Oct. 28, 2010
Reunion at Red Oak
By David Boyce
The consequence of one act around 20 years ago by a young volleyball coach with a goal is still having an impact on Red Oak, an Iowa town of 5,000 people.
Red Oak High School will see a NCAA Division II volleyball match Wednesday when Northwest Missouri State takes on Nebraska-Omaha.
It's a special homecoming for three Bearcats. First-year coach Jessica Rinehart was a member of the first Red Oak team to reach the state tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Senior libero Paige Spangenberg and junior outside hitter Alex Hanna also helped Red Oak to the state tournament during their high school days.
"I think it will be great," Rinehart said. "Alex and Paige are going to see people who supported them for four years there and then to play for them in an atmosphere that is all Bearcat green will be great.
"I can't believe all that's happened since the time I've been there. It is really special. It was a special time in my life and memories I will have forever. To be able to step on the court there with my team will be a unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Rinehart has matured from a young high school student with a dream of playing at state to a wife, a mother and head coach of a Northwest team that has shown it is capable of beating one of the best teams in NCAA Division II.
One act helped trigger the volleyball explosion in Red Oak and enhanced the lives of countless girls who have gone through the program for more than two decades.
It started when Angie Spangenberg, Paige's mom, was the volleyball coach at Red Oak. She took a group of middle school girls to the state volleyball tournament.
"It was noisy trip," said Angie Spangenberg, now the athletic director at Red Oak. "I wanted to take them to the place where you wanted to end up eventually."
The following year she asked the group if they wanted to go again.
"They said no, ‘we are not coming back until we play here.'/" Angie said.
Like a Hollywood story with a happy ending, Red Oak made its first ever appearance at the Iowa state volleyball tournament in Rinehart's senior season.
Rinehart can easily recall getting on a charter bus for the first time in her life at the McDonalds in Red Oak and rolling out to the cheer of the town's people.
She said she had such tunnel focus during her playing days that she hardly noticed that the gym, which holds 1,200 people, was filled.
It was only after her playing days at Red Oak that she could reflect on how remarkable that time was in her life.
"We finished third. We were the underdogs," Rinehart said. "We knocked off a team that hadn't lost in two years in the first round. It was magical. It was always our dream."
Angie Spangenberg wanted the middle school students to get much more out of the trip than just a goal to reach state.
It's what coaches call today a teachable moment.
She hoped they learned the importance of being part of a team, how to play the game, and how to play with heart and sportsmanship.
Angie Spangenberg saw she had a very determined group of kids who were passionate about the sport and had a great work ethic.
"You hope they learn things along the way," she said. "That you never give up, respect the fact there are so many people along the way that helped you get there - your parents, your community, club coaches, whoever.
"I think anytime you work with kids in academics and athletics and help them reach a goal, it is a pretty special feeling. As a coach, watching them celebrating that night and toilet papering my house is something I will never forget."
More nice memories will undoubtedly be created on Wednesday. Northwest is having an up-and-down season that has still been rewarding for Paige Spangenberg, who has moved into fourth place on the MIAA's all-time digs list.
In fact, you can see the happiness in all the Bearcats. They kept their heads up as they were going through a tough, 3-0 loss at Rockhurst on Tuesday. It dropped their record to 11-11 overall.
Just a week ago, Northwest experienced the highest of highs on the volleyball court when they beat No. 2 ranked Washburn in a thrilling five-set match on "Pink Out" night at Bearcat Arena. It was the first victory over a ranked team by the Bearcats since 2007 when they beat No. 18 Nebraska-Omaha.
"It was awesome," Paige Spangenberg said. "Since I've been here we haven't beat Washburn so to be able to beat them my last year on a charity night for breast cancer was special. We played together and played well. It was just a good night.
"Some of our losses were frustrating but my senior year has been nothing more than I could ask for. We've had so much fun and volleyball has just been a good experience this year."
Rinehart likes the way her team has bounced back from losses, but she wishes they didn't need to bounce back as much.
"I wish we could consistently maintain the high level of play that we are capable of," Rinehart said. "But it's good to know that deep down they are made of the right stuff. Tomorrow's a new day."
The Bearcats definitely want to head to Red Oak on a winning streak. They get that opportunity Friday and Saturday at home when they face Pittsburg State and Southwest Baptist.
Northwest is holding its own in the MIAA. At 7-6 in conference play, the Bearcats are fifth in an 11-team league.
As wonderful as Wednesday will be for Hanna, who leads the team in kills, she knows it is important to first focus on Pittsburg State and then Southwest Baptist.
"I'm excited about next Wednesday, but I'm focusing first on Pittsburg State and then look forward to Saturday's challenge," Hanna said.
"But Wednesday is going to be amazing. It's going to be a great atmosphere. It's a volleyball town. The crowd really gets into it. I think it will be a lot of fun for everybody."
Paige Spangenberg feels the same way.
"I'm totally excited. It was always special to play there," Paige Spangenberg said. "I thought I had already played my last match ever there and now I have this opportunity."
No matter how the match turns out against Nebraska-Omaha, the Bearcats will make an impression on some grade school, middle school and high school players who will further advance the ongoing Red Oak volleyball story.
"I think high school volleyball for Red Oak is home. They come out in all kinds of numbers," Angie Spangenberg said. "It's a small town. People know you. When they come and support you it is a great thing for kids. I think volleyball has brought a lot of enjoyment to our community."
"I hope we get a lot of Red Oak community support and I hope support from the smaller schools around. It's an opportunity for people to watch collegiate volleyball. There are a lot of young kids with dreams. I hope they come and watch."
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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