It felt a little strange at first, Lori Hanaway admitted, standing across the net from the girls she had coached and the program she had led for five seasons.
Last spring Hanaway agreed to become the volleyball coach at Lee’s Summit, renewing a storied coaching career one year after retiring at Lee’s Summit West. And who would be the first team the Tigers would face in the annual preseason jamboree Tuesday night at Lee’s Summit North?
Lee’s Summit West.
“It’s nice to see familiar faces and I can say hi to the kids,” Hanaway said. “But it’s a little awkward. You’re on the other side, you’re coaching against them.”
This situation will come up at least two more times this season, and it’s made all the more interesting by the fact she never left West after she retired from coaching after the 2015 season. But after one season away, she was ready to return. When Julie Carver stepped down at Lee’s Summit, Hanaway jumped at the opportunity.
“I missed it, and it was a good opportunity within the same district,” Hanaway said. “I just feel it just kind of worked out and fell into place and I couldn’t be happier.”
Hanaway was ready to retire after that 2015 season and conclude a 26-year career that included 724 wins and eight state championships – seven at O’Hara and one at St. Teresa’s. In her five years at West, she led the Titans to two second-place state finishes.
But Hanaway rarely had a chance to see her daughter, Abby, play for O’Hara after getting to coach her older daughter Lindsey to four straight state titles there. She wanted to be there for Abby’s senior year, and she wanted a break.
“When your teaching and coaching full time, you get tired,” Hanaway said. “I think I was physically and mentally tired and I really wanted to see Abby play.”
In time, Hanaway realized she missed the routine of practice and competition, and she really missed working with kids outside of a classroom setting. That led her to Lee’s Summit, and it led her to a program she already knew well.
“I’ve known Julie a long time,” Hanaway said. “I know the way she coached, so I knew what I was stepping into as far as how they train, how they work and how they go about trying to be a good, cohesive team. That was appealing to me as well.”
So was the opportunity to turn around a team that struggled through an injury-riddled, up-and-down 10-21-1 season. The Tigers went 1-11 in Suburban Gold Conference play before catching fire in the postseason to win a district title and advance to the Class 4 sectionals. Three starters – junior outside hitter Claire Wagner, defensive specialist/libero Kennedy Buckner and senior outside/middle hitter Taylor Stout – are back from that team, but the Tigers return two other seniors and have a promising middle hitter in 6-foot-2 sophomore Harper Snyder.
“I thought Harper played really well,” Hanaway said. “It seems like she learns something on a daily basis. And I think she complements Claire well. And Taylor Stout is not as tall and flashy, but she does a lot of little things for us that score points.”
Lee’s Summit wound up sweeping two sets from West at the jamboree before ending the night by splitting with Lee’s Summit North. The next day, she would see those Titan players at the school where she still teaches in the social studies department.
“I already get a little friendly ribbing at West, and so I’m sure I’ll get a little bit more,” Hanaway said.
West swept North before facing Lee’s Summit to finish 2-2 on the night. A young team last season, the Titans return all but three players from last year’s 20-11 squad. Junior hitter Miana Wallace is back in the middle, senior Baylie Andersen will see action both the right side and the middle and senior Bella Baker and junior Erin Waltz as outside hitters. The Titans also return senior setter Santana Lewis.
Even with so many back, West coach Jennifer Morgan said the Titans are still learning how to play together.
“It’s a new team, so they still have to jell together and trust each other,” Morgan said. “We’ll get there. I’m glad that was a scrimmage because there are some things we can clean up.”
Lee’s Summit North lost most of the size and experience from last year’s 18-13 district runner-up. The Broncos return just three varsity players: senior defensive specialist Brittany Willis, junior middle hitter Corri Corrado and junior outside hitter Kayler Smith.
“These girls are hard workers,” North coach Shelby Hoffman said. “We’re piecing it together and they’re hustling their tails off.”