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Thomas Salness gets first varsity coaching gig at Newberg, replicating path his father took at Sunset

Thomas Salness was a seventh grade student when his father, Lad, was hired to be the head volleyball coach at Sunset High School. Lad asked the oldest of his four children — and the only boy — to give volleyball a try.COURTESY PHOTO: OSAA - Newberg High School's volleyball team will be led into the 2021 season by Thomas Salness, who is following in the footsteps of his father as a coach.

"Dad, that's a girls sport," Salness responded.

"Try it for a couple of weeks," his father said.

Salness was hesitant but agreed.

"I fell in love with the game," he said.

Salness, 31, now has converted that love for the sport into the head coaching position at Newberg High School. On Aug. 9, he added high school health and PE teacher to his job responsibilities, just like his dad, who is still going strong with the Apollos almost 20 years and more than 330 wins later.

Salness said he's proud to be "Lad's lad," something that he hears a lot.

"I love it, because it means he's impacted people in such a positive way," he said. "It's nice to know what his name means, but I want to build my own name and legacy at the same time. I think about it as Salness 2.0."

"Salness 2.0" began with Lad's lad in the gym every day in the fall over the length of his high school career. While his buddies at Sunset were playing football and chiding him for not joining them on the gridiron (Lad Salness started as a football coach in Anaheim in the 1980s, but switched to volleyball to coach his three daughters), Salness was practicing against his father's volleyball team, taking stats during matches and building his love of the sport.

He couldn't play competitively — there is no high school volleyball for boys in Oregon and club volleyball for boys remains in its early stages even today — but he used his gym time to cross-train for high school basketball while soaking in his father's coaching style.

The football players quickly learned that having a friend associated with the volleyball team had one other benefit: he had access that they did not.

"They started asking me to get them dates," Salness said, "and thinking, 'Maybe he's not dumb' to be in there with them."

Soon enough, the football players were participating in intramural volleyball and playing in Lad's "powder tuff" game, where the varsity girls acted as coaches.

After high school, Salness continued to stay involved with his dad's team at Sunset. He has also coached club ball for ABC Apollos, the club Lad started, for the past 13 years. He recently welcomed a first child with his wife, Melissa, a former high school and collegiate standout who is the head volleyball coach at Century.

Salness said he is excited for the season ahead. Newberg is expected to have a competitive team in the tough Pacific Conference. The Tigers boast rising junior outside hitter Sophie Gregoire-Salagean, who recently committed to Oregon; as well as several other experienced players ready to make an impact.

The Pacific Conference may be a dogfight this fall with McMinnville, Glencoe, Sherwood, Liberty, Forest Grove and Century all capable of making news in the conference.  

Salness got the Newberg job after the 2021 schedule was made, but looks forward to facing off against his dad in future years.

"It would be full circle for me," Salness said. "If I got to be across the net from him … win or lose, you can't ask for anything cooler than that."

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