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A Golden Surprise

Even the more casual viewers of sports, especially at the college and professional levels, have noticed the increasing amount of ‘bling’ hanging around the necks of players.

Following South Williamsport’s football team’s win over Muncy for the District IV Class A championship, the Mountaineers trainer, Chelsey Rieppel, was kidded about the added hardware she is accumulating. In her third year caring for South’s athletes, she’s becoming a ‘good luck charm’ as Mountaineer teams have won 11 district titles during her brief tenure.

Several of those gold medals have been won by the girls’ soccer, softball, and basketball teams, but the latest bling on the distaff side came from a most unexpected source — girls’ volleyball!

In its fifth year never having experienced a winning season and under the guidance of first-year coach Katie Spangler, the South Spikers added their names as District Champions with an exciting five-match victory over Cowanesque Valley earlier this month that earned the school their first trip into state-level competition.

“It was amazing. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but these girls worked their butts off and are a great group to work with,” added Spangler about her team of 31 athletes that finished the season 11-11.

While she inherited a team with little volleyball history, Spangler brought a solid background of success to the southside. Growing up in Wisconsin, she attended the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater and was a member of two Division III volleyball national championship teams.

While in college, she met her husband, Chris, who was a member of the school’s baseball team. She relocated to the area following Chris’s family starting a business. The couple lives in Montgomery with two children, ages 10 and 5.

Spangler was encouraged by friends to apply for the South Williamsport coaching position.

“I knew a few of the families whose daughters play at South. They knew my background and encouraged me to apply for the job. At least I knew there was a solid group of girls returning to play.

“When I moved back here, there was no talk of girls’ volleyball programs. That surprised me since Penn State has such a good program. Volleyball has now become a more popular sport in our area. The fact that more high schools are beginning to start programs was intriguing to me.

“Volleyball is like the other sports; you must put the time and effort into developing your skills. A lot of my varsity girls have been very successful at other sports, and they have the commitment to their craft they are doing at that time. They are not just there to have a season. They are athletes through and through, whether it’s softball, basketball, or any of the other sports they play.”

Like a new teacher entering a classroom, Spangler had hurdles to clear.

“Getting them to understand that I knew what I was talking about and wanted things done my way was my biggest challenge. Once they began to see a little bit of success while trying things differently than they had been used to, they latched on to what we were doing. I think the fact that we were able to have some success against teams they hadn’t been able to do before helped them develop as volleyball players.

“This group was good to work with as they were friends and very much team-oriented. It didn’t matter if they were varsity or JV girls; you could see that throughout the entire program. They all genuinely cared for each other, wanted to be there, and wanted to play the sport. From the beginning, from some people not knowing how to play to some of the varsity girls asking all the questions about the new things I was teaching them, they were receptive to soaking in this new knowledge.

“The dedication these girls have shown to the sport and each other makes them very special kids to me. Sitting back and reflecting on how well they meshed and how excited they were for one another are things I will always remember about this team. That district championship match was an amazing match to watch. I really wish I had that on video. It was the best match we played all season. They never gave up on balls; getting things off the floor that I don’t think they ever anticipated doing is what you want to instill in your players, and they certainly gave me that.

“Seeing the development from the beginning of the season to being able to win a district championship and competing in the state tournament was very rewarding for all of us!”

With her team’s championship accomplishment, Spangler sees good things ahead for the sport she loves.

“The growth of volleyball in our area seems to be going in the right direction. Williamsport and Loyalsock had programs. Now Hughesville, Lewisburg, and Danville have teams, and seeing how they have progressed is overall an exciting thing for the development of the sport locally. I’ve had a few young girls approach me in other communities, asking if I could help them with volleyball skills. That is fun to see because other than the past five or six years, the sport hasn’t been here.”

Having experienced championship success, Spangler and her team hope to add to Rieppel’s golden collection in the years ahead.