Nellie George once faced a challenge many parents do as their children grow — how to balance responsibilities at work and at home.
George made the difficult decision in 2008 to step down as the Aquinas High School volleyball coach for the sake of her family. She loved coaching the sport, but had to do what was best for her own kids.
In March, though, when the opportunity to return to Aquinas came about, George and her coaching partner, Jessica Rhode, jumped at the chance.
“When I walked into the gym for summer ball, I really felt home,” George said. “It reminded me how much I enjoyed (coaching). It felt like a piece that was missing was back.”
For keeping the Blugolds at the top of the MVC and for how her team responded to challenges throughout the season, George has been named the La Crosse Tribune Volleyball Coach of the Year. Aquinas tied Holmen at 10-2 for the conference championship this season and advanced to the WIAA Division 4 regional finals.
George took over for Bri Ebenhoe, who took the head coaching job at NAIA Waldorf University. Last season, Ebenhoe and the Blugolds made it to the Division 3 state semifinals. That remained the goal when George took over, but she knew it would have to be done a different way.
“No two coaches are going to be exactly alike,” George said. “We just asked (the players) to trust us, and trust the process. And then whenever you start having success, it becomes easier to trust that process.
“We really focused on getting them to work hard, trust in us and each other and support each other. Whenever you get that, where you’re in it for each other, it breeds success.”
The team won games while George tinkered with the lineup. The Blugolds had a trio of players — seniors Kyah Steiner and Ellie Copps, sophomore Lexi Donarski — that had a lot of sets under their belts, but they also had a roster with holes to fill.
George credited her team’s willingness to play different positions and make sacrifices as a key to its success.
“It speaks to how resilient they are as people,” she said. “You take someone from a position they’ve played their whole lives and try something new.
"I don’t think at the beginning of the year anybody knew what we’d do. They really took on our challenge every day to get better.”
With coaching back in her life, George said she’s ready for what the future holds at Aquinas. With another crop of talented players coming up, and Donarski having two more seasons left in the program, the Blugolds could very well be a state contender very soon.
“We’ve just scratched the surface of where we’re headed,” George said. “I’m looking forward to continue building this.”