by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
Pardon Ami Stevens if she was a bit uncomfortable when she noticed her new team's colors.
"I have to get used to saying, 'Go Blue,'" she said. "Being a Buckeye, I bleed scarlet and gray. In fact, my whole wardrobe is scarlet and gray. I don't know about this blue and gold stuff."
She will be more than happy to change her colors.
Stevens, 27, a 2007 Ohio State University graduate, recently was named the head volleyball coach at Tallmadge High School.
Stevens also was hired to be a physical education teacher at Munroe Elementary. She will teach third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students.
"It was unbelievable," Stevens said. "When [Tallmadge] first called me, I was told a volleyball position was available. That was great, but my first passion is teaching. I couldn't accept the position unless a teaching position was involved. It worked out perfectly."
The 6-foot-1 Stevens was an outside hitter at Ohio State. The Buckeyes reached the Elite Eight during her freshman year in 2004 and also qualified for the NCAA Tournament during her sophomore and junior years.
"We were one point away from going to the Final Four my freshman year," Stevens said.
Stevens also had a standout career at Centerburg High School.
The Trojans reached the state tournament all four years Stevens played. The team won a state title in 2003 and was the runner-up in 2000 and 2001.
Stevens isn't alone when it comes to volleyball.
He father, Dan, was the junior high volleyball coach at Centerburg. Her aunt Kathy was a varsity assistant at Centerburg.
Stevens' older sister, Amanda Kenney, played volleyball at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.
Stevens returned to her alma mater to be the head coach Centerburg's volleyball team for three years.
And that's when Stevens decided to head toward the Northeast side of the state. Stevens and her older sister currently live in Stow.
"I got a job as a substitute teacher in Silver Lake," Stevens said. "I've fallen in love with the area."
Although they lost eight seniors from a year ago, the Lady Blue Devils reached Division II regional play for the first time since 2006.
And like its new coach's high school alma mater, Tallmadge has some noteworthy banners hanging in its gymnasium.
The Lady Blue Devils reached the state finals in 1994, 1995 and 1996.
"It's great to come into a program that is well developed," Stevens said. "We're rebuilding since we lost eight seniors, but my seniors decided to use the phrase 'Forward with ever step.' It's a new season and they want to redefine what Tallmadge volleyball is all about."
Stevens has gotten to know the varsity players at a recent camp.
"I can't ask for a better group of girls," she said. "Their attitude and work ethic are wonderful. Volleyball-wise, we need to work on our skills. But they want to work hard and I can't ask for a better situation."
Stevens replaces Geoff Wagner, who resigned after last season. Wagner, who was Tallmadge's head volleyball coach for the last four years, is now the head volleyball coach at Tuscarawas Central Catholic High School in New Philadelphia.
"Geoff told me before last season it was probably going to be his last year," Tallmadge athletic director Don Seeker said. "We were anticipating teaching openings and we wanted to fill one of those spots with a volleyball coach."
When Seeker saw Stevens' resume, his draw dropped to the floor.
"She's awesome," Seeker said. "She always has a big smile on her face and she just glows. When she was being interviewed, I was thinking, 'Please let this work out.'"
Fortunately for Seeker, it did and he couldn't be more thrilled.
"I called up the Centerburg AD and he told me this girl will never embarrass you," he said. "The girls love her. She was a great volleyball player and a great student. We couldn't pick a better role model."
Stevens doesn't believe her players should specialize in one or two skills. She plans on teaching her players to thrive in all areas of the game.
"I'm a firm believer that each player should be well-rounded," Stevens said. "If you're a middle hitter, you should be able to pass and set."
Stevens has enjoyed every moment since she was hired at Tallmadge. But there is one thing that still makes her a little uneasy.
Yes, those colors are going to take some getting used to.
"I'm working on it," Stevens said.