Sports Zone

Coach Baltrusch ‘set’ for 500th volleyball win

Anna Baltrusch coaches the Lady Dawgs to their second-place finish in the 2015 3A State Tournament. Photo courtesy of Anna Baltrusch

Ask Anna Baltrusch, set to begin her 23rd season as Creswell High School’s head volleyball coach, knows what it takes to be a successful prep volleyball coach, and she doesn’t cite deep knowledge of the game, strategy, or talent for honing players’ skills.
”You’ve got to know why you do what you do,” said Baltrusch, a Creswell Middle School teacher for 19 years. ”You coach kids to coach kids; it’s not just that you really love the sport – it’s that you love kids and helping them become stronger, better people. It’s about team attitude and unity.”
Her approach has proven sound: Currently 16th in all-time career coaching wins in Oregon high school volleyball history (1A through 6A), Baltrusch needs only 14 wins this season for her 500th career victory.
The odds are in her favor. Although that elusive state championship is still playing hard-to-get, Baltrusch’s Lady Bulldogs placed second at state in 2016, ’15 and ’14, third in ’13 and fourth in ’12, in addition to numerous fifth- and sixth-place trophies since 2006.
Her teams routinely make state playoffs and have been blocked from advancing to the state championships (top eight teams) three times: in 1999, 2011 and 2017.
At least 20 of Baltrusch’s graduates have played college volleyball – including daughter Sarah, at the Division I Texas-El Paso (older daughter Heather graduated the year before Baltrusch became head coach; she played at Christian Heritage College, an NAIA team, in San Diego).
CHS/college alum, Chandler Gabrio – a first-team All-Conference middle blocker whose .313 attack percentage set a new school record at Northwest Christian University – is now Baltrusch’s assistant/JV1 coach. Another, Chase Bohman – a recent Oregon Institute of Technology grad and two-time All-American outside hitter – joined the Lady Dawgs in summer workouts.
Once a varsity setter at CHS herself, graduating in 1979, Baltrusch continued playing in the Eugene Women’s League until 2016.
Her coaching career began when Heather (now 40), was in sixth grade and Sarah was in fourth. ”Kidsports wouldn’t allow Creswell kids to play on Eugene/Springfield teams, and they couldn’t play middle school volleyball until seventh grade, so we decided to start a league here so the younger kids could play,” Baltrusch said.
About 30 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders played Creswell Recreation Association volleyball that first year – ”and pretty soon we had 60 or 70 kids,” Baltrusch said. ”I only did that for a couple years, but it got a lot of kids playing volleyball.”
She started coaching at CHS when Heather was a freshman, coaching JV2 in 1993/1994 and JV1 in 1995. With the exception of a 2003 sabbatical, she’s been varsity head coach since 1996.
”That’s a long time – but it’s a great sport, so it’s kind of addictive,” said Baltrusch, whose enthusiasm extends to the annual summer youth camp she and her players host: ”It’s just so fun watching all those kids at camp, seeing them learn to play and love the game.”
As a seventh-grade science teacher at CMS (she’s also taught PE, language arts and art), ”I get to know the kids before they get to high school, and I’ve already created relationships,” Baltrusch said, adding that she’s learned, ”most importantly, to incorporate a sense of humor and love for teaching and coaching” into her interactions with students and players.
She said she’s also benefited from working, at CMS, with other successful coaches over the years – including Principal Shirley Burrus, Stan Mercer, Brandi Wittenborn, Janelle Sailer, Kendra Anderson, Rich Milne, Didier Hemelsoet and Ron Lampe.
Her longevity at CHS and the enduring strength of the program she’s built has translated into a robust local volleyball culture. As former players (not only Baltrusch’s) become parents, they share their knowledge and love of the game with their own children and are eager to live in a community with a strong high school volleyball program. They, in turn, support and perpetuate that program by coaching and helping youth, CMS, club or CHS teams.
”When you have a culture that goes so far into the past, of people loving the game in this community, it does help the program stay strong,” Baltrusch said. ”Sometimes, just having that reputation in a community and program helps people decide where they’re going to live and have their kids go to school; parents who played, and want their kids to play, know this community loves volleyball and supports it.”
The latest beneficiaries of that support – and Baltrusch’s coaching proficiency – the 2019 team stands to make an indelible mark on school and program history by securing their coach’s 500th win.
”The team’s looking super strong this year and the kids are excited to meet that goal – it’s motivational for them,” Baltrusch said. ”It’ll be exciting for them to know they helped us get to that point.”
But for this dedicated, longtime teacher and coach, netting that milestone victory, a state title, or otherwise padding her legacy matters less than the future and character of the players she serves. Baltrusch’s teaching philosophy – ”They don’t care what I know until they know I care about them” – is mirrored on the court.
”My coaching philosophy is about helping build strong young women who believe in a purpose above themselves, and love the game of volleyball,” she said. Career accomplishments aside, ”If I don’t do that, I’m not doing my job.”



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