ALTAMONT — Chris Wacker and Heather Wilson, the Labette County Grizzlies cross country and volleyball head coaches respectively, both earned SEK League Coach of the Year for their fall campaigns.
“Having two coaches be recognized as Coach of the Year in the SEK League for Labette County this fall means that we have hard working coaches that have built special programs,” said Labette County co-athletic director Brianna Volmer, who also served as an assistant volleyball coach.
Wacker, who guided the Labette County girls cross country team to a state qualification as an entire team, was named the SEK League’s girls cross country Coach of the Year.
“He’s doing a great job of getting those kids to commit to the work it takes to win championships,” Wilson said. “That was evident this summer in how many kids were out there running. His enthusiasm is catching and his kids really respond to his energy and ability to motivate.”
Volmer echoed the sentiment that Wacker has reinvigorated the cross country program.
“Our cross country team put in the hard work over the summer with their running program and have athletes that have bought into what Coach Wacker is building,” Volmer said. “It's exciting to see the girls be successful and to reap the benefits of their hard work.”
As for Wilson, she guided Labette County to a 37-6 overall record, a second straight SEK League title and a second straight state tournament berth.
“Their success starts in the summer. Volleyball practices start and you can’t even count how many girls are out early in the morning,” Wacker said. “That commitment fuels their success. Heather empowers her team to be leaders and set the bar themselves. She builds the girls that are invested into the culture.”
Wilson has now won the SEK League Coach of the Year two years in a row.
“She has special athletes and has helped guide them in the right direction to be successful,” Volmer said. “I will always stand by the fact that Heather Wilson is one of the hardest working people I know and this volleyball season is a direct reflection of that.”
Wacker’s cross country team and Wilson’s volleyball squad sweated it out on the same Saturday this fall to earn berths to the state championships.
The cross country team earned a team berth to state by beating Augusta by one point in the regional race.
“I thought we’d have a pretty good team this year,” Wacker said. “We knew we would add some depth and talent. But I didn’t know how far we could go. The leadership on the team set the standard from Day 1. The whole girls team really bought in from the get-go.”
Labette County volleyball overcame a 20-13 deficit in the third set of the sub-state championship to Wamego en route to its state tournament berth.
“We didn’t want to rest on past successes and focus on the here and now,” Wilson said. “Focusing on the present is something we emphasized. We did a great job of that, especially when we took a loss or two.”
Wacker and Wilson’s honors, and the successes of their teams, are emblematic of a thriving girls athletics scene in Altamont.
Out of 170 total athletes at Labette County this fall, 109 are girls.
“I’ve been here for 25 years,” Wilson said. “I’m excited to coach in a place that embraces women’s athletics. We’ll always emphasize the goals for the girls. It’s been a great year for our women athletes.”
Wacker added that Labette County’s success in girls sports this fall serves as a standard for younger kids to follow.
“Being a parent and having a girl, it’s nice for her to have role models,” Wacker said. “Girls don’t just have to be princesses. There’s all these different options for her. She loves going to summer practices and seeing girls on the track or watching volleyball. It’s nice to have role models in this area for younger women.”