Neuqua Valley girls volleyball has gone through some big changes in the last year. Kelly Simon, the former head coach who spent 20 years with the program winning 421 games and three conference championships, stepped down near the end of last year. The woman replacing her is Jamie Buhnerkemper, a familiar face for the Wildcat volleyball program.
“I got connected with Kelly Simon. I actually interviewed with her and I ended up getting a job up at Lake Forest College. I was the assistant volleyball coach up there for three years. While it didn’t work out that year here, when I was looking at leaving Lake Forest College, there was an opening here at Neuqua in the JV program, so I actually coached with Kelly and was in the program here for three years. And then I went over to Lisle High School and was a head coach there,” said Jamie Buhnerkemper, head coach of Neuqua Valley girls volleyball.
Buhnerkemper has been involved in the sport of volleyball since she was in middle school. She grew up as a multi-sport athlete in basketball, volleyball, and track and field. When she went to high school at Glenbard South, she was planning on going Division I in basketball with the possibility of also playing volleyball. However, in her senior year of high school, while playing both sports, she got burnt out. So, she decided to attend Western Illinois where she played for and coached the club volleyball team. Her love for the sport grew from having friends who were close to the game.
“I actually grew up with some very good volleyball players. My best friend played set for UNC [University of North Carolina] and her sister played for Wisconsin when they went to the Final Four. So, I come from a lot of volleyball friends so that got me into the sport,” said Buhnerkemper.
A Smooth Transition
While it might seem like quite the adjustment for Neuqua going from Simon, who helmed the team for two decades, to Buhnerkemper, the transition has essentially been seamless.
“When I came in, they really took to my efforts. I kind of set a system in place and they’ve definitely been following it and trusting the system. I think that’s probably been the easiest part of this,” said Buhnerkemper.
“She sees you as a person and that’s why, like I said, she’s very approachable. I can tell her things and tell her things both from my life or from volleyball. I know that she’ll hear me out and listen to whatever I have to say,” said Skylar Fildew, setter for Neuqua Valley girls volleyball.
“Personally, I like her coaching style. Kind of like what Skylar said, you know if she’s giving you a piece of advice. You need that. This is what to work on. In practice, it’s fun, lively. I look forward to coming to practice, going to games and things,” said Anja Kelly, outside hitter/rightside hitter for Neuqua Valley girls volleyball.
Coach Buhnerkemper has made some tweaks with the program since she arrived, but at the same time, she’s also respecting the culture that was built by Coach Simon from the earliest days of Neuqua girls volleyball.
“The program has established a lot of tradition so I think that was one of the hardest things for me to come in because I wanted to respect and keep those traditions, but I think I’ve done my own little twist on them. So, while we’re respecting the traditions and pretty much keeping everything in place, I try to do some changes and kind of put my own personality or style on those traditions,” said Buhnerkemper.
She’s already off to a good start with the Wildcats. The team sits at 6-2 as they inch closer to DVC play and she likes the talent and depth of her team. She also has the support of Coach Simon, who is still teaching at the school and has kept in touch throughout the season. Now the hope is that Coach B can build on the success that her predecessor developed for multiple years.
For Naperville Sports Weekly, I’m Josiah Schueneman.