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Former Doherty state champ teammates coach vs. each other Friday
Spartans' Hittle vs. Liberty's Miller
One of the most impressive facets of the 2003 Doherty volleyball state championship team was not the fact that the Spartans had a star-studded roster, instead it was the accomplishment of so many personalities and talents gelling into a cohesive squad.
Nine years later, Doherty coach Tara Hittle and Liberty’s Danielle Miller, teammates on that 2003 squad, have embraced the challenge of trying to recreate a carbon copy of that team’s blueprint to success in their new roles.
The coaches will square off for the first time at 6:30 p.m. Friday when Liberty (9-9, 2-2 5A Metro) hosts No. 1 Doherty (17-0, 3-0).
“My parents and I always talk about how there was never any selfish people on that team, and it’s really hard to find that,” said Miller, a junior on the 2003 team. “We gelled very well. It didn’t matter who was on the court. It didn’t matter what happened. All that mattered was we all had fun together and we got the win.
“That was the only team I ever played on in my life that was like that. I definitely want to strive for that and I think every coach would strive for that.”
Hittle was the force to be reckoned with on that 30-1 2003 squad that rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Grandview 3-2 for the state championship. The former outside hitter earned tournament MVP honors and was named the 2004 Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year before going on to a stellar career at Hawaii. Hittle was second-team all-Western Athletic Conference and was named the WAC Freshman of the Year for the Rainbows.
Now in her second year at her alma mater after playing professionally in Switzerland, Hittle is looking to lead this year’s undefeated squad to another state title. The Spartans are ranked No. 1 in the state by MaxPreps and No. 8 nationally in the Maxpreps Xcellent Top 25.
“We have a lot of talent on our team this year and we have a lot of good players,” Hittle said. “But I stress to them how important it is that we be a family. We had a lot of good players (in 2003) and the main thing that stood out is we were all friends and had so much fun together. The things I remember most are how tight knit we were and how much fun that team was.”
Former Doherty coach Linda Feeney plans on attending Friday’s match and said the 2003 squad was truly something special.
“That team was delightful to coach because there was no bickering,” Feeney said. “On girls teams that’s not common. That whole team was pretty tightly knit.”
Feeney said the challenge for any coach to succeed at the high school level is to manage personalities besides having the talent. She has no doubts about her two former players.
“They’re both going to do well as coaches to be perfectly honest with you,” Feeney said.
Along with her time at Doherty, Miller said she learned how to become a leader from her college coach Allison Jones-Olson at William Jewell, a NAIA school near Kansas City where she earned all-conference first-team honors her senior year.
It was in a van on the way to a game with her coach that she decided to give coaching a shot after she learned of an opportunity to coach the North Stars, a club team.
“I hadn’t really thought much of it before that and it kind of just fell into my lap,” Miller said. “It turned out to be something really great and through coaching I have found I have really enjoyed getting to know the kids and seeing them succeed.”
Miller, who also coaches her former club team the Colorado Springs Altitude, said it’s hard for her current players to understand what that 2003 Doherty team had.
“It’s hard because I talk to the girls about it and they say that’s cool and stuff but until you actually get that feeling of what it’s like, I don’t think you understand.”
Hittle, whose assistant coach Shannon Krug was Doherty’s 2003 setter, believes this year’s Spartans have pretty good chemistry and could possibly give the 2003 team a run for its money. Yet for this year’s Spartan squad to bring home another state title it will take talent and chemistry.
“Teams that have the team chemistry and can get along will beat the teams that skill-wise are better than them on more than one occasion,” she said. “We can’t get anywhere as individuals. The only way we are going anywhere is as a team.”
Miller and Hittle agree that it will be fun to see each other Friday, but it is just another game for their respective teams.
And for Feeney, even if she admits she has a little blue and green in her blood, it will be exciting to watch three of her former players sharing their knowledge of the game with their players.
“It’s the best-ever feeling,” the retired coach said. “It’s nice to see them come back home and give back to programs they were in or other programs. They’re giving back to the sport and I love seeing that.”