NEWTON — Self-proclaimed gym rat Kim Florke concluded her 15-year career as head coach for Newton Senior High School’s volleyball team this fall. But Florke will still be in gymnasiums as a physical education teacher at NHS and providing any help the Cardinal volleyball program needs from her.
Florke’s run as Cardinal head coach came to an end on Halloween night in the NHS gym. The Cardinals, who had a school-record breaking season, lost in a regional semifinal match to Adel-DeSoto-Minburn.
“The only regret I have is that I wasn’t able to lead a Newton volleyball team to the state tournament. That was always my ultimate goal and the ultimate goals of each team we coached here,” Florke said.
“It has been a great time for me as a coach. I’m going to miss the interaction with the players and the coaches the most. I’ve gotten to work with the best kids in school, if you look at them academically and athletically over the years.”
Florke finished with a 265-253-22 record at Newton. The 2013 Cardinal team established a new single-season match win record, going 26-13, and finished ranked 12th in Class 4A. They won Newton’s first-ever Little Hawkeye Conference championship with a win over Pella in the final conference matches of the season. Newton was 6-1 in conference play.
Florke came to volleyball late, in a manner of speak. Growing up and going to Colo High School, Florke played basketball and softball. She said they had volleyball her junior and senior years, “but the coach didn’t know a lot about the game.”
Going to college, Florke continued to concentrate on basketball and softball, playing both sports at Waldorf College in Forest City. She transferred to Iowa State, played one fall of softball before a shoulder injury forced her out to quit playing.
“Coaching ... I developed that early I think. I was always a gym rat. My parents were custodians so I always had a key to the building,” she said with a smile. “One of my incentives when there was game or event at school was if I helped clean up, I could go and shoot baskets.”
As a seventh-grader, she helped the Colo varsity softball coach, keeping statistics and helping him learn the game of softball, Florke said.
“When I got to play varsity, I was a pitcher and I helped the younger kids. That start developed into a career in coaching, eventually,” Florke said. “I’ve always been in the gym and in a school setting, so teaching and coaching were strong pulls toward a profession for me.”
Florke did her student teaching and coaching at Ankeny. She was a student coach in basketball under Dick Rasmusson. Florke said one of the coaches on the basketball staff was the head volleyball coach.
“They started volleyball that same year at Ankeny and the head coach said he needed coaches, ‘come learn the game,’ and I did,” Florke said. “I knew some of the fundamentals, but not much. I fell in love with volleyball.
“What I love about it is that you never know what’s going to happen. I’ve coached basketball, softball and track as well. Softball is very predictable and basketball is somewhat predictable but volleyball, you don’t know which way the ball is going to bounce off a hand or where it’s going to go next.”
Florke spent five years working at Ankeny as a study hall monitor, athletic department secretary as she worked on her masters degree in sport administration. She said she was also a CIML commissioner for three years while at Ankeny.
“A sport administration position came open at Ankeny and I didn’t get it. But through my work with the CIML, I knew the Newton administrators. There was a physical education teaching position opening and an assistant basketball coaching spot. Actually I coached four sports that first year, and the second year I got the head volleyball coaching position,” Florke said.
Looking back at the start of her guidance of the Newton volleyball program, Florke said she was proud of strong foundation the coaching staff and the teams have established. She said one of the first things she realized was the summer open gym program was important.
Florke pointed to state allowing unlimited work with student-athletes over the summer, instead of a 10-day contact rule, as a starting point. She said the open gym summer program allowed the coaches to teach fundamentals and give players individual help on areas, plus Florke and her staff did ACL strength training to help prevent knee injuries.
“I realized to compete at the level we needed to in the CIML at the time, we needed the open gym. The kids needed to commit to it and they did. Over the years, our kids have realized their level of commitment during the off-season as well as during the season determined how their season went.” Florke said.
The tradition of coming in during the summer and working is an important for Florke’s teams. She said they’ve seen so many players improve their game from one year to another because of the summer work.
“Using a recent player — Jen Ventling is a great example. She came in and worked and worked then boom the light went on. She developed into a high quality player for us. I’m proud we set high expectations for these kids and never lowered them. That’s how I am with my teaching, my family and every place in my life. Some of the kids got there and some didn’t,” Florke said.
There are a lot of memories from the past 15 seasons for Florke. She said there were good teams early in her run at Newton. She pointed out three strong memories.
“We had gone to Ankeny and won there to open the regional tournament then beat Urbandale here at home. We made it to the regional final against Ames. We took Ames to five sets on their home court before losing. This year’s team reminded me a lot of that team because both were very determined to meet their goals.
“We had a match against Urbandale at Urbandale and one of my outside hitters wanted the ball so bad. When we set it to her, she hit it so hard that the ball hit the digger then went up and hit the ceiling.
“And of course, this year’s Pella match here at home for the conference championship. That was a great match. Our kids played well that night and got their goal of a conference championship on Senior Night with a great student crowd behind them.”
Florke made the decision to step down after the 2013 season before it began. She said she decided to do so “when I little bit of struggling creeped in this summer. It was time. I wanted to leave while I still love the game.
“Every year I’ve learned how to do something better as a coach, whether it was a better way to teach a fundamental or a defense. It’s always been a learning process for me as and never got stale. As players get better, you better get better as a coach because the competition continues to improve season after season.”
Florke’s plans for her free time are to spend more time with family and friends. She said she loves to camp.
“I’ve never had a summer off and I’m looking forward to finding out what that is like. I plan to do more camping. My time will be filled quickly I’m sure of that,” Florke said. “I will miss being around the kids.
“I’ve had a lot of great players, who are great people, and it’s fun to catch up with them. The long-term relationships with the students is what’s best about coaching. I enjoy watching them become successful in life.”