Sami McHenry knew she wanted to be a high school volleyball coach some day.
But the 26-year-old McHenry had no idea that opportunity would come so soon, or with her alma mater, or with a team that will open the 2017 season as a defending state champion.
McHenry, a 2009 Shawnee Heights graduate, was approved as the T-Birds’ head coach by the USD 450 board Monday night, a week before the defending Class 5A champs open preseason practice.
McHenry becomes Heights’ third coach since the T-Birds capped a 38-6 season with their first title since 2000. Laura Curry stepped down as Heights’ coach following the season to spend more time with her three children, and Curry’s replacement, Taylyn Schwartz, submitted her resignation on July 28 before ever coaching a match for the T-Birds, also citing family reasons.
That opened the door for McHenry, who was a volleyball and basketball standout at Heights and also played both sports at Washburn, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 2014.
“I have coached club volleyball for the last four years and all my teams were high school girls,” said McHenry, a sixth-grade teacher at Shawnee Heights Elementary. “Two years I was with seniors and the last two I was with freshmen and sophomores. I helped Laura Curry with camp two years ago, so I was able to meet some of the girls through that, too.”
The sudden opening at Heights caught McHenry by surprise.
“I heard something about it, but I didn’t think that it was true, to be honest,” she said. “But I kind of mentioned to my mom (Mischa), ‘If they were to come and approach me it would be something I would love to do.’
“I had never actually applied for the position because of my school schedule. I get out at 4 o’clock and I didn’t want my first couple of years to upset anyone and I didn’t want people to make big changes for just me, although it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I didn’t know how it would be approached, but they reached out to me.”
McHenry, who is also working toward her master’s degree, asked for a day to mull over her decision. She immediately reached out to her older sister, Dani, a former star at Heights and Washburn, and her father, Ron, the longtime women’s basketball coach at Washburn, as well as some of her other former high school and college coaches.
Dani (McHenry) Schmidt also served a stint as an assistant volleyball coach at Washburn under Sami’s college volleyball coach, Chris Herron.
“It was all a shock, so I did ask for some time,” McHenry said. “I called my sister right away because she’s just kind of been there, too, and I trust her opinion. I called coach Herron and talked to my dad. They asked how I felt about it and I said, ‘It’s something I want to do.’
“I talked to my principal (Rebecca Hummer), as well, and she was there to support me. I called them back the next day and said, ‘I’d love to do it.’ I love coaching and I love being with kids and I miss volleyball every day.”
McHenry knows that taking over a state powerhouse brings pressure with it, but she said she welcomes the challenge.
“I feel the pressure, but in a good way,” she said. “I like pressure. I’ve played on some very successful teams and everyone wants to come after your name. My dad always said, ‘They want to come after that name that’s on your jersey.’
“We’re going to have to work really hard, but I think it’s a good challenge and it’s kind of good to have that pressure so that we have our focus on where we’re going to go.”
Shawnee Heights faces a tough test right off the bat, facing defending 6A champion Olathe Northwest in its season-opening match. The T-Birds will then face perennial state power St. James Academy, which Heights beat in last year’s 5A final, in their second play date.
“We’ve got a tough schedule, but I want to play tough teams,” McHenry said. “I think it’s going to show the girls real quick that they’re going to have to step up and fill some spots that are missing.”