MAPLE PARK – The last time Cyndi Violett was Kaneland girls volleyball’s head coach, neither the libero position nor rally scoring were in place in Illinois high school volleyball.
Violett was quite a bit different, too. Having taken over for Kerri McCastland just days before the start of preseason practice earlier this month, Violett said she’s “probably a lot more mature” than when she coached the Knights in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“After having kids and being a mom, I think I’m probably stricter,” Violett said. “Have fun when we need to have fun, but I’m also very disciplined and strict.”
The players, Violett mused, might even take that assessment a little further.
“They might call it militant,” Violett said. “I wasn’t as militant the first time. I was somewhat disciplined but it would be more like ‘Oh, we can waste 10, 15 minutes here and there,’ and I realized we can get this done in two hours. We can have practice in two hours and get through what I want to get through.”
Violett’s sense of urgency is understandable, especially with as little time as she had to gear up for taking the program’s reins. Violett learned in late July that it was a possibility that McCastland – who recently accepted a dean’s position at DeKalb – might not return for a second season. It wasn’t until the IHSA dead period leading up to preseason practice in early August that Violett knew she was next in line.
Even after Violett ended her first tenure as head coach – saying the arrival of her third child and work on a master’s degree necessitated a breather – she maintained ties to the program, working at the official scorer’s table. Then, former Knights coach Todd Weimer asked if she’d be willing to jump back in as an assistant coach, and she spent the past four seasons coaching under Weimer, then McCastland.
That continuity helped smooth the Knights’ late coaching transition, said senior middle blocker Riley Hannula.
“Right when we first found out we were a bit shocked because we were so close to [McCastland], and then we learned [the new coach] was Violett, and that made it a little bit easier because we were close with Violett, too,” Hannula said.
Violett considers it a good season to be back in charge, saying the team has terrific leadership that includes seniors Ellie Dunn, Anna Senese and Hannula.
Dunn, a Ball State recruit, is one of the conference’s most potent hitters.
“I don’t want her leaving here thinking ‘I wish we would have done this,’ “ Violett said. “And that takes a team, so it’s not just Ellie, but Ellie’s going to be part of a team to lead us where we can go.”
The Knights can go all the way, the way Violett sees it. At least that’s the goal she’s setting.
“Go [to state] or nothing is my feeling, so that’s the big picture,” Violett said. “But along that way we have to be in the running for conference, and obviously Sycamore and DeKalb are going to be our tough matches there, I feel.”
In addition to her senior captains, Violett expects junior hitter Sami Burgin, setters Holly Fedderly and Hannah Nauert and defensive linchpins Brittany Grider and Kathy Nguyen to play major roles.
As the Knights prepare for their season-opening tournament at Wheaton North next week, Violett said most aspects of being a head coach are coming back naturally, fundraising duties notwithstanding.
Violett reclaiming her old post wasn’t a surprise to everybody.
“Life happens, and you’re meant to step up when you need to step up,” Violett said. “I really felt like I’m ready for this and I’m excited about it, so long talk with the family, and they’re excited for me. My husband always said ‘You’re going to go back, I know you will. You can’t stay away from it.’ So here I am.”