Last month, Mackenzie Swan and a handful of her Pine Creek teammates comprised a junior 15s squad that won its age-group title at a regional junior volleyball tournament in Fort Collins under the direction of Rick Mischka.
They liked the result then. And now that the Wisconsin native, Army veteran and former college coach for six years has been hired at Pine Creek, the returners from last year’s league champs can’t wait to continue that success.
“I think he’ll be a great fit for Pine Creek, and we’re all very excited to finally have a coach again,” said Swan, an incoming junior outside hitter. “By playing for him earlier, I know he’s definitely going to work us and get the best out of all of us. I think his style is very good for us.”
Mischka, 33, met the team for the first time Monday, more than three months after Ashlynn Smith resigned after guiding the Eagles to a pair of state tournament appearances in three seasons at the helm, including a runner-up finish in 2010.
“I know Pine Creek has a very big history of going to state and being a very competitive program,” Mischka said. “I want to continue that.”
Mischka brings a wealth of experience. Although he didn’t begin playing until he was 25 -- following a five-year military career in which he was stationed at Fort Carson and deployed to Bosnia -- he has packed quite a bit into his past eight years.
He played college volleyball at Wis.-Stevens Point and later Graceland University, where he earned his degree before embarking on a short professional career in Europe. He later decided coaching gave him the most options, and enjoyment, and led programs at Park University, Kansas Wesleyan, St. Mary’s (Minn.) and also was heavily involved in Junior Olympic programs.
Last November, he returned to the area after accepting a position at USA Volleyball as coordinator of the high performance national programs.
“We feel we got a great guy,” Pine Creek athletic director Matt Mahan said. “His involvement in USA Volleyball and also coaching in the collegiate ranks really made him an attractive candidate. Our search committee thought they could learn from him, too. I know we’ll be well prepared and will battle for another league title.”
Eagles junior varsity coach Shelley Lockwood also marveled at not only reeling in a coach with college and junior experience, but the chain of events that led to his arrival.
“I met Rick a few weeks ago at a tournament in Kansas City, and he was filling in as an assistant,” Lockwood said. “I got to see him in action and watch his demeanor with the girls and how he coached. I asked him if he knew anyone interested in the Pine Creek job, or if he was interested. Somehow, we scooped him up. We’re pretty lucky.”
With a new coach come new expectations. Last year’s 15-11 squad failed to make it back to the state tournament, which certainly weighs on the minds of the handful of returning letter-winners.
“With a new coach, there’s a whole new outlook,” said incoming junior Taylor Cross, a second-team all-league libero. “It’s a clean slate. You have to do better if you want that spot. It’s not guaranteed.”