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News / Sports / Prep Sports

One last dance at state for Woodland coach Nesbitt

Coach's 31st season will be his last

By Micah Rice, Columbian Sports Editor
Published: November 10, 2016, 10:07pm
2 Photos
Coach Jeff Nesbitt demonstrates proper posture to Woodland volleyball players during practice at Woodland High School, Wednesday November 9, 2016.
Coach Jeff Nesbitt demonstrates proper posture to Woodland volleyball players during practice at Woodland High School, Wednesday November 9, 2016. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

WOODLAND — Lessons bounced off the walls of the Woodland High School gym like volleyballs off the hardwood at a recent practice.

When your coach has taught the game for 31 years, there’s plenty to learn.

But ask the Woodland players what lessons Jeff Nesbitt has taught them, you see that most resonate far beyond the gym doors.

Nesbitt’s 31-year coaching career will end this weekend in Lacey at the Class 2A state tournament, for which Woodland has qualified six straight years.

Nesbitt, 56, has won three state titles and reached the state playoffs 25 times in 23 seasons at Woodland and eight at Ridgefield.

More importantly, he has been an empowering influence on hundreds of young women.

“What I’ve learned from Jeff is that you never quit,” senior libero Emily Wheeler said. “Work hard in school, work hard in volleyball, work hard everywhere in life.”

Teamwork, industriousness, confidence. Those are common themes when you ask Woodland’s players what they’ve learned from their coach.

“He teaches us ways to better ourselves to help our team,” sophomore Gelina Wakefield said. “I think it has helped me be better working in groups at school. If I have a group project, it helps me communicate better with them instead of just working on my own, like I usually do.”

When Nesbitt has to be stern, he does it in a way that’s uplifting.

“He has really taught me to have thick skin,” junior Vanessa Franke said. “I’m doing Clark College Running Start. The professors, I’m able to take more criticism from them. It has really helped me out.”

Using those traits learned from their coach, Woodland has surpassed many expectations this season, including their own.

The Beavers have just three seniors that see regular playing time. Four sophomores are key contributors. Yet Woodland (13-5) snagged one of three state berths at a district tournament that included No. 1-ranked Tumwater, No. 3 Ridgefield and Columbia River, last year’s 3A runner up.

“This team is funny,” Nesbitt said. “You look at it and it’s kind of a bunch of misfits. But for whatever reason, they get it done in their own unique way.”

This state tournament opens for Woodland with a first-round match against North Kitsap at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Martin’s University.

This one is special for Nesbitt. Not only because it’s his last, but because he gets to coach his daughter one final time.

Elle Nesbitt, the younger of two daughters, is a senior setter and team captain. What has she learned most from her father?

“Don’t be selfish and (don’t) only celebrate for yourself,” she said. “Celebrate everybody’s ups and downs, and try to pull them out if they’re in a hole. … Pretty much everything I learn on the court can translate to off the court.”

Lessons can be a two-way street. When asked what he has learned from his players, Nesbitt pondered how he has changed over the years.

“Probably when I started out coaching, I was a little bit on the arrogant side,” he said. “The way I’ve probably changed the most is that humility. If you’ve been in it long enough, everyone is going to beat you. You’ve got to have a sense of humility because you’re going to have those years.”

And Nesbitt’s players would love nothing more than to send their coach out with another trophy at the state tournament.

“That would be awesome,” Wheeler said. “It would be the cherry on top of this year and his career.”

Here’s a look at other local volleyball heading to state this weekend:

La Center

La Center volleyball is a generational affair for the Wildcats.

Head coach Cymany O’Brien led La Center to the 1994 state title. Among her players are daughters of former teammates and friends.

This year, La Center (16-2) captured its first Trico League and district championship. Abby England was the league’s defensive MVP while Paige Rice, Maddie Stimmel and Laynie Erickson all earned first-team honors.

The Wildcats, ranked No. 6 in the state coaches poll, open play at the 1A tournament in Yakima on Friday against South Whidbey at 8 a.m.

Ridgefield

The 2A state tournament is a familiar setting for the Spudders, which graduated just one player from last year’s third-place team.

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Ridgefield (21-2) enters the tournament ranked No. 3 in the coaches poll. The Spudders pushed top-ranked Tumwater to a fifth set in the district championship match last weekend.

Sarena Bartley, Maddie Harter and Bella Gamma all earned first-team all-league honors for Ridgefield, which opens play Friday in Lacey against Bellingham at 1 p.m.

Prairie

Led by league MVP Zoe McBride, Prairie (18-5) did not drop a set during the 3A Greater St. Helens League season.

But after losing in the district quarterfinals, the Falcons won three straight loser-out matches to earn the last of five berths to state.

Prairie won’t be out of its element at the state tournament, which the Falcons have reached six of the last seven years. Prairie opens play against Lakeside of Seattle at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Kennewick.

Prairie has just three seniors — Tessa Doerfler, Hannah Nienaber and Megan Hess all earned first-team all-league honors.

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