Basalt volleyball coach at home in Aspen
August 27, 2008
ASPEN ” The move seemed curious.
Why leave a team you guided to a 22-4 record and a regional berth to take over a squad who won just three games? Why leave an established 3A Western Slope power for a reclamation project?
Not only did Clay Dahlman willingly make the move from Basalt to Aspen earlier this summer, the charismatic coach sought out athletic director Carol Sams when he first learned Jen Schrock had stepped aside.
Dahlman is more invested than the typical coaching candidate.
He’s an Aspen graduate.
He considers this his dream job.
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“If I was a coach who worried about records and winning percentage, I probably would’ve stayed in Basalt,” Dahlman said Monday. “I wish them the best. They have talented athletes and it was hard to leave. But, when push came to shove, Aspen is my home and the Skiers are in my blood. … I had to jump at this opportunity. Positions like this sometimes don’t come around for five to 20 years.”
Such has not been the case here of late. Dahlman is the fourth coach in as many years at Aspen. Schrock, who took over for Matt Bergdahl last fall, recently decided to take a lesser role in the program, opting to focus on developing younger players.
The turnover has been frustrating, senior Kylie Westerlind admitted.
“It’s hard to keep the togetherness and the consistency,” she said. “It’s not fair, but it’s not anyone’s fault.”
Dahlman said his top priority is developing stability and continuity. He talked at length during Monday’s practice about building a foundation from the ground up, one centered around this year’s freshmen ” a group he calls his “impact class.”
The foundation is just the beginning. Dahlman is dreaming big, attempting to restore luster to a program that has won 16 district titles ” but none since 2001.
“We’re not chasing wins as much as we’re helping them be the best players and the best team they can be,” Dahlman said. “I’ll be the first to admit I have a lot to learn. The opportunity to adopt a team that didn’t create out-of-this-world results and try and take them to a higher level is something I look forward to.”
Dahlman inherited a Longhorns squad returning many of its standouts from 2006’s 25-5 squad that made the school’s first state tournament appearance since 1974.
While he has had to adapt his coaching style to fit his new personnel, Dahlman said the pieces are in place to stage a turnaround.
The most important piece is outside hitter Elissa Walter, one of Aspen’s five seniors.
“She’s more powerful on the hit than most players in the league,” Dahlman said. “If her health is in check, she could be one of the scary forces in Slope volleyball.”
Walter missed practice Monday with lingering soreness in her lower back. Dahlman said she’s expected to play in Thursday’s regular-season opener against Grand Valley.
If she does play, Walter and middles Evans and Caroline Kelly will give the Cardinals trouble on both offense and defense, Dahlman said. Expect Rio Crandall and high-flying freshman Bailey Everhart to make an instant impact at the net, too.
Serve reception remains the team’s biggest struggle, Dahlman said. If the team finds a way to consistently feed setter Westerlind with accurate passes, the Skiers’ offense should take off.
“We have a lot to work on, and some of the young girls are making the switch from the ‘C’ team to varsity, which is hard,” Evans said. “We have a bunch of good athletes, and volleyball is a teachable sport. We’re building something here.”
And Dahlman’s presence has already paid dividends.
“He has a ton of credibility in my eyes,” said senior Katy Evans, referencing Dahlman’s past success. “He’s a great coach. … We’re already more of a team than we ever were last year.”
“He brings a lot of enthusiasm and requires more of a work ethic,” she added. “He has good intentions. … I think he’ll be great for the future.”
That future is something Dahlman expects to be around to witness. He’s where he wants to be. He’s fully invested in seeing his alma mater reclaim some of its past glory.
The first step comes Thursday at 6 p.m.
“With hard work, determination and teamwork, we can create a program that others will be concerned about,” Dahlman said. “We have everything to gain this season. … It’s great to be a part of this.”