Jessica Withrow, new Brownwood Lady Lions volleyball head coach, met with parents and members of the community Thursday afternoon at Warren Gym.
Withrow — who has eight years of teaching and coaching experience, including stints at Sweetwater, Lubbock Coronado, and Marble Falls — was announced as the Lady Lions new head coach in a Monday press release issued by Brownwood ISD.
“I'm very excited to come into a program that's already been established that I could put my own stamp on and hopefully bring it to the next level,” Withrow said Thursday afternoon. “Brownwood is also closer to my family, most of my family is in the Abilene area. I also have a sister in Llano so I felt like it's a good, central location between the two. I grew up playing against Brownwood and they were always fierce competitors. It didn't matter what sport it was, I knew it was going to be a challenge.”
Brownwood High School Girls Athletic Coordinator Heather Hohertz added, “We are excited that Coach Withrow is joining the Lady Lion staff. She brings experience and a well-rounded background to our volleyball program. She is a very humble person that is willing to work hard.”
Withrow is replacing former head coach Julie Kennedy, a member of the 2008 Brownwood state finalist team. In two seasons as head coach, Kennedy posted a 37-39 overall record with a pair of postseason berths and two bi-district championships — the first Lady Lion playoff wins since 2009.
Kennedy, reached by phone, declined to comment on the coaching change.
“Every year the school evaluates coaches and we informed Coach Kennedy that we were looking to move in a different direction,” Hohertz said.
In her most recent stop at Marble Falls, Withrow spent two years as head coach of the program and helped the Lady Mustangs break a seven-year district losing streak. During the drought Marble Falls had not won a single set according to an article on the Marble Falls News website DailyTrib.com. That ended against Lockhart in 2016, though Marble Falls lost the match in four sets. In 2017, the Lady Mustangs earned three district victories.
“When I came in I was made aware they had a seven-year losing streak,” Withrow said. “It was definitely a challenge and when you're trying to rebuild a program it's definitely a process. I made sure the girls understood that and that I needed them to buy in and be committed and they did that. They came in with enthusiasm and really wanted to work and change things. I think they saw I was passionate about it and in turn I think that made them even more passionate about it. Hopefully I've set them up to be successful with whoever comes in.”
With Brownwood coming off back-to-back bi-district championships, Withrow is anxious to help the Lady Lions take the next step as a program.
“I'm meeting with some of the girls today and I'm excited about what I've seen,” Withrow said. “Right off the bat, seeing all the different sports the girls play, I was really big on being a multi-sport athlete because that's what I was myself growing up. It helps them keep that competitive edge when they're in the volleyball offseason. If they're running track or playing basketball they're going to continue to be aggressive and competitive.
“I also see the girls are super excited about having a new start and a new coach come in. They're very anxious to get going already even through it's February. They're asking tons of questions and they're ready to jump on board with whatever I have in mind for them. That's what it takes to be successful, to buy in, be committed and get that trust.”
A graduate of Muleshoe High School and Abilene Christian University, Withrow won the heptathlon national championship in 2007 under the tutelage of former Brownwood track and field and cross country head coach Don Hood.
“(Coach Hood) was like a second father to me,” Withrow said. “He was at Texas Tech and recruited me and I decided to go to ACU and he called me that summer and said he was coming to be the ACU coach, and I was very ecstatic.
“He is the best coach I've ever had. He did a great job of unifying the boys and girls programs together and treating us like a family. He had the whole program over to his house multiple times for team dinners. He taught me what it was truly like to be confident in myself and to be a motivator. I was voted team captain my junior and senior years and it was largely in part because of him and the influence he had on me in terms of being a leader and always giving my best and pushing myself to almost my breaking point. I had a couple of injuries my last couple of years but was still able to win a national championship with an injury, but it was all through his guidance and leadership. He's molded and shaped me into the person I am today. I owe a lot to him.”
Withrow will complete the school year at Marble Falls, where she serves as an assistant track coach, then return to Brownwood in the summer to prepare for the 2018-19 volleyball season.