Marian Catholic’s Ryan Summers’ wishes come trueMarian Catholic girls volleyball coach Ryan Summers sits in the stands with the Class 3A fourth place trophy at Redbird Arena in Normal, IL Saturday, November 12, 2011. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 16, 2011 8:00PM
Ryan Summers didn’t come out of nowhere to coach Marian Catholic to its first trip to state since 2002.
He was a varsity coach at Highland and Gavit high schools there. Most of his experience is on the club side as director for Diamond Elite Volleyball Academy.
But the SouthtownStar/Jenny’s Steakhouse 2011 Girls Volleyball Coach of the Year describes himself in a much more simple term.
“I’m just a volleyball nut,” the Griffith, Ind., resident and Sauk Village native said. “I play all the time. I used to play seven days a week, and if it wasn’t for coaching I’d still play seven days a week. I just kind of love the game and love the sport.”
He certainly gave the Marian Catholic volleyball community a lot to love about the 2011 season, during which the Spartans went 24-18, captured Class 3A regional, sectional and supersectional titles and brought back the state fourth-place trophy from Redbird Arena.
“We had some stumbling blocks, but every time we saw some success we grew,” he said. “Toward the end of the season, I didn’t say anything to the kids, but I thought we had a chance to make a run.”
It was a remarkable one-year turnaround by a program that, once prominent, had pretty much faded from the state volleyball landscape.
Summers, 36, said he was tipped off by some of his club players that the Marian Catholic job had opened up after the 2010 season.
“I knew its reputation as far as being just a fabulous school academically,” he said. “I also knew that a few years back they had a pretty strong volleyball reputation.”
Not a few years. Several years.
From 1995 through 2003, Spartans volleyball thrived under coach Marilyn Akey. Marian won 20 or more matches across nine consecutive seasons, the peak coming in 2002 when the Spartans were 31-10 and a member of the Class AA Elite Eight.
From 2004 through ’10, the varsity failed to post a winning record, including finishing 10-25 last season.
“I like a challenge,” Summers said. “It was kind of like what I had at Highland, a school that didn’t have a club following. I wanted to turn that program and I had some success there (three sectional finalists). So I was really excited about coming to Marian and trying to help return the volleyball to its glory days.
“At our first parent meeting I told them we were going to change some culture and do some things differently, and it would probably be a four- or five-year process before we saw signs of success.”
The process was a lot quicker than anyone could have expected.
The Spartans played competitively, but were sub.-500 at 12-15 on Oct. 13 when a victory over St. Viator ignited a 12-1 run that landed them in the Class 3A Final Four.
“Fortunately for me the girls were extremely receptive and the administration was very supportive, so the four- to five-year process is happening a little faster,” Summers said. “Hopefully, this is the first year of many that we have this much success.”