No Regrets for Amber Warners As She Accepts AVCA Division III National Coach of the Year Award
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
By Sports Information Student Assistant Andrew Knot
Before their National Championship game, Coach Amber Warners told her team: “Trust me when I tell you, you don’t want to have any regrets.”
She didn’t say have to say any more.
“That gave us a glimpse into her mind. She had never mentioned it before,” said junior All-American Rebecca Kamp.
The understood “it” between Coach Warners and her team goes back to 1986 Knights, who recorded what was previously the best of any Calvin volleyball team.
Similar to this year’s team, the Knights offense utilized a freshman setter. This season, it was Megan Rietema. In 1986, it was Amber Warners.
That year, on November 22nd, the Calvin Volleyball team squared off against the University of California at San Diego. Calvin hosted that match, and 3,800 fans showed up in the old Calvin Fieldhouse. After taking an early 2-1 lead, Calvin fell in five sets, leaving the Knights with an outstanding second place finish, but forcing them to wonder what might have been.
“Playing in front of the home crowd was great, but losing the way we did made it very bittersweet,” Warners commented.
Warners, who also lost a championship game while coaching Holland Christian High School, confesses that she still thinks about the 1986 loss weekly.
“There’s always been the question in the back of my mind, ‘Am I capable of bringing a team to the top?’” she said.
Exactly twenty four years later, again on November 22, those thoughts once again took center stage. Calvin took the floor with the number-one ranked Emory College Eagles, whose arsenal of weapons included 2010 Division III National Player of the Year Amelia McCall.
“In the first set I thought, ‘This match is going to feel like it will last five hours’” said Warners, who added that she knew the result was one she “was going to have to live with.”
At first, the outcome seemed destined to go Calvin’s way. The Knights rolled in the first two sets, hitting a sizzling .609 in the first and taking 11 of the final 17 points to win the second.
Even Coach Warners called the start, “beyond my expectations.”
Down two sets to none with the championship on the line, the Eagles play began to reflect their #1 ranking. Emory stormed back to take the third set 25-19. Calvin had a 2-1 lead but lacked momentum.
Suddenly, things were looking a lot like 1986 for Coach Warners.
“We knew that Emory was too good of a team not to come back,” said Warners.
Still, doubt managed to creep into her mind. And, contrary to her coaching philosophy, she feared the worst.
“I always tell my team not to do think about outcomes, but there was a point in the final match where I thought, ‘What if we lose in five sets?’” she admitted.
Her players wouldn’t allow that to happen.
“I remember thinking about the Juniata game,” said Kamp, referring to the National Semi-Final, in which the Knights came back from a 2-0 deficit to stun Juniata. “We weren’t going to let that happen to us,” Kamp continued.
The Knights rallied to win the fourth set 25-23, the final two points coming on dump shots from all-tournament selection and Division III National Freshman of the Year Megan Rietema. The victory gave
Calvin their first national championship in volleyball, the ninth overall title in school history. (Amber Warners with Son Tanner)
After the match, Warners couldn’t say enough about the determination of her team. “Our players just fought for every point. I’m so proud of them.”
Many of Warners’ peers expressed their pride in her. Warners, who remains in contact with several members of the 1986 team, has received several phone calls and e-mails of congratulations from them, including her former coach, Karla Wolters.
For Warners, the title was confirmation. Her post-game comments tell it all.
“I just kept saying, ‘We did it!’ I think I said that ten times,” she said.
While recollections from 1986 may linger in her mind, the personal questions of her capabilities no longer do.
“It was very rewarding. As a coach, you dream about this,” she said. “The whole experience was very validating.”
For her efforts, Warners was awarded the 2010 AVCA Division III National Coach of the Year.
“I’m honored and grateful to my team. Their head-nods and eye contact mean more to me than anything else,” said Warners. For the team, the tournament was a chance to showcase not only their title, but also their gratitude for their coach.
“She’s such a great motivator for us,” said Kamp, who continued, “I play for other people. She’s one of those people. She’s given us the tools and we wanted to show that.”
Show that they did.
And on November 22, 2010 Calvin Knights walked off the court as National Champions, without regret.