Stripes Spotlight: Volleyball is in Alconbury coach's blood
January 3, 2005
Volleyball is in Lisa Westlake’s blood. Literally.
Westlake is the daughter of national-level volleyball players, the wife of an All-Navy standout and a former Division I college and professional player herself.
“Volleyball’s kind of funny,” she said as she watched the recent European volleyball championships in Kaiserslautern, Germany. “Once you’re in, you’re in.”
Westlake is an education center employee and substitute teacher at RAF Alconbury, England, where her husband, Mark, a sailor, is winding up his tour at the Air Force base.
She’s also the volunteer coach of the European Division IV champion Alconbury Dragons. But her volleyball experience consists of a bit more than the average high school coach packs into his whistle.
Lisa Westlake has a sister who is attending the University of Wyoming on a full scholarship for volleyball, and her parents are working as nationally certified officials. She even met her husband via volleyball.
Upon graduation from Berkeley High School, Westlake said, she sifted through offers from several Division I and II schools before finally choosing the University of Oregon.
Because she is only 5-foot-1, “many of them wanted me to play back row and then come out when I rotated to the front,” Westlake said. “The Oregon coach [Chris Boelz] was open to letting me play in the front, too.”
Westlake was the setter for a 1986 Ducks team which was ranked 11th in the nation, and she played well enough that the pros came calling, too.
“I played for the San Jose Goldiggers of the indoor pro league,” Westlake said, “and for Team Sony, a four-person team on the beach doubles tour.”
Westlake left the pro tour to serve as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Hawaii, where she met Mark. After tours in San Diego and Japan, punctuated by as much volleyball as the pair could manage, the couple transferred to Alconbury, where longtime coach Nancy Peck had just departed for a teaching job in Germany.
“Actually, I just walked into the situation,” she said. “Nancy Peck [had] just transferred and the new athletic director asked me to volunteer.”
Westlake expected there to be night-and-day differences between the ultra-committed levels of volleyball with which she was familiar and the small-schools, revolving door programs characteristic of DODDS-Europe. Alconbury, however, was different.
“They were a unique bunch of girls,” Westlake said of the players she inherited. “I knew they were good, and I told myself not to sell them short. I started running [sophisticated schemes], and before long they believed they could do it.”
Westlake’s players — after initially being startled at what they were asked to do — soon saw the quality of the gift they had been sent.
“We’re very fortunate to have her,” said junior Malia Haffner, who transferred to Alconbury from Minot, N.D. “It is very challenging, but she brings out our best.”
Last season, their best produced a European title and, with it, a Polynesian diversion.
“I told them I’d do the hula if we won,” Westlake said with a smile. She added that her reward came in staying involved with the game.
“It’s fun to share it,” she said. “I enjoy giving back to the game that’s given me so much.”