“Clear eyes, full hearts can’t lose.”
These words, last season’s theme for the Andean High School girls volleyball team, mirror the philosophy of head coach Julie Wiejak.
“If their hearts have love for the sport and are full of love for each other and full of pride for their school, there is really nothing they can’t achieve,” Wiejak says.
In 2011, during her rookie coaching season, Wiejak led the 59ers to sectionals, regionals and the first round of semi-state.
“She motivates and inspires the girls to be the best they can be on and off the court,” her mother, Melanie Wiejak, says. “She closely monitors their grades and reaches out to them when they need help.”
Melanie Wiejak says her daughter was a standout volleyball player for Hammond’s Bishop Noll Institute and at Loyola University. After college, Wiejak was an assistant coach at both DePaul and Loyola universities.
“She wanted to get back to her roots to be with the players in Northwest Indiana,” Melanie Wiejak says. “She felt that she could motivate and inspire them and help those who wanted to pursue college careers in volleyball.”
Attending Loyola University on a full-ride volleyball scholarship, Wiejak majored in biology with plans of becoming a doctor. That course changed as a result of helping out a friend who was stuck finding a volleyball coach.
“That first team was absolutely awesome and I loved them, and I loved the experience which also made me a better player,” Wiejak says.
When her team won a tournament they “had no business winning,” they were awarded their pins on stage.
“The team called me up on stage and gave the plaque to me,” Wiejak says. “At that moment, I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. Getting this moment for them and having them be so appreciative of you was unbelievable.”
This will be Wiejak’s 16th season coaching. “It’s awesome,” Wiejak says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Her three college coaches, Therese Boyle, Liz Tortorello and Ray Gooden, have been her mentors and inspiration.
“They were amazing and pivotal in making me the player that I was,” Wiejak says. “They were so positive and had such great knowledge of the game.”
Her parents are among Wiejak’s most ardent fans.
“They still come to all my games,” Wiejak says. “Every step of the way in my playing career and anywhere I have coached they have adopted my team.”
Melanie Wiejak says her daughter “coaches with praise.”
“She coaches with encouragement,” Melanie Wiejak says. “She just amazes me. She is so positive. That is what I really admire about her.
"Last year, many parents told us after games and at the banquet that our daughter gave their daughters confidence in all areas of their lives not just sports," Melanie Wiejak says.
A member of the Positive Coaching Alliance, Wiejak enjoys watching her players grow in confidence and self-esteem. Her philosophy mirrors that of the alliance.
“As coaches, we are preparing these players for their lives and we are helping them learn lessons that have nothing to do with anything on the scoreboard,” Wiejak says. “We are helping them learn lessons about pushing themselves, getting out of their comfort zone and taking risks.”
Wiejak loves the “aha moments” when her players finally breaks a bad habit or improve their skills.
“You watch them have that light bulb moment where they know they are better and that they have accomplished something and that is amazing,” Wiejak says. “There isn’t a lot of money for the job you do, it’s mainly memories and moments like that which fill you up and make you stay.”
One challenge in coaching, Wiejak says is helping players manage and find a lesson in defeat.
“You have to find a way to get them to pull themselves back together and move forward to their next challenge,” Wiejak says.
Wiejak has been director of the North Shore Volleyball Club in Evanston, Ill., and the South Shore Volleyball Club in Northwest Indiana. “The club is a huge part of changing volleyball in the area,” Wiejak says of the club which works closely with the Catholic Youth Organizations and local schools, hosting youth tournaments. It provides free coaches’ and players’ clinics.
“I and my assistant here at the school take great pride in growing volleyball in this area,” Wiejak says.
This is accomplished on their own personal time but, Wiejak says, she finds great joy in feedback from the coaches about the clinics’ impact on their games and success. Wiejak’s players participate, serving as role models for the younger girls.
“It is awesome to provide young girls with mentors to look up to,” Wiejak says.
“We give our girls community service hours if they come and help us, so they learn it is important to give back to their community.”
She also started a nonprofit organization in Chicago, Friends of Powerhouse Sports, to help families who can’t afford to pay for their children’s participation in high school volleyball.
“If any of our families have financial trouble, we will just scholarship that athlete for the rest of the year and offset the costs to make sure they continue on, especially if they have a bright future in sports or if that girl can get a scholarship to help pay for college.”
Wiejak’s goal this season is to return to semi state “and even further.”
She expects an extra surge of excitement with all the attention the USA Olympic volleyball teams have drawn to the sport.
“Every four years the season which starts after the summer Olympics has an extra charge because there has been so much volleyball to watch,” Wiejak says. “It creates a super buzz for your season. You can feel it.”