A really good dinner: Steak, potato and a new Torrington High volleyball coach
TORRINGTON - Sometimes you get more than you bargained for at dinner. Ask Torrington High Athletic Director Mike McKenna. A little steak and baked potato, and oh how about a new volleyball coach.
McKenna was scouring the area to replace Christine Gamari, who had resigned in November after seven seasons to devote more time to her family. The response wasn’t exactly overwhelming and as the preseason started Gamari was still handling the duties. Then came dinner.
We’ll let first-year coach Cassandra Drogan take you through the story. But you need to know that Drogan dates Ben McKenna, Mike’s son.
“Ben had been asking other people about coaching and he went to my former coach at Post University,” said Drogan. “He recommended me. Ben hadn’t thought of me. At dinner Mike asked me if I was interested. I said, let’s give it a try.”
Both McKenna’s chuckle at the story now. Who knew the answer to the search was right next to the dinner plate? And all are grateful.
Drogan is a tidy package of impressive with prior playing experience, promise and quiet strength. At the tender age of 22 you just see it all getting better.
She had a fine career at in high school in Dover Plains, N.Y. and was recruited by Post University in Waterbury where she played three seasons starting at setter and moving to the libero position. You wondering about that fourth year? Well, here’s part of the quiet strength department.
“I gave it up when I was hired by the Waterbury Police Department,” said Drogan.
Yep, meet Officer Drogan so don’t be fooled by the youthful looks. She carries a gun and cuffs. She can take you down. Admittedly, however, the Raiders had no idea in the beginning.
“They were shocked when I first walked in,” said Drogan. “They wanted to know if I was another player because I look liked I was 12.”
Drogan also had no fear of stepping into a position that might intimidate other people. After all, following in the footsteps of a legend could be somewhat unnerving. And Christine Gamari is as good as it gets.
One of the Raiders all-time great athletes in three different sports, Gamari needed to do nothing else after high school to stamp in her place in the pantheon of Torrington’s legends showcase. But for the fiery Gamari, there was and is more to do.
So she took on the THS volleyball program. In seven seasons she posted a 123-39 mark that included an NVL title and Class M championship final in 2016. Somewhere in the future you get the idea that Gamari will be back coaching something. For now it is family time with two young children.
Drogan was awed but undeterred.
“I didn’t know (Gamari) or anything about the school,” said Drogan. “I just know that I want to make a difference.”
There have been challenges for the young coach. She is not a yeller, a bit of a difference from the passionate voice of Gamari. All part of establishing a relationship with her new team.
“I was reluctant to yell, I’m doing a little more of it now,” says Drogan. “That’s been one of the toughest things for me, how much authority can I give them. I am so close in age to some of them that I wasn’t sure they would talk to me (if I yelled). It’s better now and the separation of friend from coaching is going well.”
On the court it has been a difficult road so far. The Raiders were hit hard by graduation after going 18-2 a year ago and finishing as the NVL runner-up and are currently 3-8. Drogan has called on her college coach, Mike Brienza, and high school coach for advice after being out of the sport for two seasons.
It is a growing experience for both her and her team.
“We’re coming along,” she noted. “I get game chills and am nervous and exited for each match.’
Even the schedule is something to adjust to. Coach Drogan becomes Officer Drogan not long after the matches, working the midnight shift.
“I go home, sleep a couple of hours, go to work and come back here,” she explained. “I don’t get a lot sleep. I get home about 6:30 a.m., sleep to 1 p.m. and eat breakfast on the way here. “
‘Here’ is Torrington High’s Connie Donahue Gymnasium and the Raiders are glad it is her destination bringing a promise for the present and future years. And it all started at the dinner table.