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Area volleyball: Female coaches leading area college volleyball programs for first time in 37 years

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 1, 2018

Washington State volleyball coach Jen Greeny, left, is in her eighth season with the Cougars. (Robert Hubner / Courtesy)
Washington State volleyball coach Jen Greeny, left, is in her eighth season with the Cougars. (Robert Hubner / Courtesy)

It’s been a banner year for area volleyball, with Washington State in the top 20, Idaho and Whitworth chasing titles in their respective conferences and Community Colleges of Spokane closing in on an unbeaten regular season.

The milestones extend to the sideline, where all seven college programs in The Spokesman-Review coverage area are led by female coaches.

Idaho coach Debbie Buchanan pointed out the rarity in a text message. The question then became: How long had it been? After contacting administrators and sports information directors and scanning school record books, it turns out it’s the first time in 37 years.

“That’s pretty awesome,” said Buchanan, UI’s coach for 19 seasons. “It’s important for the current coaches, and maybe as importantly for the generation of youngsters playing now who have that coaching goal in mind. Being a female head coach, you can show these kids it can be done. You can have a family and still do this. It’s a sacrifice, but it can be done.”

In 1981, the coaching roster consisted of WSU’s Cindy Laughlin, Idaho’s Amanda Gammage, Gonzaga’s Mandy Nyrop, Eastern Washington’s Mary Rubright, North Idaho College’s Len Mattei, CCS’s Mary Jo (Tracy) Lambert and Whitworth’s Joanne Atwell-Scrivner.

The landmark was reached when EWU hired Leslie Flores-Cloud in June to replace Michael King.

“Wow, I didn’t realize that,” WSU coach Jen Greeny said. “I think that’s fantastic. It’s great for our area, and youth volleyball in general can definitely see that and benefit from some great female role models in our industry.”

The last time the four area NCAA Division I schools were piloted by female coaches was in 1986, with Sheri McNeal at Gonzaga, Pam Parks at EWU, Pam Bradetich at Idaho and Karen Lamb at WSU.

Coaching was always in the playbook for Buchanan and Greeny following their standout careers. Buchanan was part of four state championships at St. Maries and signed with USC, but her career was derailed by a knee injury.

“I had a unique opportunity, even in high school, to run camps with (then St. Maries coach) Mitch Santos,” Buchanan said. “Getting injured was devastating at the time, but sometimes things happen and you have to make the best of it. It led me down a path that was pretty unique.”

Greeny is one of WSU’s all-time greats as a three-time All-Pac-10 selection.

“I was always going to get into coaching probably because of my dad (Jim Stinson, longtime Davenport girls basketball coach) and both brothers coached,” Greeny said. “I majored in education with the thought of probably coaching in high school, but the opportunity came really right away to work with (former WSU coach) Cindy Fredrick.”

Buchanan is pleased to see opportunities increasing for female coaches, but cautioned that more work remains, especially for women landing their first jobs.

“I’ve had some female grad assistants and it was really hard for them to find a job,” she said. “If you have a coach get fired from a Pac-12 or the Power Five (conferences), they’re going to jump into an assistant job and work their way back. You have to be patient and willing to put the time in.”

Valuable Penny

for Cougars

Washigton State’s Penny Tusa continues to deliver filling in for injured All-Pac-12 outside hitter Taylor Mims.

Tusa earned Pac-12 offensive player of the week honors after posting 34 kills, including a career-high 19 against Colorado, in a pair of road wins. The Cougars (17-5, 8-4) have won four of five matches since Mims exited the Stanford match with a lower-leg injury.

The versatile Tusa has played setter, defensive specialist and outside hitter in her two seasons.

“She’s been playing fantastic,” Greeny said. “She will do whatever she can to help this team.”

WSU, tied for second in the conference, entertains No. 21 Arizona on Friday and Arizona State on Sunday.

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