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Sunday Conversation: Billings Senior's Jeff Carroll reflects on historic volleyball coaching career

Posted at 11:28 PM, Nov 01, 2020

Helena Capital's volleyball team recently broke the record for most consecutive matches won by a Class AA team, which was previously held by Billings Senior. The Broncs were coached by Jeff Carroll at the time, as his 31-year tenure came to an end in 2016. Carroll has plenty of accolades to his name, as his 12 state titles are the most in Class AA. In Carroll's 31 years at Senior, the Broncs brought home a trophy 21 times.

Carroll can't seem to get away from Billings Senior. Between getting his education and coaching and teaching at Senior, Carroll estimates he spent nearly 63 percent of his life dedicated to the Broncs. Even in retirement, Carroll is still helping the Broncs on the volleyball court.

MTN Sports caught up with Carroll to discuss his numerous coaching records, including one that no longer stands.

MTN Sports: It's been nearly four full years since you've retired. Thirty-one years at Senior. What have you been doing to occupy your time now, and do you miss it?

Jeff Carroll: "I do miss it, but thankfully one of my former players, Karen Switzer, is now the head coach, so I've been volunteering a little bit the last couple of years and having a blast with that. Other than that, I'm a personal development and leadership coach and spend a lot of time developing people to lead teams better, sharpen their edge from the inside out. I've told people before I feel like I was born to coach. I'm still coaching, just in a different arena."

MTN Sports: You won a state title with each of your four daughters as part of your 12 titles, which we'll get to. How special was it to be able to share that with them?

Carroll: "That was really special. The first one in particular with Leslie, that was so much fun because I had actually, a lot of people don't know this, I was thinking about possibly retiring before she even got there. She said she'd quit volleyball if I did that, so I hung around and I'm really glad I did. It was fun to win that first state championship with her, and then, of course, with each successive daughter. Amy was 2003. Kristin actually got to win a couple. She was a part of our first undefeated team. What was really fun was having Kristin and Emily be a part of the same team when Kristin won her second state championship and it was Emily's first. Emily went on to win two more beyond that, so that was a lot of fun."

MTN Sports: As you mentioned, you're still helping out with Senior. You taught there, you went to school there, you coached there. You can't seem to get away.

Carroll: "As I've told many people, you can take the man out of Senior High, but you can't take Senior High out of the man. A lot of people don't know, too, that I loved volleyball, but honestly I loved Senior High more than I loved volleyball. I grew up in the Senior High district all my life. I watched my next door neighbor, Joe McIntosh, who was the one who coached me, he graduated five years ahead of me. I've just always wanted to be a Bronc and I've always wanted to stay a Bronc. And I still am."

MTN Sports: When you chose to retire, you said you felt you'd flattened the team out, so to speak, that championships were the end-all, be-all for you guys. You've had some time to sit back and soak everything in. Are you still at peace with that choice?

Carroll: "Yes, I really am. Like I said before, I still get the opportunity now to go back and offer whatever Karen needs me to offer. I love working with our middle blockers at Senior High. We've got a couple of good ones, and the setter, of course, too. I work with the whole team, of course, but that's kind of my primary responsibility that Karen has given me. I still kind of get to fulfill that part of me that I miss. I don't get to spend all my time down there, but I still really enjoy it. Like I said, I'm sold out to Senior High and sold out to Senior High volleyball and doing whatever I can to help to kind of restore the legacy that we built over all those years."

MTN Sports: Over those 31 years, you're inevitably going to see a lot of the same people, a lot of the same coaches. What kind of relationships did you develop with those coaches and how are those still present today?

Carroll: "Another person I still think the world of is Iona Stookey down at Huntley (Project). We didn't play each other -- well, I guess we did. Maybe once in the Billings Invitational, so I can say my record against her is 1-0. I think it would be good for me to remind her of that. I really appreciate everything she has done, because her and I are really cut from the same cloth. We're sold out to our programs and our kids and to our schools. I'm still a huge Iona Stookey fan. When you think about it, a lot of the coaches that are out there, the ones that I coached against, most of them are gone. It's been an incredible turnover through the years. I think of those early battles with Patty Patrick at (Billings) West High. Gosh, we were at each other's throats seemingly until we got to the end of her career. We became really good friends before she passed away and that was really difficult. Carol Kuhns, of course, started the program at (Billings) Skyview. She and I are still really good friends. There were a lot of good relationships I built with coaches through the years, as well."

MTN Sports: You won those 12 state titles. Obviously, your daughters were there. You had four daughters win state championships. Do you have a favorite during that run and if so, why?

Carroll: "No, they were all the favorite. Any time you're coming home with a game ball. Really, to me, we had a very strong culture at Senior High with five really strong core values. The No. 1 core value always was that our program was a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself. As proud as I was of all of those things, I was really more proud of where all my players went on later. They're all doing great things, whether they're great moms, or working in the financial industry. Taylor Mims, of course, went and played overseas. My hope always was that we would be a great training ground for the later battleground that each of them would face. I'm just really proud of all of those 86 kids so far that have gone on and played collegiately that I got a chance to coach."

MTN Sports: You mentioned Taylor Mims. She was a standout at Washington State. The other 85 girls that have gone on to play collegiately and those you coached against that went on to play collegiately. You've seen more volleyball in Montana than most people can dream of. If there was a Mount Rushmore for volleyball, how many girls would be from Senior?

