Hamilton Volleyball had a banner season under first-year head coach James Mikolajczyk that culminated in a district championship. CHS sat down with the “man in motion” to reflect on the 2017 seasons.
Q: Going into the season, what were your goals as a team for the overall season and how did you work toward those?
A: So we had some tangeable and intangeable goals this year. One goal for us was to win districts, which we accomplished … so that was huge. You know it had been 10 years — 2007 — was the last championship. And so that was something where we started every practice in a team huddle looking at that banner and it was a huge motivating piece for us. During lulls in practice we were kind of able to refocus looking at that banner and talk about what that would mean to be in the rafters and to leave a permanent mark on the history of Hamilton. So that was one of our huge goals. Intangeably we’re talking about “rising up.” Rising up means a lot of things for us. It’s rising up emotionally, mentally. It’s rising up in physical effort. It’s rising up in putting we before me, and (meaning) team first. We talked a lot about relentless pursuit, that was one of our goals for this year and I really feel that we accomplished that when you watch the way we play. Balls that might be out of reach for other teams our girls didn’t give up on, and they were able to keep a lot of rallies going which was huge for us.
Q: What was it like taking over a team and leading them for your first year?
A: It’s always tough taking over a team because you have to balance what changes do you want to make versus what things you want to sustain for familiarity and comfortability for your players. I really was proud of the way our girls embraced me and embraced the new goals that we talked about and when we talked about changing a culture we really wanted to establish something where volleyball is something that our community can be proud of and really be embraced and we wanted to include our lower levels in everything we did. That was a huge part of the change freshman, JV, and varsity all being one team. We were really intentional about that and I’m really proud of how the girls were very inclusive.
Q: What were the aspects of the program you were looking to change or improve upon, specifically culturally and how and what did you do to go about that?
A: So, in some ways I didn’t want to know all the details about what it was like beforehand because I wanted to ask the girls what did they love most? And we want to retain those things. I wanted to ask the girls what is it you think we need to grow on, what can we change to improve the program and so that’s where we started our season. (I) had them over at my house and we just spent time talking about what were the things they loved about the program and what were things they would love to see, change or grow within the program. So the girls really led that part of the conversation. For me, one of the things is just that relentless pursuit that’s something I bring with me. I don’t like doing things halfway and I just want to cast that vision. But at the end of the day the girls, they have to have that inside of them.
Q: What were the challenges you wanted to overcome this year as a team and did you end up overcoming them? If not, then how will you change your approach?
A: One of the challenges we faced this year is that we were looking to win a district title, which none of these girls had been a part of and I had never been a part of because I’m new here, and so that was a major obstacle for us. We focused on it everyday at practice because we thought that, that would bring us in the right direction. Ultimately our goal was to represent the city of Hamilton, the students of Hamilton, and ourselves with pride and putting banners up on the wall is one way of doing that. We definitely had a successful season as far as wins and losses go, putting that banner up, but then also I was even more proud of the way they came together as a cohesive unit. One of the things that makes you the most proud is when you leave a gym and fans from the other team say “I really enjoyed watched watching your girls … they played with a ton of pursuit, and we really noticed a difference in them, the way they’re bringing it this year.” That just makes me so proud of the girls, they had to overcome. (They) shifted the conversation as it relates to Hamilton volleyball and I’m really proud of what they did.
Q: What would you say are the core values of your team? What makes your team your team?
A: The top points you’ve heard me say time and time again, but we talk about rising up, we talk about we before me, we talk about relentless pursuit, we talk about playing with passion and energy. Bringing energy in and out of our huddles, those were the things we were focussing on this year and I think we practiced, we trained, on those things. We saw them in matches and you guys were able to see the results of it and I’m really excited to bring those in and to build on them next year.
Covering Hawkeye Sports interviewed senior setter Brit Vandewege, a three-year varsity volleyball team member.
Q: How long have you played volleyball?
A: I started when I was 11, so about 6 years.
Q: What is your favorite memory from this season?
A: ‘Merica Monday and Freedom Fridays.
Q: What area do you think you have improved the most over the season?
A: Definitely serve receive.
Q: What are your plans for next year?
A: I am going to Africa to serve in an orphanage for 7 months.
Q: Who was your hardest opponent this season?
A: Definitely Zeeland East.
Q: What are you going to miss most about this season?
A: My teammates.
Q: What moment in your volleyball career are you most proud of?
A: Winning districts.
Q: Who has been your biggest supporter through your participation in this sport?
A: My grandpa and grandma. They come to about every game and sit in the front row and cheer me on.