A group of Douglas High coaches pose for a photo prior to the Tigers game against Carson. Pictured from left to right are assistant coaches Keely Latham, Brenna White, Mysta Townsell, head coach Suzi Townsell, Jill Couwenhoven and Montrashay Worley.
Photo by Ron Harpin.
The Douglas High School gymnasium hasn’t changed much in the decade or so it’s been since a majority of the Tiger volleyball assistant coaches were in school.
Newer bleachers have been swapped out, the floor has been repainted, but the Tiger mascot is still busting through the bricks on the south wall.
It brought a chuckle to head coach Suzi Townsell, thinking about all the players that have come and gone through the Tiger program since she took over in 2007 and how little the gymnasium has changed in that time.
Townsell and the Tigers put a state title banner in the rafters in 2010, with a remarkable 28-2 record while closing the season on a 12-match winning streak.
That season, Douglas didn’t drop a set in regional or state tournament play, losing just 11 sets total.
“We had a unique team. I was one of five juniors on top of 11 seniors,” said assistant coach Amanda (Wartgow) Premo, a 2012 Douglas graduate.
What may be more unique is how many faces of that team, and others, are back on the bench for the Tigers.
Premo is in her fourth season as an assistant with the volleyball program.
Brenna White, a 2011 Douglas grad, is back on the bench for her fifth season with the Tigers.
Keely Latham (’11) and Mysta Townsell-Tucker (’10) moved back to the area and are exploring their way into coaching, jumping in as first-year assistants.
Other alumni from different teams, different generations and even a different coach have all found their way back into the gym to serve the current athletes.
“I think a lot of other schools aren’t as lucky to have such a solid alumni base that comes back home,” said Montrashay Worley, a 2015 Douglas graduate. “It’s a really unique experience and we can even share our experiences winning championship teams and really push that onto the girls.”
Josie Graham Townsell or grandma, as Mia Townsell and Mysta know her, won a state title while coaching Douglas volleyball in 1983.
Twenty-seven years later, it was mom and dad, JoJo, helping to raise a state title banner.
The two sisters have been around the program since they were little as Natalie Stephens (’00) remembers vividly.
“We had a very successful volleyball team. Mia was literally running around during my practices as a kid,” said Stephens, who is in her third year as an assistant.
Stephens and Mia Townsell have been in charge of the junior varsity program the last two seasons.
The foundation of returning alumni coaches around the program has continued to blossom as more and more players from past teams find their way back onto the orange and black.
Numerous players from the 2010 state title team went on to play volleyball at the next level.
Both Mia and Mysta went on to play volleyball at Chicago State after graduating.
Latham and White went on to play Division II volleyball at University of Charleston and Mercy College (NY), respectively.
Though she wasn’t on the 2010 team, after graduating in high school in 2015, Worley went on to play Division I volleyball at the University of Hartford.
“We had a really tight knit team. When I went to college, I learned that is really important. My team there wasn’t quite the same,” said White. “Once you leave, life is so different.”
Jill Couwenhoven, is another assistant coach that has served alongside the Townsells for the last decade.
Couwenhoven isn’t a Tiger alumni, but was a former setter for the University of Nevada.
The dedication from the coaches has rubbed off on the current players, especially the seniors who have been underneath the wings of several assistant coaches since first getting to Douglas High.
“I think it’s really cool and kind of inspirational because they played here and they were taught by Suzi, coached by Suzi,” said senior captain Mia Bertolone.
(Douglas High assistant coach Keely Latham emphasizes a point with senior middle Marin Collins. Latham, a 2011 Douglas High grad, is one of many alumni on the Tiger volleyball coaching staff. / Ron Harpin)Reuniting with the program
All of the assistant coaches have made their way back to Douglas County for myriad reasons.
Almost all of them specialize in different areas between defensive specialist to setter, middle and hitter.
Not every assistant coach underneath Suzi Townsell has dreams of taking off and running their own program, either.
Many are just finding a way to give back to the program they’ve taken so much away from.
“I own and operate four businesses in town and so my time is pretty maxed,” said Premo. “It’s something that is pretty important to me. I don’t see myself ever leaving Douglas.”
However, every one of them will stop and give credit to the coach that gave them an opportunity to see the other side of the sport.
An opportunity that wouldn’t be there if not for the dedication of the Townsells.
“I think it’s really cool because Suzi really builds a legacy and community in this program,” said White.
“She definitely makes the alumni want to come back,” added Latham. “She definitely wants people to feel involved.”
Suzi Townsell will admit assistant coaching is a thankless job, but she couldn’t find the words to describe what it meant to have so many former players assisting her.
“Incredible. Fantastic,” said Townsell. “To bring those amazing people back … I mean there are no words. Just a whole lot of love and dedication as players.”
It’s not a thankless role for the current players, who understand the relevance of having a core group of state title winners around them.
“They were student athletes and we won a state title, so it’s cool being coached by the best,” said senior captain Riley Mello.
Having those players back on the sideline, is something Townsell will constantly cherish.
It’s a level of dedication that has only grown through the years and some of her assistants went as far as to describe the success through the years as a legacy.
“It’s very hard for me to single stuff out. If that’s what people might say, maybe it’s a legacy,” said Townsell. “They are just amazing people and human beings and I am grateful that they are next to me, again.”
(Douglas High School volleyball head coach Suzi Townsell demonstrates a point to her team,
during a match Tuesday against Reed. / Ron Harpin)