Whitney Williams has always enjoyed a good underdog story.
Ever since Williams was a kid she’s been a big fan of inspirational sports movies, the ones like Rudy or Hoosiers in which an athlete or team overcomes tremendous odds to succeed.
Williams wrote a sports success story of her own at her alma mater, taking an Arlington High School volleyball program that was in the doldrums and transforming it into a perennial power.
Now Williams is being charged with doing the same for the moribund Everett Community College volleyball team.
Williams made the difficult decision to leave an Arlington program that reached an apex less than two months ago, and now she’s taking the next step in her coaching progression with the intention of turning the Trojans around in the same way she righted the Eagles.
“It’s super exciting and obviously overwhelming,” Williams said. “I’m entering a world I haven’t been a part of as a head coach. But I’m really excited for the opportunity and I’m excited to take my coaching career to the next level.”
“We’re extremely excited to have her on board,” Everett athletic director Garet Studer said. “I think she’s going to be the spark our program needs. We have all the tools for a coach to be successful. We have tremendous support at Everett for athletics and we have one of the best facilities in (the Northwest Athletic Conference). Couple that with her personality and I think we’re going to be a top-caliber program in the very near future.”
Williams, a 2004 Arlington graduate, played for Eagles volleyball teams that were more like film’s Bad News Bears prior to the arrival of Amanda Whurlitzer and Kelly Leak, and before Morris Buttermaker started taking coaching seriously. When Williams was hired as the team’s head coach in 2014 the Eagles weren’t in any better shape, having won just 11 matches over the previous five years.
But Williams’ arrival produced immediate results. In her first season in charge Arlington finished 9-3 in Wesco 3A play and 11-6 overall. In 2016 the Eagles went 11-1 in league play to claim the Wesco 3A title and qualified for state, just the second state appearance in school history and the first in 20 years. Then this past season Arlington was a perfect 14-0 in league, returned to state, placed sixth to earn its first-ever volleyball state trophy, and Williams was named the Herald’s Volleyball Coach of the Year. Overall Arlington was 97-35 in Williams’ six seasons.
So leaving Arlington was not an easy choice for Williams.
“This was a really hard decision,” Williams said. “My time in Arlington was incredible. More than anything I wanted to give an experience to the girls that I was not able to have in high school. We weren’t a very good team, but Arlington had the athletes and resources to be amazing. I felt my connection there and thought I could make a difference. I set out to change the culture and get the girls believing they were capable of something amazing. The
first open gym after I was hired I wrote, ‘State champions,’ on the board and the girls looked at me like I was out of my mind. Now there’s a great culture where players start younger and come to camps excited. It was the craziest ride and a rewarding experience for me personally.”
What Williams finds at Everett are circumstances that are even worse than the ones she inherited at Arlington. Since the Northwest Athletic Conference began playing volleyball in 1978, the Trojans have had nearly six times as many seasons where they went winless in region play (17) than they had winning campaigns (three). It’s been just as bad in recent years, as the Trojans went 2-46 in region play and 12-106 overall the past four seasons.
Williams was first approached by Studer about the position last summer, but though Williams always had the goal of coaching in college, she decided the time wasn’t right, particularly with the high school season so close to starting. When Studer returned following the state tournament, it all felt right.
“Things in my volleyball coaching career have been serendipitous,” Williams said. “When I moved back to Arlington (in 2014, after spending four years as an assistant coach at Timpview High School in Provo, Utah) there wasn’t a job available, but a few months later the coach resigned and I was told I needed to apply. Things have lined up perfectly, and with wanting to pursue college coaching this was something I couldn’t deny.”
So what kind of coach is Everett getting?
“They’re getting somebody who is really driven,” Arlington athletic director Tom Roys said. “Whitney is incredibly organized and has incredibly detailed practice plans. She creates a great foundation in fundamentals, and she really does a good job of laying that base and building up from it.”
Williams’ time at Arlington allowed her to form relationships with area high school coaches, which both she and Studer are hoping will help with recruiting. Volleyball is also a sport in which just a handful of players can make a huge difference, so it’s possible to turn things around quickly, particularly at the two-year level where player turnover is constant.
But given Everett’s history, Williams’ biggest task is making people believe.
“I want to instill the confidence in the players that if they work hard, they’re capable of doing more than they’ve ever done before,” Williams said.
Williams has done it once before. The Trojans are hoping she can do it again.
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