OURAY - The San Juan Basin League recognized two Ouray High School athletes and one OHS coach in its fall sport All-Conference and Honorable Mention All-Conference lineup.
Athletes Pia Falkowski and Jackie Saunders, both sophomores, received Honorable Mention All-Conference in cross-country and volleyball, respectively, and coach CJ Rabinowitz earned the title of volleyball "Coach of the Year," which she shares with two other league coaches, from Dolores and Norwood.
“Congratulations to these three for their efforts in earning these marks of distinction!” said Ouray School Athletic Director and cross-country coach Bernie Pearce.
Falkowski is an exchange student from Herford, West Germany, who has never run competitively before. “Her attainment is a triumph for Colorado and Germany and all the territory in-between,” said Pearce. “Pia is a goal-setter who made the power of personal pride paramount in her performances throughout the year. So once again, effort pays off.”
Falkowski said she is pleased with her record this season, during which she shaved a full two minutes off her time. “I gave my best,” she said. “Running helps me after a hard school day. You can use all your power and anger and just run. It’s freedom.”
Saunders, #3 on the volleyball court, “is a talented athlete who is beginning to develop the confidence and poise to let that ability show through,” Pearce noted. “Coaches around the league rewarded her style of play with this recognition, especially in light of how they saw her respond to her coach's encouragement and direction.”
Coach CJ Rabinowitz concurred. “Jackie is only a sophomore, but she’s a very strong player, and she has the ability to lead the team,” she said. “Even one of the league’s senior referees took notice of this leadership quality. Jackie is a very, very strong athlete.”
Saunders herself tipped her hat to the whole team as having a standout season.
This was Rabinowitz’s first year coaching the OHS girl’s volleyball team, a young team comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores that did not have a lot of prior experience. While as a varsity team they didn’t win any games, the girls fared better in JV play, winning six out of 10 matches against Telluride, Norwood, Debeque, Ridgway and Dove Creek.
“In this age in which the only thing that seems to matter is winning on the scoreboard, it's terrific to see that the league takes pride in acknowledging the dedication and determination to help athletes and programs improve by paying attention to the details,” Pearce said. “That's the type of respect that CJ has earned from her fellow coaches and officials in accomplishing a solid first year at the helm.”
The honor of “Coach of the Year” took Rabinowitz by surprise. “I wasn’t expecting anything at all,” she said. “I was disappointed we didn’t take a win for varsity, but I’m really thrilled we won so many for JV.”
Rabinowitz’s coaching background includes three years of coaching middle school volleyball and club volleyball on the Front Range before moving to Ouray. She grew up with the sport. “I learned on a men’s net, which is eight inches higher,” she said. “I played with boys smacking balls in my face 10 times harder than any girl could. You either did it, or you didn’t.”
Rabinowitz tried to convey this mental and physical toughness to her Ouray athletes this year. “I would tell them, ‘I know this is hard and you’re frustrated, but you can man up and do this.”
In training sessions, she and assistant coach Danny Wilbur were out there running suicides right alongside the girls.
“If they were being lazy, we would push them, but always because we knew they could. As long as they tried their best, we were happy.”
Rabinowitz and Wilbur also made a concerted effort to get to know their players.
“It was really important to get to know them a bit,” she said. “I wanted them to be able to trust me and respect me and vice versa. I was very open with them. There were definitely some aggressive moments between teammates, but we wouldn’t tolerate that.”
Some of those aggressive moments stemmed from the fact that it was a topsy-turvy team in which a lot of the younger girls got more playing time than their older, more experienced counterparts – mainly because they were more receptive to the training Rabinowitz offered.
As far as her coaching philosophy goes, Rabinowitz laid it out in five simple principles.
1) Support the girls in as many ways possible and always respect your assistant coach.
2) If they keep making the same mistake, it is the coach’s fault. Fix your approach, and behavior will change.
3) It’s about having fun. If they aren't having fun, it doesn't matter if you win. If you are having fun, it doesn't matter if you lose.
4) Be honest and be realistic
5) Don't whine too much, or the coach makes you work harder.