LANARK – There will be a familiar face on the sideline coaching the Eastland volleyball team next fall. She’s got a really familiar name, too.
A Pierce will once again run the Cougars volleyball program, as the next generation takes over a program built by her mother.
Kelsey Pierce was hired as Eastland’s next volleyball coach at the March 13 school board meeting, replacing Mallory Clements, who stepped down following the season – her only season as Cougars coach, in which she led them back to the Class 1A state tournament and brought home the runner-up trophy.
Clements replaced Kristy Pierce, who had coached the Eastland program since the school’s inception in 1986, and led the Cougars to three state titles while amassing 941 wins over 30 years.
“Mom was a wonderful volleyball coach and ran a terrific program,” said Kelsey Pierce, who played for Kristy before graduating from Eastland in 2008. “She built it from the time she graduated college until she retired, which is incredible for a coach to stay in one program for that amount of time.
“I don’t think anyone can step into shoes that big, and I think it’s important to build my own program. This will now be this Pierce’s program, and there will obviously be similarities, but it will be my own program on my own footing.”
Kelsey Pierce was a team captain as a player, and served as an assistant coach at Eastland from 2009 to 2012; she was on the sideline at Redbird Arena when the Cougars won their second straight state title in 2009, watching her younger sister Karissa hoist the championship trophy.
She has been the fresh-soph coach at Stockton for the past 3 years, serving under longtime coach Colleen Fox. Pierce believes the experience she got outside of the Eastland program will serve her well as she takes over at her alma mater.
“It’s been extremely valuable to branch out and see how it’s done somewhere else,” Pierce said. “I’ve been in the gym since before I can remember, and it’s always been a great experience for me; I was destined to become a coach, there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. My parents were my coaches growing up, and my bosses when I was an assistant at Eastland, but I needed to go somewhere and learn on my own for a little bit.
“Now, I feel like it’s the perfect time to come back home, and I think I’ve learned some things and got some tricks up my sleeve that maybe Mom didn’t.”
Eastland athletic director Scott Hartman was also an assistant coach on that 2009 title team, and has known Pierce for years. He made sure Pierce knew about the job opening, and things fell into place when a fifth-grade teaching spot opened up in the district last month.
Hartman and principal Monica Burkholder moved quickly to get Pierce on board and approved earlier this week.
“After talking to Kelsey, we were very confident that she was the person we wanted,” Hartman said. “On top of volleyball, we heard rave reviews from the people at Stockton about her being an excellent teacher as well.
“Her parents know more about volleyball than most people, by far,. and she’s grown up in the gym and learned the sport inside and out. She has a lot of experience with successful programs, and she’s taking the right path to create her own legacy.”
Pierce and her sister now run the No Limits volleyball club out of Westwood Sports Complex in Sterling, which was originally founded by their parents. She knows many of the Eastland players, and her knowledge of the personnel and program should make for a smooth transition. In fact, her future players are already on board with the hire.
“I heard at club this week that when some of the girls were told about it, they cheered,” Pierce said. “That means a lot, and I’m really looking forward to coming back and getting a chance to work with these girls outside of No Limits.”
“The players, school, administration, school board and parents are all so supportive at Eastland, and I think that’s an important thing to have in place – and makes Eastland a great place to be.”
The one big drawback is having to leave her Stockton family behind. Both schools play in the NUIC West, so Pierce is already trying to wrap her head around having to coach against her former players at least twice next season.
“It’s bittersweet to leave them because I made so many good relationships at Stockton,” Pierce said. “But they’re obviously in really good hands with Colleen, and they’re such great kids that there’s going to be love all around when we play them. It’ll be hard to look across the net and not coach them a little bit, but it’s going to be fun to see them, and I know they’re going to be excited for me to get this opportunity.”
High school: Eastland, class of 2008
College: Highland, 2008-09 (played volleyball); Benedictine University, 2009-10; Ashford University(class of 2012)
Occupation: Fifth-grade teacher
Coaching career: Eastland assistant & fresh-soph coach 2009-12; Stockton assistant & fresh-soph coach, 2014-16; No Limits club coach 2010-present (now runs club with sister Karissa)