COWAN – Whitney Stewart hasn’t been the head volleyball coach at Cowan for long, but she’s finding ways to mix things up – in a way the Blackhawks apparently aren’t used to.
The former Delta assistant is focusing on volleyball-specific skills, like ball control and the team’s attack, but she’s also finding ways to spice things up.
Each day, Stewart has a different conditioning element mixed into practice, and the reviews from the players are that she is working them hard – just what the coach wants to hear.
“They’re not used to it, said they’ve never conditioned before,” Stewart said. “I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ So we condition every day. It’s something different every day.”
Stewart has a card game that the team has discovered isn’t like your Friday night poker game.
Players take turn picking cards from the deck; between 2 and 5, it’s a down-and-back sprint the length of the basketball court, as many times as the card says; a 6-10, it’s a half-court sprint the amount of times on the card; a jack is a suicide, a queen is sideline-to-sideline.
Stewart has found other ways to challenge the team physically, having them run through the hallways with balls over their heads or running stairs in the gym.
Practice could easily be a lot more bland, and as a result, the Blackhawks have taken a liking to their new coach – despite not having much time with her yet.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought, we actually mesh really well with her,” said Diana Campbell, the team’s leading hitter a year ago, of the quick turnaround. “She makes practice really fun, but it’s hard at the same time. So we’re working a lot.”
Added setter Gabby Harrington: “We all just kind of took to her methods really quickly and sold out right away. That made it easier to do it.”
For a team which finished 20-12 last season and looking to take the next step, every advantage helps, and conditioning may provide that.
As her players finished up running stairs after a recent preseason practice, Stewart outlined the reason for the emphasis on conditioning.
“I was just telling them yesterday,” Stewart said, “that there will come a time during the season that this has gotten a lot easier, and that they’ll realize it’s paying off, that they’re in better shape than another team that they play. I told them that they’ll reap the benefits – eventually.”
Contact sports features writer Ryan O’Gara at (765) 213-5829. Follow him on Twitter @RyanOGaraTSP.