Part player, part coach

Tracie Ford plays roles both on and off the volleyball court at Columbia College.
Sunday, September 26, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:10 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tracie Ford leads a busy life on the volleyball court. But only those who know her history at Columbia College can see all the roles she’s played.

In her five years at Columbia College, Ford has made two position changes, from setter to outside hitter and then back to setter this season. She also is the team’s assistant coach, supervising her teammates’ running and weigh-ins, helping coach Melinda Wrye-Washington plan practice and run drills and serving as an extra set of eyes on the court.

“I rely on her so much in practice,” Wrye-Washington said. “Now I run half the court and she runs half the court.”

Ford started as a setter, the position she played at Blue Springs High School. She helped her team take third place at Missouri’s state high school tournament.

At Columbia College, she came in as All-American Juliana Godoi’s backup, and the starter didn’t give her much leeway.

“When Tracie first got here, Juliana was in her ear every day,” coach Wrye-Washington said. “She didn’t know when to go for the ball. She didn’t know where to set the ball, and she didn’t know where to be on the court.”

Ford survived her freshman year and was set to start as a sophomore after Godoi transferred to MU. Two days into practice, though, Ford rolled her ankle, which kept her out for the season. She watched from the bench as her teammates went 38-0 and won the 2001 NAIA Division I volleyball championship. Ford said the championship is still bittersweet.

“Winning a championship from the sideline and winning it on the court are totally different things,” Ford said. “I want to win a ring this year and say ‘I was part of this.’ ”

Because Ford sat out for the season, she was given another year of athletic eligibility.

When Ford returned to the court , Wrye-Washington gave her a new challenge: outside hitter.

Ford said she was more than happy to make the change.

“I loved it,” she said. “I had always wanted to hit in high school, but we needed a setter.”

The team could afford to make Ford an outside hitter because the Cougars had a returning All-America setter in Olga Benoit. Ford, who was taller and more athletic, was a better fit for outside hitter. So Ford made the switch and watched Benoit make All-America team again.

“We needed her at the outside hitting position,” Wrye-Washington said. “(Ford) probably could have beaten (Benoit) out, but Olga couldn’t hit.”

Her junior year, Ford was in a similar position. The Cougars had another setter, Nikolina Rastovac, less adapted to playing outside hitter. Ford stayed at outside hitter. She earned honorable mention honors in the American Midwest Conference and helped the Cougars finish second at the NAIA Volleyball National Tournament.

Rastovac earned All-America honors, making her Ford’s third different teammate to be an All-America setter. When this year started, Ford said she didn’t expect it to be her turn for the honor.

“I had no clue it would happen,” Ford said. “I was glad to have (the position of setter) back.”

Jacqueline Makokha, another of the team’s three senior captains, said she was surprised at the position change too.

“I didn’t even know she could play setter,” Makokha said. “She puts it where I want it.”

Ford’s transition back has helped her team earn the No. 2 ranking in the country and two tournament titles. She is averaging 10.2 assists a game, has a hitting percentage of .304 and is second on the team with 32 block assists. Ford said she learned a lot from playing outside hitter that she can use playing setter.

“I know how I would want to be set,” Ford said. “What I used to think was a good set I now know could be a lot better as far as placement of the set goes.”

Wrye-Washington said Ford’s athletic ability is another big asset.

“She can jump out of the gym,” Wrye-Washington said. “When she’s setting, she can get so high that the opposing team’s block has to jump up with her or she’ll hit it down. And when they jump up with her, she just has to hit it to the outside and that lets us go one-on-one with our hitters.”

Ford is more than just a director of traffic on the floor. Unlike Godoi, Wrye-Washington said, Ford does not tend to get into her teammates’ faces and prefers constructive criticism.

“She’s always positive, and she always has a good work ethic,” junior setter Tracy Branson said.

Ford said the dual role she plays on the team, as a player and as an assistant coach, is made easier because her teammates listen to her in both roles.

“None of them blow me off and say ‘Oh, it’s just Tracie talking,’ ” Ford said. “But I’m still more player than coach.”

The senior will take more responsibility with her assistant coaching duties in the coming weeks, Wrye-Washington said, because the coach is recovering from foot surgery.

At the team’s Sept. 16 practice, Ford was the boss while her coach was in surgery for two and half hours.

“I rely on her in practice now more than ever,” Wrye-Washington said.

Ford said she is considering staying on as a full-time assistant coach at Columbia College. She said she wants to earn her master’s degree in criminal justice and also would consider working in a lab and analyzing crime scenes.

Wrye-Washington said she hopes Ford chooses to coach.

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