Winning In Windthorst

When Diane Conrady took over as head coach for Windthorst High School's volleyball team in 1983, she had a dream and a goal.

"Every year I'd go to the state tournament, and every year I'd would think, 'oh my goodness, I just want my kids to be able to play down there on the big stage,' " she said.

So when she attended those state tournaments, she did the one thing she could. She asked for more information. Conrady would sit with coaches in the bleachers, asking all about their teams. She'd take notes during matches, writing down various offensive and defensive strategies. The "big schools" defensive strategies caught her eye in particular.

"(I wanted) to not ever think that my kids at a 1-A school could do what the other kids could," Conrady said, adding that most of the 2-A and 1-A schools didn't play the same defense as the bigger schools did.

After years of improvement, Windthorst began making playoff runs in the late 1980's, advancing to the state semifinals in 1988 and 1990. The Trojanettes made their first state title match appearance in 1991, falling to Bronte in three sets (matches were best of three, first to 15 points until 2003).

"They saw it. They felt how it felt like to be down there," Conrady said. "They just worked harder and put more time in."

The work paid off in 1992, as Windthorst won its first volleyball state championship, defeating Tilden McMullen County in straight sets.

"It was a celebration all the way back home," Conrady said. "We were about halfway between Bowie and Windthorst, and all these fire trucks and ambulances and everything were out there meeting us. We got to the hill at Windthorst. It was 8 or 10 o'clock at night. The hill was packed with cars. Everybody was out there celebrating."

Windthorst would battle for the state championship for the next 16 years, advancing to the title game in 14 of them. The team won 12 more state titles in all, including six in a row from 1997-2002.

A town tradition was born...

"The gym would be full for volleyball games, just like they were for basketball games," Conrady said. "Everybody just put a little more importance on it."

Holliday head volleyball coach Mindy Patton played on the 1993 and 1994 Windthorst title teams. She says the community always came together and provided great support.

That support and dedication to the Trojanettes continues today. Senior Kelsie Berend says everybody in town cares for it as much the players do.

"This town supports their teams so much," Windthorst assistant coach Brenda Doyal, who played from 1987-90, said. "It was so much fun being part of that tradition and determination."

Tradition trickles down from generation to generation. That may be the biggest reason for Windthorst's continued success. Everyone who wears a Trojanette uniform can be linked to another Trojanette through almost any family relationship - mother, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, etc.

Senior Leslie Schroeder grew up watching two older sisters play for Windthorst. She says she always looked up to them, wanting to be in their shoes.

Becky Schroeder, Leslie's mother, vividly remembers her youngest daughter telling her, at 7 years old, that she'll be at the state tournament in 10 years. She made it three years early in 2008, as a freshman on that year's title team.

Sophomore Alyssa Teichman is in line next to be a varsity Trojanette. She's got volleyball in her blood as well, with her mother, aunts and cousins all played before her.

"It made me want to be just like them," she said.

The same can be said for Breann Schreiber. The eighth grader fell in love with the sport after watching her older sister Brittney, currently a senior, play.

The desire to be a Trojanette trickles down to girls of every age at Windthorst. Elementary school teacher Deana Vieth witnesses it every day.

"These little girls come into the elementary, and they want to be a Trojanette," Vieth said. "It's just that everybody values that."

Diane Conrady saw it back when she was coaching. Windthorst would have two middle school teams in seventh and eighth grade to give more girls the opportunity to play.

Now, the varsity high school coaching staff leads the most of the middle school and youth programs, providing kids with a comfort level throughout their time in Windthorst's school system.

"It helps that you've involved with the children from their small to when they graduate," head coach Stacy Wolf said.

Wolf took over head coaching duties when Conrady retired in 2001. The coaching change didn't stop the winning. Wolf's won six state titles, after Conrady left with the school's first seven. She says the longevity of the coaches is a big reason for the program's success.

But with success and tradition comes expectations. Students are greeted by the 13 state championship plaques standing tall when they walk into school every day. Each plaque features the names of the team's coaches and players.

"When you see the plaques, it makes you want your name on there. You want to be part of the team," senior Lexi Koetter said.

And pressure comes from much more than just plaques.

"We have their (the community) heart on the court," Berend said. "We know that we're not just playing for ourselves. We're playing for everybody that supports us along the way."

Assistant coach Heather Stark has the resume to help players deal with the pressure of being a Trojanette. Stark led Windthorst to four-straight titles from 1997 to 2001. She's one of the best all-around athletes the school's ever produced, earning a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Texas. She joined Wolf's coaching staff in 2006.

"We've (coaches) all been in their shoes. We know what it feels like to be nervous before a big game. " Stark said. "We've all been in a slump. We've all missed the game-winning serve. We can help them figure out how to get through all of that stuff."

But ask any Windthorst Trojanette if it's worth it, they'll say yes in a heartbeat.

"I've made more memories in volleyball than I have in any other thing," Koetter said. "It's just great to be around people you love, all the time, having fun doing what you love."