Owen volleyball has been on a carousel the last six years. Each time the calendar has turned, one coach has stepped off and another has gotten on.
The 2017 season will be no different. But this time the carousel appears to have come full circle. Kim Clark, a math teacher, is back. And she came back just days before the season began.
Heading into the season, the Warlassies thought last year’s coach, Jenny Johnson, would end the carousel by coaching for a second season. But prior to the school year, she moved out of the area with her family, according to Owen athletic director Anthony Lee.
The program was once again without a coach, just days before the season. There was, however, a qualified candidate nearby - Clark.
“Kim was our head volleyball coach at one point in time,” Lee said. “She was someone who was here on staff and very knowledgeable about volleyball. And she’s at the point in her life now where she has time to coach volleyball again for us. It really worked out for us.”
Clark starting teaching at Owen in 2002, then left for two years to take a position as an instructional coach in the district. The Waynesville native and Tuscola graduate returned to Owen in 2011 and took over the program after Johnson stepped down to focus solely on coaching softball.
Clark stepped away from coaching after the 2012 season when her daughter was born.
“I coached with coach Johnson, on and off, from 2002 through 2009,” she said. “I also helped her coach last year too.”
Clark is the third coach senior Caitlyn Ledford has played for on the varsity team in as many years.
“She does things differently than coach (Johnson) did, so that’s been an adjustment,” Ledford said during practice Sept. 6. “But we already knew her well, so that’s helped make it easier.”
Going into the season, transition is somewhat of a theme for the Warlassies, according to junior Chesney Gardner.
“We lost a lot of players from last year’s team to graduation,” she said. “And this year we have a new coach, new faces on the team, different personalities, so there’s a lot to work on.”
Strength and conditioning are at the top of that list, according to Clark.
"That's been a big part of my focus so far," said Clark, who took over in mid-August. "We have a really strong junior varsity coach now and a strong middle school program, so this particular group might be the most talented group I've worked with."
Despite having only nine players, Clark believes the Warlassies will come away with more than two wins, their total from a season ago.
"We should have a winning record," she said. "The girls will continue improving their skills all season."
Despite Owen dropping its first two matches of the season to T.C. Roberson and Erwin respectively, Gardner and Ledford are optimistic regarding the upcoming season for the Warlassies.
"I think our attitude as a team is better going into this year," Gardner said. "Last year when we got down, as a team, we would get down on ourselves. But coach Clark keeps us positive."
Ledford agrees with Gardner and points to an improvement in team chemistry already this season.
"I feel like we're more like a family this year," she said. "We like to dance, listen to music and just have fun."
The team's closeness is evident on the court, according to Clark. Everyone is working together to improve daily, she said.
"They're all friends off the court, and they hang out together," she said. "It's a really fun group, and they have no problem communicating on the court, which is important. They all have a strong knowledge of the game, and that will help us as the season goes on."