It is easy to say that Christine Nelson is a professional coach. Nelson is the second-year head coach of the Hoquiam High School volleyball program and will add the Grays Harbor College women’s basketball head coaching job this winter. The 1992 graduate of Montesano High School went to Pacific Lutheran University and earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education (1997) and a Master’s in Education from Lesley University (2005). Nelson, 38, moved back to Montesano in 2011 after working five years at Concordia University (Portland, Ore.) as the women’s basketball assistant coach. She taught history and P.E. at Yelm High School for eight years (1998-2006), coaching basketball, volleyball and softball. She also assisted the girls basketball, volleyball and track programs at Bethel High School.
You are one of two coaches at Grays Harbor College pulling double duty as head coaches at Hoquiam High School. When the opportunity came up for the GHC women’s basketball job, what was your motivation and goal for taking the position and how much debate did you have in keeping the HHS volleyball head coaching job at the same time? Also, with your experience coaching at NAIA Concordia University, is the GHC job a natural spot for you to take?
When I saw the position was open I was excited at the prospect of coaching basketball at GHC. It was an opportunity to rebuild a program in the community I grew up in. My goal has always been to be a college head coach. I spent five years as the head assistant at Concordia University in Portland, Ore. While I was there, we were able to rebuild that program into a nationally competitive program in the NAIA. Those opportunities I was given at CU helped me be ready to step in and take over the basketball program at Grays Harbor.
I did have some doubts about coaching both a high school varsity volleyball team and building a basketball college program at the same time. After having a successful season last year at Hoquiam and returning most of my varsity, coaching volleyball was something I wanted. This is a special group of seniors at Hoquiam and I wanted to help them achieve the goals we had set for this season.
What are some of the similarities between the two jobs and what are some of the difficulties you’ll have to navigate while you are coaching two teams? What are some of the good things that have come out of coaching Hoquiam volleyball and starting to coach GHC basketball?
Both jobs take a tremendous amount of time to be successful. Right now, I have basketball class in the mornings and volleyball in the afternoons and evenings. As a coach, it’s been very important for me to be well prepared and organized for two completely different sports. I have been blessed with an outstanding coaching staff at Hoquiam; they know the game of volleyball, have high expectations, and help both the players in our program and myself to achieve our goals. The Grays Harbor College administration has been very supportive and positive of my coaching both programs.
Anytime you start to rebuild a program it’s filled with enthusiasm and energy. This time at GHC is no exception. We are working to change the attitude and culture of the women’s basketball program. We have a good core of returners and brought in a great group of newcomers. I’m excited to see how the team develops over the course of the season.
In the Hoquiam volleyball program, I have had the distinct honor of coaching some of the hardest-working players I have ever worked with. The girls at Hoquiam were very welcoming and quickly bought into my style of play. They have been so coachable and the improvement I’ve seen is amazing. I just enjoy going to practice every day.
How easy was it for you to return to the Harbor to coach and work? Was it made easier or harder knowing that your former coach and now coaching colleague Debbie Gibson is still at Montesano? What are some of the things Gibson taught you about the game that you’ve been able to apply to coaching (both volleyball and basketball)?
I never planned on returning to the Harbor, but I believe things happen in your lif e for a reason. The chance to give back to a community that has given me so much was intriguing. I spoke at length with Debbie about returning and she encouraged me to pursue the Hoquiam volleyball position. I have learned so much from Debbie. The importance of hard work, integrity and communication is vital to success. You must always have high expectations of your players and continue to not only challenge but help them attain the goals they have set for themselves. While Debbie was the toughest coach I ever played for, she was also one of my best. As a player, she brought out more in me than I knew I had. She still continues to challenge me to be a better coach. The chance to coach her daughter this season was both daunting and exciting. I am looking forward to our first meeting against Montesano this season. (This interview was conducted prior to Tuesday’s match, won in five sets by Hoquiam). The added dynamics will make the game much more exciting for all of us.
Over the summer, you, Gibson and Aberdeen head coach Wilma Weber run a summer club volleyball program with players from Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Montesano and Elma scattered between three age-group teams. How does that dynamic work with the three of you working to help and improve each other’s players you’ll see on the court in the fall on the other side of the net? Also, how has the club program grown to improve the play of volleyball in Grays Harbor?
We are all friends and I have the utmost respect for both of them. We all coach different age groups in the winter for Grays Harbor Volleyball Club. The club has players from many schools around the Harbor. I coached the 18-U team, while Debbie worked with 14-U and Wilma with the 12-U teams. In the off-season, we are not allowed to work with our own teams. This past summer, we worked together as well. We ran open gyms at the local schools, where we again worked with any players that showed up. It was good for them to play with players from other teams and be coached by other coaches. I feel lucky that my players can be taught by such great coaches. We all know that we are working with each other’s teams and we will be facing those players during the season. As coaches we teach the same fundamentals, we just teach them in a different way. It’s good for our players to hear the same concepts, just in a different voice. I take pride each time I see my club players doing well for their respective teams. The better the competition is the better we all are going to be in the end.
How would you rate the play of volleyball on the Harbor? In some ways, the sport has been in the background as opposed to soccer and cross country in the fall. Also, how would you rate the play of GHC women’s basketball over the past couple of seasons?
I believe the level of play in volleyball is improving on the Harbor. It is difficult with so many small schools to establish a highly competitive club program because many of the best players are also the best players in other sports. They can’t just focus on volleyball like many athletes in bigger schools. I personally don’t feel that is bad, either. It gives a student-athlete a more well-rounded experience and opportunities in high school. It does put us at a disadvantage when we play schools that have athletes that only compete in volleyball and are much more experienced. But with more volleyball players competing in the Grays Harbor Volleyball club I think volleyball will continue to grow.
Over the past couple of years, the GHC women’s basketball program has struggled in the NWAACC. With six wins over the past three seasons, there is room to improve. We are looking to change the culture and style of play here at GHC. One of the most important aspects of coaching college athletics is recruiting. We are not only trying to keep some of the best talent in the area at home, but also to go out and bring talented players to the Harbor. We are working hard to improve our play each and every day.