Bremerton volleyball embraces fresh start

Beth Donnelly considers the 2009 season a clean slate for the Bremerton volleyball program.

The first-year coach replaces Joe Tubbs, who was eliminated over the summer when the Bremerton School District decided to ax all classified employees from head coaching positions. Donnelly is looking to instill a can-do attitude in a team that managed just three wins in 2008.

“The part I’m having the hardest time with is getting over the fact that they are comfortable losing. They really are in a situation where it’s like, ‘Oh well, we lost, OK, move on,’” Donnelly said of the Lady Knights, who opened the season with losses against Central Kitsap, South Kitsap and Shelton. “I’m not like that, I’ve never been like that. I hate to lose and the fact that we’re 0-3 right now kills me.”

Yet Donnelly has already seen “tremendous growth” at both the junior varsity and varsity levels. The 12-player varsity squad features Kia Macintyre, Penny Bell, Arianna Jones, Merissa Duzenski and Allie Taylor, all of whom have varsity experience, as well as a bevy of newcomers.

The squad continues to iron out minor kinks and work on the “little things” — how and when to rotate — as well as basic systematics. There is a long way to go, however.

“My expectations in every team I coach are super high. I came in the same way this year and realized real quick we’d have to back pedal and start over. The girls were raw,” Donnelly said. “Where we’re at comparable to some of the other teams we’ve played and that I’ve helped coach in club, we’re not there yet.”

Donnelly, 28, who played four years at Northern Michigan University, brings nearly a decade of coaching experience. She landed her first coaching job at the age of 19, heading the program at a Class 2A high school in Michigan for six years while earning a master’s degree. She then coached three seasons at South Dakota Tech in Rapid City, S.D., before moving to Bremerton.

Among the goals for 2009: Break preexisting bad habits and teach the players to be competitive in everything they do.

“They know what they are supposed to do. Now it’s just getting them in the habit of doing it before I have to say something,” Donnelly said. “It’s just learning to play with each other all over again in a completely different system.”

Haley Lillybridge, Xinia Ebbay, Andrea Nash, Lily Kimple, Felice Zeitler, Carly Erickson and Amanda Gibb round out the roster. But it will be Macintyre, a senior captain shifting from outside hitter to libero, who figures to anchor the Lady Knights.

“She runs the court really well, she’s aggressive, she’s not afraid to take the lead and take charge,” Donnelly said. “I figured putting her in a situation where she’s consistently in control would be the best for her.”

The 6-foot-2-inch Duzenski, who had a modest three kills and seven blocks Monday against Shelton, also will be instrumental in the team’s success, particularly on offense. A player who Donnelly called a “big presence in the front row” and “very smart,” Duzenski’s stats should climb as the team improves its passing.

“The big thing is confidence, getting in their head and saying, ‘You can do it, you just gotta go out there and do it,’” Donnelly said. “If they trust themselves, then they’re willing to trust each other.”

While her ultimate goal is to win, Donnelly’s immediate concern is to build the program up to a level where it’s legitimately competing with every team it faces. It won’t happen overnight, Donnelly understands, but that doesn’t mean the team can’t improve on a daily basis.

“If we struggle for the first year or two, I’m OK with that. I don’t necessarily enjoy it, but if we’re learning and progressing day after day ... It will make us better in the long run,” she said. “These girls are sponges; they just want to be taught and learn something.”

Donnelly, who encouraged fans to attend home games, added she hopes to see more players turn out next season. Neither the varsity nor junior varsity team made cuts during tryouts, meaning the pool of players could be deeper.

“We need to get more interest and the only way to get interest is if we progress,” Donnelly said. “It’s a different team, it’s a different coaching staff. My goal for the next few years is just to grow the program.”

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