What makes a coach successful? The answer was unanimous among former players and colleagues about veteran girls volleyball coach Marci Malliard.
On Thursday, several of Malliard’s former players were in attendance as the Lady Cardinals hosted Cambridge Springs in a Region 2 matchup.
They were there to surprise and pay tribute to one of the finest coaches not only in Crawford County but Pennsylvania. Even members of the Lady Blue Devils’ squad got into the celebration, gifting Malliard her favorite drink - Diet Mountain Dew - during player introductions.
“This was very nice and heartwarming and it was nice to see all of those girls,” Malliard said.”As the night wore on, I started to see odd people coming in here. I thought what the heck is going on? I mean, there were just people that don't usually show. It was very nice. It was nice. I'm always of the mind where I don't feel like I deserve all of that stuff.”
Malliard’s 25-year career - that includes a state title and six trips to the Final Four - will come to an end at the conclusion of this season.
She has amassed a career record of 402-104. That mark includes an unbelievable run from 2004 to 2008 when the Cardinals won 101 straight games and 72 straight matches in region play. In 2004, the Cardinals finished 25-1 and won the school’s first team state title.
Cochranton also played for state titles in 1999, 2007 and 2013 and finished in the top four in the state in 2000 and 2015. Overall, Malliard has led the Cardinals to 11 region/conference titles and 10 District 10 championships.
“I’m thankful for Leirin (Schmader). She's been around here for all these years. Leirin does anything that you ask of her. Kendell (Bancroft) is the same way. I have a great support system without a doubt.”
“I guess because for 10 years I keep saying it and then I'm back the next year and I thought some year it needs to be it,” Malliard said. “I just need to go right now, you know, and stop.
“I want to stay around if they'll have me. I want to stay around and volunteer for a couple of years and still help with the junior high program, because (Schmader and Bancroft) can't really do that right now.”
She also plans to pick up the elementary program and relieve Jackson some.
Of course, Malliard still has some unfinished business. Her resume could most certainly include even more accolades when all is said and done.
This year’s edition of the Cardinals is 9-0 following their 25-14, 25-10, 25-14 win over the Blue Devils Thursday night. They are ranked No. 6 in the state in Class 1A by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association.
Malliard thinks the tools are there for special finish.
“They do have the potential,” Malliard said.
It would be fitting for someone who has given so much.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t think I’ve ever been coached by or had anyone push me to reach my potential as much as (Malliard) did/has on and off the court,” said Leirin (Baker) Schmader, who also joins Malliard on the sidelines as an assistant coach and was a member of the state championship team.
“She demanded hard work from us on the court every day, but also in our everyday lives."
Schmader said Malliard came to watch them play other sports, came to graduations, followed their college careers and even attended their weddings.They have developed lifelong friendships.
“It’s always been about more than volleyball, whether we realized it at the time or not. She’ll never admit to being one of the best coaches out there, but any one of the past players or spectators at the match could attest to it,” said Schmader.
Kendell Bancroft’s sentiments were similar.
“She truly loves this game and her players and would do anything for them,” she said. “Words cannot describe the amount of time and dedication she has put into volleyball over the past 25-plus years as coach. Not only does she strive to make each individual person a better player, but a better person.
I have been truly blessed to have learned countless things from Marci throughout the years. Being able to coach by her side for the last few years has been an honor. I’m not sure what the future of Cochranton girls volleyball will look like without Marci, but I know there are some big shoes to fill, and I hope to be half the coach she is someday.”
Bancroft played on the Cardinals’ state runner-up squad in 2013.
Malliard’s efforts on the volleyball court are also highly recognized by her peers.
“Marci has put the community of Cochranton on the map locally and across the state for her efforts in the volleyball program,” said Maplewood girls volleyball coach Sheila Bancroft, also one of Malliard’s closest friends.
“When you talk about Cochranton you think volleyball. Not only has she provided success in the program, but a lot of respect and pride," Bancroft continued.
"She demands that from her players, and they play like that on the floor. Marci pushes her players to get the best from them. I have never met a coach that has given the time and dedication to the sport and her players like Marci. Her support for them on and off the court separates her from the others.”
Sarah (Jacobs) Lybrook said Malliard has made an impact on everyone she has coached.
“On the court and off. She has built a reputation that will never fade here in Crawford County,” the 2011 Cochranton graduate said.
“Chances are, if you’ve ever heard or read anything about volleyball in (Northwest Pennsylvania) Marci’s name is on it. She’s dedicated her entire life to the sport. She’s someone that I will always respect no matter where I see her. She has a heart of gold and wants to see every player reach their potential.”
Meadville head coach Tim Schleicher said he has learned a lot from watching Malliard over the years.
“I think Marci has been successful because she has the ability to get her players to buy into a system of hard work and playing relentless defense,” he said. “She is able to make clear to her players what her standards are and then holds her players accountable to that standard. Her teams have always featured tough defense, serving and great passing. She has succeeded in making a culture of hard work synonymous with Cochranton Volleyball. She puts in the extra time to work with her players in the offseason and even gets out to watch them participate in other sports. Personally, Marci has been a big influence on my coaching career. I always enjoy our conversations as she always offers some insight that I can use in my own gym (whether she realizes it or not). "
Schleicher recalls a game where Malliard showed the type of person she is and her value to the sport of volleyball.
"Very early in my coaching career at Linesville, we played Cochranton resulting in a sweep at the hands of our visitors. While we gathered at the end of the gym for our post game discussion, Marci walked across the gym and proceeded to tell our group that she was impressed with their efforts defensively and if we kept that up we would continue to improve as a team. I was so pleasantly surprised, and it gave me confidence as a coach.”
In the end …
“Marci's success throughout her career has come from countless hours with all levels of the program,” Sheila Bancroft said. “She has dedicated most of her life making young people better volleyball players and even better human beings. She cares!”