By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (November 3, 2016) — Fran Metzger doesn’t turn down the trophies and titles her teams win, and there have been a lot of them, including a 4A state championship in 2003.
But the only head coach Stephenville volleyball has ever known, has never coached just for titles, trophies or prestige.
Some 39 years after she got into the coaching business, Metzger coaches for the same reason she did the day she first left Tarleton State University to teach and coach at the high school level – she just loves the kids.
Metzger and her Stephenville Honeybees won their sixth straight bi-district championship earlier this week and are vying for a fifth consecutive area title at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, when they take on Abilene Wylie at Eastland High School.
“It’s about young kids, new kids. I love seeing new kids come in and learn and improve and compete,” said Metzger. “I wonder sometimes how much more I have in me, then I see a new group of young kids come through, and they make it fun.”
Assistant coach Patti Williams was with Metzger when the Honeybees won the 2003 state title, spent a few seasons in Granbury, then returned to Stephenville and picked up where she left off as the top assistant to the vastly successful coach.
“She’s an automatic. She’s been doing it so long it’s second nature to her,” Williams said of Metzger. “It’s fun to watch kids who were brought up in her program and how far they come. Some of them go back past seventh grade all the way to third and fourth grade when we start them in camps. That’s how I started working with Fran was through her volleyball camps.”
Williams doesn’t have to ask Metzger what keeps her going after four decades of coaching and teaching. She sees the answer every day while working alongside the 600-match winner.
“It’s the love of the sport and the love of these kids. People don’t understand these kids are almost like our own. We see these kids more than we did our own when we had them at home because we get to work with them every day,” Williams said. “Working with great kids is what keeps the fire burning in you, and here in Stephenville, we believe we have the best kids of anywhere. I’ve been a lot of different places, and I can tell you, Stephenville kids are the best I’ve been around.”
And some of those kids, her 2016 volleyball seniors, sounded off last week on how they feel about their head coach.
Middle blocker Nicona Stilwell has played four seasons on the varsity for Metzger.
“I’ve had her four years now and seeing my game improve the way it has, I know personally that she is a great coach,” Stilwell said. “She’s very headstrong, and when she decides we’re going to get something done a certain way, that’s just the way it’s going to be because that’s how she coaches and we all understand that she knows best.”
Taylor Garber is the primary setter for the 2016 Honeybees, and the southpaw also plays right side hitter and all around, often posting double-doubles in assists and digs with a handful of kills thrown in.
“She obviously has a lot of knowledge of volleyball, and I appreciate her a lot,” said Garber. “She’s always taken me under her wing, and she may give me a hard time sometimes, but I know it’s only because she’s trying to make me better.”
Senior defensive specialist Kylee Ponder has a different kind of relationship with Metzger.
“I like to mess with her, like one day I wore sunglasses to practice,” said Ponder with a laugh. “I love the way she coaches. She’s encouraging to all of us, even when we mess up. It’s a loving style of coaching.”
The other senior for the Bees is Emily Brandon, a middle blocker.
“She’s been very supportive of me and has pushed me to become a much better player than I was like my freshman year,” said Brandon. “I’m grateful to get to play for her, she’s great.”
Metzger was great long before Stephenville established a volleyball program and hired her as head coach back in 1995. She played alongside her sister at Tarleton and coached the TexAnns for a year – for a grand total of $500 – when she finished playing. Then, she almost left the Cross Timbers Region.
“I’m from the San Antonio area, and they were going to give me the South San job,” said Metzger. “But my fiancé at the time begged me not to take it so I stayed here and got married.”
Metzger started the program at De Leon and was there six years before being hired to start another program, this time at Granbury, which played its first season in 1986. She was there until 1994, leaving to start the program at Stephenville.
“That’s a big part of her legacy is the way she started and built programs,” Williams said. “Whenever she does decide it’s her time to retire, whoever takes over will inherit a program that is built the right way from camps and junior high all the way up through the high school. This program is built to be successful long term.”
Metzger enjoyed the challenges associated with starting a new program.
“Starting kids from scratch who have never hit a ball, it’s a challenge,” Metzger said. “But it’s a rewarding challenge, especially when you get over the hump. We made the playoffs the third year in Granbury and we did the same thing here in Stephenville.”
Metzger’s 600th win in 2015 couldn’t have come under better circumstances. It was while coaching Stephenville in a tournament in Granbury.
“It was special to have it happen on that court, that was fun and rewarding,” she said. “There are a lot of memories I made there, and a lot more I’ve made here, so do it with this program and on that court, that was neat.”
Even with one state championship behind her, Metzger says her ultimate goal on the court has not changed.
“I’d love to win another one, but it’s not easy,” she said. “But that would be great.”
She knows the way. Not only to a state title, but to other successes, like turning out young ladies fully prepared to compete in the game of life.
“There’s no real big secret to success I don’t think,” said Metzger. “Work hard and focus on improving something every day.”
That mission has led to on-court success lasting 39 years and counting, and off-court inspiration that for her players past, present and future, will last a lifetime.