The Huntsville School District is looking for a new volleyball coach after Cory Holcombe accepted a job at Rogers Heritage last week.
Holcombe said last Thursday that leaving Huntsville – where she played and later coached – was difficult.
“I’m excited, but I hate to go,” she said. I hate to leave Huntsville because it’s done so many good things for me.
“The girls are so very excited about this season ... [Leaving the team] was hard, but it was such a good opportunity for me.”
Telling this year’s Huntsville team she was leaving was rough.
“I had a team meeting with them and told them, ‘you know, I got offered a job. We won’t know the outcome’ ... the [Rogers School] board didn’t meet until June 19. I said ‘it’s not official until then’ so I still practiced with them ... we kind of knew that was going to be the process.”
On June 15-16, Holcombe worked with Lady Eagles at the Madison County Timber Festival, selling drinks and snacks to raise money for the team.
“I went through all sorts of emotions,” she said about leaving. “First it was excitement, but then it was kind of heartbreaking because I didn’t want to leave my kids. The Huntsville kids, I kind of became their family and became close to so many of them because I had been there for a while with junior high.”
Watching the girls mature from junior high players to seasoned veterans made leaving more difficult, she said.
“The ones I taught in junior high are now the ones who are going to be seniors,” she said. “So the senior class this year was really hard to say goodbye to. They were the first group I kind of coached myself, so leaving them is just devastating.”
Athletic Director Tom Tice said Holcombe turned in paperwork last Thursday to resign her job at Huntsville. Tice said he would like to keep coaches longer at Huntsville, but seeing them leave is understandable.
“It’s just part of the business,” he said. “You like to feel she’s going on to a better situation. She lives in Springdale. It’s closer for her and her family.”
Holcombe played under former coach Angie Baker, assisted Baker for two years after college, then replaced her for the 2017 season.
“We hate to lose her. I think she’s a rising star in her profession,” Tice said. “I think she did us an outstanding job, certainly coming after Angie Baker. It wasn’t an easy task, but I thought she handled it with grace and professionalism. I think our program is on a solid foundation. Whoever comes in is not going to have to build a program.”
Holcombe said she feels the Lady Eagles are ready for the 2018 season.
“The girls are definitely ready for it. They just need someone to guide them with the skills of volleyball and let them go to work,” she said.
Holcombe added that moving up to Class 5A will be a challenge for the Lady Eagles.
“The league that Huntsville is in this year is very, very competitive,” she said. Shiloh Christian, Harrison, Berryville and Farmington will be the toughest competition, Holcombe said.
The Lady Eagles made it to the state tournament last season before falling to Baptist Prep. The team finished 17-16-2 overall and 8-2 in conference.
In 2016, Huntsville made it to the state finals before losing to Brookland 3-1.
Heritage last year, in Class 7A, finished 5-24-1 overall and 0-14 in conference.
Tice said the district is taking applications and that he also plans to call associate and head volleyball coaches around the state.
“We’ll call some people that we trust about volleyball coaches, different coaches, different [athletic directors] and see if they have any leads,” he said.
Holcombe said she has told several coaches she knows about the Huntsville opening. Applicants for the job will be interviewed, then a recommendation will be made to the Huntsville School Board, which will meet next on July 16.
“We would like to be able to recommend [a new coach] to the board at that July meeting,” he said. “We’re fortunate we have coach Danny Caughman as our assistant coach ... we’ll continue on with the plans we had for summer.”
Arkansas schools are in what’s termed a “dead period,” where coaches are not allowed to work with players and students. Coaches can work with the athletes once again beginning on July 9, Tice said.
Tice said one of his goals in taking the job at Huntsville was to put volleyball on the same level as the basketball programs. The volleyball program now has participation from varsity to the pee wee level, just like basketball, and he hopes to see that progress continue with Holcombe’s replacement.
“That was one of my goals when I came into this position, was to get those programs mirror images of each other,” he said.“We want somebody who can come in here with a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm and coaching expertise, and take us ... we’d like to get back to that state tournament. Everybody likes a winner.”
Holcombe, a Huntsville High School graduate, said the 2018 Lady Eagles could be a special team.
“Overall, they’re going to be a really strong team this year,” Holcombe said, adding that they could see a return to the tournament. “I’m really excited to see who they [Huntsville] get, because they have a team that can potentially go very far.”
The Lady Eagles will open the 2018 season on Monday, Aug. 20, when it hosts Mountain Home. It will feature seventh-grade, junior high and varsity matches. Huntsville then will host junior varsity and varsity matches against Bentonville West on Aug. 21.