The end of an era
When Rosie Honl took over as head volleyball coach at Crook County High School, the program was in disarray.
The team had not won a league match the year before and hadn't had a winning record in league play in five years. In addition, the Cowgirls hadn't been to the playoffs in more than a decade.
"It's going to be a tough year, but I've got it planned that we'll make the playoffs," Honl announced as she took the job.
That first year didn't go the way that Honl had planned. However, it didn't take her long to turn the program around.
On Wednesday, after a storied 22-year run, Honl announced her retirement. As head coach of the Crook County volleyball program, Honl led the Cowgirls to 12 consecutive state tournament trophies, including a run of eight straight state titles.
All told, 17 Crook County teams have reached the playoffs in Honl's 22 years coaching at the school.
"It is bittersweet," Honl said of her decision to retire. "I am going 12-14 hours a day and loving it. I love teaching. I love coaching, but I've got to get over and see those grandchildren in Portland."
There had been no girls sports program where Honl went to high school, so she did not begin her volleyball career until later in life.
While attending the College of Idaho, in Twin Falls, Idaho, her husband, Jerry, came home and said that because of Title 9 (a law, which helped give equal rights to women athletes) the school was offering sports scholarships.
Honl went to a volleyball tryout and was offered a scholarship.
"Only 10 girls tried out, so I made the team," she said laughingly, then she added. "I outworked all of them."
Honl's coaching career began in the Catholic Youth Organization in Portland, where she coached some of her 10 siblings.
Eventually she was asked to coach freshman volleyball at Roosevelt High School.
"I didn't realize until then that you could get paid for coaching," Honl said later. "I had always done it because I loved it."
After returning to school to get her teaching credentials, Honl started coaching at Lincoln High School, where she spent five years coaching basketball, softball, as well as volleyball.
After five years at Lincoln, where she compiled a 38-34 record, including taking the team to state in 1995, Honl made the move to Central Oregon.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Determining records for volleyball coaches is difficult as wins in pool play do not count as part of OSAA records. Although Honl has scores of wins in pool play, her official overall record for 26 years as a head coach is 590-166. When you look at just her 22 years at Crook County her record is 552-132, an incredible 80 percent winning percentage.
However, that doesn't mean that success came easily. That great winning percentage would have been off-the-charts amazing if not for her program's formative years.
In her first two years at Crook County, the Cowgirls failed to win a league match. The following year, they won just one time in league play. In 1999, the Cowgirls improved to 3-9 in the Intermountain Conference.
"It takes four years to get a program going," Honl said.
It was in her fifth year at Crook County that things really turned the corner. The Cowgirls went on to win the IMC with an 8-2 record and qualified for state for the first time under Honl's tutelage.
The team went just 1-2 at the state tournament, but the Cowgirl program was rolling.
Crook County has reached the state playoffs each of the ensuing years.
The Cowgirls finished fifth in 2004, when they were still in the OSAA's largest school classification. However, success went up dramatically when the OSAA went from four classifications to six in 2006.
That year, still playing in the IMC, the Cowgirls won their third consecutive IMC championship and went on to win the state title.
The Cowgirls continued to dominate the Class 5A tournament, stringing together four consecutive state championships before Crook County dropped to Class 4A in 2010.
Honl won four more straight titles at the 4A level, bringing her state championship string to eight before the Cowgirls finished third in 2014.
Since then, Crook County has finished third, second, and fourth. Honl's teams have qualified for the state playoffs each of the last 18 years, and have won trophies at state each of the last 12 years.
Honl has won at least eight Oregon Volleyball Coach of the Year awards, seven Oregon Athletic Coaches Association Coach of the Year awards, a National Coach of the Year award, a Prep Volleyball Co-national Coach of the Year award and numerous league and tournament Coach of the Year honors.
In addition, she was the Oregon representative to the National Federation of High Schools on three separate occasions and coached the state all-star team on two occasions.
In spite of all the individual honors that she has won, Honl is quick to credit others for her success.
