Lewis-Palmer volleyball’s Susan Odenbaugh wins 2017 Dave Sanders Colorado Coach Award

Lewis-Palmer volleyball’s Susan Odenbaugh wins 2017 Dave Sanders Colorado Coach Award

To Susan Odenbaugh, retirement is a relative term.

The longtime Lewis-Palmer volleyball head honcho who led the Rangers to four Class 4A state titles in 15 seasons — including a dominant undefeated campaign en route to the championship last fall as the team finished fourth in the MaxPreps national rankings — stepped down from teaching and coaching this May to conclude a 34-year career.

“I’m officially retired, but I couldn’t just walk away completely,” Odenbaugh said. “I just love being around my students, so now I’m teaching part-time.”

Such is the academically-oriented sentiment that’s come to define Odenbaugh, the 2017 winner of the Dave Sanders Colorado Coach Award, presented annually by The Denver Post to a teacher-coach who has demonstrated longevity and success in teaching and coaching female athletics.

After all, it could be argued that the 58-year-old has plenty of volleyball seasons left in her — and more championships to go with. Lewis-Palmer, now under the direction of longtime varsity assistant Wade Baxter, is an early favorite to repeat in 2017 and the competitive Odenbaugh knows this — but she’s content with her decision to redirect her efforts.

“A lot of my students would come in and they’d seek extra help, and I was never available because of my commitment to coaching after school,” Odenbaugh explained. “When you look at the reality of things, most students aren’t going to make their careers playing volleyball, and I think now I’ll have a larger impact on helping students with their academic careers.”

And beyond the classroom, the “retired” Odenbaugh is also stepping into a new role with the Rangers athletic department where she’ll leverage her coaching background to oversee the school’s participation in the Positive Coaching Alliance and the Shift Why initiative.

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“It’s important, with the way youth sports are progressing right now, that people don’t stray away from the true meaning of sports,” said Odenbaugh, who also won two state titles as a Rangers assistant coach. “Sports are a medium to teach character and character development, and we shouldn’t put our emphasis on winning at all costs. Winning should be a byproduct of the commitment to that development.”

It’s a mindset Sanders, a renowned softball coach, basketball coach and teacher who gave his life to save students in the 1999 Columbine shooting, certainly shared.

“Dave would be proud of anyone who was a teacher first and then took all those attributes that great teachers have and applied them to whatever sport they coached,” said Rick Bath, Sanders’ best friend and the 2002 award winner. “It’s about producing the same excellence in the classroom as you do on the court, and Odenbaugh does that.”

Odenbaugh’s players recognized and respected her didactic tactics, which proved consistently successful as the Ranges won 347 matches to just 89 losses during her tenure.

“She would always bring a quote to practice the day after a game, and that quote would apply to how we had played or something that had happened in the game,” said Elizabeth Reich, a captain on the 2016 title team who now plays at the University of Portland. “We would break down the game that way, and that not only made us better, it made us closer. It’s those personal touches that you don’t get from other coaches.”

Those touches translated to lessons on writing essays and dissections of literature, as Odenbaugh — who has served as the English Department Chair for 18 years and will continue to do so — brings her competitive mindset to her students, determined to make them more than college-ready.

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“She wants every kid to succeed in their own way, so she pushed me a lot,” said Alexa Smith, a captain on the undefeated 2014 title team that finished ranked first in the nation. “She lets people know what she expects, and she holds people to that very high standard. Her players and her students have always respected that, and that’s why she excels in what she does.”

It’s been a long road for the Gilcrest native and 1977 Valley graduate, who, as a junior, was a member of the Vikings’ Class 2A state championship volleyball team in the first year the sport was sanctioned in Colorado — and who, as an adult, transformed prep volleyball, a feat that’s not lost on even her foremost Pikes Peak League rival.

“Every time we played each other, the gyms were packed, it was loud, it was crazy — it was everything you want high school volleyball to be,” Cheyenne Mountain coach David Barker said. “There’s no one else I’d rather face, though, because her teams come prepared and they’re always very competitive. That’s because she’s very competitive, yet also still has the great sense of sportsmanship that high school sports is supposed to look like.”

