There's certainly going to be plenty of anxiety and excitement surrounding the Wildcats volleyball team as they prepare for next week's venture to Cedar Rapids and the state volleyball tournament, but Schaller-Crestland fans are sure to be resting easy with head coach Marilyn Murra at the helm.
In her 32 years of coaching, all in Schaller, Murra's won over 500 games. Counting this season, she's had six teams qualify for the state tournament including three straight from 1995-1997.
Murra has made the program a perennial contender year in and year out while sending numerous ladies off to play at the collegiate ranks including Iowa State's Jen Malcom who is currently among the nation's leaders in hitting percentage and blocking.
"It has been a great experience for me," said Murra. "I've had some great athletes go through here. Maybe not all as prestigious as Jen, but it's definitely neat to see them doing well. You have to give the girls a lot of credit. They worked hard. Everyone has their own agenda after they graduate. Some go on and play, and others don't. I do know that they have a lot of fun in their intramurals though."
In her tenure at Schaller, Murra has seen her share of changes both with the school and the sport as they progressed and evolved.
When I started it was just Schaller," she said. "We didn't come together until 1987. We were pretty little at the end of the Schaller era, maybe 13 or 14 kids. In the volleyball sense, the whole game has changed from the beginning until now. There's different scoring, different rulings on hits, and quicker offenses. The sport has changed a lot, which has really improved the game."
The Wildcats have been a very exciting team to watch this year as their powerful offense and all-out defense means there's rarely a dull moment when they're on the court. When asked what made this team so special, Murra's response was immediate.
"They're a team," she stated. "They play extremely well together. They don't care who gets what, they just play as a group. They have a great time together. That team concept, it even goes beyond normal. They're a very tight-knit group."
Murra also mentioned that facing such quality area opponents like the Altas, East Sacs, and Southern Cals is a tremendous aid in gearing up for the caliber of play in Cedar Rapids.
"It definitely helps," said Murra. "Anytime you can play kids equal to your ability or higher, it pushes you to work even harder and become more focused."
This year's team also has a unique make up in that they are receiving large contributions from all of the classes which Murra attributes to the team's senior leadership as well as the girls' natural talent.
"It's a combination of both really," said Murra of the younger players' progression this season. "They just really mesh well together as a team."
Coach Murra has also had the unique experience of coaching her own daughter as Katie rounds out her career with Schaller-Crestland.
"It's been interesting," Murra laughed. "She's improved a lot. It's like anything else. You have your ups and your downs. You work through those things, but take Tuesday night's win. It's been exciting sharing things like that. It's been fun."
As next Thursday's match with AGWSR approaches, Murra is still taken aback by the experience and excitement of it all.
"Heading to state, anything is possible," she said. "If you can believe it, you can achieve it. You work so hard to get to this point, and it's like wow. The girls are very excited. We all are. It's hard to fathom that it actually happened."