Turning the Tide: Rohde's Revolution

Editors Note: The following story is Part one of a three-part series called Turning the Tide. Over the next few weeks, the Custer County Chief will go inside sports programs with young coaches that are changing the culture. This week, the Chief focuses on Broken Bow volleyball coach Skylar Rohde. There are certain people who have an opportunity to leave a legacy. Broken Bow volleyball coach Skylar Rohde has been shaping hers since she was in third grade. Rohde, 23, took over the Broken Bow volleyball program as head coach this fall. She inherited a team that lost a combination of height and talent netminders Sami Gaston, Halie Jones and Taylor Duncan, as well as experienced setter Kelsie Myers, all to graduation. She took over a team that won 12 games last season and a team eager for a fresh start. “I knew she would bring a lot of energy,” Broken Bow Activities Director Ryan Hogue said. “She would bring a hard-nosed, competitive philosophy to our girls. She’s brought a different type of attitude to the girls. The girls have responded. I think they are playing hard.” Rohde began getting serious about volleyball under the guidance of current Ansley-Litchfield coach Pat Hoblyn- just as most young girls who choose to take that path. With over 500 wins for Hoblyn, Rohde was a sponge throughout elementary and middle school and then at Ansley High School, where she was a standout athlete in track and basketball in addition to volleyball. The two still talk frequently and Rohde uses much of her philosophies and coaching techniques that she learned while at Ansley High School. While she was a natural standout in track- she would go on to run for three years at the University of Nebraska-Kearney before hamstring problems forced her to retire- volleyball has always been her number one. “I think it was the passion we learned for the game at an early age,” Rohde said. “From about third grade, it was just the passion of Ansley High School. It was the high-schoolers that were up there when I was younger. They loved the game, so it made me love the game.” Rohde had a chance to play volleyball at Hastings College, but chose UNK out of wanting to be an NCAA Division II athlete. While she learned plenty of volleyball lessons from Hoblyn, one of the most important lessons came down to passion. “Her passion for the sport,” Rohde said. “I still use a lot of the Ansley drills in practice. We learned ‘calm out of chaos’. You have chaos and you want to get calm and make something out of nothing. Make it so the other team has to work for it. Those are two things I say everyday in here.” While Hoblyn has taught Rohde plenty she also feels that the young coach is picking up plenty of lessons on her own.“I think Skylar is learning to adapt to specific things that come up on a day-to-day basis,” Hoblyn said. “She has also learned to recognize the things that her squad needs to improve on so she can target those things with specific drills.”Comparing the two as volleyball coaches would be unfair to Rohde, but a look at their coaching demeanors presents an interesting contrast, but yet, more so now than in recent year’s produces the same results- winning. It is a rare occasion to see Hoblyn rise from her chair or let alone utter a word until she calls timeout to re-group. Rohde, on the other hand, is able to sit still no longer than a young child at a McDonald’s with a playplace. “Skylar will be successful because of her love for the game and she will pass this passion on to her girls,” Hoblyn said. “She is enthusiastic, energetic and motivated to do her very best for the team.” She had plenty other role models when it came to the volleyball court. Her mom, aunt and cousin- all UNK volleyball players- also contributed to Rohde’s love of the game. Rohde knew she wanted to coach when she was in high school and it didn’t take long to get started as she was the student manager for the Ansley High School team while Gibbons played volleyball for the Spartans, before becoming a player herself then teaming up with Gibbons to coach Litchfield while a student at UNK. Rohde, Gibbons, and Katie Rush- who played volleyball at North Platte St. Patricks and later at Southeast Community College in Beatrice- joined forces to help turn the program around. Rohde considers herself fortunate to have such a good team of assistants with her in the gym every day for practice and on the sidelines for games. “I’m so lucky,” Rohde said. “I’m so glad to have Jess on my side again. She is so easy to work with. We have the same mindset. I’m the stricter one with more of the gym voice while she is more soft-spoken, ‘it’s ok girls’ type. We need that though. We need that balance.” The chemistry between the two had plenty of time to develop off the court as well when they lived just one mile apart when Rohde was Gibbon’s student manager and Gibbons would give her rides to and from volleyball functions on a daily basis. “Coach Rohde is a huge motivator,” Gibbons said. “I just throw the positives out there to balance everything out.” Rohde served as student manager for the volleyball team during Gibbon’s junior and senior year at Ansley. While Rush joining the inner-circle may have seemed like the awkward third wheel to the outside eye, it didn’t take long for the group of three to gel. “Katie is awesome as well,” Rohde said, she fits in our group perfectly. She played volleyball at North Platte St. Pat’s then went on to play at Beatrice. She has a good volleyball background, so its good to have her as well.” Rush can play the strict-coach role or the more nurturing side and