Matt Long returns to Beechwood to coach the Tigers volleyball team with fond memories from his first stint as head coach.
Long guided the Tigers to the KHSAA state semifinals in 2002, the only other time the Tigers have advanced that far came in 1989.
The Beechwood administration brought back Long for a second stint Wednesday. He met with the returning players and their families at Beechwood before talking to some of the assistants from last year’s staff.
“Coming back to where your roots got started is a cool thing,” Long said. “I can probably say with pretty good certainty this will probably be the last high school I coach at. The club is such a high-level job where I feel I can get most of my gratification. But when you come back to this family school, it really invigorates you.”
Long comes from a volleyball family. His grandfather Oren played for USA Volleyball and his uncle Berry played at Ball State University. Long’s cousin Jessica Schmidt just received induction into the Ryle Hall of Fame for volleyball and his second cousin Lucy Trump plays for the University of Notre Dame. Long’s niece Anna led the Notre Dame Pandas to the state championship in 2020 and she currently plays at Florida State University.
Long’s first stint came from the early to mid-2000’s. Long spent several seasons as an assistant at Notre Dame Academy before taking being the head coach at Dixie Heights from 2015-19. In those five seasons, the Colonels finished 84-60, making it to the 9th Region Tournament four times.
The best of those seasons came in 2018 when Dixie Heights finished 24-7 then beat Highlands in the 9th Region tournament quarterfinals for what has been the lone Dixie Heights region tournament win since the current format took shape in 2012. That Dixie Heights team took the state power Notre Dame Pandas to five games before losing.
Long hopes to help the Tigers make it back to the 9th Region Tournament. The Tigers play in the 35th District with Notre Dame. They’ve played the Holy Cross Indians in every district semifinal game since the district came together in 2012. But Beechwood has not beaten Holy Cross since doing it five straight times between 2013-17. Beechwood made it to the region semifinals in consecutive seasons in 2016 and ’17.
Long will be Beechwood’s fourth head coach in four years this fall. But the Tigers are coming off a 19-16 season that ended with a loss to Holy Cross in the district semifinals. That marked the first winning season for Beechwood since Katie Johnson led the Tigers to a 25-8 mark in 2017. The Tigers graduate five seniors from the team including their leading setter in Reagen Ramey, the leading defensive specialist in Lily Davis along with their top kills leader in Katie Rolf along with Maddie Serve and Ava Berger.
“He comes to us with as much experience as we would want,” said Ryan Booth, Beechwood Director of Athletics. “He’s been around high school volleyball for a very long time. I’m just ecstatic that we got him to come back.”
Beechwood Principal Justin Kaiser expressed excitement at the idea the Tigers have a lot of talent coming up. Beechwood returns its blocks leader in junior Jessica Pabst along with freshman Piper Steinmetz, sophomore Maddie Bray and two hitters in freshman Isabel Baaker and eighth grader Isabel O’Brien. O’Brien had 162 kills and Baaker had 161. Bray had 257 assists and Steinmetz recorded 141 digs.
“If you ask us something, we’ll ask for something in return,” Kaiser said. “The one thing I ask for from everyone in this room is the commitment of time. You know that we’ve come to the table with one of the most reputable coaches I’ve heard of in a while. If you want the results with competing with whoever, then you have to put in that time. We’re going to work hard to make Beechwood volleyball special and we need you to do the same.”
Long has continued his role as a Club Director at the Tri-State volleyball club. Long spent the last three seasons watching daughter Maia at Dixie Heights. She just concluded her senior season as a hitter for the Colonels and is headed to Jacksonville State University (Alabama) of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Long has another daughter in sophomore Makenna, who plays on the Dixie Heights girls soccer team.
“It does help provide you with a little clarity on what you should or shouldn’t do or what you can and cannot say. But I’ll say that having any type of child whether it’s a girl or boy really prepares you for patience,” Long said. “Just like in volleyball where you want your players to be their best, you want your kids to be their best, work hard and do the right things so there’s that correlation.”
Many teams in the area run the 5-1 (hitter-setter) offense. But Long said he has other goals before implementing certain strategies.
“I can tell you that we’re going to serve hard and we’re going to pass hard. One of the things we need to be great at is first touches meaning serves and serve-receive,” Long said. “I have to be good at serving and I have to be good at passing that first serve. If I’m good at that those first touches then you can get somewhere. That’s the most important thing.”
Long said he enjoys helping players go beyond what they believe they can achieve. He has a number of examples throughout his coaching career.
“I had a 10-year-old maybe three weeks who was just scrawny and couldn’t get her serves over the net even if she tried. I just looked at her and said, ‘Just trust me. Just do these couple things for me for these next couple weeks,” Long said. “By the middle of the season, you’ll be serving the ball over the net.’ In three weeks, this kid was serving the ball over the net. It didn’t take them half the year. When you see these little kids grasp onto something and run with it, that has to be the most gratifying thing in my opinion. Whenever they smile when they attain that goal, that’s the icing on the cake for me. I thrive on that feeling.”
Long joked with the parents and players that he got lost coming from the elementary school. He said some things have chanced from his first tenure, but it still feels like a strong family community and wants it to stay that way. He said three things players have control over do not take athleticism in accountability, effort and communication. Long told them Beechwood will be a principal-based program.
Long hopes to run some summer camps and get the Tigers into some more tournaments this fall. The season begins in August after the first official practice takes place starting July 15.