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Challenges ahead for new Ford City volleyball coaches

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New Elderton boys volleyball coach Casey Cousins sets for hitters during practice on Monday, March 29, 2011.
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Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012, 12:56 a.m.

There are challenges that all new coaches encounter soon after they're hired. Then there are the trials that Courtney Kovatch and Casey Cousins have accepted as Ford City's newest volleyball coaches.

On Monday night, the Armstrong School District's board of directors approved Kovatch for the girls team and Cousins for the boys team. Kovatch previously served as an assistant for the girls, and Cousins spent the last two springs leading the Elderton boys program. Both coaches replace Gregg Hedglin.

Kovatch's hiring came exactly two weeks before the first day WPIAL teams can start mandatory practices. Fortunately, she's familiar with the players after working with them for the last three years.

“I guess they've looked at me in the past as more of a helper than a coach,” said Kovatch, who also teaches kindergarten in the district. “They know they can come to me. So it might be tough for the girls at first to adjust to me as a coach.”

Kovatch held some informal workouts in June, but opportunities to train with the girls disappeared by July, as Ford City High School's gym closed for floor renovations, and Lenape Elementary, the team's alternate practice location, became a storage area for boxes of items that came from the now-closed Kittanning Township Elementary.

The coach hopes the sessions in June will allow her to cut some corners on basic skills as she tries to catch her team up to opponents who've practiced over the summer.

“We have a lot to do in a little time,” Kovatch said.

“But I'm excited, and I know all of the girls are excited.”

Cousins' challenge is not as time-sensitive as Kovatch's, but it's arguably more daunting.

The former Elderton coach inherits a boys team that graduated nine of 14 players last season. Sustaining the three-year old program is his top priority.

He hopes his presence in the junior high, where he'll teach eighth grade history, and his access to Kovatch and the girls team will be enough to help him find first-time players.

“If you get the right guys to come out, others follow,” said Cousins, who suggested he might ask female players if they have boyfriends or brothers that could try the sport.

“But it's kind of a tough sell, because it's not seen as the manliest sport. … The key is to get them in the gym. Once they actually see how the sport is played, everything changes.”

After Elderton closed in late June, Cousins applied for both the Ford City and West Shamokin coaching openings. And he had very different reasons to desire each position.

West Shamokin's team will consist of his former Elderton players, some of whom attended the Rural Valley high school, anyway — Elderton had a co-op arrangement with West Shamokin in boys volleyball.

Cousins considers the upperclassmen-laden Wolves a potential section title contender in the spring.

His interest in Ford City, on the other hand, stemmed from his interest in seeing boys volleyball continue to grow in Armstrong County.

Shortly after interviewing for the Ford City job in mid-July, Cousins learned he would be approved as West Shamokin's coach as a way to maintain continuity.

But he asked to wait for the Ford City coaching hire before he made a decision.

And when he landed the job, he decided to go with the Sabers.

“I feel like it'll be easier to fill the West Shamokin job with a qualified applicant,” Cousins said.

“I couldn't justify chasing a section title for one year and not know what the fate of the Ford City program might be, or if it would exist at all.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-543-1321.

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