WELLSTON – Wellston High School has a new varsity volleyball coach.

Kaley Lower, whose hiring was made official by the Wellston City Schools Board of Education on Monday, July 13, will not have to introduce herself to her team.

After coaching at the junior high level the last seven years, she said taking over the varsity program has been a goal for some time.

“I’m really excited about this opportunity. I have been teaching at Wellston Middle School since August of 2013, and I’ve been a part of the junior high volleyball program since,” said Lower. “It was easy for me to step into this new role because I’ve already had the opportunity to work with these girls at the junior high level, and they already know my expectations.

“I would like to thank our athletic director, superintendent (Karen Boch), and school board for this opportunity. I know my staff and the girls are looking forward to starting the season.”

Lower takes over for Holly Pettet, who resigned in June after coaching only one season in the program.

It was Wellston Athletic Director Jeff Hendershott, who called and asked if Lower would be interested in applying for the position.

“I had some parents and fellow staff members, who also sent messages encouraging me to take the position,” Lower said. “I was pretty shocked that it was open, but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find a coaching staff this close to the start of the season.”

So she reached out to the one person she knew could help her out in Rio Grande, head volleyball coach Billina Donaldson.

“I played for Coach Donaldson in high school, and she is the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to volleyball,” said Lower. “I was hoping she would be able to give me some guidance and a few ideas on coaches who she thought would be great additions to our program.”

During their conversation, she suggested her daughter, Kinnison Donaldson, who recently graduated from Rio Grande, and played for four years with the RedStorm.

“Kinnison is my varsity assistant and is a great addition to our staff,” said Lower. “She is great at correcting the little things, and the girls seem to like the energy that she brings each day.”

In addition, Kayla Love has been hired as the junior varsity coach, while Andrea Barrows, who has been a coach in the junior high program for the last two seasons, will be a volunteer assistant at the high school level this year.

Lower, who was a 2008 graduate at Jackson High School, played volleyball, basketball, and one year of softball during her senior year.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Marshall University in 2012 and has been employed as a teacher at the Wellston Middle School since 2013.

One of Lower’s goals for the program is making sure the high school and junior high are connected, and she believes her staff is prepared when it comes to helping each other out.

“Coach Donaldson and I have been active in going to junior high open gyms, and our high school staff plans on helping out in the junior high as much as we can,” Lower said.

Kaitie Roberts and Shai Brandau will serve as coaches at the junior high level.

The Lady Rockets’ program currently has approximately 30 girls interested in playing volleyball, with the majority being sophomores and freshmen.

Coach Lower said it is exciting to see a shift in the program.

“When our junior class left the eighth grade, a few of them began playing club volleyball during the off-season, and it has continued with each class since,” Lower said. “Our girls love the game, and they’ve shown a lot of commitment to the program in the last few weeks. I have already asked Mr. Hendershott about creating a freshmen team for next year.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it has undoubtedly been a trying time for the Lady Rockets’ rookie coach, who was handed the keys to the program just in time to welcome her team back into the gym.

“COVID-19 has presented its challenges, but it hasn’t stopped our girls from working hard,” said Lower. “We’ve hired an agility coach, which has helped tremendously, and Coach (Billina) Donaldson is offering a volleyball camp at Wellston High School for our girls in grades 7-12.

“Since the beginning of July, our girls come in for two hours a day, four days a week for open gym. They are broken up into small groups, and they rotate throughout the open gym to different stations – some stations are in the gym, while others are outside or in the weight room. Everyone is screened when they walk in the gym, and we wipe down all of the equipment and volleyballs at the end of practice. Hand sanitizer is available at every station as well.”

If things begin as scheduled, the first official mandatory practice is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 1.