AHS grad coaches with passion

Published 9:51 pm Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nichelle Grage, a 2009 Austin grad, is the head volleyball coach at Gale-Ettrick-Trempeleau High School in Wisconsin. Grage is also a senior at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse this fall. -- Rocky Hulne/sports@austindailyherald.com

A lot of college seniors get into coaching and a lot of them have jobs. But very few of them have head coaching jobs at the high school level while they are still in school.

Nichelle Grage, who graduated from Austin High School in 2009, recently became the head volleyball coach at Gale-Ettrick-Trempeleau High School in Wisconsin and she’s set to coach her first season this fall. Grage is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and she even suprised herself when she landed the head job at GET.

“I didn’t expect it at all and when I got hired, it was like ‘wow, that’s a big step up,’” Grage said. “I’ve always wanted to coach and volleyball’s always been a passion of my mine. I always wanted to stay involved in it.”

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Grage, who played two years of college volleyball at Division III Minnesota-Morris before transferring to UWL, coached in a couple of club leagues and she worked a few summer camps over the years before landing the GET job.

Now she has her own group of players to build a program with and she’s already held her first week of practice, where she used a very similar system to what she learned under former AHS head volleyball coach Darica Schneider.

Since coming to GET, Grage has had a couple of flashbacks to her days with the Packers. Her GET team happened to pick the same song to run out to on game nights that Grage ran out to in her senior year with the Packers.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Grage said. “It’s kind of a coincidence and it brings back a lot of memories. It feels good to be on the other side of it.”

Grage is also trying to turn around a program that has struggled with wins the past few seasons. When Grage was a junior at AHS, she was part of a team that made vast improvents on the court and the Packers were solid her senior year as well.

Now Grage, who was a setter in high school and college, is hoping the team she’s coaching can turn it around as well.

“We’re hoping for better this year. I have a lot of girls who are really dedicated and they want to get better. They’re sick of losing and they want to play hard and do everything they can,” Grage said. “I just want to make the program better and teach them every thing I know. There’s a couple of girls that could potentially go on and play in college and I have that experience, so I could pass it on to them.”

Grage said her two years at Morris were eye opening for her as a player.

“You’re a senior in high school and you think you know it all. Then you go on to bigger stuff and you learn so much more,” she said. “Going from high school to college, the pace of the game is so much faster. You don’t really realize it until you’re out there.”

Being a head coach while still being a full-time student may have its challenges, but at least Grage, who is majoring in Clinical Lab Science at UWL, has the scheduling part of it figured out. All of her classes get done by 3 p.m. and volleyball practice starts at 4 p.m. That gives Grage plenty of time to make the 15-minute drive.

Regardless of what happens this season, Grage hopes she can continue coaching volleyball as long as possible. At the very least, she’s hoping she can leave a lasting impact on the players she coaches.

“The biggest thing I’m trying to teach them is you’ve got to give it your all,” Grage said. “You’ve only got so many years to play and if you put everything out there you have and you still lose, that’s OK. But if you still have stuff in you and you lose, that’s not OK.”

Grage will make her coaching debut this Thursday in the Loyal tournament at 4 p.m.