The past three-plus years have proven the SSHS administration made a good decision when it hired Sandomenico, a former football coach, to take over it’s volleyball program. For years, the Cougars did not get any respect in volleyball, and rightfully so. They certainly hadn’t earned it.
But that’s all changed and Sandomenico believes an active summer program has been integral in helping him turn the program’s fortunes around.
“When you get to tryouts, you can do stuff so much faster,” Sandomenico said. “We already know the kids then. It doesn’t take a lot of time to get them going. The kids are familiar with the coaches and we’re familiar with them.”
SSHS players are back in the gym this summer, working to improve their game. When Sandomenico took over the program, one of the first things he did was set up the summer school class. That class goes three days a week for six weeks in the summer. Student athletes pay for the class and earn a PE credit for their work.
“When you hold the class through the summer school office, it’s nice. It’s just a little bit easier. For attendance purposes, the class makes it feel less optional for the kids, like they have to be here,” he said.
There seems to be some proof in the pudding — that the summer school class is beneficial. After eight years without a postseason berth, the Cougars have qualified for the Northern 4A regionals in each of the past two seasons.
Going to a P.E. volleyball class for three hours a day, three times a week may not sound like the most fun way to spend a summer, but the student athletes taking part are comprised almost solely of SSHS volleyball players, kids invested in getting better on the court, not teens who flunked their P.E. class and looking to earn a credit.
There’s a method to the madness of the summer class.
“For the incoming freshman, we just want to get to know them and teach them some basics,” Sandomenico said. “We want to get them familiar with what we’re trying to work on. For our returning JV and varsity kids, we’re trying to get them to really learn all the different drills we work on, the different serve-receive patterns, basically all the stuff that takes a lot of teaching time. So when the school year starts, you don’t have to spend as much time on it.”
The Cougars’ coaching staff has changed its summer focus over the last year or two.
“Now that we’ve gotten better, with the older kids we are playing more now,” Sandomenico said. “We used to do straight practice. Now we play in a couple tournaments and a few scrimmages with our summer league.”
The Cougars coach believes a big reason the volleyball program at his school struggled for so many years was its lack of offseason work.
“I know in the past there was not a lot done in the summer time. I think it’s hard to just show up on Aug. 15 (the first day of team tryouts) for coaches and kids. I don’t know how to do it any other way and I think it’s made a big difference.”
Cougar volleyball players will continue in the class through the end of the month. They then get two-plus weeks off before fall tryouts do begin Aug. 15.
“That’s good physically and mentally for the kids. It’s a good break,” Sandomenico said. “It’s good for the coaches too.”