"Please mention my amazing coaching staff over the years," she said. "Especially Kristy Struck, who was always my co-coach. And an amazing thank you to Jerry, who has supported me in every endeavor I have had over the years. He is the man behind the scene who is also an amazing coach, and without his support these last 46 years (the Honls just celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary), our team success would not have happened."
Although she would have liked to end her career with another state championship, Honl was satisfied with the team's performance this year.
The Cowgirls finished fourth despite having just one senior on the roster and just three players with varsity experience.
"I would like to have won the championship," she said. "It was unrealistic, but I really thought that we could do it. These girls overachieved from the beginning of the year. Fourth place is amazing. We only lost to the champions, and they are stacked. They are all back from last year, and they took the state title (last year) against my five seniors. It would have been nice to win, but it's pretty dang good (to have taken fourth) as far as I'm concerned."
In addition to heading up the CCHS program, Honl also directs the Rimrock Volleyball Club.
The club plays local tournaments, but they also have had teams compete on both the regional and national level.
Honl took players from all over Central Oregon on Rimrock teams, helping to build the region into a nationally known volleyball powerhouse.
For example, this year Culver was second at state at the Class 2A level, Sisters won the Class 4A tourney and Bend defeated Summit for the Class 5A championship.
All of those teams have had players who played for Honl in the Rimrock program.
"I'm still running Rimrock this year," she said. "I've been trying for six months to try to find somebody to take it, but I'm running it this year and I will probably run it next year if I don't find somebody."
Honl added that Rimrock is a nonprofit with money in the bank, and it is free to the right person who will take it over and run it.
Honl will continue to teach physical education at CCHS until the end of this year.
Honl noted that what she will remember most about coaching isn't the wins and losses, but the relationships that have been established.
"The biggest thing was taking that first state championships when we only had one senior, and the next most memorable moment was the next year when we took the Clearwater tournament," Honl said. "But those are nothing compared to the relationships. I've loved it here. You've got the whole community behind you, and the kids are great. A lot of the kids that played for me have stayed in volleyball. Kaki McLean Morehead has had a lot of success at Eastern Oregon State College. Nicole Kludt is still coaching, and Denee Newton went undefeated in league this year (her first as the head coach at Philomath)."
Honl added that several other former players have also coached. Many more former players are still involved with the game, including several current college players.
In addition to spending time with her grandchildren, Honl said that they plan on doing a lot of traveling.
"We are planning to go across the country camping," she said. "Jerry fishing, me hiking, and Jerry hiking a little. I want to see the East Coast. I've never been there."
Honl added that she has family in both Portland and Chicago and that Jerry also has family in Portland.
"I would like to move back to Portland because our families are both there," she said. "You know, playing pinochle at night, going to the show, playing all our games and all those kinds of things that we don't get to do around here."
Although the Honls may eventually leave town, that doesn't mean that Crook County won't always have a fond place in their hearts.
"It's been an absolute pleasure coaching here," she said. "With the kids and the community. I've loved every minute of it."
Honl's career at CCHS at a glance
Record: 590-166 career. Includes 38-34 during four years at Lincoln High School. 552-132 in 22 years at Crook County. Won countless more matches if pool play is counted.
State playoffs: 1994 reached playoffs at Lincoln. 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 reached at least the first round of the playoffs. 2004, fifth at state in Class 4A (at the time that was the largest classification in the state). 2005-2009 Class 5A state champions. 2010-2013 Class 4A state champions. 2014 and 2015 third at state. 2016, second at state. 2017 fourth at state.
Conference championships: Intermountain Conference Champions or Co-champions, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2009. Special District 1 champions in 2010-2013. Tri-Valley Conference champs, 2014-2017.
Individual awards: Eight time OSAA Coach of the Year award winner. Seven time Oregon Athletic Coaches Association Coach of the Year award winner. National Coach of the Year, and Prep Volleyball.com Co-coach of the Year. Twice selected to coach the state all-star team.