ALTAMONT — Labette County volleyball has a changing of the guard as Heather Wilson is stepping down as head coach, with the torch being passed to Leigh Ann Phillips.
Wilson will remain in the school as a teacher and also the assistant girls basketball coach. She’s stepping away from volleyball, where she served on the coaching staff for 26 years including the last seven as head coach, to watch her daughter, Shelbi, play the sport at Hutchinson Community College.
“Ultimately, it was a personal decision,” Wilson said. “The schedules didn’t align. I couldn’t cheer my daughter on and still coach here. That dictated that I needed to step away from volleyball.”
While she has been out of the coaching game for several years, Phillips brings a litany of experience to the Altamont sidelines.
Phillips was the head coach of the volleyball program at Labette Community College from 2000-06 and also served as a coach at Erie, Labette County and at the junior high level.
“What made the job most attractive was that I’ve played here and I’ve coached here before,” Phillips said. “It’s kind of a homecoming. I’ve always wanted an opportunity to take over. I love the sport. I have a daughter that’s in love with the sport.”
While the cupboard isn’t bare for Phillips, Labette County’s biggest task will be replacing Shelbi. The school’s career leader in assists, Shelbi was a setter for four years at the varsity level and was the last remnant of a team that won the SEK League and went to state twice in a row.
“Shelbi was a huge presence on the floor,” Phillips said. “That’s a huge hole to fill. We’re going to have to do a ton of work with setters this summer. The setters will get a lot of attention.”
Laci Strickland, who’s been on Wilson’s coaching staff the last two seasons, will join Phillips’ staff.
Strickland is a graduate of Labette County who played college volleyball at Labette and Allen.
“We met, sat down and talked,” Phillips said. “She brings a younger game to the table. She knows how it’s evolved. She brings energy — she’ll be able to swing when my arm gets tired in practice. We’ll be a strong coaching staff.”
In addition to guiding Labette County to back-to-back league titles and state tournament berths in 2020 and 2021, Wilson ushered more athletes to the college level.
“People take Labette County volleyball seriously,” Wilson said. “We’re not just a basketball school anymore with our girls. We’ve been competitive regionally. The legacy is that we’re sending kids to college, too.”
After spending nearly three decades with the sport at Labette County, the shift for Wilson will be a shock to the system.
“It already is heartbreaking,” Wilson said. “They’re getting ready for camp and I’m not. Volleyball has been a huge part of my life. I’m always going to be a fan. I’m excited to see what the girls can do as they mature as athletes. And I’m thrilled that Leigh Ann is going to take over and do a great job.”
Phillips’ mission will be to continue the evolution that Labette County volleyball has undergone.
“We’re going to see a lot of changes,” Phillips said. “We want to go faster. The goal for the program is to be competitive in the SEK League and the state.”
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