First-year coach Casie Brooks has the Apple Valley girls volleyball team in contention for its first Mojave River League title since 1996.
Although this is her first year at the helm of a varsity volleyball team, Brooks is hardly a newcomer to the High Desert volleyball scene. She graduated from Victor Valley in 2004 and earned Desert Sky League Player of the Year and Daily Press Girls Volleyball Athlete of the Year honors. That performance helped earn her a scholarship to St. John’s, where she played four years and helped lead the Red Storm to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament in 2007.
Brooks returned to the High Desert and coached the freshman team at Victor Valley for a season, and was an assistant at Victor Valley College and with the Horizon Volleyball Club before taking the position at Apple Valley.
We talked to her about her new role, leaving Victor Valley for rival Apple Valley and much more.
Matthew Peters: How did you get the Apple Valley job?
Casie Brooks: (Apple Valley Athletic Director) Rob Martin came to one of my club practices and observed the whole time. I didn’t even realize he was there. He called me to come in and do an interview. We had a good interview, and that’s how I got it.
MP: Were you interested in coaching high school volleyball?
CB: Oh yeah. I was actually looking for an opportunity to do that because I was assisting at VVC, which I really enjoyed, but I wanted to get the opportunity to run my own program. I knew I needed a different experience than that. That opportunity came up, and I took it.
MP: What were your expectations for the team when you took the job?
CB: I knew I was coming into a different, kind of tough situation considering most of the players were seniors and upperclassmen returners. They were kind of set in their ways. But we had a lot talent and I thought my structure and discipline would improve them. Basically what we are trying to do now is come in with a championship mentality, hard work and discipline. That’s what I coach by. If you have those things, good things will happen.
MP: So whenever it came up that Apple Valley was seeking you out, did you have any strange feelings about it because you went to Victor Valley?
CB: Yeah. I was a little uneasy just because I knew I was going to get a lot of razzing for it. It was hard knowing I was going to go against Victor because my old coach (Jackson Wong) works there and we still work together (with the Horizon Volleyball Club) and I respect him completely. I was coaching the freshman team two years ago there, but ultimately I put away the rivalry and all that fun stuff. It was just a great opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.
MP: What did you learn from (Victor Valley coach Jackson) Wong?
CB: How to manage personalities and how to organize practice plans. Mainly on the organizational part. Always being a step ahead in preparing yourself. We kind of coach by tough love and you are either going to sink or swim with that. I learned that from him. If you are going to survive with myself or him, you are going to work hard and put in the effort. That’s the main thing he taught me.
What was his reaction when you told him you were going to Apple?
I think he was happy for me, but at the same time I think he was clenching his teeth because ultimately I think he wanted me to still be with him. At the end of the day, I think he wants what’s best for me. When I get a good opportunity, he was fine with it. We still joke about how he can’t believe I have to wear orange.
MP: How much teasing have you received from some of your Victor Valley friends?
CB: They always put in that jab that they can’t believe it. When the Bell Game comes or something, they always say you are going down or something. I get more razzing from the players that still play (at Victor Valley) because I coached them a little bit, assisted and helped them out. When I see them, because I still go to support the Victor team, I get more razzing from the players that they can’t believe I left them. At the end of the day, we all love each other. It’s all good and fun.
I even get harassment from my players, the Apple players. Even the parents will give me a hard time. That’s why I kind of keep it on the DL. I never bring it up, but everyone mentions it some time or another. Both sides I give harassment, but I just laugh about it.
MP: How was it the first time you had to put on an orange shirt?
CB: I’ve never had orange in my closet, ever. I had some event for Apple in the spring and my parents went out and bought me an orange shirt to wear so I was prepared. That was the first orange clothing I had. It was weird, to be honest with you. But now I think I’m getting pretty converted and I wear it pretty often and I don’t mind it at all. Plus my favorite holiday is Halloween, so I kind of just picture it like that. Orange and black, so it’s a little easier for me.
MP: What was your favorite memory from playing at St. John’s?
