By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
A coaching change can be hard on everybody. It’s even harder when it comes unexpectedly.
Jason Webber knew exactly what he was getting into when he took over as the coach of Stillwater’s High School volleyball team in early July. But even with all the talent that surrounded the nine seniors, there was still one big obstacle — getting the players to trust him and buy into his new system.
“He brought a lot of different stuff, things that we had never seen before,” Stillwater senior Kiley Josey said. “So the trust level, we were a little iffy on it. We questioned some things and we talked about it. He told us just to trust him. He knows what he’s doing and he wouldn’t do something that wouldn’t benefit the program.”
The lack of trust showed as the Lady Pioneers struggled early in the season. But then something clicked and Stillwater went on to win nine of its last 10 games en route to a 23-13 record and its first state tournament appearance since 2009.
And according to Webber it all started with a little more trust and a book.
“I’ve been reading a book called ‘The Speed of Trust’ by (Stephen) Covey and he talks about the actual pursuit of building trust,” Webber said. “It’s not something that comes for granted, you have to work at it. So I sat my girls down and worked with what we call the mind game. I worked with our trust level and we came back to those. They were non-volleyball issues that we came back to regularly and we spent time getting series about what we wanted to do on the court.
“It was one of the pivotal keys for us. You can trace back to several games that we played that once we got to that point where we trusted each other and were working toward a higher level of trust, then the girls seemed to soar. They just naturally bonded, naturally had a common vision and moved forth as one unit.”
It may have taken some time for that bond to form between Webber and the Lady Pioneers, but there certainly wasn’t because Webber lacked the dedication and desire to win.
“I’ve never met someone who was more passionate about volleyball,” Josey said. “He didn’t sleep. He devoted all of his time to this team. It’s his life.”
“From the beginning of the year, you could tell he always wanted us to be the best that we could be,” Stillwater senior Peyton Meacham said. “He never asked for anything less than our best and I feel that’s the best quality about him. He truly cares about each and every one of us and that’s why we were so successful, because everyday he told us ‘All I want is your best. All I want is your best.’ That’s what drove this program to what it was. He didn’t let us slack off and he didn’t let us do anything but what we were capable of.”
Webber came into the season with a vision of turning the Stillwater volleyball program around. By combining trust and the talent that surrounded him, Webber achieve that goal.
“We found a vision that fit these young ladies and tailored that to our gifts and abilities,” Webber said. “Basically, we had a game plan from Day 1 to the end and we knew exactly which way we wanted to go.”
It wasn’t exactly easy for Webber at times this season. Installing a new system proved to be frustrating, but the look on the Lady Pioneers’ faces after winning the regional championship proved that Webber had the Midas touch when it comes to coaching volleyball.
“In the beginning with a new coach and everything, everyone is kind of skeptical,” Meacham said. “His track record speaks for itself. In what he said, you could just trust him. I found it easy to trust him because he obviously knew what he was talking about. As the year went on, we saw how much success we were having, we began to trust each other and it was easier to trust him.”
The Lady Pioneers may be losing nine seniors to graduation this year, but that doesn’t mean expectations are going to drop for next season.
“Hopefully this year some of the younger girls learned a lot about trust, not only in me but also in each other,” Webber said. “We did have a very talented team this year, but the reason that we were so successful was because we were working together as one group. You can have a lot of talent, but if you’re not working together, you’re not going to be successful. That’s one thing we’re going to continue to work on as we prepare for next year — working together as one unit.”