Ten years ago Liz Brieva and other parents from the Evanston community spearheaded a drive to restore athletic programs — including volleyball — to middle schools in District 65.
Now Brieva herself might reap some of the benefits that hundreds of children have already experienced in the district because of those efforts.
Brieva has been named the new head girls volleyball coach at Evanston Township High School. She’ll replace Mallory Thelander, who led the program to a record of 28-45 over the past two seasons before resigning to take the head position at Loyola Academy, where she teaches.
Brieva has served as an assistant coach in both the girls and boys high school programs since 2014 and 4 of her 7 children — Gabriel, Claire, Tess and Leah — have played volleyball at ETHS. Brieva herself is a 1982 ETHS graduate who played basketball and volleyball at Evanston and also competed in both sports at the University of Tulsa. She has also coached at the grade school and middle school levels in Evanston.
Evanston Athletic Director Chris Livatino couldn’t have found anyone for the job with deeper roots in the community.
“Coach Brieva has been an unbelievable force for good in our community,” Livatino said. “She is an extremely passionate and energetic coach who cares deeply for her players. She will not only develop the best ETHS volleyball team possible, she will grow the sport of volleyball throughout the entire Evanston community and will develop the girls of our program into outstanding young women.”
“I couldn’t complain any more, I had to do something as a parent,” said Brieva regarding the grassroots push to bring competitive sports back to the middle schools. “I worked with Chris and got some of the parents together and we tried to come up with a plan. I’ve also worked with Chris and his wife Megan in the Girls Play Sports program.
“I helped start a volleyball clinic at Fleetwood-Jourdain because I wanted kids in the 5th Ward to have the opportunity to play. When I started working with Jelani Summers in that program, we actually started out with a badminton net (instead of regulation volleyball net). Later on they put holes in the floor (to anchor a permanent net), and about a month ago they put in a main court to play on. We’re also going to have a middle school summer league this year.
“I love kids, I love Evanston and I love the game of volleyball. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to build a stronger program at ETHS. I found out Mallory (Thelander) was leaving over spring break and you never know where life will take you. I knew the program needed a strong leader who had a relationship with the kids (returning players) already, and I care about this community and about making sure that all kids have the opportunity to play.”
Brieva, a special education major at Tulsa, taught in New Jersey for 2 years after graduating from college, returned to the Chicago area and coached basketball and volleyball at Collins High School in the city before becoming a stay-at-home-mom.
But she’s never lost her passion for the game of volleyball and Brieva believes the Wildkits can turn their fortunes around next fall. She’ll welcome back at least four players — Rosemary Gibbons, Rileigh Farragher, Siena Prokopenko, Maddie Patke — who started at some point for last year’s 17-19 team.
“Most of our returning seniors are multi-sport athletes, and most of the juniors are straight volleyball players, so we’ll have a nice mix there,” said the new head coach. “This is a very competitive, strong and confident group of girls. They’re all very motivated and the juniors are a very unique group because they all eat, sleep and dream about volleyball.
“We have a lot of experience on our coaching staff with three other people (head boys coach Mike McDermott, former Maine East coach Kevin Bohn and Denise Rossa) who have been head coaches before, and we work really well together. I’m really excited to share with the girls the different gifts that they bring to the table.
“Winning is so much fun, and when you get a taste of it, you want more. If we have fun and we do a good job of preparing them, we’ll be able to put it together on the court.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.