By Kevin Wyart
On any given weekday afternoon at the Lumberjack Arena, you may be witness to a Humboldt State Volleyball revival. Inside you will see a young coach teaching an even younger team, trying to get her players to buy into what she was selling. And she was selling a lot, interrupting drills many times to correct mistakes she saw. Her tone was never harsh, but always straightforward in a way that gave the player confidence in what she was hearing. More often than not, the player fixed the problems within minutes.
Humboldt State women’s volleyball is off to an improved 6-3 start to the 2013 season, already doubling their win total from last year. Under first-year head coach Kelly Wood, the Lady Lumberjacks have shown marked improvement in several areas. A team that last year would often lose in straight sets has held together strong this year and it has already shown on the won/loss record. They have yet to lose two games consecutively and have come back strong winning every game following a loss in four sets. That all falls into Wood’s philosophy of putting all the focus into the next game and the next opponent, which she said means they also won’t get ahead of themselves when they get into a long winning streak.
“We don’t get involved in talking about winning streaks,” Wood said. “I don’t think if you asked half the girls on our team what our record was, they might not even know what it is and that’s fine with me. We just taking it day by day, match by match, practice by practice, one team at a time so it doesn’t even come into our head that we lost.”
While Wood maybe in her first year as the head coach of HSU volleyball, she is by no means a stranger to Humboldt County. She grew up in the southern part of the county and was a multi-sport star at South Fork High School in Miranda. Her uncle was legendary Lumberjack men’s basketball coach Tom Wood, who guided his team to eleven NCAA tournament appearances and is the program’s all time wins leader as a head coach. Growing up in the area and having family ties to the school made the first home game for Wood all the more special.
“At one point during warm-ups, I looked over and half the bleachers seemed to be filled with members of the Wood family, so that was really nice and I appreciate of that support,” Wood said. “It felt great to be home and to have family see it all.”
While it is Wood’s first year with a team that is comprised of mostly freshman and sophomores (there are three juniors and a senior), she has been able to get the most out of her young players. They have beaten teams much older and more experienced, while narrowly losing to Fresno Pacific University, ranked twelfth in the country, in five sets. Wood has had plenty of experience coaching freshman and sophomore players. She was the head coach at Santa Rosa Junior College for 10 years, where she always had to replace players after their sophomore season. When asked about the differences between the two jobs, Wood said there weren’t many.
“There are so many new faces, but at the same time that’s what I’m most excited about the future at this new job,” Wood said. “Many of these girls I get to keep for four, some even five years so that is definitely a bright spot.”
Wood’s energy is apparent on the court. On a Thursday night in September, the Lumberjacks lost set No. 2 to Cal State Los Angeles 25-9, but then rallied back to win set No. 3 — 25-21. Eventually CSULA won in five sets, but with the Lumberjacks winning several long enduring rallies that required players diving all over the place, the never-say-die attitude of this team was seen by everyone in attendance. That attitude carried into a later contest versus Cal State Dominguez Hills, which the Lumberjacks were able to take in four sets and evened their important conference record at 1-1.
Freshman middle hitter Courney DeBrunner spoke highly of the attitude her head coach brings every day.
“I definitely think her philosophy is very aggressive,” DeBrunner said. “We’re very fired up. I think we have a strong team and everyone is willing to work very hard for her. We are all very coachable.”