Mike Gunther is back.
In some ways, it may have seemed as if he had never left, but he has now officially begun his second spell as coach of the Greenport/Southold high school girls volleyball team. Gunther has taken over as coach of the Clippers from Sue Kostal, who he handed the program over to following the 2001 season. Some things have changed since then. Rally scoring was introduced in 2002 and the position of libero was later incorporated into the high school game. Gunther, 55, said he has also mellowed since he was last in charge of the Clippers, from 1999 to 2001.
Still, though, some things don’t change.
“Coaching is coaching,” Gunther said while watching his team practice on Monday evening at Greenport High School. “If you know the sport, you know the sport.”
Gunther, undoubtedly knows volleyball. His coaching résumé in the sport is extensive. He coached St. Joseph’s College and was a graduate assistant at Dowling College. At the high school level, he coached Ward Melville to a county championship in 1992 in addition to coaching at Southampton and East Hampton (boys and girls). He had also coached a boys 18-and-under team that he said was ranked second on the East Coast.
In his first season with the Clippers, the team missed the playoffs by 2 points, losing a critical match to Stony Brook, 15-13, in the fifth game. The following year the Clippers reached the playoffs, and the year after that they were league champions.
Gunther acknowledged some good memories in returning to the scene of his earlier success.
“It feels great,” he said, smiling. “I’m enjoying it.”
Then again, Gunther was really never too far removed from the Clippers. He kept in touch with Kostal, who is now coaching the Shelter Island junior varsity team, and ran clinics for her team. Sometimes he hit balls to the players during practices. He also teaches at Greenport High School and is familiar with some of the players in his charge.
“As a volleyball coach I think he’s very motivating,” Jenna Standish, a senior outside hitter, said after the first day of two-a-day practices. She added: “He has great technique, great experience, great skill. Everything about him is well-rounded.”
Sam Henry, a senior libero, said, “I think he has a lot to teach the team.”
Henry said she has already noticed Gunther’s attention to detail when it comes to instruction on techniques. “He teaches us step by step how to do everything, and it helps,” she said.
Gunther said he has two primary team rules. “The first rule is a verb, respect,” he said. “The second rule is never say, ‘I can’t.’ ”
Similar to his first season with the Clippers, the team narrowly missed the playoffs last season. “It was heartbreaking,” said Standish.
Standish was an all-conference choice last year. Henry and junior Mercedes Edwards, who at various times played setter, middle hitter and right-side hitter, were both all-league players. Henry was the team’s most valuable player and received an award as the league’s best defensive specialist.
Others with varsity experience are senior Megan Murray and juniors Marina DeLuca, Rosa Hernandez and Gina Anasagasti.
DeLuca and Henry are the only remaining players from the Clippers’ county Class C final team in 2012.
Gunther said he and his junior varsity coach, Lori Marra, will select the varsity and junior varsity teams on Saturday.
“I see some athletic talent,” he said. “I see some setting ability. I see some hitting ability. I know we have a competitive team already just from what I saw last year and who showed up this year.”