Community profile: Gerber’s coaching focus as much about developing life skills as volleyball prowess
Coaching youth sports is as much about teaching life lessons as it is about the game, and Coal Ridge High School girls volleyball coach Aimee Gerber is among the best at doing both.
In her sixth season as the Titans head varsity coach, Gerber last week achieved a milestone that only a few Colorado volleyball coaches can lay claim to.
It was all that more remarkable that Gerber notched her 100th varsity win at the Coal Ridge helm in a season like no other.
The pandemic adjustments that had to be made included strict safety protocols in practices and games, a much shorter game schedule than usual, and a restricted postseason tournament slate that, based on the final team rankings Sunday, is likely to leave the 9-5 Titans just out of the mix when regional selections are made on Monday.
When that 100th win came at home in the 3A Western Slope League finale versus Aspen on April 22, though, a handful of Gerber’s alumni players were on hand to celebrate the occasion.
Gerber was quick to deflect the accolades onto those gathered around her.
“As a coach, it’s cool, sure. But I don’t think of it as just me,” she said. “I think of it as, this is what all 32 girls and the coaches together put the time in for, to help make it happen.”
It’s also special to reach that milestone with this particular group of girls, she said.
This year’s Titans team includes six seniors, most of whom have played varsity together for at least three years, and in the case of Titans team captain Taylor Wiescamp, all four years of high school.
“Starting off as a scared freshman, she really supported me and put it in my mind to be confident in myself, and that when you are, you play better,” Wiescamp said of Gerber.
Wiescamp recently signed to play volleyball at the collegiate level with Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colorado, after she graduates from Coal Ridge next month.
“(Gerber) not only taught me to celebrate my accomplishments but to celebrate everyone on the team and their accomplishments,” Wiescamp said. “That’s something I’ll take with me (to college); to enjoy my time there with the team, and the family that will create.”
Called to Colorado
Before coming to Coal Ridge, Gerber had coached nine years of high school varsity volleyball at Genesee Christian School in Burton, Michigan. Prior to that, she coached in youth camps and leagues and helped develop high school programs while playing volleyball at the collegiate level herself at Northland Baptist Bible College in Dunbar, Wisconsin.
Gerber grew up in Muncie, Indiana, where basketball was the king sport, so she played both and even today still coaches youth basketball through the New Castle Recreation Department.
But her passion gravitated toward volleyball.
“I started playing in fourth grade, and I just fell in love with it,” she said. “So I made it my mission to make varsity my freshman year and after that to play in college.”
Coaching became her focus three years into her collegiate years when, under the tutelage of new Northland coach Dave Herron and his wife, Barb, she decided she wanted to teach the game to young athletes.
“He was an incredible coach, and really cultivated that passion for me,” Gerber said of Herron, who had coached five straight 6A high school boys volleyball state titles in California before coming to Northland.
“Just his drive and passion for the game, that’s what stood out,” she said. “But, more importantly, to make us better people, not just better players. That had a huge impact on me.”
Along the way she met her future husband, Jeff Gerber, who played college basketball and also coached the game.
A Baptist preacher, he was called to serve the First Baptist Church in New Castle about 10 years ago after their young family had been living in Florida. The two quickly became part of the New Castle and Coal Ridge community.
“I believe things in life are a calling, and I think God brought my husband and I here for a reason,” Aimee Gerber said. “About two weeks after we’d arrived, someone asked me if I’d be willing to volunteer at the high school.”
That eventually led to a stint as junior varsity volleyball coach under former head coach Scott Black and then the varsity assignment in 2015.
Jeff Gerber is also now the JV basketball coach at Coal Ridge, and the couple leads the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes program.
Two of their four sons have since graduated from Coal Ridge — Hunter, who graduates from Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, this spring after a stellar basketball career and recently was named a graduate assistant coach for the Chargers; and Austin, who’s now in his first year at Lancaster playing on the golf team.
Son Chase is finishing up his sophomore year at Coal Ridge, and Brady is in the seventh grade.
Though she had already coached volleyball at the varsity level in Michigan, Gerber said she enjoyed the four years coaching JV because it gave her a chance to work on future team development.
A primary focus at the JV level is to recognize talent among the younger players and prepare those who may be ready to move up to the varsity level by their sophomore year.
“We did really well in those years bringing some players up, and I got to move up with some of them as I took over as varsity coach,” she said.
Coal Ridge Athletic Director Ben Kirk asks his varsity coaches to write up a statement about their coaching philosophy when they are hired.
Gerber’s is, “To train disciplined and determined athletes to be the best they can, while guiding them to be young women of integrity, moral courage and respecting each other.”
“I can teach them to play, but if that character is not showing in academics, or at home, and with their teammates and classmates, then I’m not doing my job as a coach.”
She’s seen that manifest itself in strong academic achievement among her players, as well as student leadership in the school and the larger community, through work with the River Center, recreation sports and in their churches.
On the court, it’s translated to four league championships during Gerber’s six years, four Player of the Year awards, several state tournament appearances, and nine players who’ve gone on to play college volleyball prior to Wiescamp.
“Most of our teams have had a good team bond and have worked well together,” Gerber said. “I always tell them that, even though their talents vary, everyone has a role, and everyone’s role is the only way we’re going to be successful.”
The current group of Lady Titans had to endure some hardships this year, not only with the switch in seasons from the fall to spring due to the pandemic but some key injuries that also impacted the team’s success.
Wiescamp went down with a knee injury in the fourth game of the season and missed five games during a key stretch that could have been the difference between making the playoffs or not.
Still, “Their versatility has been a huge benefit, … just the passion and desire to continue during the pandemic when a lot of kids have given up. These girls still want to learn and get better.”
Today’s challenges spell tomorrow’s successes, Wiescamp adds.
“(Gerber) has taught me to appreciate the game, and to thank God for the talent he has given me. … Aimee is a great lady and an awesome coach, and I’m really going to miss her when I graduate.”
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or email@example.com.
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