Ida High School volleyball coach Bree Russow learned from the best and now she's getting the best from her own players.
Russow discovered the level of dedication that it takes to reach the upper echelon of the sport as a high school standout at perennial powerhouse Bedford.
In only her second year at the helm of the Bluestreaks program, Russow is well on the way to establishing a similar stellar tradition at Ida.
The Bluestreaks broke the school record for victories in a season with 47 and reached the final four of the state tournament for the first time in school history.
"It was a great year, that's for sure," Russow said. "I hope we have started a tradition here."
Ida (47-10-2) went undefeated to win the Lenawee County Athletic Association (14-0). The Bluestreaks then defended their Class B district championship and won just the third regional title in school history.
"When I took the job the biggest thing was to build a successful program," Russow said. "I wanted the girls to come out and compete. I didn't just want them to go out there to play volleyball. I wanted them to want to be a part of something special."
That drive is something Russow learned by playing for legendary coach Jodi Manore at Bedford. Manore, who ranks second all-time in Michigan high school girls volleyball his-tory in wins, has led Bedford to three state championships (1998, 2001, 2005) in 23 seasons. Russow helped the Mules win their first title in 1998. Manore's teams claimed 20 district titles and 17 regional championships during her tenure.
"Coming from a school that has that tradition, I knew what it would take for us to make a name for ourselves," Russow said. "That's something I would like to do at Ida."
The 1998 Bedford graduate went on to play at Eastern Michigan University. Russow started her coaching career as a graduate assistant at Syracuse University.
She then went on to coach junior high teams at Bedford before taking her first varsity coaching position at Ida.
The Bluestreaks program had won some district titles over the years, but had not been winning on a consistent basis before Russow took over.
"My main thing was to make it a more competitive game," she said. "I wanted to make it more fun for the girls. I wanted to bring a faster game to it."
Last year in her rookie campaign, Russow led Ida to a co-conference championship and a district title. The team went 35-9-5 before losing in the regional final.
"We started to be successful," she said.
Russow said her approach to building the program was simple yet effective.
"The one thing I wanted was for them to train harder. I wanted to push them," she said.
Russow said many of the players trained together over the summer.
"They worked hard in the off season," she said. "They put in the time and effort."
The coach also altered the team's schedule, loading it with higher-division opponents.
"I wanted to play in more competitive tournaments against better competition," she said.
Russow said she gives a lot of the credit to the six seniors on her roster. She named all six captains and told them each player would fill a specific role.
"I expected them all to be leaders," Russow said.
Middle hitter Kari Honomichl; setter Ashley Begeman; outside hitter Carley Osgood; libero Shelby McCain; outside hitter Tonya Berta, and defensive specialist Megan Helmer were the team's upperclassmen.
"They've done a great job with the younger players, showing them and bringing them along," Russow said. "They made them work hard as well."
Honomichl has already signed a letter of intent to play at Division I Niagara University and Russow said she expects some of the others also will play at the collegiate level.
She said the team had a great start to the season, winning the Bedford Invitational Tournament. The team beat Bedford and Airport, which are both higher division schools.
The Bluestreaks ended up winning four of the seven tournaments they played in and finished in the top three in the rest.
The team only had 10 losses and they were spread out over the season.
"We never had a long winning streak," Russow said.
She said she let the players set the team's goals at the beginning of the season. The players set their sights on winning the conference title, finishing in the top three of every tournament, and reaching the state final four.
The Bluestreaks accomplished all three facets of their mission, topping it off with a run to the Class B state semifinals.
"I knew when the girls set their goals that high that they knew how hard they would have to work. That was very encouraging," Russow said.
In the state semifinal, Ida lost 3-0 to Holland Christian in Battle Creek, Mich. on Nov. 20. Russow said the team had an up and down match before falling 25-18, 26-24, 25-14.
"The team we played was very good as well. But we were not as consistent," she said. "We lost the second game and lost momentum there."
Holland Christian went on to win the state title.
"We're working to get to the top," Russow said.
Contact Mark Monroe at:firstname.lastname@example.org