Anna Baltrusch keeps Bulldogs Volleyball rolling

Creswell coach hits 29th year with district By: Kyle McGowen

November 10 - The year 1993 had some interesting moments. Beanie Babies went on sale for the first time, Bill Clinton was inaugurated as president of the U.S., “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston was the top Billboard-100 song, Jurassic Park was the top movie at the box office and Anna Baltrusch had just stepped in as a JV volleyball coach for the Creswell Bulldogs volleyball team.

Fast forward to 2022 and Baltrusch has now been the long-term head coach of the Bulldogs. She was named to the position in 1996. Baltrusch has only taken one year away from the program, and that was when she coached the eighth-grade team.

Like many other times in that span, yet again she led the team to the playoffs this year.

Baltrusch, who is also a middle school teacher in Creswell, had the opportunity to coach her daughters in the 1990s. One of her daughters, Heather, was recently in town, visiting from San Diego. They had watched a VHS tape [also popular in 1993] of her coaching her children in the state playoffs.

“When my daughters were both playing was the first time we ever got third place at state. We had been to state three years in a row before that, but that was the first time we ever got third,” Baltrusch said. The next year we got third place again. I started with those kids when they were in fourth grade when I started with the Creswell recreation association. We beat all the top teams that year. When it came to the state tournament. my daughter got sick. We had just had a big playoff tournament with Pleasant Hill and Marist. The next week she got really sick, that was a year we really should have won.”

Her oldest daughter Heather had several scholarships opportunities to play volleyball. She could have gone to Hofstra or Eastern Colorado, but she chose to go to a smaller Christian college in San Diego, where she played all four years and was part of two national championships.

Baltrusch’s second daughter is two years younger.

In the video we were watching, they were both playing. One was a senior and the other was a sophomore, so it was fun. She went to the University of Texas El Paso [UTEP}. She got recruited by Western Oregon and UTEP, but she decided she wanted to go division one, Baltrusch said. “They were both really good. It was really nice that they were so good because you get your naysayers saying that said, ‘They are only playing because they are your daughters, but they are so good that I got no guff about them playing.”

Baltrusch now has an eighth-grade granddaughter whom she looks forward to coaching in a year.

“She could have been on my varsity team the last two years as a starter, as a sixth and seventh grader. I don’t think I’ll have any problems with that either. The high school kids can’t wait for her to come and play, she’s a pretty talented kid. It’s really fun having your own kids play, she said.

The Bulldogs finished 3rd this season in a very tough Mountain Valley Conference, behind Sisters and Pleasant Hill. Despite that, their peers recognize their talent. The OSAA rankings has Creswell at 7th while the coach’s poll had them at 6th.

“I’ve got a really nice group of kids that are excited,” Baltrusch said. I have a really good group with these kids. There are some issues because there are so many good ones, and trying to get them into play sometimes is difficult. But for the most part I’m having a really good time with this group of kids.”

Baltrusch, a 1979 Creswell graduate, also played for the Bulldogs in high school. They went to state every year she was on the team.

“I had two really good setters in front of me. It’s good cause I didn’t get to play as a junior at all. I did finally get to play my senior year, so it kind of helps when I’m talking with kids, I can say,Hey, I didn’t get to play when I was a junior either.’ My turn was coming, and so I know how tough it is to sit on the bench.”

Baltrusch had a family shortly after high school and went to college later. There was a time where there was no volleyball program in Creswell for younger kids. Children were not allowed to play in Kids Sports because it was a program for Eugene residents. So, when Baltrusch’s oldest daughter was in sixth grade, she helped start their own recreation program, playing against Cottage Grove and Yoncalla.

“That’s how I started coaching. Then, when my oldest daughter went to high school, that was a point they were taking out all the sports. They were taking out volleyball, wrestling, footballthey were canceling all those sports at the high school because of budget cuts. There was a pretty explosive school board meeting where they realized that wasn’t going to cut it, they were going to have to come up with something different to do. They did it, but there was no funding for transportation, and all the parents had to transport their own kids. I was just getting started at that point.”

Baltrusch has seen a lot of highs and lows with the school district’s budget over time, including years where she didn’t receive a paycheck at all or only partial pay. The program is now fully funded.

“I’ve never coached to get paid,” she said. When it comes to being a head coach, you put in so much time. I have a passion for the sport and teaching kids how to play volleyball. That’s why I’ve always done it.”

Lane Community College has approached Baltrusch in the past to coach their volleyball program, but she has chosen to remain as one of the most consistent coaches in Creswell history, while finding lots of success over the years.

“I had what I called my Cinderella team. I had a girl who played for the University of Oregon named Kandice Feola, we had a playoff game in Bandon. This is when you had to score 15 and you had to serve to score. It wasn’t rally scoring; every time you’d serve you would score. There was a third game, we won the first one and lost the second one. We were down 13-4 and we came back and won. That was mostly because of Kandice.”

The following year in 2002 the Bulldogs made a deep run in the state playoffs.

“Another year we were in the playoffs and we had the state championship. We had game match point twice and we didn’t get it. That was against Santiam Christian, who were in our league that year. We had lost to them several times; we went five sets with them and just barely lost.”

The next year, after losing several top players, the Bulldogs again made the state championship game, but fell. It was the third time getting to the state championship game for Baltrusch. She is still looking for that 1st place trophy. This year’s team was very good. While they are losing three seniors for 2022, next year’s team may bring back as many as 11 players.

“I’ve had a really good team this year, but I’m really looking forward to next year because I’ll still have all of my main kids. Plus, I’ll have Piper, my granddaughter who is really good. I’m excited about next year, but I’ve told this group all along that when they play at the top of their game, they can beat anybody,” Baltrusch said.