Shirley Builds Powerful Volleyball Program
From Nothing But Ashes
Ronda Shirley Takes Hutch Volleyball From Worst to First
Before Ronda Shirley’s arrival in 1998, the Hutchinson Community College volleyball program was in shambles.
When Shirley arrived in 1998 as the ninth head coach in Hutch history, she took over a program accustomed to losing. Not only did she have to turn around a team that wasn’t able to compete from a talent standpoint with the rest of the Jayhawk Conference, but she had to turn around a losing mentality that was so profound that nobody in the community gave the team a second thought.
That attitude changed quickly.
A winning season in year No. 2. A berth in the Region VI finals in year No. 4. And then the magical season of 2004 and all the championships that followed.
Ronda Shirley not only rebuilt the Blue Dragon Volleyball program, she took it to elite status. Her impressive reclamation project is full of reasons why she is a member of the HCC Quarterback Club Hall of Fame Class of 2017.
“I was very fortunate to be at Hutchinson,” Shirley said. “It’s amazing to look back sometimes and see the progression. There are times I can’t put it into words. I didn’t realize it when I was going through it. When I came in, I was just so fresh out of college and I had been part of good, successful programs as an athlete, I just took what my coaches expected of me. I just took my coaches philosophies and flipped it around on my players.”
Shirley coached the Blue Dragons from 1998 to 2009. She amassed a record at Hutchinson of 347-157. She coached nine NJCAA All-Americans, six AVCA All-Americans and 39 All-Jayhawk West players. From 2004 to 2009, Shirley coached her teams to five Region VI championships, five Jayhawk West titles and five national tournament placings.
Nicknamed Blue Dragon Volleyball’s “Dark Ages,” Hutchinson won a total of 30 matches from 1992 to 1997. The Dragons hadn’t won a conference match since 1993.
“When I got there, the program was pretty broken,” Shirley said. “I didn’t realize how broken until years later because then, I didn’t have a lot of coaching experience to base it off of. It didn’t take long for me to get the vibe that this was a program that people wasn’t excited to be a part of. It wasn’t where kids wanted to go play junior college volleyball.”
Shirley went 18-28 in her first season in 1998, but earned a first big win with a conference triumph over Colby, the first league win in five seasons. One year later, Hutch went 28-18. The 2000, 2001 and 2002 seasons were all 30-plus win seasons and all three ended with Hutchinson knocking on the door to nationals with berths in the Region VI championship match.
In 2004, the Blue Dragons kicked that door in.
“It was a progression and I credit the kids in 2002 and 2003 because they really had the work ethic, drive and competitive nature, and they really helped the kids who were going to be the sophomores on the 2004 team,” Shirley said.
The 2004 Blue Dragons went 43-1, ended a 21-year losing streak to Barton, won both the Jayhawk West and Region VI championships and finished fifth in the NJCAA Tournament.
“That season was just magical,” Shirley said. “It was one for the record books.”
From that point, wins and championships continued to come for the Dragons. Hutch repeated as conference and regional champions in 2005 and 2006 and then went back-to-back in in the region in 2008 and 2008 with one more conference championship.
“I thought the hardest part would be to build it, but once you build it, it’s tough to maintain it,” Shirley said. “It’s hard to remain a powerhouse and look like a team that dominates on the floor when you lose half of your team every year. I like that challenge of this level.”
Of all the wins, two perhaps stand out as the most important – 2004 vs. Barton and 2006 vs. Miami-Dade.
The October 20, 2004 match vs. Barton at the Sports Arena was played in front of what is still a program-record 1,200 fans. Hutch hadn’t beaten Barton in 21 seasons and it came down to a winner-take-all match for the 2004 Jayhawk West title. The Blue Dragons won the match in a sweep.
“I go back to that match more than any other,” Shirley said. “I remember sitting there and watching people stroll in and continue to stroll in. I looked at the team and told them those people are here because of the way we played. People believed and that all worked in our favor. There was never a better junior college atmosphere than that night.”
Two years later, the 12th-seeded Blue Dragons were to meet No. 5-seed and defending national champion Miami-Dade in the opening-round of the NJCAA Tournament in West Plains, Mo. The Dragons won the first two sets, only to see the Sharks win the next two and have a match-point in hand before Hutch rallied to dramatically win the fifth on a Ludmilla Amaral stuff block on match point.
In addition to volleyball, Shirley also served as Hutchinson’s softball coach for 2 1/2 seasons. After Hutchinson, Shirley became head coach at Tyler Junior College – she led the Apaches to the 2013 national championship match.
A career coaching record of 520-253 at three schools, Shirley is also a member of the NJCAA Volleyball Hall of Fame. In 2015, Shirley left TJC to coach at Tyler Robert E. Lee High School for two seasons.