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Former two-time Bend High state champion, now new Madras White Buffalo volleyball coach.

STEELE HAUGEN - New Madras head volleyball coach Natalie Villanueva talks to the team about the importance of love, encouragement, and support. Villanueva was a two-time state champion at Bend High School and played four years of volleyball at Southern Oregon University, in Ashland.
The 2018 Madras High School volleyball season was one of the most successful seasons in the last five years, but with this year comes a new coach, new team, and a new system.

Last season, the Lady Buffs ended the season with a 7-11 overall record. Those seven wins were more than all of wins from 2014-17, when the program went 5-43.

Coming into the season as the Lady Buffs' new head coach is Natalie Villanueva, who was born and raised in Bend, but often visited her grandparents in Madras.

"I feel like I need to be here, want to be here and I am drawn to be here," Villanueva said. "It feels like I am at peace with things and I am very comfortable where I am at. There has been a ton of challenges, but it has been such an amazing experience so far, and it is something I am comfortable in the fact that I should be here."

A four-year varsity player at Bend High, Villanueva helped the team win two state championships under the coaching of Kristin Cooper, who is still the head coach for the Lava Bears.

After high school, Villanueva committed to play volleyball at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where she played outside hitter all four years, under coach Josh Rohlfing. During her time at Southern, Villanueva coached club volleyball.

After college, she eventually found herself back at Bend High coaching freshman volleyball. She coached the freshman Lava Bear team for four years until accepting the job to coach the Madras White Buffalos this season.

"For me, I am all about having the philosophy of love, encouragement and support," said Villanueva. "If we can do those things, then we are winning and winning at life. Volleyball for me is just an avenue to teach life, especially those things. How do I love somebody? How do I encourage somebody? How do I support somebody? It doesn't look the same every single time, but I like those parameters of our job as a team to love one another and go from there."

STEELE HAUGEN - Returning for Madras is senior Korie Johnson, who earned second-team Tri-Valley honors as an outside hitter and libero.
"Encouragement comes from we are going to cheer and celebrate everyone, no matter what is going on," she said. "That support is really just coming behind somebody and helping them in an area they are struggling in or even life outside of volleyball. For me, that is all I have seen. I am loving, encouraging and supporting no matter what we are doing. That is our North Star and what we are constantly doing."

Villanueva and the Buffs have been doing some offseason work since late June. Even though she has had a short time with the team, she is very impressed by how athletic the Buffs already are.

"This group is so athletic," Villanueva said. "It's amazing. This group has been so fun to teach and coach because they implement things right away. As a coach, it is really freeing because I can really focus and dig deep on how these players are doing outside of volleyball. It is taking less of my energy to continue to keep coaching, which is awesome, because I can dig deeper in relationships."

"I have high standards and expectations and we have all been hounding them on this is who we are, this is what we do and there is no other way," she said. "It really hasn't been much conversation as a coaching staff; we have been able to come in and this is what we stand for."

Returning for Madras is senior Korie Johnson, who earned second-team Tri-Valley honors as an outside hitter and libero.

"A lot of our varsity is younger classmen," Johnson said. "We have five seniors on varsity and half won't be starting for us. A lot of it will be seniors helping the younger kids with rotations. We have a new rotation and coach Natalie wants us running a whole new defense from last year. They (younger group) are looking up to us because we are the emotional leader, run all of the teams warm-ups and the chants."

"A lot of us came to the summer workouts, so we have already bonded together," she said. "We are working together really well right now for a new team. I am coming into a whole new team and it feels like we're family because of summer volleyball. I think the season is going to go really good, especially because our young girls are super coachable."

The Lady Buffs have their season opener at home at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, against Elmira. They also have a home game against 5A Crook County at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10.

"It's fun coming in kind of blind and not knowing what to expect," Villenueva said. "It is also a little nerve-racking because I don't know what to expect. I haven't seen the 4A level play in a long time. For me, expectations are set super high and I am going to hold them to that. I have no problem saying I want to win state. No problem."

"That is where I want our program to be and to get to," she said. "It is a process to get there, but I know what it looks like. I know that this team, based on our athleticism, can get there. We just need to push them there and that is where our high expectations come into play. I have such high expectations for this team and I know they are going to meet them."

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