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Local Sports

Newton first volleyball team proud of its Cardinal legacy

Bump. Set. Spike.

They knew next to nothing about competitive high school volleyball. They admit it. Two coaches and 31 players — juniors, sophomores and freshmen — combined to set the foundation for Newton High School volleyball in the fall of 1987.

“We’re proud of what we did that first two years as a team,” JoEllen (Rinehart) Linn said. “It’s pretty special to say we were on the first volleyball team. We’re part of the Newton High volleyball legacy. No, we didn’t win much, but we had fun and helped establish a new sport here.”

Newton’s first state sanctioned high school volleyball team will be recognized on Tuesday. On the 30th anniversary of NHS volleyball, the 2017 Cardinals honor the Cardinals of the 1987 season prior to Tuesday’s Little Hawkeye Conference varsity match, 7:15 p.m., with Grinnell.

There’s a pre-match reception at 5:30 p.m. in the NHS multi-purpose room near the upper gymnasium. The freshman and junior varsity matches begin at 5:30 p.m.

“I had coached volleyball a couple years in northwest Iowa before coming to Newton to teach, but I was a track, softball and basketball person in high school and college. I had never played volleyball except in physical education class,” Doree Ward said.

Ward, who is in her 30th year as a Newton High teacher of psychology, sociology, college prep psychology and drivers education, was the assistant coach for the 1987 volleyball team under head coach Ronda Campbell. Ward said she wasn’t sure if Campbell had played or coached volleyball before that season.

“None of us knew much about volleyball,” Linn said. “We had played volleyball in P.E. We were playing fall softball at the time, but they ended it and we decided to try the new sport.”

Linn was a junior as were Carey (Pickett) Jordan and Karen Smith. Melanie (Temple) Robuck, a cousin to Linn, was a freshman on the team. Linn and Jordan live in Newton and Smith lives in Bondurant. Robuck lives in Knoxville.

All four players plan to be at the reunion on Tuesday along with Ward, who has been announcing for NHS volleyball the past 25 years. Ward said they are hoping to have a good group return.

“Newton did play intramural volleyball in the 1970s and went to a state intramural tournament. It was not an interscholastic sanctioned sport at that time,” Ward said. “Newton had some volleyball early on, but we played fall and summer softball here in Iowa.”

Following the adoption of Title IX, the state of Iowa dropped fall softball and added volleyball in the fall to make things equal, Ward said. She said volleyball was becoming more prevelant in Iowa high schools.

“Some teams played for quite a few years such as Dubuque. The sport filtered in across the state,” Ward said.

Ward said a lot of the girls on the first team were softball players. Linn and Jordan fit that bill while Smith was a track athlete. Temple said her family moved back to Newton from Texas, where she had played volleyball in junior high.

Ward said she and Coach Campbell did everything together coaching the three levels of teams that season. Ward coached the junior varsity and freshman teams.

“These kids get all the credit in the world. They did not know anything about the sport. We had a huge learning curve, but I can’t say enough about their work ethic. They were willing to try everything we asked of them and did not get discouraged.”

The 1987 Newton volleyball teams didn’t win matches. Ward said there was a single set victory but the junior varsity which got everyone excited. Ward became the Cardinal head coach in 1988, a position she held for four years.

“None of the seniors went out, which I understand,” Smith said. “I said ‘what the heck’ and had two years to play the sport. I enjoyed it in gym class so why not try. It was a season of a lot of learning — the rules and the techniques were so involved. We didn’t fare so well that first year, but I loved it.”

Jordan said all the juniors were athletic and competitive. With the loss of fall softball, the group decided it would be exciting to be part of the new sport — volleyball.

“Since we didn’t know much about the sport, that first year was challenging. I think our competitiveness kept us going,” Jordan said. “For me, a lot of volleyball is about timing and it took me awhile to figure my timing out. I was a setter.”

Newton played in the Central Iowa Conference. Ward and a couple of the former players said several of the CIC teams already had established volleyball teams.

“We were a close team,” Linn said. “We were multi-sport athletes and just kept moving forward with it.”

Ward said the coaches would work out “games” for the players to play in practice.

“It was a way to have them work on their skills and have fun with it. That first year it was about just getting the ball over the net — bump, set, spike,” Ward said. “We set goals we knew the girls could reach then re-set goals after they reached the first ones. We did it throughout the season.”

The only way to score points in 1987 was to have the serve. Ward said if rally scoring existed then, the Cardinals would have scored points, but there were many times they were blanked by other teams.

“When I got here, I could serve overhanded and here they were serving underhanded. I did have a step up on most of the girls, but we worked together to learn,” Robuck said. “The coaches were awesome. It was more like a family.”

Smith came up with a team sweatshirt idea, putting “We’ve Only Just Begun” on the back of the shirts. Linn, Jordan and Robuck all mentioned the shirts.

“We were a group of determined girls. We were going to get that first win. We had a drive to get better,” Jordan said. “We were going to see it through and that’s why we all came back out as seniors.”

Smith said her asset for the team was serving. She said she had a wicked hard serve and it was a way for her to contribute to the team. Smith said each player had an individual strength which came together for the team.

The 1987 Cardinals were winless. Campbell stepped down as head coach at the end of the season. Ward took over as head coach.

“These girls came back out and we got better. We beat Ankeny that second year, which was a huge win for us,” Ward said. “The girls were eager to learn. They were sponges and they could see their progress as individuals and as a team.”

Joining Jordan, Smith and Linn on the varsity team were Chris Martin, Gina Hathaway, Jennifer Rowray, Jill Maharry, Greta Ohler, Angie Koppin, Jana VanderKamp, Tricia Mulbrook and Nichole Johnston. Members of the junior varsity team were Tracy Drew, Shari Maach, Dani Miller, Jenny Boyd, Jeanne Modlin, Michelle Graham, Doris Sliger, Heather Morley, Amy Rose and Laurie McConnell.

“Oh, we had table top talk from Coach Ward,” Linn said. “She would be on top of a table at the net hitting balls at us. We’d not be doing things right and she’d start chastising all of us. We called it her table top talk.”

Robuck played all four years at Newton High. Joining her on the freshman team we’re Amy Dodd, Marni Haws, Dana Goodhue, Chris Beatty, Kim Ehresman, Christine Carl, Jennifer Allen and Amy Bagnall.

“It’s cool to realize you were on the first volleyball team at Newton. It’s special,” Jordan said. “We were a group of girls willing to try something new. I enjoyed it.”

“We stayed positive and support each other. Learning a sport and bringing it to Newton — well, it’s humbling to think I was a part of starting a program. You don’t have to be great at something, but contribute because it’s a team sport,” Smith said.

For Ward, she has seen the progress of Cardinal volleyball from the beginning. After her four years as head coach, she said she knew she had taken the program as far as she could. In that fifth season, the Cardinals were 11-16-5.

“That was a good leap in five years. From that point on, this program hasn’t looked back. I new my limitations as a coach and the program was ready to take off but needed someone well versed in the sport,” Ward said. “I was thrilled. I’ve seen it all and it’s a joy for me.”

Enter Leesa Stoffers, who coached Colfax-Mingo’s volleyball program and took it to the state tournament. Newton’s volleyball program has been under six head coaches in its 30-year history — Campbell, Ward, Stoffers, Kim Florke, Laura Sherratt and current head coach Ashley Carter. All have had success on the volleyball court with the Cardinals.

“We’re part of a legacy. With my class, we started as freshman and worked hard through the four years. We wanted to keep it going for the younger players coming up after us,” Robuck said. “We had fun.”

Contact Jocelyn Sheets at
641-792-3121 ext. 6535 or

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