No strangers in Vale-Nyssa volleyball matchup

Nyssa coach Maddie Speelman goes over strategy with her team in a recent practice session. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

NYSSA – Maddie Speelman grew up in Vale. She was a setter for the varsity volleyball team in Vale. Her little brother TJ plays football in Vale.

But when Speelman watches from the sidelines at Thursday’s Vale vs. Nyssa match, she won’t be rooting for the Vikings.

That’s because Speelman is in her second season as head coach of the Nyssa High School varsity volleyball team. On Sept. 19, she’ll face off against her hometown and her former coach: Shannon Steele.

“We’re excited,” Speelman said at volleyball practice last week. The game at Nyssa is the first league game of the season for both teams.

Last year the teams faced off twice, with the Vikings reigning supreme both times. But Speelman’s team squeezed a win in the first set, ending the game 3-1. The last time Nyssa took a game against Vale to four sets was in 2013. Speelman graduated from Vale High that year.

“I felt like I was on the court playing,” Speelman recalled.


Winning against Steele is no easy feat.

With Steele at the helm, the Vikings took home the 2015 state title. She coached the winning team at the 2017 Oregon State Volleyball All-Star Tournament.

“She is my mentor. I still go to her for confidence and ideas,” Speelman said of her former coach. “I look up to her like none other.”

Vale coach Shannon Steele gives her players some tips as they gear up for Thursday’s match. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

When Speelman applied for the head coach position at Nyssa, it was Steele who wrote her letter of recommendation. Speelman had coached club volleyball for Steele for two years.

“She’s a great person and she has a lot to offer Nyssa,” Steele said of Speelman. “She’s an intense coach, she has a passion for doing things right, she has a passion for volleyball. She’s that type of person. She would be that way no matter who coached her.”

But Steele’s intense, too. As a coach, she is tough as – well – steel. At games you’ll find her crouched at the sidelines, her steely gaze keeping track of everything happening on the court.

Practice is no different. She sits on the floor and keeps track of stats. She keeps players on their toes. When the players are up to serve, she’ll signal to them surreptitiously so that they will serve in the direction of a particular teammate.

It’s that way of reading players that Speelman said she learned from Steele. She praised her former coach for teaching her how to break down the game to fundamental steps that help “develop players into becoming phenomenal players,” Speelman said.

For the Bulldogs, Speelman said the key right now is working on becoming a family. That focus on unity may be another thing she picked up from Steele. Talk to any of the Vikings and you’ll notice the way they pepper their sentences with “our team.”

Back at the Vale gym last week, practice involved the usual maneuvers as well as the team covenants players choose to keep themselves accountable. Missed a serve? Drop and do 10 pushups.

“Hopefully we’ll play with intensity and follow our game plan,” Steele said.

When it comes to rivalries, she said she doesn’t get into it. Girls on the Nyssa team are great girls, she added, “When we don’t have a game I want them to do well.”

But make no mistake, in Thursday’s match, she said, “I want the best for us.”

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