Walt Weaver returns to varsity coaching
Volleyball pioneer will take over at Lakeville North
Walt Weaver is back.
One of the pioneers of high school volleyball in Minnesota will return to the sport as a varsity head coach for the Lakeville North Panthers this fall.
The Weaver resume is long.
In 31 years as Apple Valley’s head coach, his teams won two state titles and reached the state tournament 13 times. He’s a member of the Minnesota State Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
He retired from high school coaching in 2006 after accumulating 656 wins. His teams were ranked in the state’s top 10 for 29 consecutive years. He’s also the director and co-founder of the Midwest Volleyball Instructor Camps.
He never intended on returning to the varsity ranks. After coaching Apple Valley for more than 30 years, it might seem strange that he’s now coaching one of the Eagles’ biggest rivals. But above all, Weaver says he supports volleyball.
“Some factions might see this in a different light, but we’ve lived in Lakeville for 25 years,” Weaver said. “This is about volleyball and the promotion of volleyball.”
Both of his daughters, Cassie and Lindsey, went to Lakeville North, so he’s used to cheering for the Panthers, but more than anything, he loves the sport.
At first sight
From the first time he played volleyball, Weaver said he loved it. He liked the people, the athleticism, the strategy, and just about everything else.
“It attracts the kind of people I enjoy being around,” Weaver said. “So many of the top students at Apple Valley ended up on our volleyball team. The game attracts the intellectual. I love the beauty of it.
“It takes a major athletic person to do the things in volleyball to make for a successful experience. It’s the ultimate team game. Six people have to operate as one systematic movement. It’s a small space to control a ball moving at erratic and high speeds. It’s always an intellectual challenge.”
The fire never went out.
When the Panthers’ head coach from last season, Steve Willingham, took the head coaching job at Lakeville South in late spring, the door opened for a new head coach at North.
When athletic directors look for coaches, they first search for someone who’s also a teacher. Weaver is a retired teacher and would like to keep it that way.
“More and more of those people (teachers/coaches) can’t get jobs,” Weaver said. “Lakeville is cutting back. At some point they asked if they could talk to me to see if I can help building and moving the volleyball team forward.
“They asked me. I wasn’t looking for a coaching job, but if push came to shove, they felt I was the best person to help on a short-term basis.”
He emphasized “short-term.” He doesn’t plan on coaching for another 30 years.
“Anything I would do is short-term,” Weaver said. “I think they understand that, so it seems like a good place for me right now.”
His last varsity season was in 2006 and he had no intention of coaching high school varsity again.
“My intent, always, is to help the game flourish,” Weaver said. “That’s been my goal since I started in the early ’70s. I think we’ve come a long way. We’ve got some of the most exciting players in the nation here. At the grass-roots level in terms of girls sports, if it’s not the top sport, it’s near the top. I want to keep pushing that forward. This is one place I feel I can help.”
Weaver stepped down at Apple Valley for several reasons. Perhaps the biggest was the possibility of missing the chance to watch his daughters compete with Lakeville North and at the collegiate level.
Cassie is now at Concordia University, which has won the last five NCAA Division II championships. Lindsey just graduated after playing volleyball at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.
“I’m freer now than I have been,” Weaver said. “(Concordia’s) games are played on different nights and it’s one daughter instead of two.”
Steve Getchell, former Robbinsdale Armstrong head coach whose teams won five straight state titles in the 1980s, will be Weaver’s assistant coach. Getchell also coached at Maple Grove High School and in the Northern Lights club. Also on the coaching staff are Julie Marvets, who was an All-State setter on Weaver’s first state championship team at Apple Valley, along with her twin sister Janis Goehner, who played middle blocker. Goehner runs the Lakeville North Juniors program and she also is the mother of Alyssa Goehner, Lakeville North’s star player.
Weaver never really left coaching. He’s been keeping busy with the Northern Lights club for the past six years.
Last week he led the 15-1 Northern Lights team to an AAU open division national championship in Florida. Players on that team included Lakeville North’s Janae Neuenschwander, Lakeville South’s Jade Tingelhoff and Eagan’s Callie Schapekahm.
The Northern Lights 15-Red team won the classic division, 17-White won classic, 16-2 won club, 17-Red was second in classic, 18-2 was second in club and 17-1 finished third in the open division.
The club had several All Americans from the area, including Eagan’s Brianna Pernsteiner, Lakeville North’s Samantha Flattum and Goehner, and Lakeville South’s Tingelhoff.
Willingham back at South
Willingham took over at Lakeville North in 2011 after longtime head coach Milan Mader stepped down after winning the Class AAA state title in 2010.
Although North lost two of its top three players from 2010, the 2011 version nearly won the state title again falling a few points shy of a repeat and finishing second to Eden Prairie.
“I’ve had so many great experiences at North,” Willingham said. “But the job opened up in my backyard nine months later.”
Willingham can see the Cougar football stadium from his house.
“When Jen (Nelson, the Lakeville South coach since 2006) decided to leave the program, it felt like a no-brainer for me,” Willingham said. “It was tough to leave North after only being there a year. I didn’t want to put the team through the hardship of finding a new coach again.”
Willingham coached at Lakeville High School from 1986-2005. When Lakeville South opened, he coached for the Lakeville South 9A program from 2005-10 before heading up the road to Lakeville North.
“I’m a Lakeville guy at heart and supportive of both sides of Highway 50,” Willingham said.
South had a thrilling season as well in 2011, tying for the South Suburban Conference title while spending a few weeks ranked No. 1 in the state.
But it’s not about winning for Willingham as much as it’s about family. As in, he’d rather not be an enemy in his own house. His oldest child is 9, so “I would have a few more years at North before I’d be faced with that reality,” Willingham said. “When I talked to Walt (who had daughters at Lakeville when he coached at Apple Valley), he said it was pretty hard. So when the opportunity came up, it was hard not to at least take a look.”
The Cougars lost the majority of their 2011 team to graduation except Jade and Jazzmyn Tingelhoff.
“We’ll be a bit of a mystery, but this town loves its volleyball,” Willingham said. “I’m excited to see what we can do.”