New head coach brings jolt to local volleyball team

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE - While several dozen water flasks, a score of shoes, a couple of inhalers and a bulky medical kit might not have exemplified the obvious, the never-ending volleys of volleyballs rocketing across the gymnasium at Leeds Public School certainly did. 

The frequent, yet rhythmic, blowing of the whistle by Bridget Geller was also a dead giveaway. 

This was, of course, by Geller’s simple yet strategic design for her new volleyball team, which included that of constant conditioning. 

“Definitely sore,” senior and outside hitter Ashlyn Wiliams said right before session two of practice on Aug. 17, the eve before the first day of school. “The quads are tight and the shoulders are definitely sore. Bridget has run us a lot more than previous years, which is a great thing because I know it will help out on the court.” 

To say Geller had a lot on her plate would, ironically enough, double as a pun, depending on the point of view. After all, Geller was doubling as both a head volleyball coach for Benson County and as a cook for Leeds. 

The dual role, however, has not stressed Geller out in the slightest. If anything, it has gifted her with a routine. A routine that spans from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. as a cook and then from 1:00 to 7-8:00 p.m. as a coach.

“It is difficult,” Geller said. “Thankfully, I am not one to stress out easily about things.” 

Luckily for Geller, help in the form of Sheri Stuberg has provided relief in divvying up respective coaching responsibilities. After recruiting the stay-at-home mother and occasional substitute teacher to the program, the pair have taken on the coaching gig not as two separate coaches, but as one cohesive and communicative unit. 

“We are both coming together with our ideas, talking them through and seeing if we can find our final solution together so it is not just one person just totally bombarding,” Stuberg said. “It is about taking both side’s input. I hope it stays the same because it has been working.”

Head coach Bridget Geller (red) talks with co-coach Sheri Stuberg (blue) during practice.

It would not take long to see the pair mesh during practice. Nor would it take even a minute to recognize the goals the program wishes to accomplish going into the new season. 

Over the course of the afternoon practice session in only their second day of practice entirely, Geller, Stuberg and 36 girls did anything and everything. Frequent position rotations after only a handful of sets were abundant. “Squaring up” the volleyball was preached, even if a volleyball or three crashed into a slew of water flasks lined up on the stage behind the pair of nets lined in the middle of the gym. 

Through three+ hours of practice, the idea of quickening pace was ingrained almost ten-fold. 

All part of the plan, of course.  

“We are hoping to be quicker this year and we are hoping to surprise some teams,” Geller said. “We do have some seniors and a junior that have varsity experience, but most of our team does not have that varsity experience. We are young in that aspect, but we are looking forward to surprising people and making a run in our region. We are conditioning hard, getting into shape, and getting these girls quick on their feet. That is what we have been working on.”

But practice has not solely focused on the fundamentals.

It has also acted as a tryout. 

With a young team with little varsity experience to pass around, several seniors have found it necessary to act as role models to help reinforce both Geller and Stuberg’s teachings. 

“I think it is really important to help out,” middle hitter Desidy Schwanke said. “With only two coaches for 36 girls, it is hard for just two coaches to read all the girls. I think it is important for me as a player to help the younger kids…some of the younger kids will be playing varsity as we do not have a lot of girls and we do not have a lot of experience either. It is anyone’s spot right now. It is good to help.” 

As practice continued onward, upperclassmen became more vocal. High-fives were awarded after accurate spikes or an athletic dig. The more the merrier, in Geller’s mind. 

“We talked with the seniors…what is one thing you want out of this year…we want good teamwork, we want to work together and we want to be one unit,” Geller said. “But we also want that championship at the end. That is what we want to instill in these girls. If you work hard and never give up, you will succeed.”

Succeeding, of course, has been Geller’s goal from the get-go. From critiquing plays to sharing a laugh with the girls over practice, team morale has soared higher than the gym ceiling. 

“She is just a powerhouse,” Wiliams said. “She kind of runs everything. She is always there for us. If we need something, always go to Bridget. She has our back. She knows how to help in a way that some of the other coaches we had…they were all great, but sometimes if you just find that one coach you can really connect with and understand.”

Even with practice concluded, the determination showed on Geller’s face as prominently as the sweat from each girl’s face. Determination to not solely bring change, but also drive. 

And she is happy for the opportunity, as is Stuberg. 

“You have a life outside of it that is more important,” Stuberg said. “However, this is here and now, so we are going to do the best we can right now.”

“I am just blessed as a coach coming into this season knowing that I have a good group of kids and not have to worry about people not getting along, having a backlash or being jealous of something,” Geller said. “Having this great group of kids coming in here and being so tight-knit is a great feeling.”