It's been in the works for a few years, but for Kayla Hambley, taking over for legendary Central Catholic volleyball coach Rick Lorenz still comes with some trepidation.
“It's incredibly humbling and sometimes terrifying,” said Hambley, an assistant in the program since 2011. “As I look at all the banners in the gym, and know his record, it's intimidating to follow.”
Lorenz, 71, is the most decorated coach in Oregon history. In 44 seasons – the last 32 at Central Catholic – he won 1,345 matches and 11 state titles, finishing runner-up 13 times. He is a member of the NFHS and National High School Volleyball Coaches halls of fame.
“We call him a legend for a reason,” Hambley said.
Now it's up to Hambley, 31, to carry the torch at Central Catholic. Lorenz identified Hambley as his likely successor a few years ago and is confident she will keep the Rams among the state's top 6A teams. Malcolm Doi, Lorenz's longtime assistant, will remain on the staff.
“She was a good player, and she has a very good nose for detail,” Lorenz said of Hambley, who teaches at the school. “The key is we wanted somebody in the building. I think that's really important. We could tell she was really into it, that she would give 100 percent. She wanted to keep Malcolm, which is great, because he's a big help.”
Hambley recalled discussing the possibility of becoming the coach with Lorenz about three years ago.
“He kind of in a gentle way asked, 'Are you in this?'” Hambley said. “And I was just like, 'Yeah, I'm in it for the long haul. This is where I want to be.'”
The 6-foot-1 Hambley played at Jesuit – where her father, Mike Hughes, is the athletic director – before a college career at Fairfield University (Conn.) and Carroll College (Mont.). She was student-teaching at Central Catholic in 2011 when she connected with Lorenz.
“I begged Rick to be a volunteer coach, and he said, 'Sure, why not?'” Hambley said. “It was incredibly generous. He welcomed me in. He didn't really know me any other way than me playing at Jesuit.”
The following year, Hambley got a full-time teaching job at Central Catholic and officially joined the coaching staff. She coached at the subvarsity level until becoming a varsity assistant two years ago. She also has coached in the Central Catholic-based Rose City Volleyball Club, where she played while at Jesuit.
“I've pretty much always wanted to be a teacher and a volleyball coach,” Hambley said. “It's definitely been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. It's pretty incredible that it's happened in the time that I've been at Central.
“Rick has been such a great mentor. He's put me with some amazing coaches that have showed me different ways of thinking about volleyball. Rose City and Central kind of have their own way of doing things.”
Lorenz said that Hambley will bring new elements to the program as head coach.
“It's great to have a woman in there because girls will come to Kayla and tell her what's wrong,” Lorenz said. “And she's more computer savvy. Coming into this more modern era of coaching, she'll be more suited to handle that. I think she'll do fine because there's always going to be talent there.”
The Rams graduated eight players from last year's state runner-up team, but have a talented nucleus of six returners that features senior Makenah Jackson, a 6-3 middle blocker who has committed to Idaho, and senior setter Kealani Rosa, a fourth-year varsity player.
Despite the club season being canceled, Hambley said it was clear that her top players “made huge gains” when the Rams met for twice-a-week workouts this fall.
“What we're left with is a real impactful group,” Hambley said. “But it is a smaller number than most teams have returning. Obviously that poses challenges in that we have to fill six to eight spots.”
Lorenz had planned to keep running Rose City Volleyball Club, but after not having a club season for the first time in 42 years, he is unsure if he will continue. Regardless, Hambley knows she can count on Lorenz as a resource.
“He's someone I feel like I can go to for anything, not just volleyball,” she said. “He's more than just some guy that I've worked for. He's more like a dad or a grandpa. He's family.”
Hambley grew up in southwest Portland. She has an older brother, Jake, and a sister, Alyssa, a former Jesuit standout who is a sophomore on the team at Gonzaga. Hambley and her husband, Kirk, have two children: Zelmira, 2, and Cooper, five months.
“I feel it's almost a blessing for Kayla that the season was pushed back with her two young kids,” Lorenz said. “It's kind of a good thing that they're starting late. It gives her a little bit more time.”
As coach at Central Catholic, Hambley anticipates some high-stakes matches against her alma mater. The Rams and Jesuit have met in the state final seven times since 2004, with the Crusaders winning four, including last year.
She has a friendly rivalry with her former coach, Jesuit's Teresa Zimmerlee. And she understands that her father and sister – who once teamed up to secretly put Jesuit signs and balloons in her house before a state-final showdown – are loyal to the Crusaders.
“My dad is going to root for Jesuit, for sure,” she said. “My daughter goes over to my parents' house on Wednesdays, and I put her in a Central Catholic sweatshirt, and when I picked her up, my dad had cut out a Jesuit athletics t-shirt, and stitched it over the 'CC,' and put her in it. It's fun.”