Four years ago, Fieldcrest volleyball coach Cathy Sanders and this year’s Lady Knights senior class started their volleyball careers at Fieldcrest together.
And for the past four years, they worked toward building a winner.
In Sanders’s first season on the job in 2009, the team struggled through a 7-22 campaign and, in 2010, it went 11-22.
But, under Sanders’s direction, the program continued to develop, and last year the Lady Knights won 19 games.
This season, the Lady Knights reached a new level of success as they finished 26-10 and advanced to the finals of the Class 2A St. Bede Regional.
For her guiding hand in helping Fieldcrest to its best season since 1995, Sanders is the 2012 NewsTribune Volleyball Coach of the Year.
Sanders, the seventh coach at Fieldcrest since the departure of the Lady Knights’ coaching legend Jaynet Smith in 1996, said the key to building the program’s success was developing consistency.
“The first couple years, I just wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” admits Sanders, who went 216-87-1 and won five regionals and a sectional during an eight-year tenure at Normal U-High before taking a teaching and coaching position at Fieldcrest. “It had kind of been a revolving door of coaches.
“I think just what they needed was consistency, somebody with consistent expectations and that style of coaching in teaching them the skills and the fundamentals. … Them coming in year after year and knowing what the basics were going to be.”
This fall it paid off.
“This year, it was really easy to challenge them and push them a little bit more than I have in the past. For all of us, it’s been a transition the last couple years. It felt like we were building. Last year, we were one win away from 20 wins and this year to finish well above 20 wins, I just have to give the kids a lot of credit. They worked hard, they listened and they understand me better than that first year.”
Senior setter Kristen DeMay said that the team has grown to embrace Sanders — and each other — over the past four years.
“We all became kind of a big family over the past four years,” DeMay said. “Everybody started to work hard and get to know coach Sanders. We came together as one, and everybody kept working hard because we wanted to push toward that goal of winning more games.”
The goal was accomplished with the Lady Knights’ breakout campaign.
“It’s seems like it was the right timing this year for us to be a little more aggressive,” Sanders said. “It was just like ‘What a difference a year makes’ for those juniors. They came in and you could feel they were serious about playing, ready to kick it up to the next level.”
Junior Kaitlyn Petersen, a NewsTribune First-Team All-Area selection, has spent the past three years on the varsity with Sanders. She said that the program had been building up to its breakout season.
“Definitely I feel like we’ve progressed a lot since she’s been here,” Petersen said. “Her coaching has been the same, but as she’s been with us more and gets a feel for this team and everything. I just feel like we’ve been getting better and better.
“She’s very driven. She really likes to win. Losing isn’t really an option, and when it happens, it’s a really disappointing thing for us. But then she helps us bounce back and be ready for the next game. She always has us ready to play.”
Sanders and the Lady Knights have grown together.
“Especially coming in as a freshman, she was really intimidating because, again, she’s just so driven and you know what she wants and what is expected of you,” said Petersen, who said she has grown accustomed her coach’s high expectations. “At first, it’s a little overwhelming, setting the standards higher each year.”
Next year the bar will be set even higher.
“I think for sure we’re going to be better next year because we all know what we can do and what we are capable of,” Petersen said. “And she’s going to be there pushing us through it all and we’ll be able to make it as a team.”
Sanders is excited to see the Lady Knights continue to progress as they strive for a regional title.
“I’m looking forward to seeing where we go,” she said. “I think these past two years have really laid the groundwork for us. The foundation is there, now we just have to keep building on it.”
Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995 or at email@example.com Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.