LYNNWOOD — Meadowdale High School’s new volleyball coach, Bart Foley, has a white board he wheels into the gym for practices. Covering most of it are the typical Xs and Os, names and numbers one would expect from a coach’s slate. But a small box in the upper-left corner is reserved for a different purpose. During Monday’s practice it contained “59 days” and each day that number shrinks by one.
What does it indicate? The number of days until the state tournament.
Foley arrived at Meadowdale following a lengthy stint at King’s where he helped craft the Knights into one of the state’s premier volleyball programs. His new goal is to do the same at Meadowdale, and the first step is changing the scope of expectations inside the program.
“If you want to go do something I believe you should vocalize and it put it out there and manifest it a little bit,” Foley explained.
“We’re excited for him to bring that here,” senior outside hitter and co-captain Tanna Kollen said about the increased expectations. “He has taught us a lot already in the short time we’ve known him, so I’m excited for the rest of the season.”
“(The daily countdown to state) is definitely something new,” added senior libero and co-captain Stephanie Grimes. “That’s a lot more exciting. Seeing the days shorten makes you want to work harder and harder toward that.”
And if there’s anyone who can elevate the standards, it’s Foley.
Foley was part of a dynasty at King’s. He arrived as an assistant coach in 2008, moved into the head position in 2011 and again from 2017-21, and in those years he helped guide the Knights to 11 Class 1A state tournament appearances, including state championships in 2008, 2009 and 2017.
However, citing the “change of core values” at King’s, Foley left the program following the COVID season in the spring of 2021.
“I didn’t necessarily want to leave, I love that program, I had a ton of equity into it,” Foley said. “But things change. King’s decided to very publicly change their core values, and they get to do that, they’re a private institution, it’s completely within their right. And conversely it’s our right to make a decision.”
Foley spent a year away from coaching, turning down offers from other high schools and one college, and he thought he’d spend another year away to watch his daughter, Stella, who plays volleyball at Shorewood. However, the position opened up at Meadowdale, and after some hemming and hawing it was a combination of the school’s strong administrative support and seeing the players for himself at an open gym in June that got him on board with the Mavericks.
Indeed, Foley isn’t inheriting an empty cupboard. Meadowdale has been a solid middle-of-the-pack team in Wesco 3A — last year the Mavericks were 11-8 and earned the No. 7 seed to the district tournament. And in Kollen and Grimes Meadowdale has a pair of returning second-team All-Wesco performers. However, Meadowdale has rarely elevated itself above that level. The last time the Mavericks qualified for state was 2013, and the school has never finished higher than fifth at state.
Foley’s goal is to turn that fifth-place finish at state into the floor rather than the ceiling.
“I want to build a perennial championship-caliber program here,” Foley said. “It’s going to require a lot of work because it takes what it takes, there’s no secret sauce or magic dust you sprinkle over it. It just requires a lot of hard work, time, effort and energy, not only from the coaches but the players, families and community — all the way down to the elementary and middle schools — to get us all on the same page. It would be great if kids were pursuing the sport outside the high school season, too, which is part of it. But that’s the ambition, to take all those lessons that were learned and see what we can do to make this a championship team. I don’t see any reason why we can’t, all the right stuff is here.”
While the frame may be in place, Foley is making changes. In addition voicing higher expectations, he’s changed the way the Mavericks practice. Instead of doing drills, almost all of practice is done in a game setting, and the score is kept throughout in an effort to provide an objective method of evaluation.
“I think it’s a lot more competitive and more serious,” Grimes said about the changes, noting that it was a little intimidating when Foley first took over because of his history of success. “We compete a lot with each other to see who our starting lineup should be. We do a lot of competitions in practice, which we never did before, we used to run drills a lot. But now we do a lot of team stuff and keep score to see who belongs where, who deserves to be out there in the starting lineup.”
Meadowdale started the season 1-2, and Foley acknowledged he’s still learning about the new league and level. But he’s encouraged by how things have started. Meanwhile, each day the number in the upper-left corner of the white board ticks down by one. And for Foley and the Mavericks the hope is it’s counting down the days until Meadowdale finds itself back at state.
This story has been modified to correct the dates of Bart Foley’s coaching tenure at King’s.