One of state's best, heads to the hills
Not many Texas high school volleyball coaches take a team to the brink of a state championship one year, then take a job with another team half-way across the state the next year.
However, former Ridge Point head coach Lori McLaughlin – who guided the Panthers to the UIL Class 6A state championship match last November – couldn't resist the "call" of the Austin-area Hill Country. Thus, McLaughlin enters this coming season as the head coach of the Cedar Park Lady Timberwolves.
"My husband and I were looking at the Austin-area hill country area for retirement; we just didn't think it was going to happen so soon!" exclaimed McLaughlin, who comes to Cedar Park with her husband Mike and two sons, Chase (16) and Cole (14). "Our whole family is grateful and thankful for the opportunity.
"I don't plan on moving anywhere. I'm here- we're here - for the long term. I'm a loyal person and this is a great opportunity."
Amazingly, this great opportunity came while McLaughlin and the Panthers were competing last November at the UIL state tournament in Garland.
"I got word that it (the Cedar Park job) was open while we were at state," McLaughlin revealed. "However, I had to let that go and focus on state with my girls. Our job was to win the state title and we just missed."
Ridge Point played eventual champion Flower Mound in what most would call an "instant classic." The Panthers took the first set (26-24) before losing the next three by very close scores (25-21, 26-24 and 25-22).
Afterward, McLaughlin – who started her coaching career with Katy Junior High in 1999 – didn't have time to rest.
"After state, things happened quickly," stated the Oklahoma City native who is the daughter of Rick and Rena Jones (both deceased). "After Thanksgiving I contacted Cedar Park High School (CPHS). They contacted me early in the week to come in the Friday after Thanksgiving. I was told they would let me know something the following week regardless of the outcome.
"The following week - which is when I had already planned a trip to the AVCA Clinic and National Tournament - (CPHS Athletic Director) Carl Abseck called me and made the offer. The school board approved the contract on Friday, and the following week my family visited Cedar Park."
McLaughlin, who had just finished her sixth year at Ridge Point after five years as head coach at Pearland Dawson and six years before that at Mayde Creek, wasn't looking forward to talking to her Panthers about the move. But the ever-intruding world of Social Media reared its ugly head and made things harder for McLaughlin.
"Right after it was official that I got the job, the word spread on Cedar Park High School social media immediately," she recalled. "After attending the clinic and taking my family to Cedar Park on that Monday, I spoke to the Ridge Point freshmen on Tuesday, then the JV and Varsity on Wednesday. But, they all knew (about the CP job) already; some of them were upset because they saw it or heard it from social media first."
McLaughlin is very thankful to Fort Bend ISD for an early release from her duties.
"Their former coach (Rachel Altman) started in January, as did Kori Cooper (who took the Lady Timberwolves to the state title match in 2016)," stated McLaughlin, whose career coaching record stands at 373-295. "Thus, I got to start in January and go through the offseason."
Even though it was barely a six-week turnaround from Garland to Cedar Park, McLaughlin was thrilled at how "smooth" the transition went.
"I felt like I blended in well and fast with my new Lady Timberwolves' family," confirmed McLaughlin. "I had that feeling when I first came to the school since I chose to come for the day to feel out the culture and environment. Everyone was super kind and helpful with making the transition so smooth.
"It can be very overwhelming as you can imagine relocating your entire family with in a matter of a few months, moving by myself so I could immediately get to work and loving on these girls within a matter of a few weeks after leading my Ridge Point girls to state."
Ever the family person, McLaughlin – and her family – lived in tight quarters and got to know each other really well over a short period during that transition.
"We had a contract on our Houston home on a Friday," McLaughlin said. "A week later we had one here in the area. My boys joined me in late February; we stayed in a long term hotel, we found an amazing house literally in the hills of the hill country, and then my husband joined the boys and I when we were able to complete all our home renovations before we moved in.
"It was a crazy, fast transition and it is hard to still believe that we are here living this amazing life. We are hands down living God's Grace, and it is awesome."
McLaughlin, who will celebrate her 21st wedding anniversary this December with Mike, sees great potential with the Cedar Park volleyball program.
"The program needs some stability in the coaching position," she declared. "This team has had success, so we don't have to start over. Cedar Park has a school-wide tradition of winning and championships; these kids have great drive and desire in everything. They work hard at everything on and off the court.
"The current group plays for each other; they love each other; and I've seen great chemistry on the floor. They're only a couple years removed from playing for a state championship."
Just like McLaughlin's former team. Seems that trips to state are a trend with a McLaughlin-coached team these days.