Sports

Coach Julie Miller is the essence of 'cool'

BHS coach Julie Miller rallies her girls volleyball team. - JULIE BUSCH photo
BHS coach Julie Miller rallies her girls volleyball team.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

She dresses like her players, likes their music – and helps them win.

She’s thought of as a “cool mom,” she acts like one of the kids she coaches, and she stays calm no matter what happens.

Whether it’s keeping one of her injured players company in a Yakima hospital – as she did in the 2002 state tournament – or trying to keep her team fed and rested after they’ve played at 11:30 at night (which happened in the 2003 state tournament), Julie Miller always keeps her cool.

Well, almost always.

“At Districts against Newport I got mad and I yelled, because there was a messup in the subs,” the Spartan volleyball coach admits. “When the timeout came, I yelled at them and told them what they were doing was unacceptable.

“I can’t say that helped them by any means, because we lost. But I think at that point that situation deserved for me to yell because they weren’t doing the things that they were supposed to be doing.”

The Spartan volleyball team hasn’t done many things wrong this season, and Miller’s demeanor is one of the reasons that Bainbridge is making its fourth straight trip to the state tournament at the Everett Events Center and are ranked ninth in the state in the 3A state coaches poll.

While Miller doesn’t yell over every little thing, when it’s needed, it’s well-deserved, her players say.

“It’s not like a ‘lose your temper’ type of thing. It’s more like, frustrated,” said junior middle blocker Marijke Schwarz-Smith.

Said junior Hannah Stewart of Miller’s unhappiness against Newport, “It wasn’t that we were losing, it’s that we weren’t playing how we could,” Stuart continued. “She’s always striving for us to play the best that we can.”

Even her daughter Michelle, who played volleyball for Miller for four years, as well as youth basketball teams and soccer teams she coached, knows how well she works with others.

“It just comes down to having confidence and faith in people to let them do their jobs,” said Michelle Miller, now a member of the University of New Mexico volleyball team. “She doesn’t feel she needs to get in everyone’s face, which is a good way to deal with girls.

“She gives you a lot of room to make your mistakes, which helps your problem-solving abilities when you’re older and making decisions without your coaches around.”

Growing up in Brown Deer, Wis., in a big family – she had six sisters and two brothers – Julie Miller was part of volleyball as a child, but as the middle child, didn’t quite warm up to the game at first.

“Maybe that makes me understand kids better, because I was a troublemaker when I was young,” she said. “I think it was more I was trying to be anti-whatever.”

She finally took to the game in the fifth grade and quickly fell in love with it. She found success with Dominican High, played on a state championship team her sophomore year with her sisters, then took second in her junior and senior years.

At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, her team finished in the top five at nationals for three years, but she “got sick of school” and left college.

She got married, moved between Florida, Wisconsin and Seattle, then moved to the island for good in 1990 when her husband found a job.

She found work as a baker at Bainbridge Bakery while coaching youth area soccer and basketball teams.

A few years later, after moving on to the sports programs at the park district, she started coaching volleyball at the high school.

She started with the C-team, then moved up to the JV next year. When the varsity coach retired in 1998, she took his spot and has been there ever since.

The program was competitive, but it wasn’t until girls who were involved in club volleyball began playing with the team – Sarah Frazee started the trend – that Bainbridge volleyball began its climb to greatness.

“When you have a program that wins, it definitely makes people wanna go ‘Whoa, maybe we can play that (sport),’” Miller said. “We’re not a hardcore sport where we demand you play out of season, but if you want to, it’s great.”

Schramling said being around Milller is “entertaining” and she feels Miller’s demeanor is a key to helping the kids succeed on the court.

“I do think she remains calm most of the time,” she said. “But when the girls are playing down or are playing scared because they aren’t doing well, she raises her intensity so hopefully they will, too.”

Miller, who is by her admission a “very intense and competitive person,” knows that her style may not be for everyone, especially girls.

“The kids know when the pressure’s on,” she said. “They don’t need me to yell at them to tell them that.

“I’ve always decided the way to get kids to be motivated is to make them learn how to motivate themselves. They’re not going to play volleyball forever, so they need to have that confidence and they need to motivate and problem solve by themselves, so it’s my job to translate volleyball into the regular life stuff.”

Her daughter Michelle said she’s done a fine job of that.

“I know a lot of girls get along with her real well,” she said. “I always enjoyed spending time with my mom and you can talk to her about anything. She’s definetly a cool mom.”

Julie Milller fits that “cool” part to a tee, dressing like many of her players and listening to much of the same music they do.

“I have to say, I like all the kids’ music and I like a lot of the clothes,” she said, as she shares music with her son Theo, a big fan of hip-hop. “I don’t ever feel the need to make a gap there.”

“It sounds stupid, but we’re all people and it doesn’t have to be separated to where it’s ‘kids’ and ‘adults.’ The only real difference between me and kids is number one, I’m older and number two, I have a job and they go to school. But other than that, the stuff you do is exactly the same. It’s finding different ways of expressing it.”

“You can be yourself around her and you don’t have to be ‘Oh my God, it’s the coach!’” said Schwarz-Smith, who considers her just one of the kids.

Said Stuart, “It’s not like normal coaching. She treats us as equals.”

And it wouldn’t be the same if another person was there teaching them how to time that kill just right.

“I can’t imagine not having Julie as a coach,” Schwarz-Smith said. “I can’t imagine volleyball on Bainbridge without her.”

Even if she wins a title this weekend, Julie said she won’t lose her cool. Well, maybe.

“If we win, I might jump up and down,” she said. “I don’t think I’d cry. But I’d be like, ‘Sweet!’”

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