It’s not so much about the wins, says Astoria’s new varsity volleyball coach — although he’s had his share of victories. It’s more about the memories, the legacy and paying it forward.
Jeff Curtis is now into the third week of his first season as the head coach for the Lady Fishermen.
It was a bit of a rough start with three straight losses, but Astoria scored its first win for Curtis Thursday against St. Helens.
His wife, Sherri, is an Astoria High School graduate — Class of 1982. The couple, along with 12-year-old daughter Nevaeh, reside in Warrenton.
Curtis grew up on the north side of the Columbia River, attending Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle, where he was part of a state championship cross-country team.
He ran cross-country in college, but eventually returned to one of his first loves, volleyball.
“I started playing volleyball when I was 10,” said Curtis, now 53. “I don’t play like I used to. But for me, I love volleyball. I still breathe the game, the fire and the passion to play. That’s contributed to the success of the programs I’ve been involved with.”
In all, Curtis coached for 12 years at three different high schools in Washington state — Eastside Catholic in Sammamish, Archbishop Murphy located south of Everett and Juanita High School in Kirkland.
“It’s been a great experience across the board,” he said. “I took two teams to within three points of a state championship at two different schools (Eastside Catholic, Archbishop Murphy). I’ve been very blessed over the years.”
Success is a relative term, he said. It’s not always the wins and losses, and school size doesn’t mean much to Curtis.
“The whole thing about ‘classification’ … over my career as a high school coach, I have seen schools that have upwards of 2,500 students and powerhouse volleyball programs get taken down by teams from little towns with no more than 600 people.
“It has nothing to do with geographic location. It’s just the ability for someone to believe in a team and give them an opportunity to succeed,” he said.
“To me, volleyball has always been a sport where if you’re a good athlete and you have a comprehensive understanding of the sport, along with movement and hand-eye coordination, we’ll find a place for you.”
In general, Astoria High School girls’ sports is entering what could be a “Golden Age” of Lady Fishermen.
Astoria could be the big favorite to win a state title this winter in 4A girls basketball, and Lady Fish softball could easily find itself playing for the state championship next spring.
Curtis has told his players, “You are part of a budding movement here at the high school. The basketball and softball players, the multisport athletes — they’ve had success in those areas, so the next thing is, you can bring that to the volleyball court. And hopefully we become part of that lasting legacy of female sports here at Astoria High School.”
As for volleyball, “I want to help them understand the game. Get on the court, believe in each other and enjoy the ride. The big thing is that they’re student-athletes in high school, where some of the most foundational memories of your life are generated.
“They may not remember the scores, but you may remember that bus ride to Tillamook when you played a great match. You’re building lasting memories that will be with you forever. I’ve tried to instill that in the kids — it’s the memories that bind them together.”
Astoria’s team, “talent-wise, we have kids who are really strong players,” Curtis said. “They have a great positive mental attitude. One of the things in my programs, is to ‘pay it forward.’ So the upperclassmen, who make up the majority of the varsity team, they understand they’re here to build a lasting legacy,” so the young players “will turn around to the next kids and keep building upon the legacy.”
Curtis’s assistant volleyball coaches this season are Chloee Hunt and Dawn Jackson.
“Chloee is fantastic,” Curtis said. “She’s a fixture at the school. Chloee was actually one of the first people that I reached out to. She was an (Evergreen) Geoduck. I know all about her career in volleyball and basketball there. Chloee is a remarkable individual, and she’s got a lot of fire in her. I’m very blessed to have coaches here who are stalwarts of the community.”