There was a time when Ali Williams didn’t exactly look forward to going to school or volleyball practice. More like it was something the Campbell County High School sophomore endured because she liked the sport and staying active. This year, however, her attitude has changed to the point where she is excited to do both.
Part of this is her new coaches, Wendi Ruby and her assistant coaching staff, and their emphasis on team building that extends far beyond the court. On top of practices, the team has done volunteer work in the community as a team at both the animal shelter and cleaning up garbage along their adopted stretch of highway. Ruby has also initiated the War Crew program where varsity players adopt an underclassman to mentor and give anonymous gifts with the sole purpose of making them feel included.
Last Thursday was the team’s first official team dinner with every player bringing a drink, desert or some kind of dish. Sitting at long tables in a second-story classroom at the high school where the zesty smell of tomato sauce from the lasagna and spaghetti dishes hung in the air, Williams and a handful of her teammates talked excitedly about how much they love their new coaches and team.
“It feels like we’re more of a team,” Williams said, “which is changing my attitude about things and making me want to come to school and practice. I’m excited for the season.”
Sophomore Jayden Carson nodded her head in agreement.
“It’s a lot better,” she said. “We work better together already.”
In particular, the volunteer work and other social activities outside of practice and games have helped them bond in ways that they haven’t done as a team in the past. Also, Ruby’s insistence on “we before me” philosophy and team-based approach is particularly appealing to them and others.
Payge Riedesel said that it’s made her less nervous as a sophomore playing with upperclassman who prior to this point had always been intimidating to the point where it impacted her ability to play well.
“I was always so nervous about making a mistake and now I feel like that because the older girls make a point to make you feel comfortable and help you,” she said.
To this end, Ruby also doesn’t overwhelm by pointing out all their shortcomings and mistakes. Instead, they said, she focuses on one thing at a time and not fixing everything at once.
For sophomore Mallory Earle, this new approach to teamwork makes her want to play better. Not for her own glory but rather to be a better in her role on the team as well a better human.
As new head coach, Ruby is pleased to see how well her approach to coaching seems to be working. She’s been coaching since 2004, first as head coach in Sheridan for eight years, prior to moving to Gillette.
As a college athlete herself and coach for several different levels, she has seen firsthand the many ways it pays to be a team and to be selfless.
“I truly believe to be a successful team,” she said, “you need to put the we before the me.”
She’d always wanted to include the volunteer work component into her coaching, but never seemed to find the time to do so and wanted to make good on that as she stepped into her new role this year. She got the idea from a football coach in Sheridan who always had his boys out in the community doing service work.
“I was able to see how it impacted the kids and the community and I loved it,” she said. “So when I took on this position, I wanted to make sure we gave back to the community who supports them.”
It’s not about the recognition, she added, but doing it because it’s the right thing to do.
Prior to letting the girls fill their plates, Ruby lists off her expectations for them in advance of their first match that weekend. There’s not much said about technique or the importance of winning but rather Ruby focused on accountability, being there for the team and showing respect for coaches and other teams.
The girls nodded their heads as Ruby continued down the list. It’s more than just scores and stats and focusing on strengths and weaknesses and instead about being your best self and a good team member.
The girls would go to split their 2-3 opener against Rawlins last weekend, which Ruby sees not as a loss but rather an opportunity to do better.
“We still have lots to work on, which is a good thing,” she said. “Means we have room for growth!”