D161028 state final volleyball (copy)

When Kelly Garland last coached Decatur Heritage in 2016, the Eagles advanced to the Class 1A state championship match. [CRYSTAL VANDER WEIT/DECATUR DAILY FILE]

When Decatur Heritage started the search for a new volleyball coach, athletic director Ty Patterson turned to former coach Kelly Garland for suggestions.

Garland was the head coach in 2016 when the Eagles advanced to the Class 1A state championship match.

“She kept sending me names of coaches to consider,” Patterson said. “Finally, I asked if there was any chance she would be interested? She said there’s a chance.”

Patterson, Garland and school officials turned the chance into reality. The team got the news Thursday at a team meeting.

“They were all excited. Even though she stepped down as head coach, she was still helping with the program when she could,” Patterson said. “She knows all the girls, and they know her. It could not have worked out any better.”

The hire comes at a perfect time. Monday is the first day of volleyball practice.

“Volleyball has always been a passion,” Garland said. “When I stepped down in 2016, I really needed a break away from the game. I’m excited to be back.”

Part of the lure to get Garland back was a full-time job. Previously, she was hired just to coach volleyball. Now she is a full-time hire at the school as a substitute teacher and office worker.

“Because of the situation with COVID-19, we really need people on staff who can fill in at many different jobs,” Patterson said. “Kelly’s comfortable with that role.”

Garland replaces her friend Paula Armstrong as head coach. Armstrong left to take a teaching/coaching position a Westminster Christian Academy in Huntsville.

When Garland first became head coach in 2011, Armstrong was her assistant coach. When Garland resigned as head coach in 2016, Armstrong became head coach with Garland helping out when possible.

“We are great friends and have always been there for each other,” Garland said. “It’s going to be strange not to be coaching with her.”

Garland’s new assistant will be her husband, Tim.

Decatur Heritage Christian Academy volleyball has been on a successful run since 2014 that included four straight years of state tournament appearances. After 2017, the volleyball program moved up from Class 1A to 2A based on the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s competitive balance formula. The Eagles advanced to the North Super Regional the past two years.

The highlight of the four-year run of state tournament appearances came in 2016. The Eagles, led by seniors Cassidy Cheatham, Maggie Holsclaw, Kaitlyn Cheatham, Timara Bowers, Kayla Grimes, Hope Gladish and Katrinka Corry, advanced to the 1A finals against Addison.

Decatur Heritage had defeated Addison for the regional championship in Huntsville the week before. It looked like a repeat performance in the state finals when Decatur Heritage won the first set 25-23 and led 17-6 in the second set.

Momentum can flip in a hurry in volleyball. It did that day. Instead of a state championship for Decatur Heritage (45-11), Addison turned the match around to claim the top prize with a 3-2 win.

“We have a lot of girls returning who have played a lot of volleyball the last two years,” Garland said. “I coached the middle school team last year, and this year’s eighth grade class has a lot of talent. I can’t wait to get started.”

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 david.elwell@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2395. Twitter @DD_DavidElwell.

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