French named volleyball coach at Bishop Brossart

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Danielle French recently found herself at a crossroad in her high school volleyball coaching career.

The former Danielle Fowler spent the last three years building up the Pendleton County program. But the opportunity to coach at her alma mater presented itself and the 2003 Bishop Brossart alum chose to come back to the school where she lettered in volleyball and softball.

“I am very excited to come back to my alma mater and see familiar faces,” French said. “Not many athletes get the opportunity to coach the sport they love at the school they played at. I look forward to leading this exceptionally talented team to another regional championship through this next era of Brossart volleyball.”

French takes over a program coming off its deepest run in the postseason in school history. The Mustangs won their first district tournament championship since 2003, taking the 37th District crown for the first time since the new format came together in 2012. Brossart finished 27-14 winning the 10th Region crown and made its first-ever appearance in the state tournament before losing at Boyd County in the first round.

French plans to retain some of the assistants from the previous staff including Shelbie Hanson. The previous head coach for five years in Bree Velasquez resigned in December to spend more time with her family. Velasquez is expecting her second child in February.

The Mustangs will see two seniors graduate off that team in setter Savannah Seiter and defensive specialist/right side hitter Ava Thomas. Their leading hitter in 6-foot-3 sophomore middle blocker Corrine Blackburn enrolled at St. Henry in January. But a number of players return starting with junior libero Maddie Kremer. Kremer led the Mustangs with 614 digs last year.

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“I’m looking forward to the opportunities of getting to learn from different coaches,” Kremer said. “I think we’re excited to have some of our assistants back. But I think it’s nice to have a little bit of a change.”

A number of solid hitters such as junior Kayla Hesse and Payton Parker return after recording 166 and 148 kills respectively last year. Eighth grade setter Aubrey Rebholz also comes back after recording 332 assists last year. Rebholz saw a lot of time at setter, especially in the postseason when Seiter went down with an injury.

French also coaches the 13-and-Under Blue team for the Crush Volleyball Club. French, husband T.J. and son Solomon live in Alexandria and are members of the St. Mary Parish.

“Her record speaks for itself. She has a lot of great connections to the community,” said Chris Holtz, Brossart principal. “The game is the similar in high school and club, but the challenges are different. We’re very fortunate to have her as a part of this. We’ve been blessed to have stability over the years. She’s excited and wanting to lead the program.”

French has been at Duke Energy in several roles for five years. That gives her the flexibility to coach club and high school volleyball. French earned her Bachelor’s Degree of Business Administration from Morehead State University in Marketing and Real Estate.

Pendleton County finished 55-25 in her three years as head coach finishing 38th District runner-up to Harrison County all three years. The Wildcats lost in the 10th Region quarterfinals all three years including a defeat at Brossart this year.

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“I didn’t know the previous coach at Pendleton. I have the mentality the harder you push a team in practice, the harder everyone is going to play in a game. I’m tough in practices. I’m even tougher in games,” French said. “I expect the girls to give me 150 percent every single practice and every game. I don’t ever have a set starting line-up. That can change every single game. It’s based on how you practice and it’s based on your attitude, your skill level and it’s based on how much you show me that you want to be here and how much you want to be on that court. You have to earn that position. That’s not given.”

French is aware that teenagers can be all over the place mentally. But she has a big rule on that.

“I stress that every day. Whatever you have going on at home, at school, at work, that gets left outside,” French said. “That does not come into the school. It doesn’t come into the gym. Once you’re in my gym, it’s volleyball and that’s it. Nothing else matters.”

French emphasized the importance of building relationships. She is aware that each player has different needs and ways to be motivated.

“I’m their coach first. But if they have an issue at home or if they’re struggling at school, they can always come talk to me about it. If I can help them, I will try to help them,” French said. “I’ve had multiple girls in the past club and high school level say, ‘I don’t know if I want to talk to my mom about this. But can you help me with this?’ I will sit down and say, ‘Okay. What’s going on? How can we fix this?”

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Bishop Brossart ran the 5-1 (hitter-setter) offense last year and French said that will continue. She is not a fan of the 4-2 or 6-2 offenses.

“I taught my 10-year-olds how to run a 5-1 (in club),” French said. “A 4-2 or 6-2 is just not competitive. You have the option of having two setters. But having two setters, you’re taking away a good hitter or a good passer because you’ve got two setters on the court at all times. Usually a good setter is not a phenomenal hitter and a phenomenal passer. They have great hands. They’re great setters.”

Brossart will still be faced with the challenge of advancing out of the rugged 37th District in the fall, which the Mustangs did for the first time since 2018 this past season. The first official practice generally begins July 15.

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