Sept. 8, 2004 - When he entered the gym at Ironwood Ridge High School to pit his Mountain View girls volleyball squad against the highly favored Nighthawks Sept. 1, his tie was neatly tied tight, his shirt dry as a bone.
In the time it took from the opening serve of the freshman girls match until the final point of the varsity game, the tie had become undone and was now dangling in two equal lengths down the front of his sweat-soaked white button-down shirt.
The tie belonged to Rick Ellis, the new head coach of Mountain View High School's girls volleyball team. To say Ellis brings a new passion of play to the Mountain Lions would be an understatement.
"He's the most energetic coach we've ever had," said senior defensive specialist Lauren Peppe.
If anyone could be called an expert in judging the personalities of coaches it would be Peppe and her Mountain View teammates. In the past four years the girls volleyball team at Mountain View has had double the amount of coaches, four, than the program had wins last season.
After a dismal 2-15 campaign in 2003, a change needed to be made and consistency had to be restored. In stepped Ellis, who first realized the plight of the girls team after asking Peppe to help out with the Mountain View boys team he coached during the spring. Ellis had taken the boys squad and turned them into a 5A region state title qualifier and saw the potential in the girls squad to return the team to the playoff caliber squad it was four years ago.
"If I could do it with the boys team, I thought I could do it with the girls," said Ellis of the challenge in starting over with the girls squad. "I want to build a program; I want to be a powerhouse."
Ellis inherited a girls program where confidence was fragile from promise after broken promise of former coaches.
"We kept having to reprove ourselves every year," said senior Kalyn Washburn. "We learned to become self-motivated."
As a result, the players who have remained on the squad have become closer, said Washburn. Of the 14 players on this year's varsity squad, eight of them are seniors.
Ellis' addictive energy is dwarfed only by his smile and dedication that his players first and foremost have fun on and off the court.
"Have fun, that's the whole season," said Ellis of the team's adopted motto this year. The proverbial "player's coach," Ellis' office has turned into a hangout for his athletes between classes.
After leaving the boys golf team this semester to coach girls volleyball, it took some time before the golfers would not shoot angry looks at him while passing in the hall, said Ellis, jokingly.
With his relationship with the golfers patched up, Ellis said the golfers along with the volleyball players find time to congregate in his room.
"Every morning it's like a big party in my office before class," said Ellis, who believes that being on campus and easily accessible to his players is a key for success.
The success is slowly starting to show on the court. Although the team lost to Ironwood Sept. 1, Catalina the day before and Canyon del Oro Sept. 2, success is beginning to show in "glimpses of greatness," he said.
Despite taking a 0-3 record into the Tucson Unified School District Invitational at Palo Verde High School Sept. 3 and 4, Mountain View was poised to make a name for itself in the 16-team tourney. Dropping its first two matches Sept. 3 to Rincon and Sabino was a prelude to what happened next. Mountain View salvaged the night winning its last game against Cholla to head into the following day's eight-team consolation "Blue Bracket."
Wins over Sunnyside and Cienega not only propelled Mountain View into the championship game of the Blue Bracket against Marana, but also gave Mountain View one more victory than it had all of last season. Unfortunately wins in tournament play do not count toward the regular season record, said Ellis.
Missing three starters for the championship game due to personal prior engagements may have meant the difference against Marana, which swept Mountain View in two games for its fourth straight Blue Bracket Championship. Ellis' Mountain Lions did not go down without a fight, losing 25-20, 25-17. At several points during the match Ellis had to be brought back to the bench by an assistant coach, after jumping up and excessively celebrating with a dance after a Mountain View point.
This time the tie stayed on.