Chris Dinkel was surprised to hear that John Howell had stepped down as the boys volleyball coach at Hempfield Area High School after 18 years.
"I had done some scouting for John, but had no idea of his plans," said Dinkel, who has been a teacher in the Hempfield Area School District since 2004. "It was a complete surprise."
Dinkel had planned on applying for the job when Howell retired, but didn't expect it to be this soon.
"I talked it over with my wife because we have three young kids, but she was very supportive," Dinkel said. "We agreed that I couldn't pass up this opportunity."
Graduated from York Suburban High School in 1993, he was a three-year starter, named York County Player of the Year his senior year, and voted to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association All-State team twice.
"I played at Juniata four years, but had to take off 21/2 years in between when money ran short," Dinkel said. "I met my wife Kristin at college. She played volleyball at Greensburg Salem."
When Dinkel graduated, he got married and move to Greensburg with his wife.
"I was hired as a fourth-grade teacher at Hempfield in 2004," Dinkel said. "My wife is a first-grade teacher at Greensburg Salem. We both love volleyball. In fact, we coached together sharing a JV position at Greensburg Salem for a couple years."
Dinkel and his wife also helped former Hempfield girls coach Cindy Kline.
"We ran a summer conditioning program for Cindy," Dinkel said. "I even considered asking my wife to be my JV coach, but then Drew Dvorsky [a 2007 Hempfield graduate] applied for the job. Drew played on the same team with Joe Sunder [a recent graduate and star at Penn State]. Having a recent Hempfield grad really helps."
Dinkel has his work cut out for him, as Hempfield had an 0-12 record in Class AAA Section 3 last year.
"One of the problems John had is that the district doesn't have a middle school program," Dinkel said. "That's my biggest concern. A good feeder system is the key to a strong program. I know funds are tight in our district, like all districts, but I'll never know whether it's possible if I don't try."
Dinkel has great expectations, but realizes "Rome" can't be built in a day.
"The ultimate goal is to compete successfuly with a program like North Allegheny," said Dinkel, referring to the WPIAL's six-time defending champions. "That's my vision. I know it will not be easy, but the key will be to have a feeder system."
Dinkel's first Spartans squad features six returning starters, including Cameron Updyke, a 6-foot-2 senior right-side hitter who was voted second team All-Section 3 last season. Unfortunately for him, Updyke wasn't able to play in last weekend's season-opening tournament at Norwin.
"Cameron has had problems with a sprained ankle," said Dinkel. "We're hoping to have him back in practice this week, and in the lineup soon after that."
Hempfield's other returning starters are 5-9 senior libero Marcus Weakland, 6-1 junior opposite Zach Wilson, 5-6 senior setter Sim Waseer, 6-0 senior outside hitter Jeff Ward and 6-1 senior outside hitter Marcus Zaffina.
"Zach [Wilson], who is on the football team, played in the middle last year. I moved him to the right side," Dinkel said. "We also have two basketball players who have joined our team."
Dinkel was referring to senior Nate Irwin and junior Mike Nauman, a pair of 6-3 middle hitters, who helped lead the Spartans basketball team to a section title.
"I have nothing but good thoughts with my team," Dinkel said. "We are physically and mentally strong enough to compete in this section. We just need to increase our toughness on the court. We are hoping to peak at midseason and have that momentum carry us into the playoffs."
Hempfield tied for ninth place at Saturday's Norwin Tournament.
"We experimented with a couple different lineups, but I thought the day went well," Dinkel. "Our returnees did well, and our new kids got their first taste of varsity competition."
Dinkel wants his players to appreciate volleyball as much as he does.
"I really want to instill a love for the game with my kids," Dinkel said. "I want them to have fun and enjoy what they're doing."
Of course, winning makes it even more fun.