The girls from Valier High School in Valier, Montana, decided to make the most of the newly introduced Bigger Faster Stronger program. The result? The school’s first bid to the Montana State Class C
By Ryan S. Goff
Published: Winter 2001
After attending a coaching clinic two years ago, third-year volleyball coach, Gail Hofstad, decided that the BFS program was just what her small, rural volleyball team needed to get them to the next level. A representative from BFS showcased two key facts to Hofstad: “He said that this was a program that you would see results within a short time and that you didn’t need a huge fancy weight room,” something we are lacking.
What the Lady Panthers weren’t missing, however, was a solid team base. Returning with four of their six starters from the previous year’s team, Valier wasn’t without leadership, but instead, had to sculpt their existing talent to the level that would carry them to state.
“BFS made sense for our team. It seemed that it would help us improve our strength,” said all-state hitter Colleen Brophy after being introduced to the program. Though the program began two years ago, it wasn’t fully implemented into Valier’s volleyball practices until last season.
Coach Hofstad began by splitting the practices between the varsity and junior varsity. “By separating, the coaches could spend more time with individual players, which helped both lifting and conditioning,” says Hofstad.
2000-2001 was a high point for Valier with a season that saw them finish undefeated within their conference. They also swept through their conference tournament, and posted a mark of five straight wins at one point in the post-season. Not only did Valier win matches, but they also earned those victories in a dominating fashion by prevailing in straight sets in two-thirds of their regular season games. Individually, Brophy and another Valier starter, Erica Diede, were selected to play in an invitation-only tournament in Australia this summer. The effects of BFS expanded into the girls’ other sports too, as Brophy and Diede set school records on the Valier track team.
Valier’s success was not only evident on the court, but in the classroom as well. All six starters maintained at least a 3.5 grade-point average during the 2000-2001 season, making them Academic All-State selections for Montana. Brophy, a graduated senior who will be attending Gonzaga University this fall (and may play volleyball there in the future), was the Class of 2001 Valedictorian.
“I think academics should always go first because they are the qualifying standard that allows you to play sports,” says Jennifer Henneman, a defensive specialist with a 3.89 GPA. “Athletics allows you to enhance you mentality.”
The importance of the team’s mentality expanded past the classroom, into the BFS program, where the girls needed the right attitude to make the training a success. The program was also expanded into the curriculum when the school offered it as a class available to all of the student body this year. The course, coincidentally taught by Hofstad, allowed the students to lift up to three times a week. That benefited the entire athletic program, as students geared their auxiliary lifts to their sports, no matter what gender, sport, or skill level they were at. “I think it was successful because you only have to be told how to lift once. It’s the same program, the only different things are their auxiliary lifts,” says Hofstad. “Football, basketball, boys, girls, all can lift using the same program.”
The setting for the BFS program’s successfulness is unique as well, since Valier High School is such a small, struggling town. The community of approximately 650 people yields a high school population of about 92 students. Coaches that cannot be found within the teaching staff are recruited from other areas. The boys’ basketball staff is made up of the school’s custodian and a local rancher, while the school superintendent manages the cross-country team. Finding coaches for most sports can be difficult enough with a limited school budget, so Class C schools in Montana rarely are able to hire the strength and weight training specialists that bigger schools may have.
“You have to get all the coaches and players and community to buy into it. Maybe then the other coaches will see how you can get results,” commented Hofstad on the challenges of operating a new program in a small district.
When one begins to think that the challenges have been overcome, they can return very quickly. As the new season approaches, Valier must begin to work on accomplishing a new goal - getting back to the State C Tournament. That could be harder than it sounds, as Valier will once again lose two starters, only this time the loss may be even more detrimental to the squad.
Along with Brophy, the team’s most-valuable-player last season, the Lady Panthers said goodbye to their three-year starting setter Hayley Powers. Their one-two combination was a wonderful asset to the team, and Hofstad will have the complicated task of working to adequately replace them by making her team more defensively minded. “This team has a goal to make it back to the state tournament,” says the coach, “To do that, we will have to be a lot quicker, and be a scrappier team instead of a power team. BFS’ dot drill helps with that.”
No matter what the future holds for this team, they have experienced the sweet success that comes with working to be better, faster, and stronger. Nothing can overshadow the accomplishments last season’s team made; those will live forever. Instead it’s the Valier Volleyball Team’s mission to justify those achievements by using their determination to work even harder next season.