Panther

Following an extensive search that spanned several months, Belgrade has a new head volleyball coach. Brit Murphy was approved at Monday’s school board meeting to take over the program.

Murphy is a Jackson, Wyo. native who has spent the past nine years living in Bozeman and has been heavily involved in the club volleyball scene in the Gallatin Valley.

“I’m incredibly thankful to be given this opportunity,” Murphy said. “It’s my dream job ever since I was a kid and I’m finally lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. So I’m really looking forward to the season.”

Murphy replaces Jessica Christensen, who resigned after one season at the helm to follow her two eldest daughters play at the University of Providence in Great Falls. Bailey and Taylor Christensen were All-State performers for the Panthers and helped the program reach a pair of state Class A championship matches.

Belgrade finished with a 5-17 record in its first season as a AA program in 2019, but nearly won a playoff match to reach the state tournament. The team competed without Taylor Christensen, who tore an ACL prior to the campaign, and dealt with injuries throughout the season.

While in Class A, Belgrade was among the elite programs. The team boasted eight consecutive state tournament appearances (2011-18), which included winning the championship in 2014 and finishing as the state runner up in 2017 and 2018.

“I want us to stay at the upper level. We got a great feeder system with our club and our middle school that feed the high school,” Rick Phillips, who recently resigned as Belgrade’s activities director, said. “We need to do everything we can to maintain the level that we’re at. I know that can be a little bit of a challenge with the inexperience that she has, but I’m going to give her as much support and pair (her) up with people that I think can help her as much as I can.

“Volleyball is one of our premier sports here at the high school that’s had some of the best success, and I certainly don’t want us to dip.”

Murphy has no head coaching experience at the high school level, but has a lot of volleyball background. She’s began playing the sport in fifth grade, started coaching once she turned 18, and noted the importance of sports in an athlete’s life.

“I think that athletics is one of the biggest ways to grow any person, and I think being a young athlete really kind of enhances people. It allows them to have a stronger adulthood and be more sure of themselves, and be able to tackle the obstacles that life throws at you,” Murphy said. “Being a club coach you have very minimal access with the girls, but being a high school coach you’re able to have a much bigger impact on them, and spend a lot more time developing those life skills.”

Murphy moved to Bozeman in 2011 to attend Montana State University (she earned a degree in psychology) and has since coached for two seasons in the Central Valley Volleyball Club, six seasons in the Big Sky Volleyball Club, while also offering private lessons.

With a lack of experience as a high school coach, however, Murphy plans to assemble a staff that will help with her deficiencies.

“We’re in the process right now of interviewing, but I’m hoping to bring on coaches whose strengths are my weaknesses because that can only make me better as a coach,” Murphy said.

Murphy primarily coached  the 14 year old age group in club ball, so she knows a lot of Belgrade’s younger players. The rest, she noted, will be “fresh faces” when open gyms begin next week.

As preparation for the season begins, Murphy is looking forward to working with her players.

“I’m looking for a lot of really hard work. I’m looking for a lot of communication and I’m looking for leadership,” she said. “Because I don’t know a lot of the girls it will be a unique opportunity for them to be able to show me both their skills on and off the court, show me their leadership skills, and kind of see some fresh energy in the gym.”

Belgrade is slated to begin the 2020 campaign with a pair of non-conference matches Aug. 29 in Missoula.

“I’m really excited to be involved in a super competitive program, especially now that they’ve moved up to double A,” said Murphy. “It’s a chance for the entire program to kind of grow and take off, and see some higher levels of competition.”