BOZEMAN -- Since volleyball became officially recognized as a Montana High School Association sport in the 1980s, with the first state championships held in 1984, the program in Choteau has been one of the more consistent programs in Class B. Just six years after the first state championships were held, the Bulldogs began a streak of three consecutive titles, winning from 1990-92. The MVP of that first championship? Current Choteau head coach Ann Funk.
Funk continued her playing career at Montana Western, before joining the coaching ranks at Dutton-Brady and eventually Choteau, actually coaching with both programs at the same time one winter. She has coached the Bulldogs for the past 20 years, compiling more than 400 wins, with more than 500 to her name between the two programs.
According to the Choteau Acantha, Funk led the Bulldogs to four district titles and three divisional crowns in her first nine years with the program. Since 2007, Choteau has qualified for the state tournament every year but two -- 2013 and 2017 -- winning five third-place trophies. The Bulldogs finished fourth this weekend.
MTN Sports sat down with Funk at the 2019 state tournament, moments before Choteau's Friday morning sweep of Anaconda, for this week's Sunday Conversation, discussing her playing days, journey to coaching and how she and her program have become such familiar faces at the all-class state tournaments in Bozeman.
MTN Sports: Choteau has made this a home away from home over the years. When I worked in Great Falls, every time we would come to state volleyball, Choteau was one of the teams I would have to circle, here we still are with the Bulldogs in the state tournament, what gets you excited about bringing different teams, different athletes, their parents, down here every November?
Ann Funk: “For me it’s just an honor, honestly, that you get the opportunity to come and play here. I’ve seen it go from being on individual courts over the years to, what did they say, the past 15 years here (at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse at Montana State University) now, and every time you come it’s different, not just with the kids, but the mentality that you have to take. It’s kind of fun to see how all the different kids step up, the ones that fall apart, the ones that get emotional and it’s a roller coaster when you’re out here. That part is fun. That’s why you do it.”
MTN Sports: The last 15 years or whatever it’s been here, what was it like back when you were playing then? Many people might not know this story, but you were a pretty fine volleyball player yourself — state champion, MVP.
Funk: “It’s much different. It’s much different playing in this facility than it is playing on individual courts. Back in the day when we did it, I can remember being in our first state tournament and how it turned out, we lost the first state championship (match), and nobody in Choteau really had any idea what volleyball really was because it pretty new to Choteau, and we lost that first one and everybody left. They didn’t realize it was double elimination. So we actually had to run out of the facility and go chase our fans down to bring them back in to watch the second match. It’s much different now, everybody kind of knows what it’s about. They get a little more intrigued, though, because there was the point-scoring change. It used to be that you had to serve to get the point, but now it’s every ball is a point. Now it’s a little more entertaining, it’s a lot more exciting.”
MTN Sports: Where was that tournament at? Who did you lose to and who did you beat?
Funk: “It was in Cut Bank, the state championship was in Cut Bank and we were playing Bigfork. Bigfork was the team to beat. They had a girl named Havland who was actually related to a pro beach player, her family, that was kind of crazy, but they had a lot of volleyball in their history in Bigfork and we were playing them. We lost the first match and had to come back and win the second.”
MTN Sports: What were you like as a player? We can Google your name now and find “state MVP” and “state champion” and stuff like that, but what do you compare yourself to in today’s volleyball world?
Funk: “I was nothing of the player like what the players are today, I can tell you that. The skill level these kids have is so much better than what I personally possessed back then. I try not to talk about that, truly, and I try not to show it out there on the court, which is a good thing. But my mentality was that I had a fight attitude, a never-quit attitude. I hope that’s what my kids end up having and I hope that’s what I bring to them in coaching.”
MTN Sports: We can chat about the differences in eras, but did you always know coaching was something you wanted to do when you were playing, having that competitive edge that you had?
Funk: “I always wanted to be a teacher. My parents were teachers, so I kind of grew up in that environment, so when I finally graduated and went to school, I guess that’s what I always wanted to do. Coaching, I wasn’t really sure, but when you get into small schools everybody needs you to step up and do things. It was like, ‘Hey, we know you played basketball, will you coach us? We know you played volleyball, will you coach us? You were in track, will you coach us?’ You kind of do everything. That’s kind of how it all started, you put your foot out there and say, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it. We’ll do it.’ It’s been that way since.”
MTN Sports: We went from Choteau in high school, going and playing at Montana Western, then you’re looking for those jobs and luckily for you, since it seems like that’s what you wanted, they were all right up there close to home, including the job you’re currently in for the last 20 years.
