Schuyler Central High School Activities Director Jim Kasik faced a tall task in hiring five head coaches for 2017-18.
On top of that, Kasik wasn't looking for just any coach. He wanted people who would lead the high school teams while also helping build the youth programs and being involved in community.
“Our coach’s job is to provide leadership and have a hand in their high school program, as well as club (teams) and at the junior high level," Kasik said.
Schuyler Community Schools also places an emphasis on hiring coaches who are willing to live in the district.
Kasik said getting coaches to move here has been a problem in the past, but that trend is reversing. Four of the five head coaches hired for 2017-18 live in the district.
Of the five new coaches, two will begin to make their mark in the fall. Jenna Saalfeld takes over the volleyball program and Lauren Burkey will lead the girls cross country team.
Kadeyn Johnson is the new girls basketball coach, Clarissa Dunn will coach the girls soccer team and Dan Wolken takes over the girls track program.
Jenna Saalfeld, volleyball
Saalfeld spent two years as an assistant before getting her chance to be a head coach.
She takes over for Sean Wickham, who stepped aside earlier this year to pursue a new career path.
“When the position became open, I always wanted to be a head coach, so the timing was great,” Saalfeld said.
The Howells-Dodge graduate and former Doane College volleyball player is looking to improve a Schuyler team that posted a combined 9-53 record over the past two seasons.
Saalfeld started this process over the summer by getting her players involved in a league at the YMCA in Columbus. This allowed her to see the players' commitment to the sport.
“Almost all the girls that participated had great, positive attitudes. They wanted to be there every week and do good,” Saalfeld said. “I see a lot of potential we can improve upon. The girls worked hard and I believe it’ll show on the court this fall.”
In addition to developing a winning program on the court, the Schuyler Middle School eighth-grade match teacher wants to make a positive impact on players' everyday lives.
“I’m just trying to be a positive role model for the girls, help them out any way I can on and off the court," she said.
Lauren Burkey, girls cross country
As a former national qualifier in the marathon at Midland University and member of the Fort Calhoun girls cross country state championship team in 2009, Burkey knows what it takes to be a successful distance runner.
She landed her first coaching job in Schuyler with the girls middle school track team three years ago and became an assistant high school cross country coach a year later.
Burkey took advantage of the opportunity when the district created a head coaching position for the SCHS girls cross country team for this year.
“I took the job because, as the assistant the last two years, I already started to take on that role and I enjoyed every minute of it," said Burkey, who also teaches fourth grade.
One of the biggest perks of the job is seeing runners enjoy the sport as much as she does.
“I love seeing those kids with such heart and dedication for the sport. It's amazing when you ask them all why they came out for cross country and the different reasons they have,” Burkey said. "Whether it's to better themselves as a person, a runner or for another sport, they all go out there and put in 110 percent effort."
Burkey hopes to qualify some runners for the state meet this season after a three-year dry spell while focusing on continued improvement and growth.
“Making it to state would be amazing, of course, but ultimately I want them to be better as a person and a runner. Over the last three years our girls team has doubled in numbers and I would love to keep watching those numbers climb,” she said. “We have such an amazing group of girls out this year. They come to practice every day and thrive to become better than they were the day before.”
Kadeyn Johnson, girls basketball
Some coaches may believe in specialization and having youths focus on a single sport year-round, but Johnson isn't one of them.
He developed that mindset while growing up in O'Neill, where being a multi-sport athlete is common. Johnson excelled at basketball, earning a scholarship to Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota.
He also learned to love the sport of volleyball and began competing in sand volleyball tournaments at the age of 16.
Johnson will have the chance to coach both sports as SCHS, where he will lead the girls basketball team and serve as an assistant for volleyball.
“I decided to coach multiple sports because that is what I truly love to do,” Johnson said. “Coaching multiple sports helps me create relationships with multiple athletes. As a young coach, I want to be involved in as many sports as I can.”
Johnson coached at Millard North High School last year, but SCHS provided the opportunity to be involved with the sports he's most passionate about.
“My biggest reason for taking this position as the girls head basketball coach was so I could create lasting memories for girls. Basketball has made a huge impact on my life, and the friendships and memories I have made because of it will forever be cherished,” he said.
Improving a team that went 6-63 over the past three seasons will be no easy task.
Johnson recognizes the challenges, but believes hard work and dedication can transform the team over time.
“It has been many years since we have had a winning season, and I plan on turning this program around. I understand this won’t happen overnight, but I am willing to put in the time to make that happen,” he said.
“I think our biggest focus for our girls this year is to just have fun. I think that is a major piece to the puzzle that has been lacking and I am going to do whatever I can to make this year and years to come an enjoyable experience for all players.”
Dan Wolken, girls track
There aren't many coaches with as wide-ranging backgrounds as Wolken.
The Fremont native comes to Schuyler with 30 years of experience coaching four different sports — wrestling, football, basketball and track — at six different schools.
Wolken’s previous stop was in Valentine, where he was the head girls basketball and girls track coach for six years.
His first priority here is growing the participation numbers for track.
“When you talk about girls track, obviously the biggest drawback is numbers. We just don’t have as many girls out that would allow you to compete as a team," he said.
"I know we’re up against soccer here in Schuyler, which is kind of difficult," Wolken added.
But Wolken knows what he's doing. The 52-year-old has experience coaching numerous track events.
“I’ve basically coached every position there is in track,” he said. “I’ve coached them all, but I’ll coach the sprinters this upcoming spring.”
The Schuyler girls track team will return one state qualifier next season in Edith Oliden, who made it to state in Class B in the mile run as a freshman.
Wolken will also be an assistant to Johnson for the girls basketball program.
Clarissa Dunn, girls soccer
Of the five new coaches, Dunn is likely the most-recognizable name for Schuyler sports fans as she's led the softball team the past three years while teaching English as a second language.
Dunn decided to double dip this year and also become head coach of the girls soccer team.
“I took this position because I have been an assistant at the high school for the past three years and have loved watching them grow as a team and as young people," she said. “I really enjoy soccer and believe Schuyler could be very competitive. There are just a few things we need to work on skill level-wise to up our game to the next level.”
Dunn connected with her players' club coaches this summer and implemented a new offseason training program to work on those skills.
“We have been trying some new drills and activities that I think will be beneficial for the team. I am also trying to make sure and be more involved in their club and summer teams," she said.
Schuyler took a step back last season, tallying a 1-14 record after making it to substate with an 8-8 record in 2016.
Dunn is hoping to get back to that high level of play next season by focusing on motivation and effort during practices and games.
“I have been with a lot of these players for as long as they have been playing here at the high school. I have seen what they can do and I believe our coaching staff can push them to have a great season this year,” Dunn said. “One of my main goals is to keep them motivated through tough games and to consistently give 100 percent.”