By Ken McDowell
As an athlete, Kenzie Chrisman was no stranger to success so it's no surprise that success has transitioned into coaching.
Chrisman, a 2015 graduate of Sterling High School (SHS), was recently selected as the Two-Year American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Assistant Coach of the Year for 2019.
She received her award at the AVCA Annual Convention in Pittsburgh, Pa. held Dec. 18-21.
Chrisman recently completed her first season as assistant coach of the Northeastern Junior College (NJC) Plainswomen volleyball team, helping to lead NJC to it's second straight trip to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) National Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan. in November.
Chrisman is the first-ever NJC assistant coach to receive the award.
"I don't know if I can truly express the kind of honor it is to receive this award," Chrisman said. "There are coaches who go their entire careers and not receive something like this and for me to receive it after my first year of coaching, I am beyond thankful and blessed."
During her high school career at SHS, Chrisman lettered four years in volleyball and basketball. In volleyball she was selected All-Patriot League and had 280 kills as a senior which lead her to a collegiate volleyball career at Chadron State, Neb. College.
She was the team's third leading scorer and leader in blocks for two years before transferring to the University of West Florida (UWF) in Pensacola, Fla. her final two collegiate seasons. During her career at UWF Chrisman was the leading blocker both on the team and in the NCAA Division II Gulf South Conference.
During her final season she broke the UWF record for most blocks in a season with 141, was First Team All-Conference, selected to the Gulf South All-Tournament Team and All-Region First Team which nominated her for All-American status.
Chrisman enjoyed just as much success in the classroom as on the volleyball court, being selected to the Gulf South Conference All-Academic Team while maintaining a 3.9 GPA.
Towards the end of her senior season in 2018, Chrisman was invited to play volleyball overseas for the USA Volleyball squad. She planned to continue playing volleyball overseas while earning her Masters Degree.
Unfortunately in the conference tournament she suffered a severe knee injury, tearing ACL, LCL, PCL and meniscus, ending her overseas career.
When Chrisman returned to Colorado she saw the opening for the assistant coaching job and NJC and thought "Why not?"
"My college coach and now mentor and I had a long conversation about how this could be an amazing opportunity for me and would allow for me to stay in the sport," she explained.
"I didn't expect to get an interview because I had yet to finish my degree. I was unbelievably fortunate to get the call asking if I would take the job."
Shortly before Chrisman accepted the job, Squier informed her new assistant that she was pregnant, "And of course I congratulated her and was beyond excited for her," Chrisman said.
It didn't sink in right away that since Jessica and her husband Jeff Squier were expecting the arrival of their second child during the first part of the 2019 NJC volleyball season that Chrisman would be the temporary head coach during Squier's absence.
"I was beyond nervous," Chrisman admitted. "Most of my time during the summer was asking Jessica questions on how she wanted me to run things while she was gone.
"The entire time she was so trusting. She trusted me more than I trusted myself, and so supportive. I can't thank her enough. While she was on maternity leave she was never really gone.
"At least two or three times a week I went over to her house after practice asking her questions and trying to get some advice. She kept telling me just to trust myself because she trusted me."
NJC lost it's first match under Coach Chrisman, but ran off nine straight wins before posting a 12-5 record until Squier's return at home against Lamar Community College on Sept. 27, 2019.
"Jessica was able to come to a couple of our home games," Chrisman said. "She watched from the top of the bleachers and I would keep looking at her to see if she needed to tell me something.
"I got fairly good at reading her looks as to what she was trying to tell me. Being able to kind of run things was a huge eye-opener for me as to what it takes to run a team."
It was also beneficial that Chrisman's former assistant coach at SHS, Kendra Short, served as Kenzie's assistant in those NJC matches before Squier returned from maternity leave.
"Jessica was with me every step of the way, as was Coach Short and Marci Henry (former NJC volleyball coach and current NJC athletic director). Being able to have Coach Short next to me after being able to play for her in high school was amazing.
"She helped me through so much and definitely kept me calm when I was stressing out. I'll never be able to express how thankful I am for her help."
NJC went on to claim the Region IX Tournament title for the second straight year to advance to the NJCAA Nationals in Hutchinson, Kan., in late November where the Plainswomen posted a 1-3 mark.
Overall NJC was 25-12 with Chrisman as the first-year assistant coach.
Short said it was a great experience being Kenzie's "assistant coach" for those 17 matches after being one of her high school coaches for four years.
"I was a little worried about her taking on so much just coming out of college," Short recalled. "I watched her run camp drills during the summer and realized she would be great with the college team.
"Then when I started attending fall practice, Kenzie was organizing players in drills. She was confident in what she was doing and the players responded well.
