CHESHIRE – Like most new coaches, when Sue Bavone was hired in 1994 to be the Cheshire girls volleyball coach, longevity and future milestones were the furthest items on her mind.
Getting to know her new team, learning their strengths and weaknesses, and hoping to be competitive that first season were the main concerns.
Fast forward to 2018 and the Bavone-led Rams have developed a winning tradition second to none. As a result, Bavone is one win away from 500 career victories entering Tuesday’s home game against Southern Connecticut Conference rival Guilford at 6:30 p.m.
“I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to coach at Cheshire High long enough to reach this milestone, and I’m grateful to (former athletic director) Wayne Candela for taking a chance on me back in 1994,” said Bavone, contemplating what the rare milestone means to her. “I had coached the previous eight years at my alma mater, Watertown High, and it was like going from the minor to the major leagues when I came to Cheshire.
“I mean, there was a middle school team here, so kids came in knowing the basics. I remember I had planned out my whole first practice starting with how to position their hands and feet to pass, basic drills on ball control, and when I walked in the gym, everybody was peppering. I looked at my meticulously drawn out plans and threw the first three pages in the garbage. I was a bit panicked as to how I was going to fill in the hour I had planned for the ‘basics.’”
Bavone enters the Guilford game with an 11-0 record this season and a career record of 499-89 coaching Cheshire girls volleyball. Bavone’s Cheshire teams have made eight CIAC state championship appearances with Class L titles in 1997 and 1998 and Class LL titles in 2007 and 2013
“From day one, I’ve had kids who were enthusiastic, competitive and dedicated to becoming champions because of the successes of many of the teams at Cheshire. They did everything that Stacey Macdonald and I asked of them and we got good together.
“We had no idea at the time that we would have the success we have had. We just wanted to provide a structured environment built on discipline, hard work, and mutual respect.”
Bavone said winning her first state championship with her first group of freshmen as seniors in 1997, was, at the time “the greatest experience I had ever had in athletics.” And to do it against what was, and continues to be, the Rams’ biggest rival (Amity) made it all the more rewarding for her.
“What drives me now is wanting to give that feeling, that experience, to all of my players,” Bavone said. “And I am proud to say that even though it may not be a state championship, every player I have coached since that first freshman group, has won at least one championship, whether it be division, conference or state.
“So every player can come back to Cheshire High, point to a banner, and say ‘I was on the team that won.’ That is pretty special to me.”
Since 1994, Bavone said there have been many memorable wins and losses and she tends to remember the losses more vividly. But she has always found the most joy in the process.
“Helping players and teams grow in their ability and confidence is what keeps me doing this. That, and my competitive nature,”Bavone said. “All the traits that athletes develop, perseverance, responsibility, time management, strong peer relationships, goal setting, self-esteem, commitment and personal and emotional health, are critical life skills that I am determined to teach.
“The 500 wins represent an awful lot of hard work, great kids, and dedicated coaches. It’s called a program for a reason. It’s the sum of its parts and I have been blessed with some amazing parts. You don’t win without talent. Talent in your players and your coaches and I share this milestone with every young woman who has worn a Cheshire uniform and everyone who has coached with me over the years.”
Beyond the wins, Bavone said she is forever grateful for and will always cherish the relationships that she has shared with every one of her players, coaches and parents who have been and still are a part of the Cheshire High volleyball family.
“I share this milestone with all of them,” she said.