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The John Cooper School made a huge statement with the hiring of their new volleyball coach.
Enter Courtney Eckenrode, who won a UIL State Title as the leader and setter of The Woodlands High School before having a stellar career at the University of Missouri. Most recently, she has been the Director of Volleyball for Houston Skyline.
“The qualities Courtney displayed in both her playing and coaching career align with the mission and vision of The John Cooper School. Her familiarity and knowledge of our community is a huge asset and will assist in the transition to Cooper,” John Hoye, Cooper athletic director said.
“We immediately sensed Coach Eckenrode’s passion for coaching volleyball and teaching. Her leadership, respect and relationships within the volleyball community were the exact qualities we were seeking for our program and players.”
"Off the court, my goal is to teach the girls the value of hard work and the importance of building genuine relationships. There are so many aspects of sports that can transition into their next chapter, and I hope to teach my players how to be good teammates and leaders that will set them up for success in whatever they choose to do after graduation," coach Eckenrode told VYPE.
"The dedication to excellence at John Cooper was so evident to me throughout the entire process. It wasn't just something that was spoken about, the actions and the intentionality behind them proved to me that this was a culture I wanted to be in. The tremendous amount of support within the athletic department has been a huge blessing and the team culture instantly had me hooked.
I am looking to instill a lasting culture within the volleyball program of responsible young women that chase excellence in all that they do, day in and day out. I want to lead them to be hungry for an SPC championship and teach them what it takes to achieve those goals. I hope that when seniors leave the program, they leave with lifelong relationships that they will cherish for the rest of their lives," Eckenrode finished.
While at The Woodlands, she directed the Highlanders to a 45-0 record and State Title in 2013. She was named the Texas Gatorade Player of the Year and the USA Today and MaxPreps Player of the Year.
“Courtney was one of those players who always gave 100-percent, had a great attitude and was a great leader,” former Woodlands High School coach Leslie Madison said. “I have no doubt she will be the exact same as a head coach. I am excited for the players who will get to have her as a role model and I look forward to supporting her and her team.”
HOUSTON - When Episcopal Athletic Director Jason Grove sat down with Amanda Watts to talk about who her successor could be as she was set to leave at year's end, they both grabbed a piece of paper.
Grove and Watts both wrote down the name of their top choice to take over the Episcopal volleyball program for the 2022 season and beyond. When they flipped their papers over the name matched - Cydryce McMillian.
On Friday, McMillian was officially announced as the new Episcopal head volleyball coach following a successful tenure at St. Agnes Academy where she led the Tigers to a pair of TAPPS 6A State Championships in the past three seasons.
"I'm at a point of my career where I have done so much in the volleyball community and I'm so thankful for the schools and places that I have been that have allowed me to grow as a coach and be able to mentor so many coaches underneath me," McMillian said. "I continue to love the game of volleyball because it teaches kids and staff how to live life and that's one of my passions. Professionally, I want to do more in administration and leadership. I just really felt after having conversations with key people on the Episcopal campus that I might find more opportunities to step into some leadership roles on the administrative side.
"It became very intriguing from that standpoint."
After knowing they wanted to pursue McMillian, a series of meetings would happen through January.
McMillian recalls meeting Grove for the first time to discuss the job at a Starbucks, then later went on campus and toured it with Watts to "get a vision of what the school really was".
"I began to envision what it would look like for me at [Episcopal]," McMillian said. "What it would look like for my kids to go there. So, I dove in and began to ask more questions of people in the community about the school ... I wanted to make sure I had an eye-opening view of what Episcopal had to offer."
McMillian takes over for Watts, who has spent the last 10 years at Episcopal building the volleyball program back into an SPC power like it was in the late 90s. The Knights won two SPC titles (2017, 2019) under Watts.
To have Watts hand pick her as her top choice to step into her role, McMillian said meant a lot to her.
"I love and adore Amanda and it is quite an honor to be a No. 1 choice for her," she said. "When you've been a part of a program for 10 years, it's really special to you and you want to be really mindful of who you pass that off to. So, I was extremely touched by the fact that she looked to me to be the person to take it over."
Watts said of McMillian: "I know how she is as a parent; I know how she is as an educator and a coach, and I just thought she'd be perfect for this program and great for Episcopal in general. Thankfully, it worked out and I'm so excited to have her taking over this program."
As McMillian takes over this program, she takes over a group that will return a lot of key pieces in 2022. Some of those include the likes of Allyson Frailey, Ava Harrington, Farah Farooq and Emma Poirot.
"I'm excited to get in there and rebuild the program in a sense in that there's a lot of things I can take from what she did but, of course, adding my own little twist to it," McMillian said. "I'm very excited. I like to be challenged and I'm a fast learner. I like to get into different cultures and communities and sit back and observe and figure out how I can make things better or do things differently that might light a fire in some ways and become contagious."
McMillian has been coaching volleyball since 2006 and has over 400 career wins and three state titles to her name.
In her coaching career, McMillian has made stops at St. Agnes Academy, St. Francis Episcopal, Cibola High School (New Mexico), Crowley, A&M Consolidated, Texas State University and Indiana University.
Outside of winning her two titles at St. Agnes Academy, McMillian's other state championship in her career came in her first year at Cibola High in 2014, which ended a 33-year drought.
This past season, McMillian was faced with another challenge off the court as in August she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Throughout the year every three weeks she would have to receive a chemotherapy treatment but didn't miss a beat.
Last week, McMillian underwent surgery to remove tumors and is feeling "healthy and strong".
"I had good results from it," McMillian said. "God has been really walking alongside me through this whole journey. It has been a blessing to live life to the fullest and be able to do the things I want to do to keep me sound mentally and physically."