Kiski Area volleyball coach resigns amid stomach cancer battle
Ellen Toy coached her last volleyball game for the foreseeable future Saturday, and she did so from her couch. But it wasn't because she was tired.
Toy, who is battling stomach cancer, is resigning after six years as Kiski Area's girls volleyball coach. Before she takes her hiatus from coaching, the still energetic Toy was asked to serve as Team USA Women's Volleyball's honorary coach for its FIVB World Grand Prix match against Serbia, in Belgrade.
“My husband (Tim) is very active on Twitter, and he was reaching out to a lot of people and telling them our story and spread the word about ‘Jam the Gym,' ” said Toy, who is battling the disease for the second time. “One of the people he talked to was (Team USA member and former Penn State star) Alisha Glass.”
“Jam the Gym” is a fundraiser started to help raise money for Toy and former assistant coach Jaime Vick Moran, when both were stricken with cancer in 2010. Vick Moran died last August from an infection she obtained following a bone marrow transplant during her third bout with leukemia. Toy was re-diagnosed in April and had her stomach removed.
Toy said Glass was touched by her story and decided she wanted to do something to honor the ill coach. So, Glass and fellow teammate and Penn State alumnus Christa Harmotto decided Toy should be the honorary coach for their biggest match of the year.
“Christa came to ‘Jam the Gym' last year, so she knew a lot about us already,” Toy said. Toy “coached” from home, using Twitter to send messages of support to players almost 5,000 miles away.
“It wasn't like I was doing anything to tell them anything,” she said. “I was just kind of talking to people in the Twitter world.”
Toy said she was trying to coach young volleyball players as much as she was trying to inspire Team USA.
“I made a comment about how mastering the float-serve is an important point of the game,” she said. “I went to practice today, and at the end one of our coaches mentioned how one of the girls was practicing her float-serve.
“It's those little things that make the difference for kids. It's the whole inspiration behind it. It was about inspiring them and giving them a different reason to work harder.”
The U.S. beat No. 1-ranked Serbia, 3-2, giving Toy — who just completed her fifth round of chemotherapy — a “win” in her final game before assistant coach Maggie Jones takes over the Cavaliers. Toy said she plans to return but didn't set a timetable.
“If I'm capable of doing it, I'll know when it's right,” she said. “If it's not right, I'll know that too. I recovered very well after my first round of surgery. I know that I have some work to do. Time will tell.”
Toy's former player, Maddie Antone, said Toy was her inspiration for playing volleyball.
“She lives a block away from me in Vandergrift,” Antone said. “I grew up around her. When I first got to middle school, I didn't play volleyball at all. She told me I should start. She got me into being a three-sport player.”
Antone said Toy was her favorite coach.
“I learned a lot, not only to be a good volleyball player, but how to be a great person. She doesn't teach just to win volleyball, she teaches to have mature young ladies.
“It's a touching situation,” she added. “I've known her all my life. She has had a real big impact on me, not only athletically, but growing up.”
R.A. Monti is a freelance writer.