Seguin head volleyball coach Kristi Stanley did not grow up knowing she was going to be a coach.
But she did grow up competing.
Stanley played basketball and soccer as an underclassman, and played volleyball through her senior year at New Braunfels High School, playing on two teams that made the state tournament.
“I’ve always had a passion for sports,” Stanley said. “I love competing, I love being athletic, and still try to work out and stay active.
“I loved all those games — and I’ve been doing it my whole life.”
That passion for competing has continued in her career as a coach —even if that career path wasn’t originally in her plans.
Stanley played volleyball at New Braunfels under head coach Phyllis Fowler, the current volleyball coach at Texas Lutheran in Seguin.
But soccer was her first love, and she had big plans for the sport after high school.
“I was thought I was going to play soccer at North Carolina,” Stanley said. “But by my senior year, I knew that volleyball was what I wanted to play. I was very fortunate to be part of a successful program there and had a great coach.”
The Unicorns went to state her sophomore and senior years, in 1995 and ’97.
“It was awesome competing and, of course, winning was fun,” Stanley said. “It was just something that we expected.
“There were a lot of us that had played together, there was a league that we started playing in around fifth grade.”
The trips to state were special for Stanley and the team, because she felt that they were truly a team.
“You spend so much time together when you’re training,” Stanley said. “So sharing that journey with friends, getting that payoff of all the hard work and dedication and having it all come together, was amazing.”
The Unicorns made it to the state semifinals both years, beating crosstown rival Canyon along the way, her senior year in the regional finals.
Stanley called herself a “decent” volleyball player as a middle blocker, but she was decent enough to earn a scholarship to TLU.
Playing under head coach Bryan Bunn taught her a couple of more things she would use in her subsequent coaching career.
“I never worked so hard in my life,” she said. “He was a phenomenal coach and just demanded excellence. It was a whole new level of commitment and hard work — my freshman year we went to nationals and I believe we finished ninth.”
But she tore her ACL her sophomore year, and the school’s move to NCAA Division III from the NAIA meant that the scholarship she received was no longer valid — unless she quit playing volleyball.
She didn’t play for almost three years, until her fifth year in school, when she and her parents decided they would pay for school so she could play one more year as a fifth-year senior.
“It was almost three years to the day when I tore my other ACL,” Stanley said. “So, it was not in God’s plan for me to continue my athletic career.”
Change in plans
While Stanley earned a degree in molecular biology, the original plan was for her to take over her father’s optometry practice in New Braunfels.
“By my fifth year in school, I had decided I did not want to do that,” she said.
She began to substitute teach science at Barnes Middle School in Seguin., and that eventually led to a full-time position.
While standing in for the coach at a volleyball tournament there, Seguin assistant A.D. Robin Gerlich, who was a coach at Churchill while Stanley played for New Braunfels, saw her and recognized her.
“She said she wanted to be the head coach (at Seguin), but only if I would be her assistant,” Stanley said. “I tried not to, but she wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
“It was great. I’ve had so much fun since then and learned so much from her.”
She assisted under Gerlich for five years, including a run to the state tournament in 2009, before taking over as the head coach in 2012.
There has been a progression in the program since Stanley took over, as the Lady Mats have improved their record and district finishes since 2012.
The run continued last season, as Seguin went 30-10 overall, won district undefeated at 16-0 and made it to the regional quarterfinals.
The Lady Mats came up one match short of the state tournament in 2016, falling to Tuloso Midway in the regional final.
“It’s been a journey,” Stanley said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to coach great kids who commit themselves to athletics, not just volleyball. We have kids that are in band, or cheer, or cross over to other sports.
“I’ve had several kids that have gone on to play at the college level, they are just smart, great kids — and along the way we’ve been able to win some games.”
The Lady Mats have a cumulative record of 179-124 in her tenure at Seguin — not that she keeps track.
“I am not a person that focuses on this kind of stuff,” Stanley said. “I don’t focus on records, it’s not about me.I just come in and I coach kids and that’s all I do — and I love it.”
At the Lady Mats volleyball camp this week, around 30 kids were in the gym at Seguin High School — in voluntary workouts.
“Our coaches that are running this camp, every water break they come over and say, ‘I just love your kids. They work hard, they’re polite and they are passionate about being here,” Stanley said.
She’s stayed in Seguin for her entire coaching career because she feels she is needed here.
“I feel like these kids needed somebody to care about them,” Stanley said. “I didn’t experience what these kids experience, I want them to know that somebody does care, that it’s not just about test scores. I’m just letting them know that they could do something.
“I’m having an impact on them and can make a difference in their lives.”
Kevin Duke is the sports editor of the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .