Agona makes a sudden transition to volleyball
JACKSON TWP. – There have been two changes to the head coach position in the last few years for Jackson’s varsity volleyball program, but the most recent change also brought back a familiar face.
Mary Kate Agona, who was assistant coach to former Jackson head coach Jeff Walk in one of the most successful races in program history, is back with the program after being hired shortly before the start of the season. Although she has coached with the Polar Bears in the past, her departure – and Walck’s – is far enough in the past to have a roster full of players who didn’t know her and who had to adapt quickly to the new regime.
“The transition has been a bit interesting. We were hired in the morning and on the bus that afternoon with 32 athletes who didn’t really know us, ”Agona said. “In our first two weeks we played eight matches. We had to play three games before we even trained together.
The last part of this statement deserves a second reading as well as additional consideration on the challenge of a group of players in any sport. As expected for a team that has a new coaching staff that they are still familiarizing with, the first eight games brought both ups and downs for the Polar Bears. While no team wants to use such a situation as an excuse, it is a reality that a new staff and a new system take time to learn.
Agona, who is a fourth-grade teacher at Strausser Primary School, accepted the head coach job when athletic director Dan Michel made a last-minute call on the day of the team’s opener against the St. Joseph Academy because former head coach Cortney Goodwin had resigned.
It was a race to prepare for both this game and the season, to say the least.
Going 4-4 in their first eight games, the Polar Bears have yet to find their rhythm as a group, but their new coach likes their overall attitude.
“I am proud of the girls. They listened to Coach (Assistant) (Stephanie) Tyo and myself. They were coachable and open to change. It has been a fit for everyone, but I am delighted to work with this group of athletes, ”said Agona. “Right now we want the girls to play with confidence and consistency as we continue to grow and work on the fundamentals.”
Having been an assistant coach at Thiel College for two seasons and a university assistant coach at Jackson for seven years with Walck, Agona is no stranger to the bench despite being new to Jackson. Although she resumed the program on short notice, she is adamant that the program maintains its high level of play and is working towards it every day.
The schedule didn’t offer many breaks, respites or chances to have long spells of practice without games. Making adjustments on the fly has become the name of the game for polar bears, so any chance to create a rhythm and find a rotation that works well is a valuable commodity.
This would all be a lot to ask of any team, but when you include the fact that Jackson only has one senior on the roster, the challenge takes on another dimension. He has college experience beyond that single senior citizen, but also has a lot of new faces at the college level – at least in their current roles.
“We only have one senior, Ari Wyant, who hits the middle and gives us the most experience,” Agona said. “In terms of strikes, our exteriors are junior Leena Patibandla and second year McKenna Weber. Our other midpoint is second student Emily Ragon. Opposing hitters include junior Sydney Wake, sophomore Olivia Hayes and rookie Abbey Debevec. We lack experience in our defense and frame, but we are excited about juniors Kara Hepler and Nadia at the back and Camden Dolan and junior Sydney Wake as passers.
All of these names should be called upon during the season to deliver in the big moments and how they react to those times will play a central role in determining the success of the campaign. While it hasn’t been an easy road so far, what they’ve faced before has given them a pop quiz about adversity – now it’s their turn to answer.