach for 12 seasons, has taken over for Hulla, now an assistant at Towson University.

The succession plan had been laid out for nearly two years. Hulla, a former coach at CCBC-Catonsville and several other college programs around the nation, had returned to the area for family reasons in 2005, and agreed to work with his friend, Eagles coach Mike Bossom, as an assistant.

When Bossom then accepted the head coaching job at Goucher College before last season, Hulla took over the program, though with the understanding that he'd continue to pursue opportunities at the collegiate level.

"With his experience and his background, there was just no way he was going to be available to coach a high school team again," Schofield said. "If he was, we would have kept the status quo."

Schofield already has coached every player on the team, whether at the JV, club or Junior Olympic Development level. With the team graduating eight seniors after last season, the time was ideal for a change.

"With that many kids graduating, it was pretty obvious that a large group of kids from the JV were going to move up, so it was kind of in the works before I was even the head coach," Hulla said. "It was, `Jerry, you come in. You've trained a lot of these kids since they were 14. Larry, that gives you one more year to start really planning to make that next move.' "

While NCAA Division I rules now prevent Hulla from having contact with the program, Bossom remains a teacher at the school, and under Division III guidelines has a bit more leeway.

Centennial, much like Liberty, has been one of the metro area's most dominant volleyball programs.

This season, both schools hope to continue that trend, regardless of who's coaching.

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