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South Salt Lake Journal

New volleyball coach Hatch could change the program forever

Oct 01, 2022 08:49PM ● By Brian Shaw

By Brian Shaw | [email protected]

Under a third coach in three years, the kids who comprise the Cottonwood High volleyball team will again start from square one. Yeah, yeah; the Cottonwood athletic director has heard this all before.

But, when your new head coach is well known in the sport and knows how to win, life will eventually get easier, according to Cottonwood Athletic Director Greg Southwick, the person who hired Michaela Hatch as the Colts new head coach.

“Our numbers are up from last year but this team is awfully inexperienced,” Southwick said back in August. “But our hope and thought is that she’ll do a great job here, for years to come.”

Southwick basically said the same thing last year; he knows this. If you’re counting at home, that’s eight—EIGHT—Colts head volleyball coaches in 10 years. The last coach left to “focus more on her family,” which is the exact same thing the last four coaches at Cottonwood did.

But, the new coach Hatch was pretty good in high school as Michaela Shuler, leading her team all the way to the state championship game, where they lost. Then she starred at Boston University. 

After moving to Utah a few years ago after having had distinguished collegiate and pro careers on the USA Volleyball Open Nationals circuit and, after having established a career as a scientist in pharmaceutical development where she paid her entire way through school, Hatch started coaching club ball at Radiate in Holladay—to middle-schoolers.

“When you have a good club that’s a feeder…that is creating a pipeline between there and your high school it makes everything a little easier in the long run,” added Southwick who is also the school’s golf coach.

Southwick heard what he needed: Hatch got the position, ran a few summer practices but then came the bad news: several of last year’s starters, who would have been seniors, decided to play on the Colts soccer team.

A difficult predicament

“Nothing against the soccer team and what they’re trying to accomplish,” Southwick said back in August, but that “really put (Hatch) in a difficult predicament.”

Southwick felt that though he’d not spoken to these girls it was his estimation they were worn out. “They’ve had three coaches up to their senior year,” he said and added the kids’ decisions were “nothing reflective on the new coach.” And, they’d played some youth soccer.

Living in a fast-paced world, where things come instantly, sometimes kids don’t respond as well (at first) to the kind of coaching Hatch provides. “She’s kind of an old-school coach and is demanding,” said Southwick, who knew a change needed to be made when he made the hire, and is pleased with the surge of kids in the volleyball program. “I mean, we have 32 kids in four teams—we haven’t had that here at Cottonwood in a very long time.”

Hatch must know what she’s doing as well to bring in so many kids in such a short time frame. While at Radiate she accepted a position as a coach at Utah AAU and then at Olympus High as an assistant coach. And now, she’s at Cottonwood. And though it’s been kind of rough at first with all of the defections to the soccer team, Southwick will play, to borrow a golfing term, the long game.

“We know we’ve got a brand new varsity team with little to no experience,” said Southwick Sept. 21. “But we do know how to build a program in other sports.” Southwick mentioned swimming as one that worked really well under a similar model.

“As far as volleyball is concerned, from where they started to where they’re ending…” Southwick trailed off for a moment, then refocused his thoughts. “It’s night and day. We’re already having success on the freshmen and sophomore teams—in just a few games.” 

Fast facts

In part to as many as five defections to the soccer team, the coach Hatch only returned three seniors (Mia Peterson, Amelia Vainuku, Kasanita Pututau) to this Cottonwood volleyball squad. Her other returning varsity players would all be underclassmen, added Southwick.

“So they’ve gotten off to a bit of a rough start,” said the career coach and educator back in August, “but I think they’ll be OK.”

Sometimes when that happens and life hands you some lemons, you still have to make lemonade out of it. That’s what Hatch is doing for a Colts team who is actually suiting up three freshmen, two sophomores and four juniors—along with the aforementioned seniors. They have 12 total players on the varsity roster—compared to 18 last year.

Suffice it to say that as of Sept. 21 Cottonwood (0-6) have not won a game—nor a set this year. That’s not to say the Colts haven’t come close; at East they lost the first set, 24-26 before falling in straight sets.

As a team, however, the Colts’ set point production hardly drops from the first set to the third (12, 11.5, 10.5), so as Southwick indicated, the team is indeed battling hard not just for themselves—but for their new head coach with nine games left to play.

A junior, a freshman and another junior lead the Colts in digs per set (Zoey Wonnacott, Saris Lopez, Haley Ngu)—while the senior captain Erickson leads the team in blocks.

Oh, almost forgot—that freshman Lopez leads the Colts in aces with 0.7. If she works hard enough she’ll average one per set. Ask yourself the last time a freshman led a varsity team in aces. It’s never happened in the history of Cottonwood High School volleyball.

Ask yourself why this new head coach and her team only ranks five spots lower than last year’s in the entire state and, actually ranks one spot higher in Class 5A through just six games played. 

Let’s kill this section filled with facts with one about kills: Claire Curtis, who is a sophomore, is tied for the team lead with a senior with two. With a senior.

Final recruiting pitch

Ask yourself why you wouldn’t help but root for this Cottonwood team and a coach whose “coaching style focuses on empowering athletes to find their motivation and simplifying the game to strong technical habits.”

That quote, by the way, comes from Hatch’s club volleyball coach’s bio, but not from her. That was written by those who know her, and have watched her do her magic on both the Utah AAU level and the club level at Radiate.

It’s as simple as Hatch telling complete strangers on a Utah Facebook volleyball group seven months ago “feedback is available—if you want it,” then having nine people who know her in the comments below telling you she can indeed coach even if she can come off “abrasive at times.”

Know this: it will be business as usual when the Colts do win that first game and, when they make it two or three or maybe even more. It’s because they worked hard enough. It may not come this year, admitted Southwick. But it will come sooner rather than later, he believes.

The others who left the team will know they should’ve listened to someone who singlehandedly wouldn’t have quit on her team, not even in the state championship game when she had nothing left to give but gave it her all anyhow, and probably…just a guess here…sacrificed some skin and blood for this sport.

But there’s no secret what happened here at Cottonwood; what is happening. Can you make your practices harder than games? Can you get your teammates to buy into what you’re trying to sell even when they don’t want to hear it? That hard work through dedication, and inspiration through perspiration will eventually turn those digs into sets and those blocks into kills.

You can see plain as day in the numbers that this young and brave Cottonwood team is putting up that they’re ready to change how people view this volleyball program not just now—but well into this decade and beyond. According to the Southwick, that’s because it’s now led by someone in Hatch who has an unbridled passion for scraping up her elbows and knees.

“They have a coach in place that loves volleyball,” he said. “And her goal is to get them to love it as much as she does.”