Coach Chris Meyers, in his third year with the Pioneers, fights to keep the Sandy team competitive in a conference filled with elite talent
by: Chris Krieger, Emma Johnson of Sandy catches her breath in a recent match vs. St. Mary's Academy

Sandy High School volleyball coach Chris Meyers knows that getting the Sandy community enthusiastic about a developing sports program doesn't happen overnight.

'We have to put the product out there that they want to come see,' says Meyers.

In the Mount Hood Conference, that's a tough challenge.

Traditional conference powers Gresham, Central Catholic, and St. Mary's not only have the upper hand in terms of resources, but those programs also have a history of success that trickles down into each new generation of volleyball players.

That has not been the case at Sandy.

But things could be changing.

A new wave of emerging talent highlights this year's varsity squad.

The leaders are four seniors - outside hitters Kristen Beatty and Staci Larson, setter Emma Johnson, and middle blocker Jennifer Hiestand.

Meyers speaks highly of each girl, and he raves about Johnson's work ethic.

'She may be the hardest-working athlete I've ever coached,' Meyers says.

Johnson definitely enjoys playing for her passionate and intense coach.

"He's a good coach," she says. "He really pushes us to do our best."

Meyers, in his third season at Sandy, has a long history of coaching high school sports.

His philosophy - in regards to team sports - is relatively simple.

'Volleyball and basketball, I coach to win,' he says.

That competitive fire definitely lends itself to the Sandy girls' style of play.

"He is a wonderful coach, and I've learned a lot from him," says Beatty. "He's hard on us, but I think that's what Sandy needs. It's very good for the program."

Beatty played versus a rebuilding St. Mary's program on Monday, Sept. 25, despite a flu bug.

'(She) is the emotional leader of this team, no question,' says Meyers.

Beatty has the potential and desire to play college ball, according to Meyers, which would allow her to set a positive example for future volleyball players at the high school.

'They don't have the kids before them that have done it,' he says of girls coming in to the current program. 'They don't have those role models.'

Part of the problem, according to Meyers, starts at the district's junior high level, where volleyball is conspicuous by its absence. As a result, many girls on Sandy's freshman squads have never been exposed to the sport at any level of competition.

Meyers estimates that 75 percent of the girls in his program never even touch a volleyball prior to their high school years.

Thus, the Pioneers are at a distinct disadvantage against, say, Gresham, whose new recruits generally have significant youth volleyball experience.

The uphill battle is discouraging at times, Meyers admits, but there are some rays of hope on the horizon.

For one thing, Sandy won this year's Sandy High School Tournament for the first time in nearly a decade.

And there is a good nucleus of young talent in place, particularly rock-solid freshman Stefanie Sayles, whom Meyers can't say enough good things about.

'She's going to be a phenomenal volleyball player,' says Meyers. 'Her volleyball IQ is awfully high…she's got the instincts for it and the athleticism.'

Meyers also points to his other middle blocker, Brandy Hagan, who provides a strong presence in the middle.

'She's come a long way for us this year,' says Meyers. 'She's been our best blocker this year. She's starting to develop as a hitter. She has tremendous timing.

Meyers, who is in his third season at Sandy after coaching at Milton-Freewater and Pilot Rock, hopes that the community of Sandy and its sports fans can look beyond win-loss totals and start to focus in on quality of play.

'We need to give them something to come watch,' he reiterates, noting that other developing programs at Sandy - such as football - have started to do yield exciting programs.

Meyers knows that success is helped substantially by team unity.

His squad participates in a lot of off-the-court activities that promote unity, such as retreats and weekly team dinners.

"He's taught us to be a team and play together," says Beatty. "He has brought a bond to this team that I've never felt before, and it's been an amazing experience. He has a lot to do with it."

Meyers implores the community to get out and support local athletics.

And he understands that success begets success.

"It's an uphill battle," he says. "You've got to have a product out there. And if they can build on tradition and get the people there, it can build on itself.'

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