can switch between the two from game to game depending on what the team needs. While some coaches may shy away from a team who won just one third of their games last season, the trio of competitive coaches saw an opportunity to do what they have been doing their whole lives- win. “I like just having that challenge,” Rohde said. “I’d almost rather walk into a program and try to start it over than go into a program and have to live up to somebody else. I like seeing the improvement and knowing that we are making a difference.” Gibbons also can see the fact that the players are taking their coaches advice to heart and putting it on display when on the court. “Going in, we were starting from scratch and going back to the fundamentals,” Gibbons said. “They have really stepped it up and worked together and I think that’s huge. They believe in what we do and they have bought in.” Rohde and Gibbons had a similar situation when they took over the program at Litchfield that had won just three games the season before. Three seasons later, the program had moved to .500 before the school joined forces with Ansley under Hoblyn. It isn’t just the coaches who see the difference. The players are noticing the differences among themselves in practices from last year’s team. “We do more drills in practice,” Ashley Kirkpatrick said. “We do more things that we will do in games like hitting and serving. That makes us more consistent in games.” With the noticeable differences in effort and fight during matches from last year, the community is starting to take notice that they are no longer a team that will just roll over when the opposing team goes on a run. There were times last year that the volleyball team didn’t even get respect in the hallways of its own school. “We got that all the time last year,” Julia Loy said. ‘why should we go watch you, you’re not any good’. That’s part of why we didn’t do very well last year. The energy in our school kind of brought us down.” Another thing the players have come to respect about coach Rohde is that she understands that the players on her teams are friends with student-athletes in other sports. Rohde has shown that high school sports need to be a giant community of support from everyone in order to get the most out of it. “She will let us have early morning practices on Fridays so we can go support the football players because she knows that they support us,” Morgan Hueftle said. “There was never that chemistry between the two team’s last year, but now we have a respect for each other.” That mutual respect was on display after the volleyball team’s recent loss to Holdrege. Last year, they would have faced ridicule by their peers upon returning from the type of matches. This year the student body showed a different side. “No one said anything about it (the loss),”Hueftle said. “Some of the guys were there and they saw us come back and win that one set when we were down two. They didn’t give us any crap about it because they knew how hard we were working. That felt really nice.”Coming in with a track record like hers, Rohde feels pressure to get the program going in the right direction, but it’s a familiar pressure that she has thrived on in the past.“I think there was a lot of expectation, with me coming in, that I’m coming from Ansley and people know my background in sports from being in the area,” Rohde said. “I think they were expecting a lot from me, but at the same time, I take the pressure well. I’ve always liked that- even in high school.” Being a first-year head coach doesn’t always come easy. There have been times where the teams haven’t played like they are fully capable of, which creates a level of inconsistency. “These girls don’t realize how good of a team that they really are,” Rohde said. “When they play down to another team’s level or they don’t play to their highest level, it can be very frustrating.” Rohde and her staff are working hard every day in practice in order to constantly work on ironing out the team’s wrinkles. One of the positives the team has going for them is the fact that team chemistry is at an all-time high as they head into a tougher stretch of the season. “There’s just chemistry this year,” Rush said. “Everyone is for each other. If you’re the one that’s supposed to be out there, I’m encouraging you and we’re going to win no matter what.” One of the team’s weaknesses is their lack of height, now even more of an issue when Lexie Berghorst went down with a torn ACL during the team’s recent loss to Holdrege. They have shown the coaches that they can make up for the lack of height in other ways. “We just see so much in these girls and sometimes they just don’t always see it,” Rush said. “Learning just because you aren’t tall, doesn’t mean you aren’t good. Everyone thinks you have to have height to be good or have one star athlete to be good. These girls have a lot of heart and that’s what matters.” Things are working out even better that Rohde could have hoped as the team has already won more games than she expected at the beginning of the year- including signature wins over North Platte St. Patrick’s and Southwest, both highly ranked teams. It’s games like those that bring out Rohde’s favorite part of being the coach of the Broken Bow volleyball team. “I was told from so many people that these girls have no competitiveness, they have no desire to win, they don’t know how to win,” Rohde said. “I see the competitiveness. I see it come out in practice. We make practice competitive. I can see that they are taking what we’re giving them and using to the best of their ability. That makes it worthwhile.”