Sports Xtra: "We really want to win it for her tonight"

Sports Xtra: “We really want to win it

I was once again reminded why I enjoy my sports reporting gig last Thursday at Staunton.

The moment of a significant milestone in the long and glorious career of a coach who has been the face of Carlinville sports for the last 37 years. Volleyball is a sport that might not be as popular as football or basketball, but still gains the respect and admiration of colleagues, fans, current and former players – even officials –  all over the area.

Yes, when Sydney Bates knocked down the game-winning kill against Staunton, Carlinville volleyball coach Fran Struble became the eighth member of the 900 win club in IHSA history.

Now I admit before last week I was unaware of some of the family history. I knew Struble had been coaching a long while and had racked up a lot of wins. I knew her 800th win came at the Pawnee tournament a few years ago, but I hadn’t looked up any records or anything of that nature.

CHS athletic director Darrin DeNeve has been coaching 24 years and has coached in just over 600 games as a coach, 175 as an assistant. He cannot comprehend the magnitude of 900 wins.

“Coach Struble’s combination of coaching ability, consistency, persistence and longevity are mind blowing,” DeNeve said. “She is a phenomenal teacher of fundamentals, adept at strategy and a master of motivation. It’s been a pleasure and a learning experience to observe her coaching techniques.”

She’s now 900-262 by the way. No losing seasons in 37 years of coaching.  Twelve times her teams have won 30 games. Twenty times, regional champions. Eight times, sectional champions, and in 2009, a third place finish at the state tournament. Not too shabby, I’d say.

Until two days prior to win No. 900, I was completely caught off guard when I heard that one of her daughters was Jami Parker, head volleyball coach at Edwardsville High School. Really, I had no idea at all. But once you connect the pieces, and, yes, you can see the resemblance.

Parker is in her 15th season at the helm of the Tigers. Oh yeah, she had just won her 400th career match two days earlier at Villa Duchesne.

Thanks to the Carlinville JV volleyball team being forced into a third game Thursday night, Parker arrived  in the middle of game three of the JV match. She had just coached her team that night to a win over Alton, victory No. 401, then took the trek to Staunton.

It couldn’t have worked out any better as Parker got to see her mom’s historic 900th win from start to finish.

“My girls, one of the goals tonight was to get me out of there so I could come and watch mom play and they got it done,” Parker said. “It’s exciting to sit here watch her make this accomplishment.”

Parker and Struble have combined for 1,301 victories as of last Thursday.

“It’s an honor just to share the stage with her,” Parker said. “It’s her moment – it’s an honor to even be part of it, anyway. She’s a classy lady who has done things right for a long time. She loves her girls. She loves her town.”

Kaitie Hammann, an assistant coach the last six years under Struble, who also played six years in junior high and high school for her, called the milestone ‘unfathomable.’

“It means a lot to me being her assistant coach for six years and to be able to play for her for six years and help her attain this 900,” Hammann said. “She’s the best coach I’ve ever coached with or seen, and I hope she gets another 100 for 1,000.”

As far as getting her players prepared, there’s no one much better, her daughter says.

“She’s a great coach – she just knows how to train athletes,” Parker said. “No matter what’s going on, her girls are going to be well prepared and they are going to be well trained. She’s not the one to scream or yell, or lose her temper in any way. She’s always calm, she’s always graceful.  She’s a heck of a role model for me as to the kind of coach I want to be. There’s a lot of work to be done to catch up to her.”

Hammann seconded that.

“She runs practice so beautifully,” Hammann said. “She really hounds the fundamentals. She started it in middle school and we do the same fundamentals all the way through high school. We know how to play smart and we know how to play hard. The girls have worked extremely hard this last week trying to get this for her.”

Junior Alyssa DeSpain, outside hitter for the ladies team, summed up the team’s perspective of the historic win.

“It was super important,” DeSpain said. “She pushes us really hard in the gym and she’s always encouraging us. So, we really wanted to win it for her tonight. I know it’s just a number for her, but 900, that’s a lot. We really wanted to be a part of it, help celebrate and we wanted to push really hard for this game.”

Milestones are hard to come by at any level. But better when you know how much the players mean to the coach, and vice-versa.

Carlinville Superintendent of Schools Mike Kelly offered a perspective on her many accomplishments over the years.

“Fran’s success is a reflection of her hard work, dedication to detail and commitment to her players,” Kelly said. “As a community, we have been fortunate to have enjoyed her presence in our schools.”

Struble said that having immediate family – there – like Jami and husband Matt, granddaughter Grace, and husband Wayne in attendance, made it even a more special night.

I was driving home through Woodburn on Thursday night. A street sign heading to the north was Carlinville Road. Heading to the south, the sign for Edwardsville Road. Kind of ironic, I thought. Going in different directions, but intertwining on one special night in southern Macoupin County.

For one night in Staunton, volleyball coaches in Edwardsville and Carlinville made a memorable night that much more special. Nine hundred wins. Just let that number sink in for a moment.