It’s a legacy that’s only set to increase with Odenbaugh’s new role in the athletic department.

“As much as her retirement is a loss for the volleyball program, the fact that she can have an impact on our entire athletic program is a huge opportunity for us,” Lewis-Palmer principal Sandi Brandl said. “We jumped on that right away knowing she’s going to have time to mentor other Lewis-Palmer coaches. What she offers to them as a sounding board and as an advisor is incredible, and her greatest impact on our Rangers may be yet to come.”

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Susan Odenbaugh wins 2017 Dave Sanders Colorado Coach Award.
(Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Winner of the 2017 Dave Sanders Colorado Coach Award, retired Lewis-Palmer volleyball coach Susan Odenbaugh poses in the Denver Post studio on June 15, 2017, in Denver.


Previous winners

2000: Dick Katte, retired boys basketball coach at Denver Christian who leads the state with an all-time record of 876-233. He was head coach for 48 years and won eight state championships.

2001: Maurice “Stringy” Ervin, retired from coaching swimming at Littleton after 49 years. His Lions won seven boys state titles and five girls state titles.

2002: Rick Bath, who was a veteran teacher and coach at Columbine, and Sanders’ best friend. He is retired.

2003: Warren Mitchell, who coached Colorado high school sports for 60 years, including 57 heading boys track at Limon. He died in 2014.

2004: Montbello’s Don Gatewood, who surpassed 30 years in teaching and retired after 35 years as boys track coach. He won eight big-school state titles, including one at Manual.

2005: Pam Fagerlund, who has coached Flagler volleyball for 31 years. She has a 604-206 record with four small-school championships.

2006: Judy Barnett, a girls sports pioneer and coach who won 398 volleyball games and four state titles at Manitou Springs, and was an assistant commissioner of the Colorado High School Activities Association.

2007: Caryn Jarocki, girls basketball coach at Class 3A Colorado Academy and 5A Highlands Ranch, who just completed her 35th year. She has a 547-157 career record (the best in Colorado) and seven state championships.

2008: Leslie Moore, who retired after 40 years in Denver Public Schools and was instrumental in developing Colorado girls sports as a coach, official and administrator.

2009: Gail Hook, a 27-year coach of girls basketball, most recently at Monarch, where she taught physical education and health. She retired after the 2014-15 season and also has been active in women’s sports on the state and national levels.

2010: Sally Moos, a health and physical education teacher who has 32 years at Cherry Creek, the state’s largest school. She’s heading into her 33rd year coaching volleyball, in which she has won five state titles, most recently in 2008; and she recently finished her 35th year coaching girls track. The Bruins won the 5A title in 2013.

2011: Bob Bledsoe, Erie, who oversaw girls basketball for 34 years (387-152 record) until 2011 and coached softball (405-87-1) over 20 seasons into 2015, with a state-leading 11 titles and three second-place finishes. He will be the head softball coach at Fruita Monument next season.

2012: Sue Snyder, Simla, longtime volleyball coach who was also at Ellicott and has a career record of 608-155 with two state titles. She just finished her 34th year.

2013: Patty Childress, who retired from Grandview after the 2015 season, also has coached at Idalia, in Washington state, Palisade and Mesa State. Her Wolves were a power in 5A, and she captured five titles, five runners-up and 12 semifinal showings.

2014: Carl Mattei, who has coached girls basketball at Regis Jesuit for 14 seasons and turned the Lady Raiders into a powerhouse with three 5A titles, two runner-up finishes and ten final fours.

2015: Mike Croell, who amassed a 457-69 record in girls basketball at Broomfield over 20 seasons, a time span in which he earned five Class 4A championships, one title in 5A and at least a quarterfinals appearance in every season.

2016: Dawn Gaffin, the Legacy dean of students and head softball coach, built the Lightning into the most dominant program in the entire state by way of six 5A state championships since 2007.

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