‘Hard work and heart’ and ‘I will find a way or I’ll make one.’
Those are the two slogans fans will see on the Washington volleyball team’s jersey this season.
Fans will also see a new face on the sidelines.
Christa Heidbreder was hired in the spring after former head coach Chuck Heinz was given “non-reemployment” at a school board meeting in January.
Heinz went 182-101 in his eight seasons — including 25-12 last season — as the Panthers head coach.
The new coach, and wife of Washington District 51 Superintendent Dale Heidbreder, was an assistant coach for Heinz in her first year in the program.
Heidbreder takes her first head coaching position since leading Heyworth’s seventh and eighth grade girls basketball team back in 1996.
“I’ve coached before and I’ve coached with a lot of really great coaches, so I feel like I’ve learned a lot from everybody,” Heidbreder said. “But I think with (Heinz), it’s about the planning that was done at practices, during the game and kind of taking control of that.”
Heidbreder spent two years as a Normal West assistant coach and a three-year volunteer assistant at Carterville.
Her playing experience began in fifth grade and ended midway through her high school career. She went on to become a high school Special Education teacher, which is her current role at Washington Community High School.
She comes in to her new role with relationships on the team already established after her one season as an assistant along with various camps and tournaments over the summer.
“I’m not nervous about coaching these girls,” Heidbreder said. “I’m ready to go. I had a couple girls come up to me (when I was hired) and say, ‘We are really excited that you’re the coach because you know a little bit of what we did in the past.’ But to the same regard, this volleyball program is a strong program. I’m not wanting to change a lot of that, but I also need to make it my own, so there have been some things that have changed here and there.”
As for the team — which finished third in the Mid-Illini Conference last season — the Panthers return eight starters, which includes seven seniors.
“A lot of what I’ve been talking about with the girls this year is: ‘We are family and our success is all built on each other and that one person can’t do it without another,’” Heidbreder said.
Some players returning include Sam Garcia and Brynn Nieukirk.
Nieukirk played for Team USA in Las Vegas this summer and Garcia is coming off another state championship appearance for the Panther softball team.
Abby Weisbruch, Hayley Earl and Laura Heuermann also bring the most recent postseason experience to the volleyball court this season.
Despite losing outside hitter Hannah Heinz, the team still has high expectations for itself.
“We can’t be successful if we don’t all do our part,” Heidbreder said. “I’ve really hit that home with the girls. They’re kind of the ‘dig deep’ kind of girls and gritty like that. That’s why they’ve been successful in softball.”
The team will take each game one day at a time, but look forward to matchups with Mid-Illini conference opponents Morton, Metamora and Dunlap, Heidbreder said.
Last season, Dunlap advanced to the regional final, Morton upset the Panthers near the end of the season and Metamora advanced to the Elite 8 in the IHSA postseason.
“This team is a very focused group and is always pushing themselves to improve as well as their teammates,” Heidbreder said. “I don’t think there is one player that is not pushing themselves every practice. It was not rare this summer to have every varsity player in the gym 3-4 days a week. They are focused and ready for the season.”