One of the hardest things to do in coaching is replace a legend. Dena Upton dodged that bullet.
Upton was recently named the new head coach of the Warren County High School volleyball team, taking the job Leah Simpson resigned before coaching an official game.
Simpson was tabbed in the spring to be the successor after Franklin Fisher decided to retire following an 18-year tenure leading the Lady Pioneers. Fisher walked away after 343 victories with Warren County, which included winning the District 6-AAA championship in his final season.
Simpson was going to be asked to lead a new batch of Lady Pioneers that would have to rebuild after six seniors graduated and took with them a school-record 122 wins. Fisher stuck around as an advisor for Simpson - even assisting Simpson with selecting the 2013 team in May - and he will be needed again as another coach takes the reins.
Simpson resigned the position of head coach in late June, citing a new job, added responsibilities and infant child as reasons for her decision.
Simpson is making the move from Van Buren County High School to Warren County High School and will be assuming several new responsibilities, including learning over the summer she would lead the yearbook staff, when school begins in August.
Simpson, who is also enrolled in graduate school classes, was grateful WCHS athletic director Todd Willmore and school principal Anthony Cassel chose her for the job, but in the end she had too much to juggle and decided Upton was the best bet to lead the team this season.
“It wasn’t the girls or the sport, it was just having so many things going on at one time. The girls are wonderful and I enjoyed my time with them,” said Simpson. “Coming off having such a great leader like coach Fisher, I didn’t want them to have to take a back seat to anything. Dena came along and it was an ideal fit for her and the program.”
Upton is also making a return to Warren County as a teacher after spending the last two years at Siegel High School. Upton previously worked at WCHS and was the assistant coach of the Lady Pioneer softball team.
Upton has had success as a softball coach, having been part of two state-tournament runs with Oakland High School, but this will be her first foray into volleyball.
Upton has been present at many of the Lady Pioneers’ home games the last four years as she watched her daughter Kaitlin Lawrence play. Upton will get a chance to coach her youngest daughter Kelsey Lawrence this fall as she is one of four rising seniors on the volleyball team.
The chance to get back into coaching again, along with the challenge of taking on a new sport, fueled Upton to take the job.
“I’m very excited about coaching again,” said Upton. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it goes as I’ve never got to play the sport. Volleyball didn’t come to my high school until I was a senior.
“Being a coach before, I know that process and how it goes. I’m currently getting a crash course on the technical aspects.”
Upton has used the last four years of watching Kaitlin and Kelsey to learn the nuisances of the game, but coaching all positions will take things to another level.
“As a parent watching, I really paid attention to what my daughters were doing and how their positions were played,” said Upton. “The challenge now is learning how to properly teach all the positions on the court, including the mechanics, foot work and techniques needed to be successful.”
Upton has already been working with the volleyball team as the players go through offseason conditioning. The official start of practice is Monday, July 29.
Fisher will be around to advise Upton, who intends on keeping her husband David Upton on as the team’s assistant coach as he has been with the program for the last four years. Fisher believes Upton will do a great job continuing to keep girls interested in volleyball at Warren County High School.
“Dena is a great teacher and communicator, two things that are vital for any coach,” said Fisher. “Dena has a passion for the game and I believe she will be successful in keeping our program visible in the community.”
Coach Upton will take her team through the Tennessee Tech volleyball camp next week, something that has become an annual tradition before the start of the season. The Lady Pioneers will take in lessons at Centertown Elementary School from members of the Lady Eagle volleyball team for three days.
Coach Upton has retained the roster chosen by Simpson and Fisher in May and will play in several preseason scrimmages before the season begins in August.