When you set about to hire a head volleyball coach for the first time in more than two decades, you kind of hope you’ll have a candidate jump out at you.
Freeman High School had just that.
When the Class 1A school set out to replace retiring volleyball coach Kenny Davis, who had coached the Scotties for 22 seasons, taking them to the state tournament 10 times and bringing back half a dozen trophies, they found Eva Windlin-Jansen.
Fortunately for the volleyball program, the selection committee overlooked her lack of high school coaching experience.
A veteran of international and NCAA Division I college volleyball competition as a player, Windlin-Jansen spent six seasons as head coach at Gonzaga University – a fact that made a lack of interscholastic experience a moot point.
“The last few years I’ve been coaching club volleyball,” she said. “We live in the Freeman School District and my kids go to school here, so I was very familiar with the program. When it came time to replace Kenny Davis, I decided to put my application in and see where it went. You never know. I know the ideal situation would be to find someone who could teach in the school and coach volleyball, and I don’t.”
“It was actually a pretty tough decision on who to hire,” athletic director Brian Parisotto said. “We had three or four very qualified candidates apply for the job. But with her experience and the fact that she has four kids who go to school in the district, we were fortunate to get her.”
A native of Switzerland who came to the United States at age 20, Windlin-Jansen has a long volleyball résumè. She played on the Swiss National Junior team from 1983 until 1986 and on the Swiss National Team during the 1987 and 1988 seasons. After a stellar junior college career, she moved on to play at the University of Oregon for two seasons as a middle blocker, outside hitter and setter.
After serving as an assistant coach at American University, she took over as head coach at Dakota State University in Madison, S.D. in 1993. In her second season, her squad improved on a seventh-place finish to win the South Dakota-Iowa Conference Championship.
Three successful seasons in Madison brought Windlin-Jansen to Gonzaga as an assistant coach in 1996. She took over as interim head coach for the final eight games of that season and the school removed the “interim” title for the 1997 season. In her five-plus seasons, she compiled a 42-113 record, including a 21-57 West Coast Conference record.
With that kind of a background, a coach has a tendency to get players’ attention in a hurry, and Windlin-Jansen has the Scotties playing well. The team carried a 6-1 overall record into Thursday’s showdown with Northeast A League rival Colfax.
“When you’re a new coach coming into a program like this one, you come in with a clean slate,” she said. “You’re starting over fresh, and that can be a good thing. I tell the players that it really doesn’t matter how they’ve played in the past. All that matters is the way they play right now.”
A concern coming into the season was how much interest there would be in the volleyball program, especially one under new management. To Windlin-Jansen’s surprise, the interest was deep. The Scotties field three full squads, a varsity, junior varsity and a freshman team. In total, 17 freshmen turned out this season, with four earning a spot on coach Kelsie LaShaw’s JV.
“I was very pleased to see that kind of turnout,” Windlin-Jansen said. “Now we just have to keep them interested.”
As a parent in the community, the new head coach was familiar with both the program and the tough nature of the Northeast A League – consistently the toughest Class 1A volleyball league in the state. Rival Colfax is vying for a fourth consecutive state title and a sixth championship since the 1999-2000 season. Twice in the past four seasons two teams from the NEA League have met in the state title match and at least one team from the league has played in the final match of the year the past eight seasons.
“There’s no doubt about the quality of this league,” she said. “If you can make it the state tournament out of this league, you’ve accomplished something as a team.”
The new coach is pleased with her team’s progress so far.
“We’re in the tough part of our season,” she said. “We play some of the toughest teams in our league back-to-back, but that’s what the season is all about. You find out what you need to work on and you go back and work on it. Hopefully you get it all put together by the time districts come around.
“Our seniors have really stepped up. At the same time, I think they’re beginning to realize that they’re in a long string of lasts. They just made their last trip to play at Chewelah the other night and they’re going to play Colfax for the last time on their home floor. That tends to make every game special.”
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