ANSLEY WASHBURN/SAGAMORE STAFF
New coach. New season. New year. New energy.
The girl’s varsity volleyball team has had to jump over numerous hurdles coming into their first “normal” season since the fall of 2019. A last-minute change in leadership tested the girl’s ability to overcome challenges, and the combination of their supportive, close-knit team environment along with the new head coach’s flexible and organized approach has allowed the team to adapt quickly.
The new head coach, Sally Lee, is an alum from the Class of 1980. During her time playing volleyball at the high school, Lee’s team won the state championship. Though she did not continue to play in college, Lee has been playing since 1992 with small leagues. She has also stayed involved in the sport at a high school level through local coaching positions, such as coaching for Newton South’s boys freshman and varsity teams as well as various summer leagues.
Despite her many years leading volleyball teams, this is Lee’s first year coaching in Brookline. Coming into a new environment, she had no expectations going into preseason. Over the past few weeks she’s gotten to know her players and has learned how to work with them.
“It was hard because I had no inkling of the players and what skills they had. I learned they have great skills. They’re all just different players with different strengths. We had to find that gel that makes us have a strong team,” Lee said.
captain and senior Morgan Brandl has been playing volleyball since freshman year. “Since having a new coach, we rely on each other a lot more than we had before. Before, when new girls would come on the team, we relied on each other a lot less just because we knew exactly what the coach expected. Now with new expectations, we need each other more,” Brandl said. “I feel like we’re becoming a lot closer as a team.”
Junior Naama Tomer is also a member of the varsity team. She said the transition to the is due to the nature of the team and to Lee’s flexible coaching style.
“The team has been responding very well. We know each other well, and that helps us work together better and cooperate with each other. She lets us add in our ideas on how we want to change the drills, and she’s been very receptive to our feedback,” Tomer said.
Being adaptable is a trait that Lee said extremely important when coaching, especially if you’re coming into a new environment.
“I’m very flexible with having the girls make mistakes and I try to say, ‘It’s okay. You just have to keep trying, you know, don’t give up.’ Each case of a girl learning something new is different from another, so we just have to be patient with each other. It’s that growth mindset that they have to not give up. Learn something new, be flexible and just try again,” Lee said.
Brandl see the benefits of learning from a new coach and how that has positively affected herself and the team as a whole. She said that Lee’s focus on foundational skills has been particularly important in the success of the team.
“Being able to learn more about that from a new coach and new perspective has helped a lot of girls, including myself, learn a new way to play. She’s very good at really focusing in on certain skills during practice that translate into games and help us,” Brandl said.
Tomer also said that Lee’s well-planned, “drill-based” focus on foundational skills has been a positive experience for the team. The team’s practices now mostly focus on specific skill sets that they’re working to improve, and the girls have been responding well to it.
“Her coaching style is very organized, which I really enjoy. She always has drills ready. She really, really knows what to focus on. She’ll pick, like, okay, today we’re focusing on passing or setting or hitting or whatever, and we’ll do drills surrounding those themes,” Tomer said.
Lee has brought her state-championship winning skills back to her home court and is eager to see how her first season back will go.
“I am excited to see what will develop from the year. There’s so much potential with all the players, and they’ve all been great working together and working with me. It’s a big change for me and I’m sure it’s a big change for them as well,” Lee said. “In the beginning, there will be a lot of bumps and hopefully things will just smooth out and we’ll encounter more bumps, but hopefully we will overcome those and really play well together by the end of the season.”
The coach’s enthusiasm has already translated to her players. In Brandl’s four years playing at the high school she has never seen a team so excited to be back on the court.
“The energy is a lot higher this year than it was last year, especially with us being able to bond and connect more together. Whether we’re playing or not, we’re all more enthusiastic and more inclined to cheer for each other and be more energetic when we’re on the bench,” Brandl said. “I feel like in previous years we haven’t been as close as we have been. This year, our energy is on a whole new level and we’re way more excited to play than we ever have been.”