Funk: “I student-taught in Dutton, stayed close to home trying to help my family out. An opening came up in Heart Butte and that was in October, actually. I had just finished my student-teaching and they called me. I thought it was actually a prank that the principal had called me, he heard I was a match teacher, but I thought it was a prank and I hung up on him three times. When he called back he goes, ‘I realize you must think there’s something up, but I’m truly asking if you are ready to be employed and would you like to come to Heart Butte and check out our school?’ I did that on a Tuesday and I was teaching on a Thursday. It kind of happened very quickly. I ended up teaching in Heart Butte right away, and ended up coaching Dutton-Brady volleyball at that same time, so I was driving back and forth, coaching volleyball but teaching in Heart Butte. Then an opening came up in Brady, so I jumped into Brady since they were the Dutton-Brady co-op for volleyball. From there I stayed for basically four years. Choteau needed a coach one winter, they couldn’t find a coach in the 1998-99 school year, they couldn’t find a coach and I happened to be in church and they said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Oh I’m teaching and coaching.’ ‘Well where at?’ I told them and they said, ‘Could you help coach Choteau?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Come on, you can come help coach Choteau.’ I told them, ‘We’ll see,’ and started talking to my administration and they kept asking me, so I ended up coaching both schools, Choteau and Dutton-Brady, in the same winter season. That following year, Choteau lost their math teacher, so I jumped in at Choteau.”
MTN Sports: Now we’re 20 years later, is that something you ever expected?
Funk: “No. No. And I wasn’t really looking to jump, it was just closer to home and an opportunity to help out with my family, so I thought it was the right thing to do at the time, so I did it.”
MTN Sports: Now you look at Class B volleyball and the first three names that come to my mind are (Huntley Project coach Iona) Stookey, (former Roundup coach Laurie) Kelly and Funk, for me anyway, I know there are a lot more than that, but what’s the relationship you more-tenured coaches have had over the years just knowing that, ‘We’re going to run into one another somewhere and it’s kind of fun,’?
Funk: “I think there’s a respect, a formal thought that we all have different teams, different ways of looking at things, but yet we find ourselves here. Those two, Kelly and Stookey, they’re icons as far as I’m concerned. I’m not at their level, I’ll be honest. I think there’s a respect and a quality of, ‘Hey, congratulations,’ and I think that’s sincere. We don’t really talk otherwise, it just happens to be when we come here.”
MTN Sports: What’s it like for coaches to get to see everybody? You as a volleyball fan can watch a bunch of these other matches while you’re waiting for yours. This (state tournament) is just a mecca for high school volleyball in Montana.
Funk: “It’s a great environment because you get to see all kinds of talented young ladies. You get to see so many familiar faces. There are faces, people that you come across from officials to coaches and you’re going, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re here for the first time as an official, congratulations,’ and you’re excited for them. You’re excited for those coaches that you see throughout the season, or the coaches you know in your area and they make it. I know I’ve sent several texts out to coaches in the area saying, ‘Hey, congratulations. Way to go.’ It’s typically something you would never do, but you know what, when it comes to this, it is a great opportunity, it’s a feat in itself to get here and to experience it for the first time for some of us, or for some of us to experience it for however many times we’ve been here. It’s always new, it’s always different. It’s exciting and it’s fun to see those people. You give them hugs, you walk up and give them hugs. I’ve had more hugs this weekend than I’ve probably had in a year. It’s just crazy. It’s just who people are.”
MTN Sports: There are the trophies, there’s certain individuals that have won accolades, but what’s that lasting memory for you? Your own kid (Christine Funk),obviously, playing on the team.
Funk: “It is nice to have your own kid. For so many years, I’ve done it for so many years that it was never in regards to, ‘I’m doing this for my kid, I want to be here for my kid.’ That was never a thought. And now that my kid is in there, it’s nice. For me, it’s like, I’m really proud and excited for her. It hurts a little more when you have those down moments and losses, it hurts more. You try to get through it, and you do, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
MTN Sports: Choteau, getting away from volleyball, it’s kind of the perfect place for the outdoorsman, the whole section up there with the Bob Marshall Wilderness right there. Away from volleyball, what are some of those things that keep you occupied?
Funk: “It used to be, I used to help my family, we were outfitters, so I used to go into the mountains and I was the camp cook and led the guests through the mountains. People from all over the world I would take back into the mountains. It was amazing to see their reactions to what our world over here has to offer, and how thrilled they were to see such a clear stream or a brisk morning and be part of it. That for me was exciting. I’m really not doing that anymore, but the one thing I love to do is go out, any opportunity I can go ride through the trees, I don’t know, just enjoying the fresh air. I love it.”
MTN Sports: Is it horseback?
Funk: “Horseback, yep.”
MTN Sports: You have had to have seen some crazy things then? Are we talking bears and wildlife and all kinds of things?
Funk: “Yes, but funny enough I have only seen, back in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, I have only seen one grizzly bear. I’ve seen several black bears and so forth, one wolf, never a mountain lion. I just saw a mountain lion when I drove up to my folks’ place in the canyon, but that’s the only time. It’s not what people really truly think. You can go your whole time back there, I mean, I spent from eighth grade year to probably six years ago doing it and I only saw one grizzly bear the entire time. The animals are there, but the coolest part is when you ride and see the herd of elk coming down the hillside and coming out in front of you. That is really cool. I love that part.”
MTN Sports: So whenever this volleyball career is done, is that what we’re going to find you doing, leading those world-class and renowned tourists back through the Bob?
Funk: “No. I’ll just go hide myself out in some podunk little cabin somewhere and bring my horse and go ride around the countryside and be by myself. That’s good.”