The head coaching position for the St. Helena High volleyball program has been a revolving door for the past year.
The turbulence started at the beginning of last season when then-head coach Lauren Dickson suddenly stepped down for personal reasons. Ouvidio Gomes stepped in to guide the Saints in the interim, but his most recent tenure only lasted until the end of the season.
Waiting in the wings to bring stability back to the program, however, was Jessica McCornack – the daughter-in-law of Donna McCornack, who coached St. Helena to multiple state titles.
That’s right, there’s a McCornack leading the St. Helena volleyball program once again.
“Well, I’m not from here but I’m part of the community and I’m so fortunate to be a part of the McCornack family and the traditions and everything that the community achieved,” said Jessica McCornack. “I have big shoes to fill, but it’s exciting.”
So far, the Saints’ first-year head coach has gotten her team through a busy nonleague schedule and has them already almost to the midpoint of North Central League I play.
As of Tuesday night, St. Helena is 3-4 in league and 8-15 overall.
Making up the team this year are seniors Nicole Cia, Ellie Blakeley and Dyani Lopez; juniors Katelyn Glakeler, Carter Dahline, Eva Grace and Olivia Anderson; sophomores Ashtlyn Taylor and Sophia Muessel; and freshman Ella White.
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Even with a ways to go this season, the Saints have already experienced their fair share of ups and downs. They opened the season 1-8 but righted the ship by winning six straight.
Many of their early losses came in weekend tournaments against larger schools and better teams, a by-design approach by McCornack to put her team to the test before league.
“I feel we had to compete and I also want the girls to see what big schools and strong teams look like so we understand where we can go,” she said, “because we can all continue to grow and we can’t settle with our current performance.”
McCornack knows what strong teams look like firsthand. She was a standout player in her own right during her playing days at Sonora High School. As a three-year varsity starter, she was named MVP of the Valley Oak League twice and received multiple area and district accolades from the Modesto Bee and Stockton Record. She went on to play as a scholarship athlete at Fresno State before graduating in 2008.
She got her teaching credential in 2009 and returned to Sonora High to teach and coach. During her days at Fresno State, she also helped coach the Clovis West volleyball team. She relocated to the Napa area in 2009 and became an assistant coach for former Napa Valley College head coach Kelly Van Winden, Napa High’s current head coach, and for the Saints in 2011 while Benny Rabanal was leading the program.
Hired last year to teach P.E. at St. Helena High, she said being back and taking over a program led by another McCornack during its heyday is a “huge honor.”
She added that she’s feels right at home in St. Helena and that she’s ready to build up the volleyball program with a team-first and empowerment-focused approach.
“Looking forward, we’re looking at competing. We’re looking at staying in the game and not folding or giving up,” she said. “We’re working on team building and how every single girl on the team has a role. Whether it’s on the bench or on the court, every single girl matters and we all have to be supportive to be successful. So the big picture is continuing to stay together and compete.”