Trinity coaching change alters attitude

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RIVER FOREST — With renewed determination, morale and teamwork, the Trinity volleyball team has bounced back thanks to a spark from their new coach, Ken Uhlir.

The Blazers already doubled last year’s victory total of 5-17, standing 10-6 after knocking off Parker on Sept. 11. They have won against tough teams like Oak Park-River Forest and New Trier, which was third in state last year.

Uhlir and his wife, Chris, have been around the Trinity program since 2009. They launched Triple Ace Volleyball Club at Trinity, which serves 250 kids from first grade through high school from the end of October through June.

Ken Uhlir, 49, has played volleyball since his early 20’s. Chris Uhlir and their daughter Carly also have played club. Carly Uhlir is a sophomore outside hitter for the Blazers’ varsity team.

“We’re pretty much a volleyball family,” he said.

The Blazers’ volleyball family also have regained a sense of unity, players said.

Through a summer camp in July and twice-a-day two-hour practices for the week before school started, the girls worked on their skills. While the focus was fundamentals and game play scenarios, they also learned how to work better together.

“We all stepped up over the summer to improve,” Grace Lattner, a senior middle hitter, said. Practices last year mainly consisted of drills, she said.

Uhlir said the Blazers are a “young team,” with only three seniors, 11 juniors and two sophomores.

Even the fan base has improved, Christine Olijnyk, a second-year senior outside hitter, said. Last year, she said only parents would come, but now students are cheering them on. The basketball team came to their game against Oak Park-River Forest and flooded the court upon their victory.

The team has also gained a lot logistically, the girls said.

“Last season we only had one game plan,” Olijnyk said. “If something’s not working this year, [Uhlir] changes things, like stances and strategy.”

She said the OPRF game was a struggle until Uhlir changed the blocking strategy. The girls then won the next two games, sealing the match on Aug. 28.

Uhlir’s style of coaching has lent well to their success. Athletic director Rachel Meiner said he’s “strict but still fun” and highly committed, citing his efforts on and off the court. She said he offered to hang new athletic banners, promote the booster club and even drove the team bus when the driver had to cancel.

“He was able to install belief in these girls that they have the talent to win,” Meiner said. “He knows if you put effort in, it’ll pay off.”

Uhlir also made sure to include all the levels in his program. The freshman A and B teams only used the small gym last year, but have enjoyed playing in the big gym this season for some games while the other levels watch.

“We’re having more fun on the court and not worrying so much about making mistakes, which leads to a more encouraging, positive atmosphere,” Tori Morrill, a junior captain who had 242 assists at the end of last week, said. “It doesn’t matter if we win or lose, but we’re getting better as a team.”

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