CB: Which one to choose? When I was junior, Long Beach State came to our place for a preseason tournament. When I was going to high school my dream school was to go play at Long Beach State and I was obsessed. We ended up beating them, and I had a pretty good match that game. That was huge because they were always top 25, the team to beat. They came in thinking they were going to walk all over us and we ended up taking that match. My dad happened to fly in that weekend and he knew how much it meant to me because he knew what Long Beach meant to me.
That was my first favorite moment. My second one has to be … basically all junior year is when we went to the Sweet Sixteen for NCAA. We worked so hard to win that Big East championship and then to take St. John’s all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. That was huge because nobody really knew St. John’s was a volleyball school. To represent them that well as a team, I’ll never forget that and that will always mean a lot to me.
MP: Is there anything you try to do now as a coach to help your players toward college either as an athlete or a student?
CB: My main thing, the way I help is through my experience and what I had to do to get there. I had to work my butt off and even more than some other players because of my size to stand out. I got lucky with just the way it happened. I try to tell players who are really serious and have their mind set on going somewhere, I try to tell them this is the stuff you have to take if you are even going to have a chance to make it. The thing is with me, I never guarantee that they will go anywhere. It’s up to the individual of how bad they want it and how much hard work they are going to put into it in order to get there. I usually help them with my experience and the steps to get them prepared so they are just not out in the blue wondering what to do.
I have my connections with St. John’s, but I’m not like all these other coaches. You know, I’m new to the coaching world so I don’t have too much connections. That’s where I have to get better at with my PR and making those connections, but as of right now I try to use my experience and knowledge of what you need to do to get them further in their career, if that’s what they choose.
MP: What is your coaching philosophy?
CB: I coach through discipline, hard work and dedication. Those are my main things. I believe a player needs to give 100 percent at everything. It teaches good habits. It teaches muscle memory to where you don’t even have to think about it. If this is something you are really want to do and you do want to make it to the next level, you’ve got to be there all day. You have to be there every practice, every game, even early. I used to stay after for at least a half hour after practice just to work on something specific.
My dad built a volleyball court in our front yard and we would practice for hours and hours. I knew for me to go somewhere, I had to raise my game. I had to put in the extra work. I take that into my coaching philosophy. The way I run my teams, we are not going to get anywhere by being lazy and thinking that it’s going to be cakewalk. We are going to have to put in two and half hours of practice. We are going to have to mentality visualize. We are going to have to work hard and never be satisfied. I always tell the girls, just because we did this, never be satisfied. We always tell ourselves now we have to take it to the next step. It ain’t over yet. That’s what I instill in my players.
MP: Where does fun enter the equation, because it seems like you have a lot of fun with your girls?
CB: I am a very intense and serious coach because to me we have a goal and we want to do it. But at the end of the day they are doing this because they love the game of volleyball. I try to get them to smile every once in awhile. I’ll try to make them laugh or they’ll make me laugh. We like to dance a lot. You try to incorporate things on the side. Even in the game we have our little dances. Some people might not like them or they think, what are they doing, but for us it’s something that keeps us together. It reminds us that, hey this isn’t all about business all day, everyday. We are doing this because we love it and we enjoy it. That’s why we do all our quirky, funny stuff.
At the end of the interview Brooks mentioned a few people she wanted to thank.
First, Victor Valley College volleyball coach Christa White.
“She was my club coach. Coach Wong taught me my fundamentals and my skills and how to be a leader and Christa White she taught me the strategic part of the game and the quick pace part of the game. And to believe in myself and to be a real leader. I wouldn’t be there without those two and even my other club coaches that I’ve had. But those two specifically had a huge impact on why I was successful.”
Second, St. John’s head coach Joanne Persico and associate head coach Mario Treibit.
“They taught me how to play at a very high level and how to succeed at high level and how to mentally be in there constantly. It was a very humbling experience, but it’s something I would do all over again if I had the chance. I just want to say thank you to all those coaches because without them I wouldn’t be where I am and as successful as I am today.”
And finally, her family.
“They have been behind with support since day one when my dad took me to the Long Beach State volleyball game when I was in junior high. That’s the day I decided that I was going to play Division I volleyball. Ever since then they were all there for me, driving me to all my club games, talking me through it, pushing me hard. Without my family there’s no way I would have made it as far as I did so I want to give them credit as well.”