For Mike Koepp, coaching volleyball is like riding a bike. Knowing how to do it never goes away. It may have been seven years since he hung up his volleyball clipboard, but it didn’t take long for Koepp to get right back into the swing of things once he took over the Calaveras High School volleyball program.
The head coach position became vacant late in the summer and with not enough time to find a coach, Koepp, who is Calaveras’ athletic director and head softball coach, decided to come out of retirement and return to the bench after a seven-year volleyball coaching hiatus.
“I’ve been watching it for a long time, so it’s not like I ever really left,” Koepp said. “I loved it and I had fun with it. It just didn’t work out schedule wise with the family. It’s fun to be back and it’s a good group of girls. It should be exciting.”
Koepp isn’t taking over a team that was at the bottom of the Mother Lode League standings; quite the opposite. In 2018, Calaveras finished the Mother Lode League season with a 12-3 record, which included handing Sonora its first league loss since moving from the Valley Oak League in 2014.
With seven returning players, including junior Ava Saiers, who was the 2018 Most Outstanding Player of the Mother Lode League and all-league players Keelie Koepp, Jenna Brotherton and Muriel Strange, the pieces are there for Calaveras to once again make some noise at the top of the league standings.
“I just have to stay out of the way,” Koepp said with a laugh. He is Calaveras’ third head coach in as many years. “It’s a different challenge. When I first came into the volleyball program (in 2000), we were always competitive, but we were lacking that next step. I think the people who came after me did a really good job and it says something about the coaches that we have had in the past that the cupboard isn’t bare. I’m not coming into a situation where I need to restart things. I’m blessed with the group we have.”
In 2018, Calaveras posted double-digit league wins for the first time in five seasons. A year ago, Calaveras had a roster with not much varsity experience and perhaps sneaked up on teams. After reaching the second-round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs, Calaveras won’t be able to sneak up on anyone in 2019.
Saiers, along with Brotherton, Koepp, Samantha Gleason, Mercedez Needles, Strange and Anna Allain, are back for another year of Calaveras volleyball. For Saiers, who received one of the top league honors as a sophomore, she’s determined not to let last year’s success be the highest she can go.
“I always think about bigger goals and bigger things that I can accomplish,” said Saiers, who recorded 512 assists, 53 kills, 47 aces and 20 blocks a year ago. “It starts with doing the little things throughout the day. Yeah, I was the Most Outstanding Player, but I feel that I can achieve more and do much better. Every day that I come to the gym, I want to get better and continue to improve.”
With so many returning players, Strange doesn’t think it will take a long time for the team to find its rhythm.
“It’s all about being comfortable with the team and my setter, Ava (Saiers),” Strange said. “I get more confident the more that we work together. That’s going to make it easier for us to create a healthy team dynamic.”
New to the varsity roster in 2019 are Alyssa Wyllie, Anna Evans, Ashlyn Brim, Kylie Remus and Nikki Bell.
Of Calaveras’ three 2018 league losses, two came against Sonora and one was to Bret Harte. Saiers knows that winning a league title will be tough, but it won’t happen without defeating the Wildcats and Bullfrogs.
“Teams change every year and anybody can beat anybody on any given day,” Saiers said. “Bret Harte beat us last year, but that was just one of those flukes where we fell apart and they were able to beat us. Beating Sonora is always a big goal and I feel that we can do that. We want to win league and head towards a section title.”