Ridge mentor Lang back to both worlds - The Explorer: Sports

Ridge mentor Lang back to both worlds

Longtime coach left the boys program; he's back, working to improve

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Posted: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:27 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Although no visible sign hangs over the door of the Ironwood Ridge gymnasium, the boys' volleyball team had an advertisement in mind before the season opened in early April.

"Under old management," said head coach Bill Lang with a chuckle.

Lang, and his return to coaching the boys' team, is the reason for a high level of excitement surrounding this season.

After coaching both the boys' and girls' teams to regional championships during 2004-2005, Lang stepped away from the boys' job.

"It just got to be too much," said Lang, who was also coaching club volleyball at the time. "I was just going, 'I can't keep this up anymore.'"

"I also have two little girls, and I knew I had to learn more about teen-age girls before they got to that age," he laughed.

Whether or not Lang is now prepared for his own family's teen-age experience, he has certainly learned enough about winning games with other people's daughters. In the four years since Lang stepped away from the boys' game, the girls' volleyball team has continued to be a powerhouse, notching consistently high power rankings, and maintaining a constant playoff presence, making two quarterfinal appearances and reaching the semifinals twice.

In contrast, the boys' team went from 29-5 in Lang's final season as head coach to 13-16 last year.

"The (boys') program just kind of flat-lined," said Lang. "That's part of my job now – changing the culture."

Change on and off the court required some modification of the coach himself.

"It was a little bit of a learning curve, I hadn't been around the guys' game for three years," said Lang. "Guys go about it so differently (than girls) – girls have to bond to battle, guys have to battle to bond."

Lack of knowledge regarding regional competition was also an obstacle.

"I wasn't familiar with other teams — with the girls I  knew how to prepare for competition," said Lang.

Luckily for Lang, and the 8-10 Nighthawks, the team is "in a rhythm now," according to the coach.

That rhythm, for Lang, is a direct result of having a system, and goals, in place.

"The super goal is to win a region championship and contend for a state championship," he said.

"We also split the season into training cycles and try to improve every cycle," Lang added. "And we  want to get ready for the future.

"I have eight seniors on my team, I'm their third coach in four years, so we want to send them out in right way," said Lang.  "At the same time, we're looking at the lower levels to change the way things have been done and rebuild."

The top-to-bottom overhaul of the Nighthawks has been facilitated by the excitement and enthusiasm with which the varsity team responded to his re-hiring, said the coach.

"The guys knew a little bit about me, I was still sort of watching over the guys' program and they knew me from the girls, so they were excited," said Lang. "Between myself and (assistant coach Melissa Ohta), we bring a lot of knowledge into the gym, they responded really well and they were eager to learn."

Although the coach is impressed by the improved play of his team, including senior libero Austin Carey, senior setter Sean Ham, senior middle blockers Scott Assante and Zakary Kelly and junior outside hitter Spencer Griffin, "we're not progressing as fast as I'd hoped to be," according to Lang.

As an example, Lang pointed to a 3-1 (25-18, 15-25, 25-19, 25-23) loss to Marana on April 2.

"We lost 90-85 overall and of their 90 points, 60 were generated off our errors," said Lang. "Volleyball is unique – if you make a mistake, the other team gets a point."

Despite the "disappointing" loss to Marana, and the 8-10 start, Lang believes that, entering the second half of regional competition, the Nighthawks will "hopefully be one of the top teams by the end of the season."

That will hinge on the players' continued growth in the new system, as well as one more very important point, according to Lang.

"We don't need any more moral victories," said Lang. "We need to go out and score."

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