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Waters ready to lead Plano West into 2019 as head coach

By Chuck Licata

For Texas High School volleyball coaches, the first day of practice - Thursday, August 1 - is now less than four weeks away.

At Plano West High School, head volleyball coach Justin Waters has been prepping for the upcoming season. It will be the first time Waters has ever prepared to start a season as the head coach of a varsity volleyball team.

However, it won't be the first time Waters has coached the Plano West varsity squad. In fact, Waters coached the Lady Wolves to their second-ever UIL state tournament berth just eight months ago, the first coming in 2007.

Huh?

Yes, it's a fact – Waters was the head man on the sidelines when the Lady Wolves played on November 16 in the 2018 UIL Class 6A state semifinal. It was a match they would lose to Fort Bend Ridge Point, a top program out of Houston.

Thus, we relay one of the great unknown stories of the 2018 Texas High School volleyball season: Justin Waters didn't start the season as the head coach of Plano West, at least for the first game.

"Coach (Brittany Rodriguez) was in final stages of the interview process to be an arena manager at Ninja Nation training facility in Frisco," Waters revealed recently. "I didn't know what to think when she told me. She really didn't think she'd get the job.

"She then informed me she got the job the Thursday before the first match, which was going to be the following Monday. She broke the news on Friday to both teams and parents. She coached the first match on Monday; I took over the next match on Tuesday."

Hold on, though.

Despite being the obvious replacement for Rodriguez (who tallied an impressive record of 406-171 in 15 seasons at Plano West), Waters explained that the job wasn't automatically his.

"You never know in these situations," Waters admitted. "I didn't know what was going on in the background – they seemed to be taking their time (to name a replacement). On Monday they called me in, asking if I knew anyone who would be interested in the position, I told them I'd ask around. It would be tough considering the season had just started, I told them I'd be interested in doing it. They told me next day I would be given the opportunity to coach. The next night I coached the Varsity and the JV teams against Hebron.

"They gave me a very formal interview, took me back a little bit. At that point It wasn't at all a given I'd get the job."

Much to Waters' delight – and, as it turned out, much to the luck of the program – Waters was officially named the head coach for the remainder of the 2018-2019 season shortly after. He got some immediate help; Brian Fitzgerald, who was part of the program when the Lady Wolves went to state in 2007, was brought in and took over as assistant coach and head coach of the JV squad.

With those hurdles cleared, Waters – who quickly learned about all the work on the "administrative" side of being a head coach – now just had to get on the same page as his varsity squad.

"The girls were a little unsure of the change at first," Waters recalled. "I was not as familiar with the varsity squad, outside of some of the players that had played JV. In fact, some of the returning varsity players weren't from our junior varsity.

"They seemed to buy in and give me some credibility early; we had two non-district tournament wins (the Allen and ASC/TAV tourneys) and a runner-up finish in a third tournament (the Lone Star Circle of Champions). That early success helped them buy into what we did."

Iman Ndiaye, a 6-foot-2 star senior hitter for the Lady Wolves, was complementary about Waters, who has coached eight years at the club level, including three with Skyline Volleyball Club and the last five with Excel Volleyball Club.

"Coach Waters taking over had a big impact on the team," Ndiaye declared. "He was such a positive influence on us; the players worked together well and our (team) chemistry improved as the season moved on. We enjoyed playing for him last year."

Waters led the Lady Wolves to a second-place finish in District 9-6A (Plano West beat McKinney in a second-place tiebreaker). They won three playoff games before shocking the Texas volleyball world in the Region II tournament, defeating higher seeded The Woodlands and Prosper, each in four sets, to earn the program's second berth at the UIL state tournament.

Overall, Plano West finished with a 37-10 record. Waters was named the permanent head coach on January 11.

On Aug. 1, when Waters will hold practice for the 2019 Lady Wolves, he won't be looking over his shoulder and wondering about his job.

Instead, he'll be able to look straight ahead – and concerning himself with getting his Plano West squad back to Garland and the 6A state tournament.