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Taylor Eldridge blog: Q&A with Garden Plain volleyball coach Gina Clark

Published Oct. 31 at 7:21 p.m. | Last updated Oct. 31 at 7:22 p.m.

So during this past season Garden Plain volleyball coach Gina Clark reached her 500th victory in her 20th year of coaching.

It is quite the accomplishment and something that may have flown under the radar for those not tuned into the Garden Plain program. Clark has built Garden Plain into an annual contender, as the Owls have won two state championships and finished runner-up and third in the last nine years. Clark also rebuilt the program at Chaparral for 11 years before that.

I caught up with Clark after the state championship weekend and asked her thoughts on the milestone and many other topics. Enjoy!

Taylor Eldridge: So when you look at winning 500 games in a career, what are your thoughts on that milestone?

Gina Clark: “I guess my first thought is that all of those wins is one thing and that’s really nice, but I think the best part in the 20 years it took was that I got to have a pretty big impact on a lot of kids’ lives. You get to have those interactions with a lot of really good players and to me that really has been the best part for me.”

TE: What was it like watching the state tournament this weekend as a spectator?

GC: “I think you realize how those trips to the state tournament are a rarity. We’ve been four times in the nine years I’ve been here and we’ve won it twice, been runner-up once, and third once. It’s just such a fun time that so few people and so few coaches get the chance to be a part of. I know the first time we went in 2008 I hardly even remember it because I was so busy with all of the other things a coach can be worried about. Last year (when Garden Plain won the title) was a great memory because I felt like a little more of a seasoned coach and I could sit back and relax and watch the kids enjoy themselves rather than being uptight.”

TE: Do you feel like you’ve changed as a coach over the years?

GC: “I do think I’ve changed from year to year to year. I think that’s the only way you can continue to be a winning coach is to embrace change and take the time at the end of every season to reflect. I’ve already sat down after this year and I already know if I had a chance again I would do some things differently. In my first two years of coaching I went 8-44. I try tot go back and remember those times because it keeps you humbled. When the wins begin to stack up and you start becoming really successful, you have to remind yourself of how hard you worked to get to where you’ve gotten and all of the learning that it took to get there. Now I think back to those first two seasons and if I had the knowledge I have now, I would go back and change so many things.”

TE: Looking back on your career, who are some of your biggest influences as a coach?

GC: “When I was young, I played in high school and in college but when I started coaching I didn’t have that knowledge and that tkaes time to develop. Being a good player doesn’t always mean it’s going to be an easy transition to being a good coach. So there’s a few that come to mind. One is Tom Tucker and he was my high school coach (at Attica). I still talk to him all the time. I call him about issues I have with my team right now and he won’t give me the answer, he’ll question me and try to get me to come up with the answer. I still feel like he’s coaching me as a coach. Another is Ernie Beachey, who used to coach at Clearwater, and he had a huge influence on me. He had such a high level of success and he never guarded any of his information. He was the one who told me to go to the Gold Medal Squared clinics and that has been a huge help. Then you look at coaches like Suzie Fritz to Ray Bechard. All of those people have been a huge help to me getting to 500 and then I look at the list and who’s in the top 30 and it’s going to take me another decade just to get into that group. There’s a lot of great coaches on that list and I try to watch what they do and mimic them.”

TE: What has been your favorite part about coaching over the years?

GC: “It probably sounds a little selfish, but I really like to see kids I coach that come back as coaches. It’s kind of like with me and coach Tucker. What I’m teaching my players is pretty much what he taught me and everything he did for the sport. Now I have kids that come back and some are coaching club. My daughter teaches my middle school eighth-graders and then I have another former player who coaches the middle school seventh-graders. A lot of former players are now club team coaches. It’s just really cool to see them kind of carry on the tradition and it makes me very proud.”

TE: After 20 years of coaching, do you feel like anything has changed?

GC: “The hunger hasn’t gone away. It’s still there. Once you get what you want so bad, then you want to get back and do it again because you know how neat of an experience it really is. When I was watching state volleyball this weekend, I kept thinking, ‘Oh my God, I want to be here so bad.’ Because I know what that feels like and it’s such a great thing.”

TE: What’s the one thing you want your players to take away from being in your program?

GC: “The biggest thing we preach here is to be selfless, whether it’s on the volleyball court in the classroom or volunteering. Whatever. Because I know these girls are going to have an impact on someone somewhere and they’re going to help somebody be a better person. So we really try to stress how important it is to celebrate other people’s accomplishments as much as your own. I’m sitting here in my room right now and I’m looking at the walls and seeing all of the pictures of all the great players I’ve had over the years and I know they’re all going to make an impact on society. It might not be in volleyball, but it will be in someway and somehow.”

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