COUNCIL BLUFFS — Sometimes it’s instructional. It’s always motivational.
Yes, Iowa Western players take notice when their new head coach is slamming volleyballs all over the court.
Alicia (Runge) Williams considers most of her playing days behind her. The former standout at Iowa Western and Creighton spent the last two years as IWCC’s assistant under Darrin McBroom, who now coaches at Drake. She frequently scrimmaged with players during that time.
“When she plays, she puts us to shame,” sophomore libero Madison Halterman said. “She’s just a natural athlete.”
Williams still plans to display her skills occasionally. But the first-time head coach has no shortage of other tasks while leading the squad ranked No. 2 in the NJCAA preseason poll.
Iowa Western opens its season Friday at 1 p.m. when the team clashes with No. 6 Salt Lake to kick off the Reiver Classic at the Mid-America Center. IWCC faces No. 1 Western Nebraska at 5 p.m. the same day.
The Reivers close the two-day tournament Saturday against unrated Jefferson at 10 a.m. and No. 16 Western Wyoming at 2 p.m.
Perhaps most intriguing for the Council Bluffs squad will be finding new sources of offense. More than 92 percent of last season’s kill production is no longer with the program. Six-foot-2 Sydney Nelson is the top returner after ranking sixth for the Reivers a year ago at 1.16 kills per set.
A slew of newcomers would like to make the transition a seamless one. Sophomore Calvineka Lockhart, a 6-3 transfer from Temple (Texas) College, looks to make a quick impact at middle blocker. And 6-1 freshman hitter Aly Dawson comes in as a top-50 recruit.
“I’m hoping no matter what happens this year — with as young of a team as we are — is that they’re getting it and they got that experience and they’re ready to go,” Williams said. “We’ve got that talent; we just have to find how it all meshes together.”
Halterman will anchor the back row and ably fill a role as Iowa Western’s vocal leader. Meanwhile, the competition at setter between sophomore Emily Jones and freshmen Casey Curran (Garden City, Kan.) and Kathia Sanchez (Puerto Rico) will continue into the opening weekend.
Others entering their second year with the Reivers are defensive specialist Alyssa Jeffrey and middle Heather Smack. Freshman and Omaha native Elly Targy also is in the mix for early playing time as a passer.
Iowa Western finished 45-4 last year and held the No. 1 ranking at one point before eventually taking fourth in the NJCAA national tournament. Williams said the first objective is to return to the season’s final weekend for an eighth consecutive time.
The 25-year-old Williams is only a few years removed from being in college herself. She also competed professionally in Omaha last spring as part of the fledgling Premier Volleyball League.
That means she understands what players are going through on and off the court — and when they might be trying to get away with something.
“Alicia is more strict, but she’s not to the point where, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t go to practice because I can’t stand this,’ ” Nelson said.
But new assistant coach Brent Lewis will take over most of the scrimmaging duties going forward. Williams continues to adjust to the behind-the-scenes work that comes with her new position. She also wants to implement lessons learned from her own mentors, like former IWCC coach Terry Gamble and Creighton’s Kirsten Bernthal Booth.
“I’m trying not to stop very much and (I will) let them work through it as opposed to trying to teach during practice,” Williams said. “But every now and then if I think the girls aren’t working hard enough, I’m just going to go in there and hit some balls at them.”
Reiver Classic Schedule
Iowa Western vs. Salt Lake, 1 p.m.
Jefferson vs. Polk State, 3 p.m.
Iowa Western vs. Western Nebraska, 5 p.m.
Jefferson vs. Barton, 7 p.m.
Western Nebraska vs. San Jacinto, 1 p.m.
Barton vs. Western Wyoming, 3 p.m.
Salt Lake vs. San Jacinto, 5 p.m.
Western Wyoming vs. Polk State, 7 p.m.
Iowa Western vs. Jefferson, 10 a.m.
Western Nebraska vs. Barton, noon
Iowa Western vs. Western Wyoming, 2 p.m.
Western Nebraska vs. Salt Lake, 4 p.m.
Western Wyoming vs. San Jacinto, 10 a.m.
Salt Lake vs. Polk State, noon
San Jacinto vs. Jefferson, 2 p.m.
Polk State vs. Barton, 4 p.m.
*Matches may start earlier based on the agreement by the coaches and officials.