It’s tough to measure success when you are talking about a brand new sports program. What’s the gauge when you have nothing to compare it to? If enthusiasm was used as the meter, however, the newly formed volleyball program at South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) can already be deemed a triumph, and the Clippers have yet to play even a single match.

Meet new head volleyball coach Melanie Miller.

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The SPSCC volleyball team includes (from left) Stephanie Washington, Kiley Schwartz, Lydia Soto, Maddy Reeves, Coach Melanie Miller, Amy Miles, Natalie Patton, Ellie King. Photo courtesy: SPSCC.

A little more than six months after being hired and charged with guiding the Clippers into their inaugural season, Miller has a hard time screening her delight when you ask her about the team’s upcoming first ever practice.

While it certainly looms as a daunting task, Miller is quick to describe it as a “dream job.”

“That was one of the things I was most excited about,” said Miller about the opportunity to create a program from scratch. “It was also one of the things I was most nervous about. These are some huge shoes to fill, but I am enjoying every bit of it so far.”

After playing collegiately at Concordia University in Portland, Miller spent the previous two seasons as an assistant coach at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington, helping the Penguins to a second-place finish at last year’s Northwest Athletic Conference volleyball championships.

“She’s a Pacific Northwest local and knows first-hand that this area produces high-quality volleyball talent,” said SPSCC Director of Athletics Nick Schmidt. “She knows what it takes to compete, recruit and be successful in the NWAC. And she comes from one of the more successful athletic programs in the league and knows what it’s like to be part of a winning culture. As we look to build Clipper Athletics for long-term success, she will play a key role.”

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Lydia Soto is one of three Olympia High School graduates in SPSCC’s in inaugural volleyball class. Photo credit: SPSCC.

With no roster and playing from behind in the recruiting game, Miller hit the ground running in her new gig, signing the first volleyball player in the history of SPSCC, Puyallup High School’s Stephanie Washington, a mere two weeks after accepting the position.

More recruits followed as Miller staked claim to the local talent by adding a trio of Olympia High School players in Kylie Schwartz, Lydia Soto and Maddy Reeves and two Black Hills High School products in Natalie Patton and Ellie King.

“It’s flown by a lot faster than I thought it would, but I am super excited,” Miller said about her first recruiting class. “I feel like we have a group of girls who are going to mesh well together. I tried to recruit as many athletes as possible so I could be more versatile playing girls in multiple positions if I needed to. I feel a lot of the players have played club together so they are familiar with each other. In that sense it’s good because there’s already that gel.”

The Clippers’ initial class topped out at 10 players, a tally Miller was pleased with.

“There was a lot of interest (in playing here). I really didn’t want more than 12 players,” Miller said. “I want to get women playing time. You have to factor in injuries, but at the same time you don’t want four girls riding the bench all the time. I didn’t want to get just anybody and everybody. In the back of my mind I knew I needed numbers, but I think I got a really good group of girls.”

Now that the roster is set, Miller has a better understanding on what her hopes are for the season.

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Olympia High School grad Kiley Schwartz is enthusiastic about SPSCC’s volleyball season.

“My expectation is to compete. I don’t expect coming in to this season to be a losing team. I don’t think this team will be that. I just want to maximize what this group can do and continue to learn and improve every day,” Miller said. “Let’s be honest, this group of girls has a lot of pressure on them coming in. Being a first-year program there’s a lot of eyes on it. But that’s exciting, very exciting. I really hope they are enjoying this opportunity.”

Long term, Miller stated she plans to develop summer camps next year while continuing to grow relationships with the local high schools, but that’s the future as her full focus now is dialed in to the upcoming season.

“Everyone seems to be on board with volleyball. We have lots of ideas on promoting and getting students involved,” said Miller, who will also serve as an Admissions Specialist at the college. “We’re ready to take athletics at SPSCC to the next level and what better way to build that by introducing a new program?”

The Clippers will make their volleyball debut on August 27 at the NWAC Volleyball Showcase in Springfield, Oregon before playing at home for the first time on September 7 against visiting Clark College. Celebrate volleyball at the first league game on September 23.

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