Those Who Assist also Serve Valuable Roles for THS Volleyball Team. By John Torsiello.
By, JOHN TORSIELO
When a team is successful, and even when it is not, the head coach gets a lot of praise as well as a lot of heat.
But behind any good head coach there are valuable assistants, and the Torrington High School girls’ volleyball team certainly has three excellent assistant mentors to help out head coach Christine Gamari; Maryann Musselman, Pat Strawson (Gamari’s mother) and volunteer coach Kyle Phalen. The three have played key roles in the top-ranked Raiders drive to Saturday’s Class M state championship game against Naugatuck Valley League rival Seymour.
“All three of my assistants do a fantastic job,” said Gamari. “The run the freshmen and junior varsity girls and help with the varsity. They make my job a lot easier. Kyle has been a volunteer for five years, he’s hardly missed a game or practice.”
Assistant coaches do much of the “dirty” work that frees up the head coach to supervise and strategize during practices and games. A wise head coach is always open to input from his or her assistants, who often are as close or closer to the players on a day to day basis than the head coach. While the head coach has the final say in all matters, assistant coaches are counted on to be liaisons between the head coach and players. They are also in charge of nurturing and grooming young athletes who will someday be expected to rise to the varsity, oftentimes during the middle of a season if there is an injury to a varsity player.
“We are all friends,” said Gamari. “Obviously, my mom and I are close, Maryann has been a friend of the family for years, and Kyle and I used to play basketball and volleyball at the YMCA. We go out for dinner after games and the girls treat us like sisters, brothers and parents.”
Phalen’s dedication to the Raider program is notable. He played at Torrington High School when the Raiders had a boys’ volleyball team and then walked on to the Johnson and Wales University men’s team for two years. He is an avid student of the game and works closely with Gamari directing the varsity.
“Kyle can see things and point them out to me,” said Gamari. “He is so knowledgeable and the girls relate well to him. He explains things in a way that they can understand.”
Said Phalen, a design engineer, “It’s always good to have another pair of eyes watching things. I’m fortunate to work with Christine. We are friends and her husband and I still play basketball together once in a while. When she asked me five years ago if I would help her coach how could I say no?”
Asked whether he would like to have his own head coaching job someday, Phalen said with a smile. “That requires a whole other set of priorities and time. Right now I don’t think so, but you never know.”
Pat Strawson teared up a bit when asked how much fun it has been to work with her daughter. “It’s great to be with the team and working with Christine. She is such a dedicated coach, not just teaching the girls about volleyball but about life and about what it means to be a good person and good student. I kind of do the little things behind the scenes, like had out tissues to the girls and go up in the stands during games and thank people for coming out and supporting the team.”
Strawson downplays her main role, which is to work with Musselman on developing the freshmen, or first-year players, and the junior varsity. Strawson coached softball at St. Paul Catholic School and junior varsity volleyball at Torrington High.
“Christine got me out of retirement,” Strawson said with a laugh. “What is great about Christine as a head coach is that she expects us to offer input and comment on things. I think the fact that I’m in the high school as a teacher (math) offers something to the program because I see the kids during the day.”
Musselman was a three-sport athlete at Torrington High, playing softball, volleyball and basketball.
“Christine is the consummate teacher,” said Musselman, who is a physical education instructor at the Torrington Middle School. “To see the way Christine and Kyle work with and improve the varsity players is inspiring. We try and duplicate what they are doing at the junior varsity and first-year levels, so that we can bring the kids along to where they can contribute to the varsity.”
Added Gamari, “Why this works is that we are open and honest with one another. I’m the head coach and I guess I’m sort of like a dictator, although I don’t think I’m as tough as all that. But it is comforting to have mom, Maryann and Kyle around to be in positions to see things that I don’t and bring them to my attention.”
The four coaches are hoping that their special chemistry can work for one more game this season and that they will be hanging a state championship banner in the school’s gymnasium very soon.