Coach of the Year

Lean Slayton, Liberty

Having a plethora of talented players returning can be a wonderful thing for a coach — but it also comes with sometimes unwelcome visitors, like pressure and attention.

Because Liberty’s Lean Slayton was able to take a group of returners and mold them into the champion of the section’s most difficult league and to the brink of a section title, she’s The Californian’s Volleyball Coach of the Year.

“We came into the season with four, maybe even five or six, Division I (college) players, and we knew the biggest challenge would be creating a unit,” Slayton said. “The team goals needed to be higher than the individual ones, and they did a great job, which speaks volumes about them.”

Haylee Roberts and Tyler Herring supplied the thunder inside and Nikki Leonard on the outside. Kiki Robinson and Taylor Harris took turns setting each other up for big kills. Maddie Hubbell and Halle Harker were defensive maestros in the back row.

And Slayton coordinated all of it, right up until a painful blown lead in the section championship game against Clovis West.

But Slayton said that doesn’t take away from what the Patriots accomplished.

“We mourned the loss, but our awards banquet was so positive,” she said. “When you lose a match like that, you have to re-evaluate why you do what you do. For me as a coach, it reminded me that I do it because I love the kids, I love the game and I love the pressure. The championships are just icing on the cake.”

— Zach Ewing