Change is in the air for the San Dieguito Academy girls volleyball team. Just five of 14 players return from last season’s varsity squad that went 17-15. The school is now in a new league, the Avocado East with Oceanside, El Camino, Vista, Rancho Buena Vista and Sage Creek. And perhaps most significantly, the squad has a new head coach. Twenty-nine-year-old San Diego native Will Raschke takes the Mustang helm, his first head coaching position, after assistant coaching assignments at High Tech High and University City and stints in the club setting. A three-year varsity player at Torrey Pines and a graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Raschke earned his master’s degree and teaching credential from USD and has taught at the high school and junior high school level.
“Will came highly-recommended and we liked that his background included club coaching in the area and having played at a district school,” said SDA Athletic Director Scott Jordon. “He had a San Dieguito ‘vibe’ about him and we thought he would fit very well with who we are as a campus. We’ve been impressed with what we’ve seen so far.”
Raschke’s first Mustang squad opened its season at the Las Vegas Invitational last weekend and faces La Costa Canyon, Sept. 4, in its first pre-season outing locally. As his team prepares to get into the heart of its 2018 schedule, Raschke took time to talk about what drew him to San Dieguito, his coaching philosophy and his version of success for this year’s Mustangs.
Q—What about the San Dieguito position did you find appealing?
RASCHKE—Well, I went to Torrey Pines and I always wanted to teach and coach in the district—it’s what I know. I like the people on campus and Encinitas is wonderful. As far as SDA in particular, my teaching background is at High Tech High which is a project-based program, a new approach to teaching. Of the four schools in the district, this is the one with the most similar goals, education-wise. In terms of flexibility, options and openness of the culture, it is the best fit for me.
When it comes to volleyball, it provides a clean slate. With almost two-thirds of the team from last year graduated, it’s kind of like a new program. There’s a chance to get a fresh start with a young team and it’s a great challenge. The league is competitive and all of the schools in the district have super high tier volleyball programs.
Q—All three of the other teams in the district, Torrey Pines, La Costa Canyon and Canyon Crest, are ranked in the top 10 of most CIF pre-season volleyball polls. Although SDA is now in a different league, do you see a day where it could be playing at the same level?
RASCHKE—It’s absolutely possible. The way the district operates as far as school selection, there’s a lot of ability for kids to pick the academic and sports programs that fit them best. My goal as the coach here is to build a program that is appealing and distinct enough from the other three schools that volleyball players are going to want to come here.
Q—How do you plan to accomplish that?
RASCHKE—That’s a good question. The most important thing for me is creating an environment where kids know they’re going to be supported, know they can have fun and know we expect them to be cooperative internally and competitive externally.
Q—Can you explain the cooperative/competitive concept?
RASCHKE—From freshmen to varsity, we want an environment where the girls are playing together, feel positive supporting each other and are playing their best, knowing it’s not a cutthroat situation.
I don’t want players looking at it like “I’m out to get a starting spot and once I have a starting spot, I’m hanging onto it for dear life and that’s all I’m going to worry about.” I’d much rather have them focus on everyone working to get playing time and be sure that everybody knows their potential for growth is respected here. I’m not going to have girls picked out on the freshman team that are going to be guaranteed starters all the way through. This will be a program where every girl knows they can come in, develop, try their hardest and have a shot at playing time.
Q—How much do competitive results play into what you’re trying to accomplish?
RASCHKE—Winning is fun, so that’s got to be part of the equation. Coastal North County is a hotspot for volleyball talent in San Diego and there’s more than enough good players out there that would find the San Dieguito program attractive.
There’s also a lot of room to build on what’s already in place. For instance, they didn’t have a beach program last year and especially here, with the beach culture, you’ve got to have that. We’ll be working on a number of changes to help us increase our ability to be competitive.
Q—What can you tell us about your volleyball philosophy?
RASCHKE—On a broad level, my personal philosophy includes a few things starting with “work hard, play hard.” Generally, our kids will have a pretty clear vision of what we’re doing. They’ll know when they have to be 100 percent dedicated to the task at hand and when it’s time to have fun.
