Geneva has turned to one of its own as its newest volleyball coach.
Ashton (Brinley) Williams, a 2013 Geneva graduate and a current assistant coach at the school, was named the Panthers’ new coach earlier this month, right before the shut down of schools because of the COVID-19 virus.
Williams has been an assistant varsity coach and junior varsity head coach the last two years at Geneva under Brynn Nix, who resigned in December to spend more time with her family, including two young daughters. Williams was an assistant at Eufaula for a season prior to coming to Geneva.
“I am just real excited, but kind of nervous since it is my first head coaching job,” Williams said of leading her alma mater. “I am excited to get this opportunity.”
Williams is also an assistant varsity softball coach at the school and has been a 5th-grade reading teacher at Geneva Elementary School. She hopes to be moved into a teaching role at the high school, but nothing has been finalized.
The new Panther coach has big goals for her new program. A year ago, Geneva finished 24-18 and one win away from claiming a berth to the state tournament.
“Ultimately a state championship, but we will take baby steps and (try to) at least make it to the state tournament,” Williams said of her goal for the upcoming season. “Last year, we felt like we were going in the right direction by getting a win at regional. I would love to see us push across a second win and be able to make it to the state tournament.”
Geneva has not reached the state tournament since 1995.
Geneva principal Mickey Bennett said Williams knows and has the qualities needed to be successful.
“Hard work, discipline, being mentally and physically disciplined and in shape, she understands what is required (for her teams to be successful),” Bennett said.
Bennett, who was principal at the school when Williams was a student, said having seen her develop and progress from a young age to professionally coaching last year was huge in deciding to elevate her to the head job.
“Anytime you know the work ethic and the character of a person, that is a huge advantage,” Bennett said. “Ashton played her senior year with a broken thumb, so when I make the comment that she knows what it takes to win, there is some sacrifice involved in that too and she has showed that.
“I tell you we are fortunate to have her. She is a good young coach.”
While at Geneva, Williams played both volleyball and softball. She was part of the Panthers’ state runner-up softball team in 2011 as a sophomore and a member of the 2012 team that finished third in the state.
After graduating from Geneva, she played softball three years at Huntingdon College in Montgomery before starting her coaching career at Eufaula.
Though only seven years removed from her high school playing days, Williams sees some things that excite her as she takes over as a head coach for the first time.
“I have seen a lot more interest in the game of volleyball from when I played and that makes me real excited,” Williams said. “The girls I will be coaching I had on the JV level, so they know pretty much how I am. I am pretty intense and they know what I expect.”
Self-discipline and being respectful on and off the court are among those expectations, said Williams.
“I definitely believe in self-discipline,” Williams said. “I am not one that will be in your face, but I try to work on them being able to recognize their mistakes and being able to fix it because if they know what they are doing wrong then I feel like we can grow from there.
“I definitely preach your grades and the way you carry yourself, keeping things clean and making sure that you are responsible.”
The Panthers only graduate two players off last year’s team as the bulk of the squad returns. She also expects two players from last year — Madison Johnson and Emma Griffin — to return to full health after fighting through a torn labrum this past fall. Both had off-season surgery for the injuries.
“Both of them played through the season hurt so I definitely know I have a dedicated group of girls and that makes me excited because as long as they are dedicated and they are interested in the sport that is going to help us grow,” Williams said.
Williams was able to talk to most of the volleyball players in a meeting before schools were shut down, but said tryouts were canceled, so she doesn’t fully know what the roster will look like for the fall. That will be one of her priorities when schools and/or athletics are able to resume.