By John Ring
Published in The Burg September 23, 2021
In a long career that started as a volleyball coach for the Galesburg Silver Streaks in 1994, Coach Marla Clay’s last two seasons have been among the toughest and most challenging for her to face.
The Streaks lost a volleyball match earlier this week but were missing a host of players. “All of our left side was gone,” said the Streaks Coach. “Most of our passers were gone too.”
The culprit was, of course, covid. It basically wrecked Clay’s season last year and is raising havoc again in 2021, which is her final season as the Streaks coach.
“It’s a character builder for both the kids and me,” said Clay. “They’re such great kids. No one wins during this. Absolutely no one.”
Clay’s decision to retire was reached four years ago. “In Illinois, you have to put yourself in the pipeline earlier than most and that is coming up. I’m sure it will hit me eventually at some point down the road but it hasn’t yet. We did Senior Night early this year because of the virus. We did it at the end last year as we usually do but I was a nervous wreck because I was afraid we
wouldn’t make it.”
Coach Clay reflected on her volleyball teams of the past and how the game has changed since she started coaching the Streaks during the Clinton Administration in 1994. “The biggest change was to play the rally game,” she said. “But over the years, our teams have made great progress just like the sport has. Players are faster and more athletic. I asked a player recently what she liked most about the game and she said it was ‘the celebrations,’ that part of the game where you get a point and celebrate as a team and go on to the next play. But the speed of the game is so much faster now, the pace of the game is faster.”
Asked what she will miss the most, Marla said, “Coaching the players at the high school level. Seeing them progress from freshmen and sophomores and becoming the best players they can be at that level. The improvement they make in a few short years is incredible and I see it a lot.”
“The Western Big 6 has always been competitive with really good teams. You have to play your best every single night and you have to get lucky sometimes. Sterling won two state championships in a row and probably would have made it three if there had been a state tournament last season. That’s pretty amazing from a public school.”
Clay also said the team she will remember the most is her first one in 1994. “They were the first team who went the four years with me and I’ll never forget that group. But there’s a lot of memorable teams. The 2004 team won our first-ever Regional and the 2009 Streaks were special because they were a really talented team that had size. The 2019 team wasn’t the tallest; they were undersized but were a fun team to coach and they all got along.”
“The 1997 team as seniors improved the most and they were 22-9 their senior season. They made great progress. And this team, the current Streaks, are a scrappy bunch. It’s been a weird season and they’ve went through a lot in the last few weeks.”
Clay credits Mary Robson for her coaching career. “I played for Karen Randell-King and that was big for me but being with Mary, that’s when I decided that I wanted to be a volleyball coach.”
Marla also reflected on the changes and events over the course of her career as well.
“I remember when the September 11 attacks occurred and our game against Peoria Central was cancelled,” said Coach Clay. “All the games were . . . it was such a strange feeling because we all knew we were going to war.”
It’s tough for Marla Clay to go out this way. But she’s a pretty tough coach as well. She can take it.
Her teams have proved it over the years.