As fans cheered and made their way to the court or the exit following Meadville’s win over Ambridge in the boys volleyball state semifinals on Tuesday, one stood still near the top of the bleachers unfazed by the commotion around her. She simply stared at the celebration on the court, a couple of tears slowly making their way down her cheek.
Sheila Bancroft has coached her way to a number of state championship matches in volleyball. But watching her son, Nick Bancroft, do so in his first year as a head coach and at just 28 years old was particularly emotional.
“You’re always proud to see your kids be successful, especially in their first adventure,” Sheila said. “I’m proud to see where he has gone so far. As a parent, you hope for your kids to contribute and be successful in whatever they do. And he’s done that.”
Sheila had no doubt that Nick would. Early in her youngest child’s life, she already knew coaching would be his calling.
“He’s a natural athlete,” Sheila said. “It didn’t matter what the sport was, he was good at it. Even watching football on TV, he would pick things apart. Or when he was in the gym when I was coaching, he would always throw in his two cents as a kid.”
Sheila wasn’t the only one who knew Nick would not only become a coach, but a good one.
“Nick has been behind the scenes for several years as an assistant with the boys and girls programs at Maplewood,” McDowell head coach Dan Herring said. “I knew when he was given the opportunity, that he would step in and do a great job as a head coach.”
Of course, it all came with some advice from his mom.
“When he made the decision (to become the head coach at Meadville), we talked about it,” Sheila said. “I think the biggest thing we talked about was more of the off court things than on the court. The big thing when you become a head coach is discipline and selling the dedication. Those were two big things when he stepped into Meadville. You think you want to fix things, but you don’t talk it, you work hard to get there.”
Her advice now?
“This is his moment,” Sheila said. “I saw him (Wednesday) and I said, ‘I’m proud of you. Take in the moment and enjoy it. Let them play. Keep them structured. Don’t change what you have been doing in practice, because it’s working.”
Nick Bancroft is one of five Maplewood alumni, who are head coaches of District 10 boys volleyball teams. He joins former teammate Robert Cierniakoski, a 2008 graduate, who just finished up his first year as the head coach at Cochranton after seven seasons at Fort LeBoeuf.
Herring, a 1989 Maplewood grad, is the head coach at McDowell; Randy Sovisky (1978) is the head coach at Cambridge Springs; and Bill Wooley (1988) is the head coach at Maplewood. All Crawford County boys volleyball teams, in fact, have a Maplewood grad on their bench.
Tim Houck is an assistant at Saegertown. Calum Hyde is an assistant at Conneaut. Kevin Kurt and Brian Shoop assist Wooley at Maplewood.
“I feel the number of Maplewood graduates that are currently coaching in D-10 is a reflection of the culture that has been created in that gym over the years for the game of volleyball,” Herring said.
In a pinch
Now, while Nick’s coaching has had a great deal to do with the Bulldogs’ success and ticket to Saturday’s state title match against York Suburban, it’s the players’ resilience and willingness to do whatever has been asked of them.
The lineup the Bulldogs will play with on Saturday (barring any unforeseen circumstances) isn’t the lineup they started with at the beginning of the season. In fact, Meadville played with a number of lineups before finally settling on the current one. And those changes involved bringing in a freshman to start at outside hitter in Julian Jones and a first-year player in Charlie Waid to start at middle hitter.
“I felt for most of the season, we never had a set lineup and were juggling people around with Ryan (Girvan) being out for swimming for almost a month, then coming back and only being healthy for a couple of weeks,” Nick Bancroft said. “When Ryan was in, he was just starting to become a key part in our offense until an unfortunate ankle injury.
“But we had guys step up like Charlie (Waid). Charlie has just continued to progress for not playing since elementary. He works so hard in practice, is very coachable, and gets better every day. His positive attitude on the court spreads to the other guys and he just really meshes with the team.
“He still makes some ‘inexperienced’ mistakes at times, but that doesn’t bother me because he learns so fast and I want him to continue to develop. He does a good job blocking and his attack is on the brink of breaking out.”
History in the making
The last time Meadville played for a state title in boys volleyball, its head coach at the time — Doug Nelson — was looking to add to his family’s legacy. See, the last time the Bulldogs won a state championship in the sport was 1964 and Nelson’s father, Ken, was the head coach.
What was also special about the Bulldogs’ bid in 2010 was Doug Nelson’s son, Dan, was the team’s setter. Doug has moved on; he retired as the Bulldogs’ head coach in 2011. Dan had also moved on until this season when he became a member of Bancroft’s coaching staff. Now, he gets another shot to do what his grandfather did in 1964.
“It’s great to be back in the game,” Dan said. “Being back in my father’s footsteps and my grandfather’s footsteps … I have that article (about the Nelson’s legacy printed in The Meadville Tribune on June 4, 2010) down in my basement and I just looked at it (Tuesday).
“It’s probably the best thing in the world being a part of it and being with the boys.”
That title in 1964 is Meadville’s lone PIAA team state championship. The Bulldog hockey team has won eight Pennsylvania State Interscholastic Hockey League state titles — the last in 2003.
The Meadville boys volleyball team will depart Meadville Area Senior High School at 9 p.m. today directly after the school’s graduation ceremony for State College. The bus will venture down State Street to North Street and then left on Park Avenue.
Fans are invited to line the streets, wearing black and red, and support the Bulldogs on their state title quest.