Ringing in 500

Gift from team typifies Schram's approach to coaching

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By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Kandis Schram brushed back a tear as she slipped the gum-ball machine keepsake on her finger.

The Maryville College women’s volleyball coach collected her 500th victory in 21 seasons with a straight-games dismissal of Fisk University Tuesday night. Afterward, the Lady Scots presented their coach with a child’s small gold ring, complete with five garnet stones, to commemorate the moment.

"I’ll wear it always," Schram said.

The sentiment could hardly have been more fitting for the winningest women’s coach the school has ever known. The ring cost junior Stephanie Gibson an afternoon and none too few quarters when she came across it at a nearby convenience store.

"We just got lucky that day," she said.

The ring derives its importance from the relationship Schram has had with her players through the years, Maryville assistant and former Lady Scot Kate Poeppelman said. Maryville has advanced to five NCAA tournaments under Schram, won five Great South Athletic Conference championships, compiling an 80-4 record in league play along the way.

Two seasons ago, NCAA record holder and former Lady Scot Karen Tobias received an invitation-only tryout with the U.S. national team, the only Division III player to be so honored.

Schram, who’ll be inducted onto Maryville’s Wall of Fame on Saturday, cares deeply about each of those things, Poeppelman said. She cares more about her players.

"She means so much to me," Poeppelman said. "She was definitely my mother (as a player). I think she sees volleyball as her job, but taking care of us is more important."

Schram said her beginnings at Maryville were anything but auspicious. A former Lady Scot herself, she didn’t fare well in her debut.

"My first game, I was so nervous," she said. "I was a setter and the ball went through my hands and hit me in the forehead."

When her playing days ended, Schram moved immediately to the coach’s chair, collecting her first win against Bryan College on Sept. 13, 1986, the same Bryan team she’d faced in her first game as a player. In 1993 she had the Lady Scots back in the NCAA tournament, Maryville’s first postseason appearance in more than a decade.

The wins came fast in the 1990s, with milestone wins 200 and 300 falling within the decade. Former Lady Scots Leslie Henry, Dena Godsey and Nikki Boop did much to get the program up and rolling. Schram said she learned much during those years.

"When I look back at my teams 10, 20 years ago, the difference is me," she said. "I wish I could go back and coach them better. I’m more patient now. I can see the big picture."

Former Lady Scots Whitney Black and Angel Daniel primed Maryville for a big move forward in the late 1990s, heralding the arrival of a record-setting quartet dubbed "the Cincinnati Mafia."

Setter Sarah Arlinghaus, outside hitter Jenna Jones, Tobias and Poeppelman, each a native of the Queen City, claimed for Schram 179 of her wins the last six seasons, including a school-record 34-6 mark in 2003. Arlinghaus and Jones, the school’s record holder for kills, would reach the NCAA tournament in three of their four seasons. Tobias would leave the NCAA all-divisions record holder for digs, reaching the Big Dance four times.

The run was unquestionably Schram’s best to date, just not for the reasons many would think, she said. Role players like former Lady Scots

Amanda Brown and Arielle von Boettinger were a big part of why those teams won.

"We went to nationals with Amanda Brown a 5-9 middle blocker," Schram said.

If there’s a player that best typifies what she’s tried to pass on through the years it’s Tobias, Schram said. The national team invitation represented a significant coup. That Tobias would attend the tryout was not a given.

She’d finished her eligibility at Maryville the previous fall. She’d have to train largely alone to prepare. The players she would face would come from the nation’s elite Division I programs.

"Just her being invited and having the guts to do it meant the world to me," Schram said. "She lived the dream. She represented every Division III player in the country."

Schram said she never envisioned being around long enough to coach a player like Tobias when she entered the profession.

"I never thought I’d be coaching 20 years," she said. "It never entered my brain that was a possibility. I had other plans."

Each season brought new players and the challenge teaching a talented group of individuals to compete as one. Godsey gave way to Black, who gave way to Daniel, who gave way to the Arlinghaus/Jones combination, which gave way to Tobias and eventually Poeppelman.

Poeppelman completed her eligibility last fall, handing the reigns junior Jennifer Seivers and sophomore Rachel Skerczak.

Both did the legacy left behind by their predecessors proud in claiming No. 500. Pumping in big hits at every lull, Seivers never let the outcome appear in doubt, setting the pace for Maryville with 12 kills.

"It’s like it’s coming out of a cannon," Maryville fan Brenda Amos said.

Skerczak and freshman phenom Lindsy Little added eight kills each. Sophomore setter Ashley Burnett ran Maryville’s offense to the tune of 37 assists, with fellow sophomore Leah Garrett tacking on seven kills.

Maryville shut down Fisk, 30-11, 30-15, 30-14, with one of this season’s big names, freshman flyer Jenna Thorp, held out to rest an ailing shoulder.

There was little question 500 would happen Tuesday, Little said.

"We wanted to do it tonight because we didn’t play very well last weekend," she said. "We wanted to redeem ourselves."
Maryville fell, 1-3, to Great South rival Piedmont College last week. For Seivers, who was on a recruiting visit three years ago when Schram collected No. 400, it’s not something to be taken lightly.

"When I’m out there in a game or practicing, I think of the players I’m following. They’re the standard I try to live up to."
Skerczak, a 6-foot middle blocker with a ferocious shot down the center, said the Lady Scots never have to look far for reminders of Schram’s success through the years.

"You can tell by how the old players come back and watch us play," she said. "That’s kind of cool because, some day, that’ll be me."

Win No. 500 put this year’s team at 19-9 on the season. A return trip to NCAA tournament after a year’s absence remains possible, but it isn’t going to be easy.

"They’re very talented," Schram said. "They’re just so young."

Twenty-one seasons on the bench has taught her to look ahead, though, she said. Last week’s loss to the Lady Lions was a positive if viewed in the right way.

"I was OK with that," Schram said. "I told them, ‘Every loss, every win, is getting you ready for that last weekend (of the season).’"

Schram begins the journey toward 500 when Maryville hosts Sewanee on Friday at 7 p.m.

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