High school athletes have a tendency to internalize mistakes. It can be huge and cause a team to tank in any sport by bringing the mental level down. In our program, mistakes, losses and bad plays belong to me. It’s not about blame, it’s about ownership. I’m owning it—that’s my job. I think that’s super important because as high school students, they have so much more on their plates than even I had 10 years ago. There’s very little mental down time and I don’t want mistakes unnecessarily adding to that stress.
Another broad part of my coaching philosophy is that my demeanor sets the tone. Everything that I do is reflected so I need to be disciplined and positive. My attitude is not the only thing that sets the tone but it’s the one thing I control.
Q—What about your philosophy in terms of playing style?
RASCHKE—Defense always wins—always, always, always. I was a libero when I played so maybe I’m biased. It’s always fun to watch heavy, power-hitting teams lose to scrappy, defense-oriented teams that just keep getting the ball up. Every once in a while, those big hitting teams will rally around a big kill or block but consistent defense, where the ball just keeps coming back and over eventually leads to offensive errors.
When I went to Junior Olympics early in my high school career, we got humiliated by a team that was 6-to-8 inches shorter than us across the board. They got everything up and made so few mistakes. It sunk into me how important defense can be to winning. Our team is pretty good offensively but we spend just as much time on defense and try to have a real balance.
Q—What have you learned about this year’s San Dieguito squad?
RASCHKE—It’s a good group. We’ve got a couple of seniors who have taken leadership roles but the roster’s mostly juniors who have been playing together for years. Skill-wise there’s a range but from an athletic standpoint a much tighter range. They’re all good athletes, move well and are very smart. Give me girls who are athletic, knowledgeable and coachable. That’s a good start.
We’ve got two veterans, Christina Bumann and Chloe Pejouan, in the middle and that should be a strength. Senior, Diana Butch, who was on the team last year but didn’t start, moves into the setter position. Junior Angelina Schaber has been pounding the ball at opposite and we’ll be rotating a lot of outside hitters, including senior Maile Levy who had 144 kills last season. My problem is going to be figuring out who’s going to be best as far as playing with each other on the floor.
Q—What will you be looking for in your early season matches?
RASCHKE—Things you can’t always judge in practice or scrimmages. Like cooperativeness on the court, how well do they play together in a competitive situation? Mental toughness, how much can they take, can they come back when they make a mistake or face adversity?
Q—How do you think San Dieguito will fare moving to the Avocado East?
RASCHKE—The level of competition will be the biggest difference. The Avocado West has all of its top teams in the CIF Open Division almost every year while the Avocado East teams are in Division 1-2 and 3. The East is more our speed in a year where we’ve lost so many seniors. From top-to-bottom, we should be able to actively compete with the teams in our new league.
Q—Who have been some of your volleyball mentors?
RASCHKE—There are several. Brennan Dean, my coach at Torrey Pines, has been an inspiration. His competitiveness, drive and intensity throughout practice is amazing. He can really hone in and push girls to be better.
Roy Agbulos, who used to coach at Mt. Carmel and is at La Jolla Volleyball Club, is a genius for working with what he’s got and is the epitome of “coaching the team you have, not the one you want.”
La (Lawrence) Ortiguerra, who I coached with at High Tech High, has incredible passion and I was always impressed with how he was able to get the girls to enjoy being there. He’s the one who convinced me to actually keep coaching.
Q—When you’re not coaching volleyball, what do you do to relax?
RASCHKE—I like to play tennis and play a lot. I have a shop in my garage where I build things—everything from furniture to wall art to jewelry. Sometimes I sell it but most of it is for me or friends and family. I built most of the furniture in my house.
I still like to play rec volleyball and I surf, although that seems to happen less and less since I’ve found my tolerance for cold water has gone downhill rapidly.
Q—Among the top tennis players, who would make the best volleyball player?
RASCHKE—I would say John Isner (6-foot-7). He could be a force at the net. I think (Novak) Djokovic would make the best libero. He moves the best so I don’t think anyone would be better.
Q—What would make the 2018 San Dieguito girls volleyball season a success in your eyes?
RASCHKE—From a typical viewpoint, we’d like to win more than we lose. I’d love to win CIF.
But my vision of success is really based on what the girls think. It touches everything from getting better, winning a certain number of matches, doing well in post-season or improving a particular skill. It’s a huge range and I can support all of those things. At the end of the season, if I ask our players if they were successful and they say “yes,” I’m good.