JEFFERSONVILLE — Jeffersonville junior Kayleigh Gernand recently recalled a day when new Red Devils coach Wes Briscoe introduced a drill in an early workout.
“It was something where you would step onto the box, jump and do a squat,” Gernand remembered. “I was like, ‘Do I have to jump onto the box? Or, do you just want me to step onto it?’ And he’s like, ‘You can step onto it, but if you really want to push yourself and you really want to get better, then jump.’”
In her mind Gernand hesitated for a moment before choosing the latter.
“I’m like, ‘I don’t want to jump, but I’m going to because of the way you told me to do this. I just feel like I should. I feel like that’s how I’m going to get better,’” she recalled.
Choosing a box jump over a box step may just be a baby step in Briscoe’s ultimate goal to build Jeff into a state power, but it’s an example of the type of change that the man who guided Christian Academy to back-to-back state runner-up finishes the last two years is hoping to bring to his new program.
To Briscoe it’s all about changing minds, changing attitudes, changing techniques and changing expectations.
“There’s one thing about change … I think Socrates, or somebody, said something about the hardest part of change is not fighting the old, but focusing on the future,” he said. “There’s been a couple of times where somebody’s said, ‘Well, I’ve always done it this way.’ And I always tell them, ‘That’s great, that’s not wrong, but we want to be better.’
“We haven’t had a winning season here for awhile, so if we’ve been doing it this way and it’s not getting the success that we want, then why do you want to keep doing it this way? Let’s change and see if we can flip that around. If we were 11-20 last year, let’s be 20-11 this year. … So that’s what we’re trying to get. Motivationally, with the changes that we’re making, that’s all we’re trying to do is we’re trying to change that record and flip it, so that the winning column is higher than the losing column. And then we want to win the [Hoosier Hills] Conference and the sectional and the regional and go to Muncie [for the State Finals].”
CHANGING THE CULTURE
For all of its athletic success in other sports, Jeffersonville hasn’t had a great deal in volleyball. The Red Devils have only four sectional titles (1973, ‘83, ‘84 and ‘91) and three regional championships (‘73, ‘84, ‘91) to their credit in volleyball — and none in 28 years.
The 37-year-old Briscoe, meanwhile, comes over from a CAI program that has made five consecutive trips — the last two under him as the head coach — to the IHSAA State Finals.
“I’ve not coached one season in the last five or six years where the goal hasn’t been to make it to the State Finals,” he said. “I’ve been spending my birthday weekend in Muncie, coaching up there, assisting or being a head coach. So I don’t know how to get a team ready to not go to Muncie, Indiana.”
Given his success it’s not surprising that Briscoe, who spent four seasons as an assistant at CAI under Walter Pauly before becoming the head coach in 2017, has brought many of his philosophies with him from CAI.
“I’m sticking to what I want to do and the plan that we’ve had at Christian Academy,” he said. “We changed systems there after Coach Pauly left. We changed things a little bit to a different version. If we wanted to continue to be successful we couldn’t rely on the old method all the time, we were going to have to evolve. After Coach Pauly left, we were fortunate enough to have an All-American outside hitter [Alli Stumler] playing for us there at Christian Academy, so we didn’t have to change a whole lot. But when she left we did a really good job of adapting to a newer system and a newer style of play and a newer defense. What’s going to work best for us here at Jeff still remains to be seen, but I’m pretty confident in the system that I teach.”
Briscoe has also brought one of his former CAI assistants, Derrick Staggers, with him to help teach his style of play, which Briscoe describes as “an unorthodox method and approach to the game that is all backed up on statistics. ... It’s gritty and fun to play.”
“It’s just about getting that system in here, getting it taught early and understood early, so that success starts earlier in the season,” he said. “It’s different. I’m not saying that any coach that coached volleyball here in the past did a bad job. Coach Sam [Calabro] that was here last year … even going back to Jackie Byrne, who coached here before she moved to Hawaii … there have been good coaches in the program. Just for the long haul there hasn’t been any consistency. So if I teach it one way and somebody else teaches it another, there’s this revolving door. You say, ‘We’re going to play rotational defense this way, or we’re going to play perimeter defense this way, or whatever it is.’ It’s all taught in just a little bit different way, so there’s this ... it’s like swimming against that riptide out in the ocean. It just keeps pushing you farther and farther away from the beach, because there’s just all this change that’s happening and the kids aren’t gaining any ground.”
That change started happening early, and often, after Briscoe took the Jeff job in February.
“Honestly everything is changing, which, I think, is going to be better for the future for Jeff volleyball,” said senior outside hitter Jenna Lake, who led the Red Devils with 255 kills last year, last Tuesday — the second day of the Red Devils’ team camp at Johnson Arena. “Our defense we’re doing different, not rotational or anything like that. Hitting approaches are definitely, I think, the hardest for everyone because it’s more steps and it’s more things to just get used to for timing.”
Briscoe is modifying everything, from defense to hitting to blocking to passing.
“At first I was like, ‘This is so different and I don’t know about this guy, but I’m going to keep coming,’” Gernand recalled. “The more I’m here, the more I realize he really knows what he’s talking about. And everything he’s doing is changing for the better. It’s different, and at first it’s not where your mindset is, but the more you do it the more you realize it’s so helpful.
“He’s very motivating [too]. He’s not a screaming, yelling coach, but he just says the right things. And it’s like, ‘I need to work 10 times harder.’ He makes you believe, yes you can beat Providence; yes, you can beat Silver Creek. Last year I was like, ‘We’re probably just going to get beat [in those matches], and that’s a terrible mindset.’ He really changes the way you think about what we can do as a team.”
The Red Devils are coming off a 13-17 campaign that ended with a 3-0 loss to Jennings County in the first round of the Class 4A Seymour Sectional.
“I think the thing that’s going to be consistent is that I plan on being here for a long time and that’s not always been the case in volleyball,” Briscoe said. “The culture starts with me and my coaching staff, that we get that level of expectation set really high and we never back down from that.”
Jeff is scheduled to start its season Aug. 17 against Seymour.
“I think it’s going to be a lot different than last year,” Gernand said. “I don’t think it’s just going to be like a good game here and there and then losing to bad teams. I think it’s going to be a lot more consistent and positive.”
“We just have a mindset that we’re going to get through sectionals,” Lake added. “That’s our mindset, is to beat the hard teams and all the teams that we really want to beat. So coming out and beating Columbus East last year, I think it gives us a lot of momentum to beat the harder teams like Providence.”
And while that may not happen overnight, Briscoe believes it will eventually.
“I’ve never pulled any punches with any of the girls here. I’ve told them that we’re going to be competitive and the goal is to win the conference,” he said. “My goal is that in two or three years we’re super competitive in our conference and winning this thing and maybe we can be successful enough that Providence has to drop back down in class. That’s the kind of intensity, and that’s the hope that I’m bringing. And if we get the right mix of players to jump on board, maybe that happens.”