A coaching change is never easy.
Replacing a highly successful coach who has established a long tradition of winning and shaped a program into one of the state’s elite is even more difficult.
That was the challenge for the Prout School’s athletic department this summer after it was determined longtime volleyball coach Dan Greene would not be with the program this fall.
Greene was instrumental in spearheading what has become a decade of dominance for the Crusaders that culminated last fall with a 15-1 regular season and a Division II-South title – the sixth division title since 2005 – and was highlighted by a run of seven straight state championships from 2004-2010.
Enter Katie Walsh.
The 2009 Prout graduate left the program as one of the players who helped start that run of championship dominance for the Crusaders and one of the top players in program history after her four years playing under Greene.
In her senior season, Walsh helped lead a Prout team that was a perfect 19-0 in winning its third straight Division II title. (The first two titles of the run were in Division III).
She was named the Division II tournament MVP, became the first Division II player to be named First Team All-State and the second player in the history of Prout volleyball to be named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Rhode Island girls volleyball.
After graduating, Walsh went on to a strong collegiate career at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, where she was consistently amongst the best spikers the Purple Knights had to offer.
By the middle of her freshman season, Walsh had already taken on the role of primary setter and was second on the team in digs and assists. In her junior and senior seasons, Walsh led Saint Michaels with 986 and 931 attacks, respectively, which are the top two attack totals in a season in the program’s history.
When she graduated this spring, Walsh left the Saint Michael’s volleyball program as their all-time leader in attacks (2,866) and ranked fifth in kills (837) and digs (997), and sixth in service aces (140).
Who better to replace a coach as successful and decorated as Greene than possibly the most decorated volleyball player in Prout history?
It was a different feel for Walsh, however, when she returned to the Prout gym on Monday for her first day on the job.
With coaching experience at the club level, working with the 15-year old level of the Northern Impact Volleyball Club out of Saranac, NY, Walsh will admittedly be putting on her “big girl pants” as she returns to the Crusaders to pick up the reigns left by her mentor.
“No one can replace him, he is just a wealth of knowledge. He knows so much about the sport,” Walsh said. “He was one of the biggest influences on my game. He worked a lot with me after practices. I would come early, stay late. We really clicked because we had such an intensity.
“I sat down with him before the season, we talked things over and he gave me a couple of pointers, so I feel like he pointed me in the right directions and I’m ready to almost fill those shoes, but might need some tissues to make them fit.”
There might be some trepidation for Walsh at the challenge of following a coach as successful as Greene, but to her, it is less about replacing him as it is carrying on the tradition of what he left behind.
“This is a very well known program. It’s known for winning and producing champions and I want to continue that tradition,” she continued. “Keep building the program stronger and stronger. Keep making girls want to come out. We had 17 freshmen come in [to tryout] and that’s just amazing to have such an increase in interest in the sport.
“When I started hardly anyone came out for the team. It was very small, not many people knew about girls volleyball, it wasn’t something people wanted to watch and now it’s a main sport at the school.”
With less than a week on the job and the team still going through the tryout process, it will be another week before projections are made on what results can be expect from the Crusaders on the court as they look to improve on last fall’s performance.
For the time being, Walsh just wants to see constant improvement from not just those vying for spots on the roster, but from herself as she grows as a coach, looking to leave the kind of impact on the girls who will be playing for her that so many of her own coaches did.
“Volleyball is a sport that opened a lot of doors for me. I just want to be able to do the same for other girls. I had great relationships with all of my coaches, they’re still very big influences in my life and I want to be there for other girls, so they have someone like that,” Walsh said.
“…I just want to make sure I’m giving these girls my all. They’re putting in their time and effort, and I’m here to help them and direct them and encourage them in every way possible.
“Team sports are a great building block for life skills, so I want to give them a positive experience and really keep them working hard all season.”