From coaching staff to players, state volleyball team is one big family
By Jason Arndt
Former Westosha Central High School volleyball players Lauren and Drew Cox as well as Jordan Meyers never played a role in a WIAA State Tournament, let alone at Green Bay’s Resch Center, until they coached the boys team to a historic finish last weekend.
Lauren and Drew Cox, and Meyers, and former Kenosha Bradford student Brett Kaczmarek helped guide the Falcons to their first state championship appearance in school history as coaches with a stunning sweep of top-seeded Kaukauna in the semifinal match Nov. 5.
Meyers, who graduated from Central in 2015, has served as junior varsity coach for two seasons and found last weekend’s appearance at the Resch Center an awesome experience.
“The Resch Center atmosphere was amazing,” said Meyers. “Our boys came in and really fed on all the energy our amazing fans brought and they fed on each other, especially in the Kaukauna match.”
Lauren Cox, Drew’s wife and varsity assistant coach, played for long-time former girls volleyball coach Charlie Berg from 2009-12 before producing a stellar four-year career at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
Lauren, whose maiden name is Hickson, graduated in 2013 and spent her high school career on the cusp of reaching the Resch Center only to seemingly lose against Burlington in the WIAA Division 1 sectional final.
“So, as a coach it was incredibly magical to finally make it to state with this team,” said Lauren. “Pure happiness and excitement flooded in, as I could hardly wait to see our team play.”
“The atmosphere was phenomenal to have all of the top athletes and coaches in the state under one roof along with some of the best volleyball I’ve ever seen played at the high school level. It truly is a once in a lifetime memory that I’ll never forget as a coach.”
Although the Falcons lost to Marquette University High School in a five-set thriller Saturday to finish as state runner-up, head coach Drew Cox became the first coach in program history to collect a trophy, crediting his coaching staff, players and student section.
“Being the first coach in program history to bring home hardware is an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “I want to thank my entire coaching staff for helping me instill my vision throughout the entire program.”
Drew, who graduated from Central in 2009, took the helm as head varsity coach of the program four years ago and succeeded his former coach Wayne Schultz.
Drew said he hopes the state run is only the beginning of a long career at his alma mater.
“All I can say is this is just beginning of hopefully a long career here at Westosha Central High,” he said. “Thank you seniors for one heck of a ride. The students here at Central will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Drew grew up playing sand volleyball in his backyard, however, he initially planned on participating in football.
But, as a sophomore in 2006, Westosha Central began offering boys volleyball.
“I knew it was the right decision to walk away from the football field to pursue my career in volleyball – the sport I grew up loving,” said Drew, who played on the varsity volleyball team from 2006-2009 as a right side hitter.
After leaving Westosha Central, Drew graduated from UW-Whitewater, where he played as outside hitter for the club volleyball team in 2014.
Before taking over the Westosha Central boys program, Drew coached volleyball at Bristol Grade School, where he had the privilege to grow the sport among young athletes.
The young athletes, he said, included many students who went on to play at Westosha Central.
“I must have done something right to get them eager to play for me at the high school level despite not being their focal sport,” said Drew, who noted many of them specialized in other sports such as baseball and basketball.
In the high school ranks, Drew became an assistant girls volleyball coach at Wilmot before returning to Westosha Central, where he served a similar role for one year under current girls volleyball coach Megan Awe.
Drew said his experiences in the girls program helped him shape the direction he wanted to achieve as the boys head coach, noting the girls game places a focus on the finer details.
“Skill breakdown and progression has been the main focal point for the past four years,” said Drew. “I remember walking in my first year as the head coach, the boys had a difficult time understanding the reasons behind why I broke down each and every skill.”
Drew, at the time, admits he saw many players complain during practice.
However, despite the eye rolls and side whispers, Drew forced his players to answer critical questions about the facets of the game.
“I took what they had learned before and forced them to answer the question, “Why do I perform this skill this specific way?” he recalled. “I then demonstrated the skill in a whole new way. I made them analyze each skill down to the bare bone showing them which part they may have been missing and which part they should focus on to be more successful.”
Drew, however, said changing the focus took time because breaking bad habits or attitudes will always be the Achilles heel for any team regardless of talent.
But he recalled former player, Alex Salerno, buying into his new approach as a first year head coach.
“This leader, Al Salerno, began to take every drill, game or pep talk to heart and you could see how determined he was each and every day,” Drew recalled.
Drew sought to change the culture and bring a family atmosphere to the team.
That, he said, consists of treating every athlete with care and compassion.
