On Friday, October 4, after nearly a month on the road, the Fort Lewis College Women’s Volleyball team will play their first regular season home match against Western State. On the sidelines of Whalen Gym will be the Skyhawks new head volleyball coach, Kelly Rifilato.
For Coach Rifilato, the chance to lead a college team was a dream that she’d put on hold in the past to take on a different role: mom.
"I really never thought I was going to get an opportunity to coach in college again because I walked away from it when my kids were little,” she said when she was announced as FLC’s newest coach. “I knew then that that's what I wanted to do and I had a passion for it, but I also knew that I needed to be there for my family."
“I never had a father and her mother passed away when she was eleven, so our kids were really, really important,” explains her husband, Ed Rifilato, the defensive coordinator for the Fort Lewis College Football team.
Her daughters now grown and her dream of coaching realized, Coach Rifilato takes the helm of a team that is coming off two consecutive losing seasons. The challenges are big, but the path to success is clear in her mind.
“I’m really a person who is kind of obsessive about fundamentals, so we’ve been working really hard on those things and keeping things simple so everyone can get on the same page as I am,” she says.
To her, putting the fundamentals in place is necessary for long-term, consistent success. It is a slow process, though, a breaking down of old systems and habits and building up of new ones.
“I have done a lot of things as far as moving them around from position to position. That’s hard when you’ve been specifically told that you’re only one thing for maybe eight years of your life and now, all of a sudden, someone’s asking you to try another position.”
Even the pace of practice is different, with Coach Rifilato wanting to speed things up. To build a team that is fundamentally sound and can think and react quickly takes time, but it’s a step that needs to be made to take the team to the next level.
“It’s way faster, which is good because then the games are faster paced,” says Kristin Stephan, a senior from Phoenix, AZ, “we won’t be as stressed out.”
“I love her; she’s an awesome coach,” adds Kennedy Clark, a hometown player who played for Coach Rifilato at Bayfield. “I love how she can break it down, the technique of it and say, ‘you need to do this, and it works.’”
The Skyhawks second home match against Adams State will add a little extra intrigue, as Coach Rifilato’s own daughter, Gabriella, is a Grizzly.
“It’s definitely going to be different playing against her,” says Coach Rifilato. “I even changed my terminology in my offense because I didn’t want to have to change it afterwards, so I figured I’d changed it before.”
Coach Kelly Rifilato will be focused on her Skyhawks during the Adams State game. Her husband, however, has no question about his cheering duties.
“No, no, no. It’s all Adams at that point,” says Ed Rifilato. “No, those are my daughters. When my wife’s out there coaching, that’s her work. My daughters I’ll be rooting for no matter where they are.”