On the night of October 20 of 2020, the Joplin High School volleyball team won its home finale, a 3-0 victory over the Neosho Wildcats.
Eight nights later, following a district runner-up finish in Carthage, longtime Eagles coach Staci Saunders announced she was retiring from coaching.
Nearly three years later, Saunders was back coaching inside Kaminsky Gymnasium, as Joplin hosted Raymore-Peculiar on Saturday morning in what was the team’s first home match of the 2023 season.
Once again on the sidelines inside JHS, Saunders noted a return to coaching, this time on an interim basis, has been an enjoyable experience.
“It’s been lots of fun and I always consider it a privilege to be the head coach at Joplin High School,” Saunders said. “The transition has been great. The kids welcomed me with open arms. It was a little awkward at first. I’m old school. But they bought into the way I do things, and I think they’ve enjoyed it, too. That makes it fun for me.”
Before stepping away at the conclusion of the 2020 season, Saunders spent 10 years as Joplin’s head volleyball coach after 12 years as an assistant.
So how did Saunders end up back in charge of the Eagles?
In mid-July, Saunders received a phone call from JHS AD Matt Hiatt informing her that the Eagles needed a head volleyball coach after Desiree Felker resigned.
A JHS graduate and former Eagle herself, Saunders loves the school and its volleyball program. With that, Saunders admitted it was a no-brainer to come back as the school’s interim head coach. Saunders, who had just three contact days in the summer with the players before fall sports practices began, added it took some time for her to get back in the groove of coaching.
“It was a little tough for me at first,” she said. “It’s been over two years. It’s like speaking Spanish and then not speaking Spanish for two years and then trying to do it again all of a sudden. But I caught up pretty quickly.”
Saunders noted the goals for the season are simple—she hopes to see steady improvements throughout the fall, with peaking at the end of the season an ultimate goal.
Of course, another goal for the ’23 campaign would simply be to enjoy the season as much as possible. Enjoying the process is something the veteran coach has kept in mind with every practice and every match thus far.
“I feel like this situation is working out well,” Saunders said. “I love the coaching staff. And this is a great group of girls. They’re fun to coach. This is a special group because they play for each other, they’re coachable and they’re fun to be around in the gym every day. This group of girls would run through a wall for me. I love that and I hope people see that when they watch us play this season.”
Asked about the possibility of staying on for another extended stint as the program’s head coach, Saunders admitted that’s not the plan.
“I’m only going to do it this year,” Saunders said. “I feel what’s best for Joplin Schools is to find somebody who wants to put in a lot of time and work in the offseason. I will always care about this program, so I want what’s best for the program.”
Saunders thought about it a little more and summed up the situation well.
“This is a one-year thing for me, so I’m going to enjoy it,” she said.
Off to a 1-2 start to the season, Saunders’ Joplin Eagles will host Springfield Central at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night inside Kaminsky Gymnasium.