Early on a Saturday morning, Randall Hall usually stands still and silent, devoid of its typically bustling activity from hoards of passing students. It's on such days that old memories, ghosts of a time long past, begin to echo in the empty hallways, across the barren floor and up abandoned stands. They recall the rich history that the building has, and whisper stories of defeat, heartbreak, drama, learning, victory, success and progress. The people who have walked its hallways and run its floor have gone on to lead lives of their own, occasionally returning to pay respects to their past.
However, the quiet murmurs of the past were drowned out by the building of new memories last Saturday, when droves of volleyball alumni grouped together to share in something they all loved, playing volleyball. The gym was filled with bright shirts of many colors, and on the wall with a large volleyball painted on it hung a sign with bold letters on it saying, "Once a Cougar, always a Cougar." Looking around at the players here and there, the proverbial phrase adorned nearly every neon green, pink and yellow shirt. The ladies wearing them were as diverse as their eye catching colors.
The ones in dark blue tie-dye were familiar. For the most part, they played volleyball together in the fall, wearing the red, white and blue Clackamas colors. A few faces were new, but at least recognizable. The same couldn't be said for the rest of the players on the floor. The team across the net looked to be in their mid 20s and older, and several of the members from the team on the far side of the room appeared to have broken well into their 30s, yet they were all grouped together with the same smile on their faces, as though they'd returned home once again.
As more players began to trickle in and games began to finish, a few of the attendees grouped together to catch up, telling stories from their past year and reminiscing their time playing at Clackamas. Perhaps the veteran of them all, Chrissie Lewis, was the oldest alumni to participate, having played in 1987-88, just four seasons after current head coach Kathie Woods was hired. According to Lewis, none of it would have been possible without Woods herself.
"The whole root of it is Kathie. Just her dedication, her value that she puts in us, her confidence that she puts in everybody," said Lewis, who has maintained a relationship with Woods ever since graduation. "I think that's what makes it. That's what makes you feel good about coming back and supporting her."
Lewis said that there were many alumni members who would have attended but now live too far away or had too many responsibilities to make it. Some, however, went through a lot of trouble to be there to play for Woods once again.
"This is my volleyball fix," said Samantha Hennessy Schreiner, who played on the 2004 NWAACC championship team. "I'm a new mom, so I haven't had time to play, but it all comes back. It's like you kinda just pick up where you left off, and it's a great feeling."
Woods' emotions wavered for a few moments when she heard the loving words from her former players and looked out over the court at all the faces that she knew by heart.
"They're a blessing. They're my blessing and this is by far my most important day of the year for coaching. For me, this is why I coach," said Woods. "I tell my girls, I go, 'I'm gonna be moving around talking because, think about it, I'm the only one in the gym that knows everybody, that knows everybody and I want to talk to everybody to make sure I say hi and see how they're doing.'"
Woods also talked about the importance the alumni tournament had for her current players, saying truthfully that the turnout and the family atmosphere spoke volumes of the tradition of Cougar volleyball.
"It means that we're a family," said 2011 standout Taylor Richardson. "All these girls have been through what I've been through. No one else can relate to having two years with Kathie Woods. She's the stickler of the NWAACC, the old fashioned, hard working coach. We have to be solid in academics, in our social life, on the court. Everything is school, volleyball and life. All these girls have had to be held up to that standard that I have, and so it's an automatic sense of family."
In a few years as time passes, Richardson and her teammates, like so many of their predecessors will make the trip back home, connecting with their peers and bringing joy to their coach's heart.
"To see my alumni, to see how they've grown, to meet their families, to see what they're doing and to make sure that they're happy. This is what it's all about," said Woods, "and it means the world to me. Every year I want more and more. I love it. I just love it."