By STUART GROSKREUTZ – Stillwater Gazette
The new face leading the volleyball program is no stranger to several of the players expected to dot his first roster as Jamie Suapaia was named coach of the Stillwater Ponies earlier this week.
The 28-year-old has coached several past and current Stillwater athletes as part of the staff at the Minnesota One Volleyball Training Center in Bloomington. This will be Suapaia’s first varsity head coaching job, but he is not stranger to the sport.
A Bloomington Kennedy graduate who participated in football and wrestling for the Eagles, Suapaia played club volleyball at Minnesota State-Mankato before starting his coaching career as an assistant on the women’s volleyball staff for the Mavericks. In addition to club programs, Suapaia served as the JV volleyball coach at Edina last fall – and his exposure to the sport goes well beyond that as his father, Sandy Suapaia, has been coaching volleyball for 47 years.
"I’ve literally been around volleyball my whole life," Jamie said. "My dad has coached and played for 47 years and there are stories of me a couple weeks old and whoever subbed out of the game would have to take care of me (on the sideline)."
Stillwater activities director Ricky Michel listed strong recommendations from the parents and those who have played for Suapaia and the administration at Edina.
Suapaia takes over for Michele Parker, who resigned earlier this year largely because of the increasing time demands coaching the sport now requires. Parker compiled a 160-141 record in 11 seasons and guided the Ponies to their first-ever trip to the state tournament in 2009.
Stillwater placed third in the Suburban East Conference last season and finished 14-14 overall (7-2 in conference play) with a team that graduated just three seniors and is expected to return several two- and three-year starters this fall.
"We’re excited and I’m glad to see us moving on," Michel said. "I know people out in the community are anxious about who we were going to hire and who was going to take over the program and Jamie has some big shoes to fill. Michele did a great job and built great relationships with her players over the years and hopefully we can carry that tradition on and I think Jamie’s personality is going to allow that to happen."
Suapaia has been instructing and coaching ever since graduating from Mankato with a degree in law enforcement.
"I didn’t pursue that and volleyball is pretty much my career now, coaching at M1 and helping out the club director there and doing a bunch of stuff is my full-time job," Suapaia said.
Working with some of those previous and current Ponies helped convince Suapaia that Stillwater was a good place to coach.
"Stillwater has always been a pretty well-known volleyball community and I’ve been fortunate the last couple of years at M1 to come in contact with some of the Stillwater girls," Suapaia said. "What really attracted me to the Stillwater job was the work ethic the Stillwater girls have. I really liked the work ethic of all the Stillwater girls I have come in contact with and having a good feeder program was a big draw to me."
Suapaia described his coaching style as flexible, drawing positives he has gleaned from the many college and high school coaches he’s worked with during his young career.
"I’ve picked apart their brains and created my own style," he said. "I like to have a lot of fun and keep the girls interested in the game of volleyball as they’re learning. I’m never afraid to joke around and keep learning fun. I feel that throughout my experience I’ve really been able to take complex instructions and be able to teach the girls in a way that they understand."
The coach is optimistic the Ponies will remain competitive.
"There’s always those expectations and you kind of have to take them as they come," Suapaia said. "I always expect the best and that’s just how I was raised. If you put in the work there’s nothing that’s going to come between you and your goals unless you stop yourself. How you practice is how you play."