ELK RAPIDS — The Elk Rapids volleyball team finally found it's missing piece.
After having three coaches in the last two years, the Elks hope they have locked down the person who will lead their program into the future.
Connie Gorno will be taking over as the head volleyball coach next fall, returning after a 20-year hiatus from coaching.
Gorno originally applied for the open coaching job over two years ago after former coach Alleen Popp passed away in 2016, but withdrew it after scheduling conflicts interfered with the opportunity.
However, Gorno couldn't pass up the chance to coach again when Elk Rapids athletic director Jim Standerfer contacted her personally and asked her to lead the Elks this fall.
"Mr. Standerfer contacted me and asked what do we needed to do to make this work, so that was very flattering." Gorno said. "I am very excited, volleyball has always been a part of my life. When I moved up here there were some changes in life and different things that went on. I met my husband and had my kids. I got back on to the women's city league team and its kind of nice to get back into the sport because I feel like I have something I can give to the girls."
Gorno moved to the Traverse City area in 1999 after holding volleyball coaching positions at Grand Ledge and East Lansing. She won three state championships as a player at Comstock just outside of Kalamazoo, and she also spent time playing at the University of Tennessee and Michigan State University.
"I can bring my experience and knowledge of the sport but it has changed a little since I played, we didn't have a libero back in the day," Gorno said. "I thoroughly love teaching and coaching. The sport has done so much for me so I want to give back to the sport and hopefully do the best that I can."
Although Gorno hasn't lead a team in a while, she is excited to be with Elk Rapids because of the talent available and the amount of success in recent years. The Elks are losing two players who won a district title last season and lost in the regional final to Houghton Lake.
Gorno sees the potential of the current group of athletes that she has, but is excited about a loaded incoming freshman class. She sees this as an opportunity to grow Elk Rapids volleyball into something bigger.
"Those incoming freshmen, there is a huge group of talented athletes coming in," Gorno said. "It is very exciting to know that I have the support of Mr. Standerfer and he went ahead and approved a freshman coach. Whenever I see Mr. Standerfer he tells me that volleyball is in the air and everyone is asking tons of questions."
Nikki Wilkins was let go during last season after Standerfer self-reported violations to the Michigan High School Athletic Association. David Carney closed out the campaign as interim coach.
Gorno recognizes the challenges that will come with her new position. The volleyball program will need to do a lot of fundraising and player development under their new coach if they want to reach higher.
Elk Rapids will try to field three full teams this upcoming season — freshmen, junior varsity and varsity. The biggest problem for the Elks won't be finding enough athletes to fill the teams like most TC area schools. Their biggest problem will be finding competition for the freshmen team, possibly forcing them to field two JV squads.
"My plans are to make a nice little volleyball dynasty here in Elk Rapids," Gorno said. "I want to put Elk Rapids on the map as far as volleyball goes. When I played down in Kalamazoo (at Comstock High School) that is how our volleyball team was, people knew we were the target, we had the mark on our back because we had the experience and we had the hunger for the game. I want it to be like that at Elk Rapids."