WOODSTOCK – Laura Watling had an important message to deliver to her Marian Central volleyball players after school Wednesday.
Watling stood at the stage of Marian’s auditorium, next to Hurricanes athletic director Curtis Price, and notes in her hands.
Watling, who made Marian one of the state’s top programs, could not make it a minute before there were tears in her eyes, as she informed the players she would be leaving the program. Watling’s husband, Bill, is being transferred by J.P. Morgan and and the Watlings were asked to move by June.
“This is easily the toughest thing I’ve ever had to face,” Watling told the Hurricanes. “You have to know how important you guys are to me. You who aren’t seniors, continue the tradition. You’re the ones who make it run. Continue to support each other, play for each other, and you’ll do amazing things.”
Watling, 36, has coached at Marian for 17 years, nine as an assistant under former coach Deb Rakers and the past eight as head coach. Her teams were 243-80 in those eight seasons, with four Class 3A Final Four appearances.
Marian won the 2015 Class 3A state championship, then followed that with a runner-up finish last season.
“It’s going to be difficult (to follow her),” senior middle blocker Rachel Noonan said. “Having to come up after our state championship last year and our runner-up is hard enough. Now a brand-new coach trying to do that is going to be really hard. It was sad to sit there and watch all her emotions. It almost made me want to cry, too.”
Price acknowledged that following Watling will not be an easy job.
“The girls work really hard for her,” he said. “It’s going to be tough to find someone to come in and take her place. The main thing is I want to have a coach who’s going to believe in the mission and the philosophy of our school. It’s going to be a tough search, but I’m sure it’s going to be a job a lot of people are going to want. It should be exciting for someone to continue to build on what coach Watling has done so far.”
Watling was Northwest Herald Girls Volleyball Coach of the Year in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016. Along with the state championship and runner-up finishes the past two years, the Hurricanes also had another runner-up and a third under Watling.
“It was sad,” senior right-side hitter Lauren Hanlon said. “When you think of MCVB, it’s Laura, a familiar face, someone you can talk to. It’s too bad for the other girls who are not going to be able to get to know her like we did. She’s honest with us. We all trust her.”
Watling’s last two teams at Marian were a combined 79-5. Senior setter
McKayla Wuensch had older sisters play at Marian and has identified Watling with Marian volleyball since age 5.
“She really cares about making a relationship with the girls and making sure they learn from volleyball,” Wuensch said. “Not just on-the-court stuff, but how to be good people. She wanted to be our friend and be sure we could come to her for anything.”
At Marian, only Watling and Price knew what was happening before Wednesday’s meeting. Watling knew moving was a possibility but thought it would happen later. The Watlings visited Colorado over spring break, and Bill was told he was needed in June, although the building in which he eventually will work has yet to be built.
Watling said her husband will work in Broomfield or Aurora. Their 5-year-old daughter, London, will start kindergarten in the fall.
Watling, who teaches English at Dundee-Crown, did not think she would have time to find a teaching or coaching job for next year, although she plans on returning to coaching.
“I can’t stop coaching; it’s in my blood,” Watling said. “I’ll probably spend this fall getting a feel for the schools. Watch some stuff, get to know people and see what’s out there. I’ll probably try to get in with some club volleyball program out there in the winter.”
Watling graduated from Crystal Lake Central and was 19 when she began coaching at Marian with Rakers. She also coaches at Sky High Volleyball in Crystal Lake, one of the nation’s top programs.
“It’s weird. I’m 36, and I’m kind of starting my life over,” she said.
Watling’s Sky High 15U Regional team qualified for its national tournament, which further complicates her move, in a good way.
“My team wants to go,” she said. “Bill’s like, ‘Whatever, we’ll figure it out.’ I may fly back from Colorado to Minnesota.”
Price appreciated what Watling has done to bring Marian to this level of success.
“It’s tough losing any coach, especially one who’s been as successful as coach Watling,” Price said. “She’s been a staple here for 17 years. We developed a very good relationship (here as coaches). In my first year as athletic director, that relationship has gotten even better. I’m going to miss that, no doubt about it.”