(KMAland) -- A four-year journey and rebuild ended in Cedar Rapids last week. Today, KMA Sports honors it with the announcement of Katie Darrington as our KMAland Volleyball Coach of the Year.
Darrington took over a fledgling and once-proud program that had fallen on hard times with just 11 wins the season prior to her arrival.
“I told myself to just come in and find the athletes,” the St. Albert alum and AL coach told KMA Sports. “Luckily, we had some really strong kids that were already there.”
Darrington points to Shay Ann Beaman, Miranda Hennings and Cailey Schaa as members of the Abraham Lincoln program that helped ease the transition. Meanwhile, there appeared to be some untapped talent in the freshman class.
“That first day, the freshmen all stayed off on another court,” Darrington remembers. “I was watching them, and I said, ‘OK, Elaina, Sam, Julia, come on over here.’”
Darrington was talking about Elaina Bohnet, Sam Christiansen and Julia Wagoner – a trio that carved out early roles and then bigger roles as their careers went along.
“Athletically, we started clicking,” Darrington said. “I felt we could do something with that and get back to that volleyball level.”
The Lynx won just 14 matches in that first year, but it was clear that the building blocks were there for something special in the future.
“We talked all the time about things we could control,” Darrington said. “Communication and hustling, supporting each other and if we kept doing these things it was going to get better.”
Darrington says one thing she believes helped her team believe that good things were to come were comments from rival coaches Rachel Eikenberry and Mike Bond.
“(They said) they could see the spark the kids had,” she said. “That was one thing I could relay to the kids, like it’s not just me. Other coaches were recognizing it.”
In 2017, they reached the .500 mark and then in 2018 they won 31 matches before falling in a regional final.
“That summer going into the 2018 season, I could really see some sparks,” Darrington said. “We weren’t just relying on Elaina anymore. The sophomores were stepping up, and we added Baylie Girres. Julia was really coming into her own on the right side. I thought we could make some noise (in 2019), but they said they were going to be good that year. That laid the foundation for this season.”
This year’s team had heavy goals all throughout the program and throughout the state. And they continually checked them off. They won 38 times and rolled through defending champ and perennial power Ankeny Centennial in a home regional final to clinch their first trip to state in five years.
“I put a lot of expectations on the kids the last four years,” Darrington said. “Going into that Centennial match, I told them this game is about the recognition of how hard they worked. You get to enjoy this game. You put in all this time, and now it’s time to go out there (and show it). They came full of fire and joy, and that was a really fun game.”
While the season ended one match later to Phyona Schrader and Ankeny, Coach Darrington’s rebuild was secure. The goal four years earlier was to bring the program back to where it once was, and that’s exactly what happened.
“Everything has revolved around sports my entire life,” Darrington said. “Especially being from Council Bluffs and knowing the history of girl’s athletics around here. To be a part of it and give my passion and pride in Council Bluffs sports….”
It’s a storybook finish to this four-year run, and while it may not be finished we feel it needs to be honored today. Katie Darrington is this year’s KMAland Volleyball Coach of the Year.
Darrington is the second straight and third in the last four years from a Council Bluffs school to win the award. St. Albert’s Angie Lantz won in 2018 while Mike Bond of Lewis Central took the 2016 title. Other previous winners were East Mills’ Connie Blank (2017), Amy McClintock of Sidney (2015), Stanton’s Jody Druivenga (2014) and Angie Spangenbeg of Harlan (2013).
Listen to the complete interview with Coach Darrington below.