Archive for Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Reaching new heights

First-year coach brings new attitude to MHS

October 10, 2007

The baseline is typically associated with basketball, but it's become a dreaded spot on the floor for the McLouth High volleyball team.

The reason? For every serve a Bulldogs player misses in a match, she has to run for that many minutes the next day in practice.

Baseline to baseline. Ninety feet. But it's not just running. That'd be boring.

"When we run back and forth for our minutes, she'll blow the whistle during our minutes, and we'll have to get down and do pushups until she blows her whistle again," senior Sam Farris said. "Then, we'll run again."

The conductor of the 90 feet of baseline conditioning is first-year MHS coach Erika Houk, who has brought a new attitude to McLouth.

The new attitude has produced new results. McLouth finished 10-16 last season. The Bulldogs won their 10th game this season on Sept. 27, with a month remaining in the season.

"It's definitely taken a lot of hard work, extra time and extra practices," Houk said. "It was a ladder and we started at the bottom and have worked our way up."

Houk knew what the bottom of the ladder looked like when the school board approved her as MHS coach at its June 11 meeting. McLouth players had never gone through two-a-day practices before. Two-a-days took place shortly after Houk arrived.

"They were pretty intense," sophomore Kylie Shufflebarger said. "When it was done, you only had 30 minutes to get ready for school. I got used to cold showers and everything."

The baseline running was part of a conditioning program Houk has installed since day one. The Bulldogs condition every day.

"When you get back behind that line to serve the ball (in matches), I'm sure their thought is, 'I don't want to run tomorrow,'" Houk said. "I really focus on just getting the ball over the net. You don't have to get an ace."

Houk has balanced the intensity she's brought to the program with fun. For instance, MHS players dress up in costumes you'd see at a Halloween party every Friday for practice. Farris' costume featured a red football jersey, knee pads, purple shorts, lengthy necklaces and high socks. She said her brother, Wyatt, provided her with the costume.

"I told the girls there's a fine line between having fun and still working hard at practice," Houk said. "One thing I want to stress is establishing and building a program."

She'll likely have that opportunity. Houk's only 22 and is attending Washburn University this semester. She played college volleyball for one year at Allen County Community College.

"To be honest with you, I hope we're going to be able to keep her awhile," McLouth athletics director Tom Pierce said. "If we can keep her around for a while, I think good things will happen for the volleyball program."

McLouth hasn't completely turned around its results yet. The Bulldogs are 12-16 on the season. But in Houk's first year, she's already changed the face of the program.

The players have team dinners every Monday night. That rarely used to occur. Houk took the team to play sand volleyball in Tonganoxie earlier in the season. There have also been emotional team-bonding experiences.

"We get in groups and talk about what volleyball really means to us and what everyone else means to us and why we want to be on the court," Farris said. "They're pretty emotional. I've cried a few times. I haven't had this type of team bonding ever in volleyball."

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