Julianne Speeney knew she wanted to still coach volleyball. The only question was, where?

Spending the last six years as an assistant girls volleyball coach at Geibel Catholic in Connellsville, Speeney wanted to look closer to her job and home in Morgantown, W.Va.

“Everything fell though in the jobs I applied to,” Speeney remembers. “I knew I wasn’t going back to Geibel because that trip takes a big chunk out of your day. From leaving work at 4:30 p.m., not making it to full practices and having to come all the way back was tough. I didn’t want to stop coaching.”

That was until last spring, when Speeney was approached about an opening at Carmichaels by former coach Ashley Shoemaker, her sister, who had a baby in March and stopped coaching after turning around the Lady Mikes’ program.

“I knew she had put in a lot of hard work,” Speeney said about her sister. “I was at some of their matches. Honestly, there isn’t much of a difference between me and my sister. My mom said we came from the same mold. I really saw the potential to take it to the next level.”

A couple months later, Speeney and Carmichaels have lived up to the high expectations left by Shoemaker. The Lady Mikes are 7-1 in Section 2-A with their only loss coming against Speeney’s former team and alma mater, Geibel, last Thursday.

Lady Gators coach Rick Watkins could see the potential Speeney had for being a head coach.

“I know she wants to win,” Watkins said. “Julianne is a competitor. She’d stomp on your throat to win a game whether you were her friend or enemy. She’s just that kind of coach so I expected nothing less.

“Julianne’s a really good coach. If she stays with it she’s going to be one you’ll be talking about for years to come.”

“A ton,” Speeney said when asked how much she learned while coaching under Watkins. “I was at Geibel for six years so Rick did mold me a lot and help me to see things in a different light. I also have my sister to thank as well for pushing me and that teaching atmosphere. She’s about that and so am I.”

Most of the same team still exists from Carmichaels’ WPIAL Class A runner-up last year, the best season the Lady Mikes had under Shoemaker with an undefeated regular season, section championship and berth in the state tournament. Carmichaels lost in straight sets to powerhouse Bishop Canevin in the WPIAL title match and fell to Bishop Carroll in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs to finish last season at 17-2.

Through the first six section matches this season, Taylor Christopher led the Lady Mikes with 72 kills, 16 blocks and was tied with Emma Holeran with 12 aces. Emma Hyatt also had 44 kills. Nicole Ludrosky had 32 kills and 27 digs. Abbey Fordyce and Alie McGee had 57 and 51 digs, respectively.

“Those girls have built a culture that will last for years,” Speeney said. “That leadership and experience only manifests itself to push everybody past what they think they can do. It’s a group that works really hard and can fight through difficult situations. They have been open to some of the change.”

Carmichaels has six section matches left. It will host Geibel Oct. 15, which could be for a share of the section title.

“Obviously, our goal is to match the achievements of last year,” Speeney said. “We have to continue to maintain the bar that has been set, but I’ve always been the person that wants to take people past the expectations. Once you get a taste of that success you want it more.”

Rob Burchianti contributed to this story.

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