"When we started matches, Kenzie made good coaching decisions and she was smart about telling the team what changes they needed to make on offense and defense.
"She even made bold decisions on substituting players that seemed to turn around a match we were losing into a win."
Squier felt it was only right to nominate Chrisman for the AVCA Two-Year Assistant Coach of the Year Award.
"I nominated Kenzie because she took over my duties for the first few weeks when I took maternity leave," Squier said. "She asked questions and continued to build the team in the direction her and I planned during the spring and summer prior to the season.
"She has great coaching instincts and made some gutsy calls in matches that enabled the team to win. What she did while I stepped away was vital to the team having a successful season."
Squier said NJC followed all the Human Resource requirements to hire the young coach.
"Based of her resume, cover letter and interview Kenzie was the best candidate for our school and program," Squier said.
"I am so proud of her and very happy for her. The award was well-deserved. She handled the season like a veteran college coach."
Chrisman admitted that working along side of Squier has been a great way to begin her coaching career.
"Now being able to coach along side of Jessica, I have only grown," Chrisman said. "She has taught me so much about strategy and different techniques that I have never thought of.
"I think we were able to work so well together because of some of our different views of the game. Throughout this entire year I thought to myself I didn't know if I could have been able to do this job if I had to work with anyone other than Jessica.
"I can't thank her enough for trusting in me and continuing to coach me."
Henry knows how to identify the qualities of a good coach. She coached the Plainswomen volleyball team for 11 seasons (1999-2009) and for her efforts became the sixth NJC mentor to be inducted into the NJCAA Coaches Hall of Fame in 2014, joining the late Bill Lanham, the late Roy Edwards, Ed Brandt, Sheila Worley and the late Lowell Roumph.
"Kenzie did a fantastic job leading the team in Jessica's absence," Henry said. "Watching her, you would never know she was only in first year.
"She led with confidence and made tough in-game decisions that proved to create a culture where the student-athletes knew what to expect, where they stood and what their roles were on the team.
"She was very good and put the team in a position to succeed upon Jessica's return."
During Chrisman's freshman year at SHS in 2011, the Lady Tigers finished their final season in Class 4A with a 15-7 mark.
In 2012 Sterling joined the Class 3A ranks and Chrisman helped lead the Lady Tigers to the state tournament her final three seasons before enjoying a successful college career.
Chrisman also credits Sterling Coach Lisa Schumacher for her success as a player and coach.
"I have had so many coaches to look up to, and Coach Schumacher is one of them," Chrisman said. "Coach Schumacher and my family have been life-long friends and still talk volleyball whenever we see each other.
"I will always remember Lisa talking about how we could leave her gym hating her but if she could prepare us for the real world she didn't care how mad we were.
"Lisa was a hard coach but she knows what she's talking about and molded me into the player I was and helped prepare me for college.
"I have taken so much from that program, using it while at NJC."
Schumacher said it came as no surprise that Kenzie has already enjoyed success as a coach.
"Kenzie not only understands the game of volleyball, but she has great work ethics and she loves the sport," Schumacher said. "Those are all qualities that make a great coach. It is who she is and I'm very proud of her."
Kenzie's dad, Kent Chrisman, was also an assistant coach at NJC in the men's basketball program from 1998-2002. He coached Kenzie in basketball at SHS all four years when he was the Lady Tiger coach from 2009-2017.
Kent is very proud of what Kenzie has already accomplished in her early coaching career.
"I am so proud of Kenzie," he said. "She has worked so hard in athletics and that has transferred over into coaching.
"Thanks to all of her coaches for what they have given her as she has taken things from all of them. It's been fun to watch her grow and now as a coach. I'm just so proud of her!"
Kenzie has soaked in the inspiration from her father as well as her mother Dianna.
"My parents definitely inspired me," she said. "Several people have come up to me and have told me that I coach just like my dad and it means the world to me.
"I try to be like my parents when I coach. My dad is well known for for being a class act coach and I strive to be like that.
"As for my mom, she still to this day helps me. She'll watch a match and then tell me what she thinks and I love it! Coaching is definitely in our blood."
"It was fun to work with her and I enjoyed watching her coach and I didn't have to do much for her except support the smart coaching decisions she was making," Short said. "She really has a future in coaching I'm glad NJC has her but I hope she can find her own program in the future."
But for now, Chrisman said she wants to stay put.
"I had always had the thought of coaching in the back of my mind and never thought it would happen this soon," she admitted. "I have always loved working with kids and found a new love for the game when I started coaching club volleyball at UWF.
"Moving forward I now know that coaching is the career that I want to pursue. I have no idea what level I'll end up at or if I'll be a head coach or an assistant coach.
"All I know is that I love this game and and don't intend on leaving any time soon."