Volleyball: Former professional volleyball player is new Wilsonville head coach
Nathan Blankenship may have settled down in the Pacific Northwest, but, as the recently hired Wilsonville High head volleyball coach, the former globetrotter will bring his worldly perspective to the program and hopes to guide it to stages of success it has not recently traversed.
Blankenship replaces coach Kristen Rott — who led the Wildcats to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs in 2013, the first round of the playoffs in 2014 and 2015 and the playoff play-in round in 2016.
Growing up, Blankenship preferred volleyball to basketball but, due to the limited competitive sphere of boys volleyball, he focused on basketball.
And he excelled.
Blankenship played for Linfield College and then went on to play professionally for the Melbourne Tigers while simultaneously holding a job as a computer programmer.
Then, when he was 25, an injury changed his trajectory.
After blowing out his knee, Blankenship switched to volleyball because of its focus on linear rather than lateral movement and the decreasing likelihood of knee collisions and freak accidents.
Yet he found some of the movements similar to basketball and after a year of rehabbing his knee, he began to play for the York club volleyball team in England.
"I was a middle blocker and the motions and actions of grabbing a rebound are similar to blocking. I fell into that very quickly and that's where I stayed," Blankenship said.
While his vertical leap no longer eclipsed 30 inches, coupled with his 6-foot-5 frame, he still could jump high enough to fluster opposing hitters.
"I found the transition physically very easy. Building the muscle memory for the different skills because I was already an elite athlete, those came readily. I had an excellent coach in the UK and the team was very good to start with. That helped elevate my game," Blankenship said.
After playing in New Zealand and Australia, Blankenship moved back to the United States to raise his family.
And he now coaches volleyball — most recently serving as a junior varsity coach for Clackamas High School and as a head coach in the North Clackamas club volleyball program.
Blankenship says the main difference between coaching junior varsity and varsity is that, as a varsity head coach, the success or failure of the program is heaped on your back.
"As a JV coach I was coaching for the long game but wasn't responsible for it. As a varsity coach I'm responsible for the long game," he said.
And he has a plan to ensure that Wilsonville's "long game" is bright.
For one, he believes that flexibility rather than specialization is important to success and recently hosted a beach volleyball camp for more than 90 girls, including more than 40 from Wilsonville.
"Players who don't traditionally pass or set, you end up having to do everything. It expands your skillsets and reinforces skills you don't normally have to do," Blankeship said.
Also, he hopes to bring a club team to Wilsonville — which hasn't had a local club team in recent years. The club team would have 12-U, 14-U, 16-U and 18-U divisions. Blankenship would oversee the club program and standardize coaching philosophy at each level so that disparate coaches wouldn't tell players contradictory information.
"I want to have an appropriate vehicle where young players can come into the game, be excited and develop skills in a consistent manner. That ends up developing the program as a desirable entity to be a part of so you attract other talented players and positive energy — which builds on itself," he said.
Also, he adheres to the gold medal squared methodology, used by University of Oregon and Clackamas High, which focuses on statistical analysis, competitive practices and simplicity of fundamentals. The team will participate in a GMS camp this summer.
But he says, to a certain degree, you must adapt your strategies to your personnel. He says his competitive experience will serve him well in this regard.
"Having had experience on an elite level gives me an advantage in how to best utilize those skills and physical attributes and mold them into a team that can be effective," he said.
Blankenship has previously coached five of the girls currently on the Wilsonville team and has enjoyed the short time he's spent as the team's head coach.
"I'm encouraged by the talent and the great attitude of the girls that I've met. Very positive, energized and clearly engaged. They want to win. That really fits what I like," he said.
Despite the considerable changes of philosophy, he will provide some familiarity coaching-wise. Blankenship's daughter, Sabrina, played for the Wilsonville volleyball team and graduated in 2015. Sabrina's former teammate Lexi Thompson's dad will coach the junior varsity team and the junior varsity coach when Sabrina was on the team will be the varsity assistant coach.
Blankenship wants players to have a great experience and to blossom into upstanding citizens.
"I want to nurture young people to grow into leaders that go on and make the world a better place," he said.