Kiski Area has a tradition of great athletics. The football program at one time was the envy of Western Pennsylvania. Cavalier track and cross country athletes have been winning medals at WPIAL's and States for decades. Some magical seasons have been played out by the basketball program over the years, and the wrestling team is perhaps one of the strongest programs in the country. It had been a very long time, but the volleyball program had also enjoyed winning seasons and section championships. Led originally by Coach Colleen Herbeck, the Lady Cavs made a few appearances at States and were Runner-Up in Ellen's junior year of 1978. More recently the program had fallen on hard times, and inconsistency in coaching made it hard to rebuild the program. Four coaches in six years in fact. Now it would be Ellen's job to stabilize things, and get the ball rolling in the right direction. First on the agenda, get some quality help.
Shortly after Ellen was approved by the school board we met with the players and parents. We were pleased to find a large and enthusiastic group waiting for us in the LGI room. After a brief speech, and some questions, Ellen handed out t-shirts to all the players in attendance. On the front they said Cavalier Volleyball 2007, on the back the now famous quote by Mr Berberich, "It's About to Get Serious".
A week later we were in the gym for the first time with the team. Open gym time is a great time to work with the kids and really get to know them. We always try to make the mood fun, and add in competition. We had a large group there, most were curious to see how the "new" coach would handle things.
Not long after we had begun, the door swung open, and in walked our first Assistant Coach.
Jaime Vick. I had never met her personally before, but I knew her story well. Jaime had fought through two battles with leukemia, and had just finished her senior year at St. Vincent. She had heard a new volleyball coach had been hired at her alma mater, and wanted to see if she was looking for help.
Jaime played both basketball and volleyball at Kiski. She was hoping to get one of the math positions that had opened up in the district, and knew, holding the "coaching in your district card" could help greatly.
Meeting Jaime for the first time was confusing. At first, I thought she was her twin sister Jodie. I had met Jodie at the Tiger Gym where we both played pick up volleyball on Monday nights. Jaime caught me off guard because I could never have imagined that a young woman, who had been through so much, could be so confident, so radiant, so outwardly happy. I expected her to be brooding, angry, or sad. She couldn't have been any further from it.
We recognized that as a volleyball coach, Jaime needed experience, but as a roll model, she had no peer. Jaime Moran was the perfect fit for our staff. Young, energetic, enthusiastic, and athletic. We couldn't have known how important she would become when fate pushed her through those doors, and into our lives.(More of Jaime's courageous story is available at
Not long after that first open gym we happened into one of Ellen's first players, from the Plum boys JV team of 1983-84. Dan Clair was a local insurance agent for Nationwide, with offices in Apollo and Allegheny Twp. He had heard that Ellen had been hired at Kiski, and was fired up to get involved in the sport he loved most again. The second piece of our coaching staff was in place.
We were able to gather the players one night a week in the summer of 2007 for open gyms, and travel with as many as we could up to Elderton for a open scrimmage night. It was on one of these nights that the program had its first emotional test. We found out while in the gym at Elderton that one of the players best friends, Lacey Huskuliak, was killed in a terrible automobile accident. Some of the kids were actually supposed to be with them, and attending the scrimmage night might have kept them from physical harm, but now Ellen was left to help heal the emotional trauma of losing a classmate and best friend. For these players, this event challenged them their entire senior year.
We knew the coming season would be tough, as we put systems into place and cemented good habits the players. We were fortunate to have good leadership among the senior group we inherited. Kelly Dunlay was a standout defensive specialist, Cierra Brown had experience as hitter, Andrea Batiz was a strong presence in the middle, Megan Hone was a setter, Brittany Heater contributed in the back row, and Lauren Butler was a naturally gifted outside hitter, and arguably the best and strongest Ellen had ever coached. These six would be the foundation on which we would rebuild Kiski Area Volleyball.
Even with this strong group at the core, and the hours spent fixing bad habits and developing good ones, the 2007 season was a struggle. Even as losses piled up, there was progress being made. It wasn't always pretty, but the effort was always strong, and the desire to get better never waned. Even though it would never show in the wins/loses column, the one thing that everyone was sure of was that the carousel of coaches had stopped. This staff was staying here, and indeed, it was getting serious.