They don’t refer to him as “Coach” or “Coach Condon.”
For the Davenport Assumption volleyball team, it is just “Kyle.”
“He is like one of us, except he’s a guy,” Assumption senior setter Kate Fennelly said. “We all love Kyle.”
Kyle Condon, nearly two years removed from a successful collegiate playing career at St. Ambrose, has stepped in and guided the Knights to the state tournament as a first-year head coach.
Sound familiar, Assumption fans?
Girls basketball coaches Jennifer Goetz (2010-11) and Mallory Youngblut (2011-12) took Assumption teams to the state tournament in their initial season — and returned home with state titles.
The volleyball program aims for a similar result starting Thursday afternoon against Mount Vernon in the Class 3A state tournament at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
“We just have really good luck with first-year coaches,” middle hitter and basketball standout Hailey Schneden said. “It is something where we have to prove ourselves with a new coach and show we can come out strong even if we don’t have someone from the previous year.”
The volleyball and girls basketball teams are accustomed to change.
Condon is the third volleyball coach in three years following Marie Becker and Mary Millman. Youngblut was in the same position last winter with the basketball team after Todd Borrison departed and Goetz was there for only one season.
“It says a lot about how good of athletes we have here,” Condon said. “They’re able to adjust to anything. They learn quickly and they’re smart girls.”
After Millman left this summer to accept a teaching and coaching position in Aurora, Colo., there was uncertainty around the program in who would be her replacement.
“Yeah, as players and those outside the program, I’m sure there was this feeling of, ‘Who’s going to be our coach? What’s going to happen?’” junior libero Lexi Flynn said. “No matter what, I think we would have been able to pull through.”
But when Condon succeeded Millman, there was a sense of relief.
He served two years as a varsity assistant under Becker and was the lead freshman coach in 2009-10 at Assumption.
“Knowing that he’s coached some of us before, it really helped,” Flynn said. “He’s good at relating to us and really knows the game.”
Condon has a relaxed approach, but his practices are controlled and centered on fundamentals and continual improvement.
And if the need arises, Condon is not afraid to raise his voice.
“He’s definitely laid back, but he gets mad every once in a while,” Schneden said. “If we’re not paying attention, he’ll get us back and focused.”
During Assumption’s five-set win over Pleasant Valley in late August, Fennelly vividly recalls Condon motivating the team before the final game.
“He’s really good at getting us pumped up,” Fennelly said. “When we tell him to go off, he just goes off and screams at us. We all get excited, and it brings out our best.”
Assumption, the only team to defeat PV this season, enters the state tournament with a 28-7 record. The Knights’ three conference losses came to North Scott, Bettendorf and Clinton — three schools ranked in the top seven of their respective class.
Second-ranked Assumption has had no difficulty in the postseason, sweeping Camanche, Northeast and Cascade in three games.
Condon, though, doesn’t want his team to rest its the accomplishment of reaching the state tournament for the first time in school history.
“I’ve been telling them all year that if we play go out and play our best volleyball, I don’t think there is anyone that can beat us,” Condon said. “It is about playing consistent throughout an entire match.
“If we can do that, we’ve got a chance of going pretty far.”
Regardless, Condon said there’ll be a significant difference coaching on the sideline versus competing in a national tournament like he did with the Bees.
“As a player, I felt like I had a little more control,” he admitted. “Here, I can only say and do so much to get the girls ready to play. Hopefully, they’ll go out and execute.”