Kelly Landgraf admitted it was tough walking away from the Columbia Eagles volleyball program she helped nurture into one of the best in the area.
But she turned in her resignation following a 36-1 season that saw the Eagles and their 10 seniors win their first 36 matches before losing to Mascoutah in the 3A sectional championship.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to go out with any other group,” said Landgraf. “While the outcome didn’t end up the way we wanted, in the game of life that’s how it is. There’s lessons to be taken away from this, and these girls are going to be stronger because of that.”
Landgraf, 39, said she and her team had a tough time dealing with the sectional loss.
“Heartbreaking is the word that best describes it,” Landgraf said of the loss to Mascoutah, which finished third at the 3A state tournament. “It’s just absolutely heartbreaking. You want a re-do. You wonder what happened and why, but in the big scheme of things it doesn’t take away what these girls were able to do for the past three months.
“That one loss does not define the team or the season. It just doesn’t. Any good team or great team that can be that consistent, they’re a special group.”
In Landgraf’s last five seasons, Columbia compiled a 163-23-1 record and won 33 or more matches in each of the last three years. The Eagles lost to Mascoutah in the sectional final in 2015 and 2016, but reached the super-sectional in 2012 before losing to Jacksonville.
In the first of two tenures as head coach, Landgraf guided Columbia to a second-place finish at the 2005 Class A state tournament with a team that finished 37-4-1.
Heartbreaking is the word that best describes it. It’s just absolutely heartbreaking. You want a re-do. You wonder what happened and why, but in the big scheme of things it doesn’t take away what these girls were able to do for the past three months.
Columbia coach Kellly Landgraf on the sectional final loss to Mascoutah
Landgraf’s career record, which includes head coaching stints in 2005 and 2006 and 2012 to 2016, is 225-41-2.
“Kelly’s done a great job making sure that the program, both at the middle school and high school, were on the same page as far as the direction they were headed,” Columbia Athletic Director Joe Iorio said. “She totally dedicated herself in the summer to the girls and the promotion of volleyball in Columbia.
“She’s had a number of different assistants over her time for various reasons, but the one stable thing we always had was Kelly and the direction she wanted her program to grow.”
Iorio said Landgraf’s resignation will be dealt with at the November school board meeting. He said the varsity coaching opening will be posted inside the Columbia district first to gauge interest before any outside coaching applicants would be considered.
“I’m sure there’s going to be some outside interest,” Iorio said. “It would be nice to have somebody in place maybe by January or so.”
Landgraf left coaching the first time after the birth of her son, Brody, who is now 9. She and husband Brad Landgraf, the principal at Eagleview and Parkview Elementary schools in Columbia, had a long talk before arriving at her decision to resign.
“I’m ready,” Kelly Landgraf said. “I think that there’s a lot of great people out there that are ready to take over. They’re going to find someone that’s awesome. I think it’s important that you give them enough time to go and look and find the right fit.
“You can have a person that knows all the volleyball in the world, but they’ve got to be able to fit with the program, fit with the community and the kids.”
Landgraf said she even struggled putting the team uniforms away for the final time. That sectional loss was still fresh in her mind.
“Whoever won that sectional final was going to state,” Landgraf said. “This team was solid for 36 games and we struggled the one game we couldn’t struggle. That’s just sports. Things didn’t flow that game.
“Every single one of them just gets harder and harder. The worst thing is walking into that locker room at the end and seeing those girls in devastation. Every coach has to do it and I feel like the older I get, the harder it gets.”