By HART PISANI | email@example.com
Keegan Fornoff is used to small town life. She's used to successful volleyball as well. The one thing she may not be used to is not being the number one leader. If she handles being number two as well as she's handled every test she's faced in her life up to now, though, she'll be an enormous success at that too.
What's more is that any success she has will reflect on the Northeastern Junior College Plainswomen volleyball team as well.
Fornoff, 23, is Sterling's newest resident and the newest addition to the NJC athletics department. She will hold the position of assistant volleyball coach this upcoming season, having been hired last month to aide head coach Mackenzie Chrisman.
With a population of roughly 14,000, Sterling typically isn't on top of the list of places recent college graduates end up moving to. So how then did Fornoff end up making her way to Logan County?
"I was actually just looking on Indeed and I came across the (assistant coaching job) listing," she said. "It kind of seemed perfect because I've always wanted to move to Colorado and it was right at the time I was wanting to move and start over somewhere new. It just worked out perfectly."
Sterling, and Colorado in general, are a new experience for Fornoff, but there may not be anything she's more familiar with than volleyball. Originally from Joliet, Illinois, Fornoff has been an outstanding volleyball player her entire life. Her stellar prep career at Joliet Catholic Academy earned her a Division I scholarship to play at Southeast Missouri State University. Playing at Southeast all four years of college, Fornoff finished her collegiate career ranked 5th all-time in school history for assists.
After graduating in May of 2019 with a major in Psychology, Fornoff began studying for her Master's degree in Kinesiology Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She wasn't done with the volleyball court, though, as she accepted the position of Head Freshman Volleyball coach at Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School (MICDS) in Saint Louis, Missouri. MICDS went 8-9 under her guidance, a major improvement from the 2-15 record they posted the year before her arrival. That dramatic improvement shows that she has a knack for coaching, something that she's desired to do for years.
"I've always liked coaching," she said. "All of my coaches growing up told me that I should coach when I was done playing. I guess I held on to that but it was more that I couldn't picture my life without volleyball and this was the only way I could really continue it. I didn't want to continue playing overseas or anything. I'm happy to be coaching now."
Unfortunately for Fornoff, Chrisman, and the entirety of NJC, the NJCAA announced this week that the upcoming fall sports season will be pushed back to the spring due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It's a disappointing turn of events for all Junior Colleges across the country, but Fornoff sees a silver lining in the delayed start.
"It's difficult mostly for myself and coach Chrisman to reconfigure the entire season but I'm just happy that we're having a season at all," she said. "I saw a couple of weeks ago that (some college conferences) completely canceled all of their fall sports. I can't imagine how heartbroken I and coach Chrisman would be. Not to mention all of the players and especially the sophomores that wouldn't get to finish playing here. I think it's worked to our advantage, though, because now we'll have all this time for the players to come in, work really hard, bust their butts and come back and have a season in the spring. I'm just trying to stay positive and optimistic because we really don't have any other option."
The schedule change is an adjustment, for sure, added on to the adjustment of moving to a new place. Fornoff says the adjustment to sterling has been going well. Southeast Missouri State is located in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, a town with a population of roughly 40,000 people, so Fornoff says she's used to the small town atmosphere. The biggest thing to her is that she's been able to start coaching right away, putting her talent for analytics to good use.
"As coach and a player I've always been very analytical about things happening on both sides of the court," she said. "I was a setter so it was always my job to know where everyone should be and know where everyone else on the other side of the court should be. I feel like I'm able to accurately tell the players what they should be doing and what the other team is doing while finding things that other people wouldn't necessarily see."
Fornoff knows there will be challenges ahead. She previously coached high school freshmen, so she's aware that she'll have to make some adjustments to her coaching style now that she's coaching college players. There's the behind the scenes administrative work that Chrisman also said can be difficult. Still, she feels prepared for the challenges in front of her, and from the little she's seen of the Plainswomen so far, she's anticipating big things this spring.
"We've looked really great," she said. "I think we're going to have a great season in the spring. We'll be able to work on all of the little kinks and difficulties that might arise. Throughout the fall we'll have more than just the two weeks of preseason to work through that. We'll have two or three months to work through it."
One thing that both Fornoff and Chrisman agreed won't be an issue to work on is their ages. Both coaches are 23, just five years older than their youngest players and three years older than most of their sophomores. Like Chrisman, Fornoff doesn't view this as negative, but as something that makes it easier for them to empathize with any struggles their players may go through during the season.
"Both myself and coach Chrisman were pretty much just in their shoes," she said. "We understand what they're going through in terms of being stressed about playing or trying to balance college life and playing life. We both just graduated so it's something that we can understand and be able to help them with more than a coach who's been out of college a little bit longer. I don't really know if there are any challenges… (coach Chrisman) has obviously proven herself in her first year coaching so I don't think she really has any challenges. I don't really see any challenges like that for myself either."
It will be a little longer than initially expected to see this year's NJC Plainswomen take the court. There are some solid returning players and some exciting new freshmen, including Sterling High School's Jade Feather. Chrismann was successful in her interim run last year and is poised to have even more success this year. We don't know yet what kind of assistant coach Fornoff will be, as that specific position is new for her. Once more, however, if she handles the job as well as she handled her playing and freshman coaching career, she's poised to do some big things this year herself.
Sterling welcomes new NJC assistant Keegan Fornoff, and rest assured, she's happy to be the new coach in town.
"I'm just really excited to be here," she said. "I'm so grateful that everyone I've encountered so far has been so welcoming to me and so excited for me to be here. It makes the transition for me that much easier and that much more fun."