Carroll: "Oh, I think probably 100 of them. Certainly Taylor Mims would come to mind. I wouldn't want to go there because I wouldn't want to leave anybody out. For us, they were all a part of the Mount Rushmore of Senior High volleyball, just as this current group of kids is that are still working to find what their legacy is going to be. In fact, I was giving them a hard time about that ... and I said, 'Man, you guys have got to finish well, because I'm going to be talking about you here.' That would be a good question. There are a lot of players who went on to greater fame collegiately. Emily, my daughter Emily, would probably be one of them, as well. She won two national championships while she was at Fresno Pacific. A lot of people don't know that she won the last 65 matches of her high school career then went on and won 64 in a row at Fresno Pacific. So she was like 129-0 from her senior year through her sophomore year, somewhere into her sophomore year at Fresno Pacific. That was kind of fun. Taylor Mims being a third-team all-American, you can't overlook that. But then again, you can't minimize people like Jace Henderson, a two-time Gatorade player of the year. We had eight Gatorade players of the year, all of whom I got to coach. Raegen Steiner being the latest one playing down at Idaho State, she and her sister both. Really proud of those 14 kids, obviously, who went on and played Division I. That's pretty special coming from Montana."

MTN: You brought up the number 65. Helena Capital surpassed that this year. How would your team compare to this year’s Bruins team?

Carroll: "Well, that’s what would be really fun, is to pit some of those teams. Actually, we won 66 in a row, because we won our first match against Helena High of all people that next season. Excuse me, beat Helena Capital in that first match of the 2009 season, then lost to Helena High in five in the next one and that broke our streak. In comparing the two teams, it’s interesting because I would compare our 2007 team. We had five 6-footers and we had nine kids that went on to play collegiately. I’d pit that team against anybody, any time, anywhere. Still, in my humble opinion, the best team to play volleyball in the state of Montana."

MTN: They were a part of a four-peat from 2005-08.

Carroll: "Yes, they were."

MTN Sports: Three in a row from 2012-14. What’s it like being a part of those runs when you know you have a special group of girls?

Carroll: "I think it was Lou Holtz who once said that you can’t win without talent, but you can certainly lose with it. What I’m most proud of during those runs is we found a way to keep the kids hungry. I think about my two volunteer assistant coaches, Keith and Deb Keller, who were a part of all that. Also, former players, like Chelsea Walter, who was a part of our program. Karen Switzer, of course, who came back and coached with us. I think it really helped having players who had been there and then also coaches who had been there and seen that, so to speak. I’m just really proud. It was a fun thing to be a part of. I don’t know if anybody else is going to create two runs like we did -- 124-2, I think, over those four years. I can’t remember what Taylor Mims went, but she was probably 93-1 or two, as well. Those were two pretty incredible runs, but also players that stayed hungry. They weren’t satisfied. That’s what leaders are."

MTN Sports: Twelve state championship, obviously those are nice, but the runner-up finishes. Do those sting a little bit more? Are those the ones you still think about?

Carroll: "Some of them, yes. Especially the ones that we lost in five. However, I will say that one of my most special teams, to be honest with you, was the 2001 team that we were the runner-up to Kalispell (Flathead). I would still say, in my humble opinion, that was the best state championship match every played. Every single point was contested between us and Kalispell. They ended up taking us out. I feel like it would have been interesting had we gotten to a second match. It really felt like, with that team, although we were runner-up that year, we still felt like we were co-champions. Had we played another match that day, who knows. That 2001 team that was a runner-up and we were kind of maybe four or five in the state. There were some other teams out there that were expected to win it, we just kind of ended up in the state championship."

MTN Sports: In 2011 you got to go down to Texas and coach some of the best volleyball players in the nation. Just tell me a little bit about that experience, some of the talent you got to see.

Carroll: "Oh my goodness gracious. All these players went on to fantastic (NCAA) Division I careers. I was just in awe going to the practices. Got to practice with them three times and be on ESPNU and got to meet Karch Kari. That was just an incredible experience that I wish some other coaches in Montana would get to experience, because we're kind of out there in no-man's land in volleyball. I think the reason I got to do that was because I was pretty heavily involved in the (American Volleyball Coach Association). Also, when they did a study on the school that had the most kids who went to college to play volleyball, we were far and away No. 1 there. I think the committee selected me based on that, but that was humbling, just an honoring experience. I'm sorry we lost in three, especially with the talent we had, but the other team was just as talented. That was a fun experience. It was all part of the Final Four and the AVCA National Convention."

MTN Sports: You haven't quite hung up the whistle yet. You're still helping and out and your leadership coaching. What do the next five years look like?

Carroll: "That's a really good question. I still really love doing what I'm doing. Coaches are about moving people forward. They're advocates, first and foremost. They're in peoples' corner and really have no other agenda than to see them succeed. Also, they're pretty structured. I still am, as this year's volleyball team at Senior can tell you. I love just working with a wide variety of individuals. I've worked with some of the top surgeons in town, I've worked with CEOs, all kinds of business leaders and business owners. I love that piece, also. I've had people in my program who were in their 70s, who said, 'I'm just not done growing yet. Can I be a part of your team?' I said, 'Well, heck yeah.' I get to work with such a wide variety of people now, but I think all of us, at least leaders do, they want to finish well. Leaders are always edgy. They're looking for that next mountain to climb. For me, my next mountain is continuing to develop more teams of leaders. I think that maybe the vision for the next five years is still unfolding and has yet to reveal itself."