A lot about the summer workout program for the L.D. Bell volleyball team will be the same as recent years. A few things will be very, very different.
For the first time in four decades, Vickie Griffin isn’t in charge of the program. The longtime coach decided this year to hang up her whistle. Griffin had overseen the volleyball team since 1977.
In her place steps Jinni Walker, who has served as an assistant with the team for the past three years. Walker admits she had a growing interest in running her own program, but wasn’t ready for “Grif” to retire.
“I’m just super excited and super grateful,” Walker said. “The stress is a good stress. It’s because I want these kids to be successful as much as they can be successful, on the court and off the court.”
Walker, who was a college player at UTA, deliberated over how to move forward with the program. While she certainly wants to put her own stamp on it, she knows there’s a lot of firm tradition from its history of stability.
“What I had to do was step back and really think about anything I wanted to change,” Walker said. “The legacy and tradition that Grif has left, I really don’t want to change any of that. There might be things I add or do differently, but the program and its legacy are strong.”
So Walker put together a fluid five-year plan. Year one doesn’t include a lot of drastic changes. The new coach felt the players who have been under Griffin’s tutelage shouldn’t be forced into a lot of change.
“These are kids that she has really been the face of the program; she’s been the one they want to play for,” Walker said. “I don’t want to change too much, but there are little things here and there that I will be changing.”
One of the most notable as it relates to the summer is a new high school league. Bell will team up with a few other area schools, including Justin Northwest, to compete in July. Walker can’t coach the team, of course, per UIL regulations, but the team itself will have the opportunity to play together in advance of camp, which starts a few weeks before school.
Walker also already installed a few twists to the offseason program, including “mental toughness days” — something she picked up while playing at UTA. Walker admits she hated them as a player, but saw their value.
So despite the major change for the Lady Raiders, things will probably look pretty similar around the program this coming season.
“I have been mentored by Coach Griffin and while we are really different, I will continue to pay homage to her and respect the lessons she taught and the legacy she left,” Walker said. “I think that’s important to the girls and that’s an advantage of having me as opposed to someone else. I think at the end of the day, [the players] are happy that they know me. They know how I roll and they know that Grif and I are really close.”