Homer volleyball plans on scrappy play at state

After reclaiming control of the Homer volleyball team this season, Mariners coach Pam Rugloski has her squad back right where she wants them.

Fourteen years after relinquishing the reigns to longtime Homer coach Beth Trowbridge, Rugloski returned in 2015 to pick up where Trowbridge left off a season ago — win the Southcentral Conference and charge into the state tournament.

While Homer came up short of a region crown this year, the team is certainly looking like the kind of bullish 2014 squad that picked up the town’s first state volleyball appearance since 2003.

“The original goal was to come in as region champs again,” Rugloski said. “They had a very intense team (last year) packed with powerful players, and they said they could do it again this year.

“But we’re coming in and it’s a better spot to be in, as the underdog.”

Homer begins its state onslaught with a first-round matchup with Valdez today at 1:30 p.m at the Alaska Airlines Arena in Anchorage. The Buccaneers were crowned Aurora Conference champions for 2015. The Mariners did not see Valdez this year, but Rugloski does not see lack of familiarity as a concern. If anything, it’s an advantage.

“I believe they have one 6-foot center middle hitter, but we have such great defense,” Rugloski said.

Part of the transformation that has helped put Homer back into the state playoff picture after being out for so long is Rugloski’s background as a former player herself.

Rugloski, a former player at Washington State University, employs a hardened approach to coaching in order to create a tough team with a scrappy defense.

“When we’re not playing well, we play from behind, and we just keep up,” Rugloski said. “In order to move ahead, we need to work on our jump training, jump higher, offensively mix it up, confuse the defense. … We got we got a lot of work to do, but what we bring is our defense.”

Part of that coaching method also comes from her former coach, Olympic volleyball assistant Jim Coleman, who played a role in coaching the USA Men’s national team every year from 1965 to his death in 2001. Overall, Coleman was a coach for seven Olympic games, eight Pan-American Games and five World Cups.

The other part of the equation to Homer’s success comes from Rugloski’s ability to surround the team with the right people. With no prior knowledge of assistant coach Chad Felice’s volleyball experience, Rugloski decided when she came aboard the team this season that Felice would need to be with the team.

Felice, a New York native that is now coaching the Homer girls basketball team, held close to no prior volleyball experience before this season, according to Rugloski, but she saw something in him that would complement her coaching style.

“He’s just able to relate to the players much better,” Rugloski said.

With the 30-year Homer resident creating the schemes and rotations for the Mariners and the “new guy” essentially translating it for the players, the duo has channeled an ideal philosophy into the team.

“We’re scrappy at times,” she said, adding that the aggressiveness is partly due to Homer losing six seniors from last season. “Last year, we had a little different defense, but when they’re on, they are brilliant.”

After suffering an ankle injury before the season started, Rugloski said the return of powerful hitter Mary Hana Bowe has given the Mariners a spark in the second half of the season.

“It’s been hugely important,” Rugloski said. “She has enthusiasm, a positive attitude, she’s constantly upbuilding to the rest of the team and maintaining that high energy.

“When she’s on, it’s pretty bad news to the other team.”

Joining Bowe against Valdez will be libero Izabelle Hagge — the “best in the region” according to Rugloski — setter McKi Needham, middle hitter Kelly Liebers and outside hitters Malina Fellows and PK Woo.

No matter the result against Valdez, the Mariners will be facing Kotzebue or Grace Christian in either the quarterfinal round today at 7 p.m. or the second-chance bracket Friday at 1 p.m.

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