“Not having children of my own yet and having the opportunity to coach them since the sixth grade, I truly feel like these boys are my own,” Drew said. “I would do anything for this group and this program. I have been head coach now for four years and could not ask for a better group of young men.”
Meyers, although younger than Drew, spent time playing sand volleyball with him since both were kids.
“We actually grew up in the same neighborhood and played years of sand volleyball together,” Drew said. “When asking Jordan to join my staff, he was extremely excited to bring the knowledge he had gained from being the president of the men’s volleyball up at Stevens Point.”
Meyers, who attended UW-Stevens Point, initially didn’t envision becoming an assistant coach before Drew approached him.
But Meyers, without hesitation, eagerly joined Drew because of his love for volleyball.
“I never thought that I’d be pitching in as a coach instead of a player, but I really enjoy being a coach because I can see these boys grow as volleyball players and grow to love the sport that I love,” Meyers said.
Additionally, since Meyers graduated from college and returned home, becoming a junior varsity coach became an ideal opportunity for him.
“There is no better way to grow the sport than to become a coach and build the foundation these boys need to compete at the varsity level,” Meyers said.
Meyers, who works as an arborist for the City of Racine, looked back on his time as a Central player and remembered team bonding activities such as dinners.
As a junior, where he primarily played as backup setter, Meyers said the team was a relatively close-knit group.
“We had fun at team dinners and it showed in our play that year,” he said. “That is why I think this 2021 team was so special because they played for each other and they truly had fun with each other on and off the court.”
Lauren Cox, a four-year letter-winner for Berg, later went on to play at UW-Parkside.
Upon conclusion of her career for the Rangers, she admits feeling heartbroken, especially since she spent most of her life playing volleyball.
Instead of putting away the volleyball entirely, Lauren oftentimes plays in summer sand and grass league tournaments, and officiated numerous club tournaments.
She initially returned to Westosha Central as an assistant girls volleyball coach for Awe before joining the boys program.
“Westosha Central will always hold a special place in my heart as an alumni and now current coach, especially alongside my husband, who is the head varsity coach, as well as good friends Jordan Meyers and Brett Kaczmarek,” Lauren said.
“I love the camaraderie that the staff, families and fans bring to Central. Even local community members are at games to support the athletes.”
Drew concurred with Lauren, adding he remains entrenched in the community, now as a physical education teacher at Salem Grade School.
“I’m just here to spread the love I have for the game of volleyball,” he said. “My involvement in the surrounding grade schools has only helped many of these athletes understand my coaching style and to join in on the fun we have every fall season.”
“Being so heavily in this community is so special to me and my wife, Lauren, I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else. This is why I chose to be a Falcon all over again.”
Lauren said she looks forward to instilling her husband’s vision for the Westosha Central boys program.
Additionally, she recalled a familiar statement from former coach Berg, which she has also incorporated into her coaching philosophy.
“There was always one quote of Charlie’s, ‘Everyone is a setter, no matter what position you play’ and that resonated with me for years to come,” she said. “As a setter myself, I loved to see others succeed at setting and do it well.”
The Westosha Central student section, known for its enthusiasm, shined brightly at the Resch Center.
Lauren, who remembered the same energy as a student, said the current group has continued the tradition with some new features.
“From what I can remember, as an athlete and a student, being an awesome fan and student section was the cool thing to do,” she said. “The fan section has always been electric. We never had cardboard cutouts of our faces, but I think it’s a great addition. I love to see the stands full.”
Lauren, a physical therapist at Aurora Medical Center in Kenosha, decided to enter the field because she had interest in helping patients.
“I always had a fascination with the human body and how it all worked, so being a physical therapist is the perfect career, I also love being active and love all of the patients I get to interact with.”
Lauren said she couldn’t have been more proud of the boys’ accomplishments this season.
She noted the team showed heart, even amid adversity, including multiple five-set thrilling victories.
“I am so proud of these guys, their heart and drive was consistent this entire year… They came into this year hungry after a heartbreaking loss at state last year,” she said.
“The seniors were all incredible athletes and were great leaders to the underclassmen on the team. No one ever expected this team to make it thus far, let alone take second place in the state tournament. They should all be extremely proud of their effort, play, and attitude. This year will never be forgotten and will go down in Westosha Central boys volleyball history.”
Meyers noted this year’s team will carry a longstanding bond because of its state tournament appearance.
“I know right now that the 10 seniors are sad to leave the program coming so close, but this state run will be something they will remember for the rest of their lives. Wherever they go they will always have something in common with their former teammates, some may never play volleyball again, or may not play for years,” Meyers said.