By Maurice Patton
Be warned: Megan Kilburn may make mistakes in her first season as Columbia Central’s volleyball coach, but she’s going to make them with passion and at full speed.
“I’m going to do things probably a lot differently from the previous coach, or the coach before that,” said Kilburn, who turned 25 earlier this month, following a midweek Lady Lions practice. “No disrespect to anyone who’s coached here before, but – I’m from Summertown, I’m aggressive. We’re a different breed of people.”
A 2013 Summertown graduate, Kilburn comes from a successful multi-sport background to replace former Central volleyball player Cheyanne Kyle at the top of the program. The Lady Eagles earned three volleyball state tournament appearances – advancing to the Class A finals her junior season – and a pair of girls basketball state tourney berths during her four years before she went on to play basketball at Trevecca.
“I could have played volleyball there, too,” she said. “I’d walk around campus and the coach would get mad at me all the time – ‘You should be playing volleyball’ – so that was kind of awkward. But I still play in the Lawrenceburg Rotary League. I still love it.”
Her background and her interaction with her players impressed Central principal Roger White immediately.
“We knew she’d played volleyball, coached volleyball, reffed volleyball,” White said. “She was an obvious pick, as somebody that had been around our girls. I’d watched her as an assistant basketball coach (last year) and was very impressed with how she handled the kids.
“She just had the experience in volleyball, she’s right across the road from us (at Whitthorne Middle School), she could be here. It wasn’t that it was convenient, but – here’s a volleyball coach, she’s played it, she’s reffed it, we don’t need any massive search to figure out who we need to get.”
Prior to her joining the Whitthorne faculty last year as an English teacher, Kilburn taught and coached in Lewis County – leading the high school volleyball team to a 9-8 record and the District 11-A Tournament semifinals.
Before Kyle resigned this spring to pursue a nursing degree, the Lady Lions went 36-47 over her three seasons, making first-round District 8-AAA tourney exits in two of those three years and falling short of the field in 2018.
“I’ve had conversations with the girls – ‘what do you want to get better at individually and what do we as a team need to get better at?’ I’ve been really taking into consideration … what their individual mindset is, because I just believe the process of getting back to that championship mindset starts now,” Kilburn said.
“I believe it’s just going to take time and this year is going to be more of a building year just solely because we’re changing the whole program. There’s a lot of talent here. We had a great turnout for tryouts. But I know if there’s not a lot of talent, I can still teach effort. Effort and hustle and mentality outweigh talent. I plan to show them their full potential and bring that into, what can we do as a team.”
That enthusiasm is rubbing off, up and down the ladder at Central.
“I’ve already watched several practices and been impressed with how she’s running things,” White said of Kilburn, who will continue to work with the Lady Lion basketball team as an assistant. “She’s good with the kids. There’s a lot of positive stuff coming out of her mouth. The kids seem excited; they’re working hard.”
“She wants to win,” said senior hitter Jenice Bailey, who also plays basketball. “She’s really openminded to, no matter how many years you’ve played, if someone’s better, they’re going to play.
“We’re going to be more competitive.”
Belew is back: White announced this week that longtime Central football coach Vance Belew will coach the boys and girls golf teams this season. Belew, who stepped down as co-athletics director at the end of the 2018-19 school year, replaces Colton Cole, who returned to the business sector after one season.
Besides football, where he led the Lions to three state championship games and a 2010 state title over 14 seasons, Belew – a 1981 Central graduate – had coached track for two years at the school and served three years as AD.
Hardwood return: Cory Armstrong, who led Mt. Pleasant to the Region 5-A boys basketball tournament semifinals two years ago as interim coach, has joined the coaching staff at Spring Hill.
“Coach (Jimmy) Young had an opening, and he reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested, right before everything shut down for ‘Corona’,” said the 36-year-old Armstrong, who will replace Tyler Brown on the Raiders’ staff. “It’s an opportunity to be back in coaching.”
Armstrong, a 2002 Central graduate, will continue to teach at Whitthorne.
“I love his enthusiasm,” Young said. “I’d told him, anytime I had something open, I was going to think about him. I feel lucky to get him. Cory’s a good, young, upcoming coach. I want to get him some more experience and afford him the opportunity to do that, and hopefully help him in his next venture, in his next opportunity to be a head coach.”
After serving as an assistant under Ron Harris in 2017-18, Armstrong stepped into the interim role at Mt. Pleasant when Harris resigned in late October. The Tigers finished 18-12 before school administrators reopened the hiring process.
Armstrong’s son, Elijah, was a freshman in the Raiders’ program last season but has since enrolled at Oakland High School.
“I know a lot of the kids,” the elder Armstrong said. “I was at the (junior varsity) games, a lot of the varsity games. I feel like they’ve got a lot of talent. We just have to coach them up.”
Private/public switch: Longtime Columbia Academy teacher and coach Rob Johnson was recently announced as a new faculty member at Mt. Pleasant. Johnson, who spent 16 years at CA, will teach Spanish and is expected to serve as strength and conditioning coach for the Tiger athletic department.
“He brings a championship mindset. He’s a proven winner and a heck of a teacher,” principal Ryan Jackson said. “He has a very impressive track record. He knows what winning looks like, understands what commitment and unwavering passion look like. We couldn’t be more pleased to have him.”
Jackson and Johnson both said any further coaching duties had yet to be discussed.
“We haven’t worked out all the details for that yet, what all is involved,” Johnson said. “They want me to work on strength and conditioning, but we don’t know to what degree.
“(The hire) is more for the Spanish; the coaching is icing on the cake. But I’m always interested in working with athletes. They’re trying to work on developing a school-wide program, something similar to what I was doing at CA.”
Johnson, 51, stressed that his move was not prompted by any occurrence at his previous spot.
“There was nothing wrong at CA. I was just given an opportunity, and at this point in my life, I was willing to take it,” he said.
Softball addition: Kaylee Davis, a four-time all-district performer and three-time program MVP at Mt. Pleasant before going on to play collegiately at Martin Methodist, has returned as an assistant under veteran coach Misti Grooms.
“She’s teaching kindergarten at the elementary school, but she’s going to help Coach Grooms as well,” Jackson said. “She played for the program, she’s passionate about the game.”
Davis helped longtime Mt. Pleasant Middle School softball coach Andre Baker, who died earlier this spring, with that team while completing her graduation requirements at Martin Methodist.
“She knows that upcoming group of freshmen,” Jackson said. “We’re excited about that move. She’s a great addition.”
Zion administrator departs: Adam Thomas, upper school principal at Zion Christian Academy, is moving with his family to the Charlotte, N.C. area. He is scheduled to leave following graduation ceremonies at the school later this summer.
“It’s a good time to move,” he said. “Everything kinda lined up the way we wanted.”
Thomas said his wife, Jen, has extensive family in the area.
“That’s the draw,” said Thomas, who plans to flip houses. “We thought at some point we’d move there.”
Thomas’ departure is the second significant move of the summer for Zion, following Tommy Fox’s recently announced resignation as athletics director, boys basketball coach and softball coach to accept the AD role at Wayne Christian School in Goldsboro, N.C.
Former Mt. Pleasant coach Derek Boyd was named last week to replace Fox in the administrative position. The process to fill the softball and both basketball coaching positions is ongoing, according to head of schools Rick Jarvis.
Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or on Twitter at @mopatton_sports.