New Coach Infuses High Energy into Oakton Volleyball
Dan Courain takes the reins with a mission to give program its first championship title
Dan Courain sat in the stands of Oakton High School's inaugural volleyball match in the early 1990s, then again for the team's first Concorde District Championship appearance in 1999.
A 2001 graduate of the school, he has spent the past two years as an assistant coach of the Cougars' varsity volleyball team and now succeeds Steve Drumm as head coach.
Despite a demanding full-time job as a systems engineer with The SI Organization, Courain wants to use his free time to coach at his alma mater.
"If it was any other school, it wouldn't be an option because of my job. I only want to put in the time to be here. At Oakton. It was a no-brainer for me," said Courain, who started playing club volleyball in fourth grade and continued with club volleyball at the University of Virginia. "I wanted to be back at my school to run this program. There is no question about that. To be able to come back and run the program has always been a dream."
The Cougars ended last season with a 12-12 regular season record, a second-place finish in the Concorde District Tournament and a first-round loss in the Northern Region Tournament.
This year they aim for the program's first district title, as the sport's banner in the gymnasium currently hangs empty.
"When I interviewed for this job, I told them I wanted my success to be measured on championships. I don't care if we go undefeated on the season but lose the district championship. That's not what we set out to do. We set out to win the championship," Courain said. "I don't know if we're going to get a championship in my first year of coaching, but we're going to try."
Courain, who has coaching experience both with the Northern Virginia Volleyball Association and as a head coach of the freshmen and junior varsity teams at Westfield High, promises to bring a high-energy approach both to his coaching and the team's playing style.
"You're going to see me jumping around on the sidelines. I'm a high-energy coach and I plan to bring that to the game," Courain said. "I like to run a quicker, more spread out offense. You'll see that difference this year."
Senior co-captains Emma Olson and Abby Mills said practices are also high-energy from start to finish, with no easy drills to break up the intensity.
"We love it. I just really think he has brought a different dynamic to the team," said Olson, who was selected as a first team All-Concorde District player last year. "It's very unique and I don't think a lot of teams will see us coming."
With Concorde District Player of the Year and first team All-Northern Region pick Kelsey Wildman graduated, Courain will spread out the responsibilities among the team to replace her production.
"I think spreading things out is going to help us in the long run. When we got up to districts, it was so easy to block [Wildman] because everyone knew most of our sets went through her and they cheated against her," Olson said. "Now we have a team filled with dynamic passers and hitters, and it gives us options."
Courain wants to see Oakton volleyball's depth reach beyond the varsity players, as he aims to create more unity among the entire program. This year, all three teams — freshman, junior varisty and varsity — practice together for an hour each day.
The new approach allows the coaching staff to begin teaching fundamentals and cultivating talent as a team early, rather than having to find ways to gel individuals into a unified group each season.
"We work a lot more with freshmen and JV than we ever did last year. There were freshmen girls last year whose name I didn't even know," Mills said. "But now we're working with them, we all know each other's nicknames and stuff like that. It's good for team bonding."
Olson echoed Courain's vision that practicing with the younger players will be a chance to invest in her alma mater's future.
"It's really worth it because when we're graduated, these girls are going to be taking over our footsteps," she said. "It's nice to know our legacy is in good hands."
Olson and Mills, who are both looking to continue their volleyball careers at the collegiate level, are confident they have a team that can piece together a championship year.
"That banner will have the number 2012 on it," Olson said. "We want to make sure we're remembered because we've worked so hard."