When a team, any team, goes through three head coaches in three years, it’s usually a bad sign. That kind of turnover often means there is turmoil afoot.
At Lakeville North, where the volleyball program has its third head coach in as many years, that is not the case. Milan Mader coached the Panthers for 35 years and retired after winning the Class 3A state championship in 2010. His successor in 2011 was Steve Willingham, a longtime assistant to Mader who led the team to the state title match and a narrow loss to Eden Prairie. Willingham then moved across town to become the head coach at Lakeville South.
When Walt Weaver -- who spent 31 years at Apple Valley, took 13 teams to state, won two state championships and was among the original inductees into the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1996 -- came out of retirement to direct the Panthers this season, it seemed too good to be true.
“At first I didn’t believe it,” said Lakeville North junior outside hitter Alyssa Goehner. “When I found out he was our head coach, I almost cried.”
Goehner -- who was named the best sophomore player in the nation last season by prepvolleyball.com -- already was familiar with Weaver. As a coach in the Northern Lights program he has worked with many of the top players in Minnesota, including Goehner. Before she was even in high school, Weaver helped her develop into one of the most intimidating hitters in the nation.
“He worked with me three years ago, every Wednesday out of his own time,” she said. “He would put me on a box and do reps after reps after reps. I can tell you he’s the reason why I get 25 kills a match (as she did Tuesday in a 3-1 victory at Owatonna). He’s the reason for everything.”
Lakeville North improved to 2-0 this season with its victory at Owatonna. Owatonna sophomore setter Kaylea Ahrens, who played for Weaver in the Northern Lights program, described him as “very technical in the way he does things. In practice he makes sure everything is perfect. He’s calm and he’s a great coach.”
The Lakeville North job seemed like a natural fit for Weaver, who has lived in Lakeville for 25 years and had two daughters play volleyball for the Panthers. Walt and Tracey Weaver’s youngest child, Cassie, is a junior volleyball player at Concordia University in St. Paul; the Golden Bears have won the last five NCAA Division II national championships. Their daughter Lindsey, who played at Luther College in Iowa and graduated last spring, is now teaching in Japan.
Without the juggling that was involved in watching two daughters play college volleyball in two states, Weaver had enough time to devote to coaching at Lakeville North.
“When they asked, I was honored to take the job,” he said. “I’m having fun doing it. The team is a phenomenal group of kids, so that part is fun. There are high expectations from everybody; the community and the administration and the players. They’re a group that has a lot of experience.”
Weaver is not a demonstrative coach. He stands quietly on the sideline during matches, offering advice and support to his players.
“He’s not the sort of coach who’s yelling, he’s more like that calm presence,” said Goehner (No. 4 in photo at left). “He doesn’t give out many high fives, so when you get a high five from Walt, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh.’ Or when you see his little chuckle from the side, you know you’ve done something right.”
With a smile, Weaver explains it like this: He has the best view in the gym.
“I figured the best deal about this for me is I have the best seat. I can sit here and watch. I don’t have to buy a ticket and I can stand right on the court and nobody yells at me and I can see the whole thing.”
Lakeville North will carry the No. 1 ranking in Class 3A into this weekend’s Molten Southwest Minnesota Challenge tournament in Marshall. With many of the state’s top teams in all classes in the field, the results should offer a glimpse into what the rest of the season may hold.
Goehner says the Panthers’ goals are clear.
“Probably our main goal is to get better as a team,” she said. “It’s not about the 10 individuals. It’s working together on and off the court. If we can play as a team throughout this whole year and work together, hopefully we can get another state championship.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 25
*Miles John has driven: 1,224
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
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