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New coach Elaina Renius has the attention of her Mead High School volleyball players as she explains a complex drill during practice Monday. (Jesse Tinsley)

New Mead coach has big shoes to fill

New coach, players welcome challenges at Mead

Elaina Renius doesn’t agonize over the question of how she intends to continue what’s been called the “Mead Mystique.”

Renius and her players welcome the challenge.

“I was picked for this position for a reason and I believe I’m meant to be here, because of what I believe a team should have as its focus and the kind of girls I want on my team,” Renius said.

“We all know that it’s going to be difficult to live up to that name (Mead), but (Renius) believes in us that we can do it,” Panthers senior outside hitter/right-side hitter Rylie Carty said. “She sees the potential in us.”

Renius, who turns 27 on Thursday, takes over as coach for Judy Kight, who resigned after leading the Panthers to seven state titles and a runner-up finish last year with a senior-heavy roster.

Nine of Kight’s final 13 teams won Greater Spokane League titles. Her state titles came in 1999, 2009 and every year from 2003-07.

Renius, a second-year counselor at Mead, previously served as assistant volleyball coach at Shadle Park and Whitman College in Walla Walla, and as coach at Garrison Middle School while working as a counselor at Walla Walla High.

Renius grew up in Grants Pass, Ore., and was recruited by Kelly Graves to play basketball at Gonzaga University. She “rode the pine” for two years before joining GU’s volleyball team. She ended up playing three seasons in both sports.

Renius doesn’t know how many people applied to replace Kight, or how many people were interviewed, but she has an idea of what gave her an advantage.

“I can be intense when there’s a time to buckle down, but as a whole, I’m a ball of energy,” she said. “…I can laugh at myself, which I think is important, and I can admit when I’m wrong and I’ve made mistakes.”

Unlike last season, when the Panthers were all but penciled in to the state title match, this year’s Mead roster is loaded with first-year varsity players. Carty and junior setter Hannah Absalonson are exceptions, but both spent most of last season watching the Panthers’ impressive senior class.

“We’ve heard a lot of, ‘Are you even going to be good this year?’ Absalonson said. “And it’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to be good.’ ”

“We had a lot of star power above us that graduated, so we were kind of in the shadows and now we need to step out,” Carty said.

Once she was hired, Renius said that she had Kight “on speed-dial” for the many questions she never had to ponder as a JV or middle-school coach. Kight helped with the transition, telling Renius to set a philosophy and never waver from it. Kight was known for the slogan “HGP:” Hearts, Guts, Passion.

“That makes so much sense,” Renius said. “Why change it? Why deviate from the plan?”

Still, Renius’ program won’t be an exact clone of Kight’s.

“I want my focus to be on running the middles, because I’m a middle, and I think that establishes a balanced offense if you can hold up the middle on the other side,” Renius said.

“I think (the offense) is a lot quicker,” Absalonson said. “We’re really going to focus on having a quick defense, especially with the middles. So it’s definitely like zero tempo.”

Less than a week before today’s nonleague match at University, Renius was still absorbing everything that has happened to her in the last few months.

“It’s kind of crazy when that first email came in from a parent about, ‘When’s practice time for so-and-so?’ ” Renius said. “Then it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s me. I’m the person they’re asking these questions.’ ”