It’s a familiar scene.
Laurie Creighton, with a volleyball in her hands, watches and encourages her Olympia Bears volleyball team during another practice. She’s putting her team through a spiking drill.
“That’s better,” Creighton said as a player rises above the net and spikes a shot hard to the floor. “Now you’re getting it.”
When a rally ends, Creighton bounces a ball hard off the court and it rises high above a player. Before the ball hits the floor, that player hits it over the net, beginning another rally. Action is focused and intense.
Judging from Creighton’s enthusiasm, you’d think it’s her first season as the Bears coach. But she’s hardly the rookie coach.
Since 1979, just two years after graduating from Washington State University, back when Jimmy Carter was still president and gasoline was 65 cents a gallon, Creighton has been the varsity volleyball coach at Olympia. For 32 years (33 seasons), this has been where Creighton has spent her fall afternoons – in a gym, putting her volleyball teams through drills or a match.
Creighton picked up her 700th match win in a three-set win against Black Hills in the season opener, putting her among the all-time winningest coaches in the state. In 2008, Creighton was inducted into the state’s hall of fame for coaches. She also received a lifetime achievement award from WSU.
“She’s amazing,” said Katie Turcotte, Creighton’s assistant coach. “She is one of the most phenomenal coaches and human beings that I have had the privilege of knowing.”
Turcotte has now seen Oly Bears volleyball from the perspective of a rival and a coach. Turcotte was an all-league player at Capital, playing against Creighton-coached teams.
“Playing against her as an athlete, I thought she must be hard, tough on her players,” Turcotte said. “Then I come in and see her and coach with her and I see that she is the most caring lady. She wants them to improve. She does everything in her power to make it happen. She’s one of a kind.”
After matches, Creighton often spends a couple of hours breaking down video of the match to show her players. She stays up late putting together practice plans for the next day.
“I don’t know how she does what she does,” said Turcotte, who played collegiately at Walla Walla Community College and UNLV. “The things she does is something I couldn’t fathom doing. She’s amazing.”
But in addition to instructions on hitting a floater serve and blocking a shot at the net, Creighton talks about character. Each week, Creighton focuses on one character trait. At the end of the week, she often has a guest speaker, inviting a parent, teacher or person from the community.
As she likes to tell her players, they’ll be people longer than they’ll be volleyball players.
So, while she likes to win, which she’s done plenty. Olympia won a state title in 1998 and advanced to state 19 times, placing in the top eight 12 times. Her teams have placed second once, third twice, fourth once, fifth once, sixth four times, and both seventh and eighth once.
The Bears have won the Narrows League championship the last three years. With four starters back – Christie Colasurdo, Alex Bassett, Megan Goodman and Michaela Berrendt – the Bears have a shot at repeating. There’s a strong winning tradition for Oly volleyball, which got off to a 3-0 start this season with wins against Black Hills, Timberline and Capital.
Olympia has also been a recruiting magnet – 10 players last year playing volleyball in college.
Yet the winning and her players going on to play volleyball in college isn’t her most satisfying accomplishment.
“Rather, it watching them develop as people,” Creighton said. “I enjoy seeing the kids improve. I enjoy winning championships. But I also like seeing the growth in kids in a personal way, as people with character. Hopefully, that’s a big part of our program.”
Creighton’s first teaching and coaching job out of college was at Washington Middle School in the fall of 1977. She has coached over 6,000 players, helped shape their lives and their volleyball talents. About 10 years ago, she became very intentional in teaching character. In the first three weeks of this season, the character traits Creighton emphasized were commitment, self discipline and confidence. At the beginning of the week, she spends a little time introducing the week’s character theme. On Friday, there will be a wrap-up talk about it.
“The things she does with these girls is pretty phenomenal,” Turcotte said.
Because of a nagging back injury, Creighton, 56, is teaching physical education at the high school part time. She could retire and start drawing on her retirement, but she has no intentions of retiring, as a coach or as a teacher.
“I have some things I still want to offer,” Creighton said. “I’m still enjoying it.”
Ironically, Creighton, a 1973 graduate from Issaquah High School, didn’t get an opportunity to play high school sports. Title IX, which gave girls an opportunity to play sports in school, was passed in 1972 and programs weren’t established at her school.
“My kids don’t know how fortunate they are,” Creighton said. “The opportunities were always there.”
And now that they are, Creighton has made sure her players have gotten the most out of those opportunities.