Marian Catholic girls volleyball coach Ryan Summers directs the Spartans from the sidelines during their class 3A state final consolation game at Redbird Arena in Normal, IL Saturday, November 12, 2011. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 19, 2012 10:46AM
Ryan Summers just finished his second season coaching the girls volleyball team at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights. He has previously taught at Bloom and Highland High School. Summers is now the director of Diamond Elite, a club volleyball program.
Why/how did you originally get into coaching?
Mainly, I just loved playing and always enjoyed working with kids ever since my day camp counselor days and my coaching seventh grade football days. A friend that I played in volleyball tournaments with told me, “Hey, you would make a good volleyball coach. I know of an opening. You should apply.” I did, and I got the job and have been enjoying coaching ever since.
Have you seen high school sports change since you started coaching? If so, how?
I noticed two significant trends. Obviously, high school volleyball gets more competitive with each passing year and the talent level seems to get higher every year. Better high school coaches, more interest in athletic development, coaches working their feeder systems, and participation in club volleyball are some of the reasons. In addition, parents seem to know a lot more about the game then they used to, and they are a lot more into it. It makes for more exciting play since the fans are more into it and more knowledgeable.
If you had free rein to do so, would you change anything about volleyball in the IHSA (rules change, classes)? High school sports in general?
Wow, tough one. I know the multiplier rule is a hot-topic. I see the value in that, but also some of the drawbacks. I know some of the other coaches are pushing to seed deeper in the state playoffs. Being in one of the toughest sectionals in the state, I understand that, but there are drawbacks to that as well. The Indiana side plays best out of five which makes it a lot easier to work deeper into your bench, but it makes for some long nights, which isn’t always good for academics. Can I take a rain check and answer this question in a couple years? If not, then I’m going with more air-conditioned gyms.
Any favorite game, memory, player, practice story?
There are so many great games and memories. Of course going downstate last year is high on the list, as well as beating Lincoln-Way East and Benet who were both undefeated at the time. I think oddly enough one of my favorite memories was the Shepard game. Shepard came out on fire with a definite game plan. They were playing inspired and took it to us. To make matters worse, we did not play well. Our serve receive and setting was off. We were missing serves and as if that wasn’t bad enough, our libero gets injured in the middle of game one with what we thought was a dislocated elbow. We had to play out of position and our middles are playing back row and we’re shuffling around our serve receive, and Shepard just keeps bringing more and more energy. Somehow, in the middle of everything going wrong we came together as a team. Girls who were frazzled found strength in their teammates. Adversity turned into energy. Being uncomfortable turned into heightened focus. Role players and starters both played big and our libero refused to leave the bench and cheered as loud as anyone. Our resolve was tested and somehow we found a way to win. It was a complete team effort.
Players like playing certain teams/opponents. Do you have a favorite match/rivalry you look forward to?
Obviously, the match against Munster is my favorite rivalry. My wife coaches at Munster, Indiana, and we added them to our schedule to help increase the level of our already tough schedule. In addition, a lot of our friends go to the game and Munster has a lot of Diamond Elite girls so it’s been a really big crowd both years. A lot of the girls from both teams know each other. Even the sophomore and freshman matches are very intense and high energy. We’re 1-1 against them over the last 2 years. A lot of Chicago Christian girls play club for me and James Garcia does a great job coaching them so the battle against them is always fun too. That’s probably my second favorite rivalry. We’re currently 2-1 against them over the last two years. We’re also 1-1 against Benet, Lincoln-Way East, Lincoln-Way North and Nazareth so I’m hoping those games turn into great rivalries as well.
What’s the biggest difference from a coaching perspective between club and high school?
There are a lot of similarities. The main difference, for me, is that in club I’m a lot more individual based. I spend 95 percent of my time making the players better and just hope that better players result in a better team. For high school, it’s a lot closer to 50/50 where half of the time is individual improvement and half the time is creating team chemistry and focusing on specific needs for the team. In club, I’m a lot more willing to totally revamp a player’s fundamentals if there’s something I don’t like. Since the high school season is shorter, I’m more likely to say, “How can we improve what you’re already doing to get the most out of it?”
On the sidelines, what are you most proud of as a coach?
I try not to focus too much on wins, but I am a little proud of being a one part of the equation that returned Marian to the strong program it used to be with 52 wins in 2 years, a state semifinal appearance, and a second place finish in conference. Honestly, I’m usually the most proud when I do the least. The games where the kids play with a ton of energy the whole match and are in the right place on defense, when our setter is running the show and setting who’s she supposed to at the right time, and everyone is picking each other up. During games like that, all I do is a little cheerleading but that’s when I know that we did a good job at practice. Our game versus Benet this year was sort of like that. We saw a couple of fundamental things during the warm-up so we made a few adjustments to take advantage of that. From then on, the girls just took over and played with all their heart for 75 points.
As told to Tim O’Brien