BISMARCK — Family and togetherness is the basis of Susan Kentner’s years as volleyball coach as Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin.
Now family is the main reason that she announced her retirement from coaching Blue Devils volleyball recently.
“Mostly it was based on my grandchildren,” Kentner said. “I have five of them now ranging from 10 to two and the 10 and eight-year old are in travel baseball and football. The oldest will be in junior high and I don’t want to miss anything they are doing.”
When she started in the fall of 1990, Kentner was a mother to daughter Mica and son Alex, was a sub and was an assistant to the BHRA volleyball and track teams
“My first year as head coach, I inherited a very good senior-oriented team, Kentner said. “I had players like Heather (Winkler) Meidel and Tara Johnson and I have coached their children. We made it to the county championship and regional championship games but did not win.”
After that early success, the next two years were full of struggle as Kentner started to build the program her way.
“The next two years were pretty bleak. I had some great kids, but we gradually started to grow from that,” Kentner said. “A lot of the underclassmen didn’t have experience, so we tried to build that experience and try building the program as far as the fundamentals and a lot of new ideas were coming in. I was attending clinics and talking with college coaches in trying to figure out things and building the culture, That second year, we started doing a reading program and made the team community-oriented.”
By the late 90’s, the Blue Devils started to build and Kentner got a chance to coach her daughter, Mica.
“That was pretty cool and I have to give a lot of credit to my former assistant Nancy Heidrick, who was her junior high coach and to Dan Dry, who was her club coach,” Kentner said. “Coaching your kid has run rampant here since coach (Mark) Dodd coaches his boys and now coach (Gary) Tidwell is coaching his boys and it’s a wonderful thing but it is a problem because you get backlash by the fans, but in all three of our circumstances, our kids showed what they could do and that silenced them.”
Along with coaching Mica, she found it easy to get players to enter and then develop in her program.
“You can’t have a program without student-athletes who buy into what you want to do. I think by that time, I was ensconced as a teacher and head track coach and helping Mike in basketball by the late 90’s. so I had a lot of opportunity to just be a part of those kids’ lives. I saw them in the hallways, talked to them in the classroom and talked to them before and after practice.
“I knew their highs and lows. I knew that I was there for them, It wasn’t just about me being their coach it was about me wanting them to be productive students now and into the future, It was a big part of building the program.”
But Kentner said that it wasn’t all about volleyball that built the relationship between her and the players.
“Probably the best times were them reading at the elementary school and the times we had team gatherings like the Gatorade games and the pool parties before the season at my house or getting ready for pink week or the county ribbons and breakfast that we had. It was those things that helped us build the program.”
Kentenr’s career has included regional and county championships, but she put three instances as some of her best moments
“In the 2002 Regional championship against St. Joseph-Ogden, it wen three sets and we won the last set 15-13,” Kentner said. “We had run out of substitutes and I had to use my tallest player ever, Carissa Drummond, in the back row and we were tied 13-13. She dove and picked up two points to help us get the win and beating St. Joe at St. Joe was huge.”
“In 2009, we had won county three years in a row and we were coming back with a team that some would have been a rebuilding year, but we went out and won a regional.
“And this past season, we won county for the first time in a long time. This group of senior girls was one of the best groups I ever had the privilege of coaching. For them to win county after being knocked off by Oakwood the last few years was a big joy.”
Kentner also talked about the administration helping out as well.
“I was lucky to have the support of the administration and our athletics director Tom Johnson,” Ketner said. “You can’t build a program without that support.”
While she is retiring from volleyball, Kentner will still be girls track coach for the Blue Devils and awaits if the season will start because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I completely understand why it is going on. I think everyone is in the same boat about how the seniors are affected. For those who can’t go to a state basketball tournament to kids that can’t finish out their baseball, softball or track,” Kentner said. “This is one of those exceptional classes of seniors because we have Drew Reisfteck, Avery McConkey, Kaj Stanford, Caleb Lahey, Gaeb Martinez, Sierra Bryant and Emily Meidel. There are just so many in the class and you feel for them.
She will go to volleyball games next fall, but will be rooting for the team and the new coach of the team
“Anna (Rush) Showers is a former player of mine, who graduated in 2008. She was one of my best outside hitters and one of my best blockers,” Kentner said. “She is a standout individual and I look forward to what she is able to do and she’s going to have that Blue Devil loyalty and it will be about the team and I think that it is one of those things that are important.”
With a lot of her players still in the area and building families of their own, Kentner will always be close to her family that she has build for close to 30 years.
“I have former players that have given me thank-you notes and have come up to me to reminiscence and have been at their weddings and baby showers, the important events in their lives,” Kentner said. “I think those things are really important because when they look back at their time playing volleyball, it may be about remembering a championship game. But they can also talk about that time at practice where they had a laugh or all the times playing scavenger hunt at my house, I want them to have those types of memories.
“The championships are wonderful and what defined them was the ethic and having a bond with their team, someone that had their back and how it felt to be part of a family.”