Change can be positive as a student moves through high school.
Learning calculus from a different teacher than the one who taught you geometry can provide a new voice, a new perspective on a new area of math.
But in the biggest classroom on campus, the gymnasium, which can be a pressure cooker where the public pays to see you perform, constant change can be unsettling.
Just ask the seniors of the Olympia girls basketball team.
When Rod Tripp resigned as head coach at the end of their freshman season, they took it in stride. But then Tripp’s successor, Tina Washington, was let go midway through their junior season for violating safety policies and was replaced on an interim basis by junior varsity coach Nigel Warren. In the fall, Jackie Robinson took over after a successful four years at River Ridge.
“It’s hard to adjust to a new coach over and over and over again,” said guard Carly Carlson.
“We always had a different mix of girls, too,” said forward Sophie Wood. “One coach would think a girl should be on varsity but the next year she was a swing player or on JV. A lot of girls left the program.”
Jenna Randich, the Bears’ returning first team all-Narrows guard who is among the league scoring leaders this season at 17.3 points per game, acknowledged the difficulties among a group that has, for the most part, played together since sixth grade.
“I’m pretty sure at some point every person in the program considered not coming back because of the constant change and inconsistency,” she said.
With the Bears 10-6 overall and in second place in the Class 4A Narrows with a 6-2 record after an appearance in the state regionals a year ago, those who stayed are glad they did. They credit Robinson, who did his homework before taking the position.
“I did some investigating before I applied to figure out what caused the turnover,” he said. “It was the same stuff that causes turnover anywhere, nothing eye-opening.”
He noticed the obvious — for all the disruption, Olympia had been winning.
“The kids are great. They’re hungry and have a great work ethic,” Robinson said. “They were one win away from the state tournament last year. What was I really going to come in and change?”
Early meetings and conversations gave him the answer.
“The biggest thing was, they wanted to have fun,” he said. “You look at our practices and they’re smiling. They look like they’re having a good time.”
Robinson’s presence and approach have made a difference, according to the seniors.
“We’ve got a solid coach who plans on sticking around,” said Moriah Luthy, averaging 6.6 points, 3.4 assists and 3.2 steals per game at point guard.
Having lost to Todd Beamer, 71-39, last season to be denied a place in the state quarterfinals, the Bears badly want to reach the final eight at the Tacoma Dome this time around.
“It’s an ongoing conversation,” Maddie Bradshaw said. “Jackie’s constantly reminding us of what we need to get there, it’s not just something that would be nice if it did happen. We work every day in practice to make sure it does happen.”
“He’ll say: ‘Oh, you really want to go to the Dome with that pass?’ ” says Carlson.
Robinson isn’t doing it alone. His coaching staff is worthy of praise as well.
Longtime assistant James Chandler came with him from River Ridge; Al Lynch, who like Robinson was a former Timberline assistant; Jack State, who Robinson coached against when State was an assistant at W.F. West; and Brandi Thomas, the former Elma star who played four seasons at Washington State, round out the staff.
“Before, there would be one favorite coach throughout the program,” said forward Megan Stone. “Now we have good relationships with all the coaches.”
The Bears face a tough stretch this week with road games at Gig Harbor and league-leading Bellarmine Prep. Seeding for the district tournament, critical to their goal of ending the season at the Tacoma Dome, is also at stake.
Randich, whose dad Jeff once coached at Olympia and North Thurston, appreciates the present but already has an eye on the future.
“This year isn’t going to change what happened in the past,” she said. “But I’m proud to know I can come back in future years and watch the type of program Jackie will build.”