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Chewelah volleyball coach Shirley Baker committed to turning program around

Chewelah coach Shirley Baker fires up her team before the second game of a match against Deer Park on Tuesday. (Jesse Tinsley)
Chewelah coach Shirley Baker fires up her team before the second game of a match against Deer Park on Tuesday. (Jesse Tinsley)

Shirley Baker has a concise response if anyone asks why 1A Chewelah, which has struggled to hold its own on the court in recent years, has entered the high-powered Linda Sheridan Volleyball Classic for the first time.

“If the best teams are competing at a tournament, that’s where we want to go,” Baker said.

Baker, in her first year as Cougars head coach, comes to Chewelah with an impressive volleyball background. This is her 24th season coaching the sport, including 18 as varsity coach. Her teams qualified for state six times and placed among the top four three times (1996, 2003, ’04).

Baker coached at Capital (Olympia) from 1990-96 before moving to Spanaway Lake (1997-2004). She started the program at Bonney Lake in 2005, as one of the original faculty members, and coached the Panthers until 2012.

Baker moved to the area in August 2013 and took a teaching position at Springdale. The Bakers had purchased property in the area a decade ago and wanted a better climate for their horses.

Springdale’s varsity volleyball coaching position wasn’t open, but Baker coached the middle school team and moved on to coach Chewelah’s U16 club team before landing the school’s varsity position.

She inherited a program that finished in last place in 2013 in a tough Northeast A League that includes state perennials Freeman and Lakeside. The addition this year of former 2A power Colville has made the league tougher.

The Cougars have just two returners who played club ball.

“Volleyball’s not been a super-high priority sport here, but we have some really solid athletes who’ve been successful in other sports,” Baker said.

Senior Kaitlin Krouse, for example, is the defending State 1A discus champion. Sophomore Maggie Cobb placed third in the 100-meter hurdles and seventh in the triple jump at the same meet. Senior Tenika Smith qualified for state in tennis and junior Jayden Rainer joined Krouse in the state discus field.

The Cougars have started their league season 0-5, including matches against Freeman, Lakeside and Colville, but they took Deer Park to five games on Tuesday.

“We haven’t seen productivity on the scoreboard just yet … but when people see us in the second half of the season, they’re going to see a different team,” Baker said.

Baker, who said she’s dedicated to the Cougars “for the long run,” stated she started by accessing the players’ skill level and designing a program based on those abilities. One of her main objectives was working on passing.

“You can’t implement a high-level offense if you can’t pass,” she said. “It takes a lot of positive affirmation as kids make the smallest strides forward.”

At the Sheridan tourney, Chewelah will compete in Pool I at Shadle Park against the host Highlanders, Cedar Park Christian and Battle Ground.

“You have to eliminate the self-doubt you’ve had when you haven’t been successful,” Baker said. “Colville has a tradition of success and Chewelah doesn’t. That’s where the (Sheridan tourney) is going to help us. We’re not going to know the team across the net.”

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