Volleyball flies under the radar in the East Bay Athletic League with the girls’ season taking place in the fall, going up against football, then the boys playing in the hectic spring season.
That being said, it’s not surprising milestone achievements by a local volleyball coach can go unnoticed. Such was the case on Tuesday, Oct. 19.
It was during Senior Night for the Foothill girls’ volleyball team that the school and the players honored long-time coach Dusty Collins.
Collins has been at the helm of both the Foothill girls’ and boys’ programs for 25 years and has become one of the most successful coaches in all the EBAL sports.
The numbers are staggering.
Coaching both teams for 25 years means that Collins has racked up 50 seasons as a head coach.
In that span he has won 16 EBAL titles, six NCS titles and seven NCS second-place finishes, one NorCal championship and a CIF State second-place finish.
In 2018-19 Collins was named the California Boys’ Volleyball Coach of the Year by the California Coaches Association.
“He’s the Bob Ladouceur of volleyball,” said iconic former Foothill football coach Matt Sweeney, drawing the comparison of Collins to the legendary De La Salle football architect. “You watch one practice – it’s non-stop movement. It has never been a surprise with his level of success. Dusty is as great as there is.”
Collins has always been humble and as someone who covered his teams probably the first 15 years, he always chooses to push the credit to the players first.
Even the night he was honored, he initially was reluctant to have a ceremony, which is why it was a surprise.
“If I had known about it, I would have not wanted it because it was Senior Night and it needs to be all about the girls,” said Collins. “But once it started, it was pretty cool.”
Except Collins wasn’t sure what was going on when Foothill principal Sebastian Bull stepped up and took the microphone from Collins right at the end of the introduction of all the seniors.
“When Sebastian took the mic, I thought he was going to make an announcement about everyone wearing their masks,” said Collins with a laugh.
It was fitting that Collins was honored the same night his team went out and grabbed a share of EBAL title No. 16. Two nights later, when Monte Vista lost to San Ramon Valley, the title was Foothill’s all alone.
It is a lot longer of a resume than Collins initially thought he would accumulate.
“No – I did not think I would coach for 25 years,” said Collins when asked if he thought he would coach for this long. “I thought it would always be cool to see a group go through from freshmen to seniors. I wanted to be somewhere where I could see that happen. (Being there for 25 years) was not my goal coming in."
Collins was hired by then Foothill Athletic Director Tom Hansen and, according to Collins, “Hansen told me he hired me because I didn’t have an earring.” It’s a story Sweeney confirmed.
He started with the girls’ team and a short time later, after watching Collins run a practice, Foothill principal Kevin Johnson offered him the boys’ job.
Running the girls in the fall and the boys in the spring would seem to give Collins the winter to regroup. But he coached club volleyball, as well as run the clock/scoreboard at the Foothill boys’ basketball games.
One would think coaching two different teams for 25 years would take a toll, but Collins is as enthusiastic as ever.
“I love the sport and I still have the energy,” said Collins. “It’s been great – both teams are very supportive of each other. I have never thought about giving up one for the other.”
The time constraints nearly hit critical mass last spring when with a one-off COVID season in the spring, both the girls and the boys were playing at the same time.
“Last year I thought if I can pull it off then I can do almost everything,” said Collins, who was also coaching his son’s club team at the same time. “I brought in one coach that had helped me in the early years – Brian Shackleford - and then other coaches like Stanley Fung and Melissa Bennett are unbelievable. I could not have done it without all of them.”
The approach to coaching the two teams is different as well.
“There are some differences between coaching the two teams,” said Collins. “We stress different things for the two. The girls are more about setting and passing while the boys tend to be more about hitting and blocking.”
And the off-court issues can be way different.
“Girls sometimes have to talk about the day and what’s going on where the guys look at it as an escape for a couple of hours and get after it,” said Collins. “I see it in my own kids. My (college-aged) daughter will talk through everything while my son (a sophomore) would rather not talk about anything.”
Spend 25 years coaching and the memories are aplenty. Collins had to think for a moment, but then rattled off a couple for each of the teams.
“On the girls side it has to be the five-setter in 2005 where we beat Amador for our first league title,” said Collins. “It was at Amador and the place was packed. We had not won league and that fifth game was like 27-25.”
“That was a crazy, crazy game,” confirmed Sweeney. “It was a full house on both sides of the gym.”
The following year with pretty much the same team, the Falcons went 38-0 and made it to the CIF State Championships. The NorCal final at Foothill against San Benito of Hollister was another legendary match.
The Falcons had to battle back from being down a set twice, but finally got the win 21-25, 25-20, 17-25, 25-23, 15-12. The special team had three Division I college players in Christy Payne (St. Mary’s/BYU), Felicia Willoughby (Virginia Tech), and Betsy Sedlak (Oregon/Davis).
In the state finals they fell to Los Alamitos in three straight, albeit close games. Los Alamitos had been on that stage before and it made a difference.
“That was just a case of one team being comfortable out there and one that wasn’t,” said Collins. “But what special team we had.”
On the guys’ side he went right to 2006 when the Falcons captured their first NCS title, beating De La Salle in the finals at Foothill.
“That’s the first time I ever had to pull out both sides off the bleachers,” said Collins. “It was packed and crazy. The was Billy Arnold’s group.”
Collins also brought out the name Evan Patak, a 2002 Foothill graduate. The 6-foot-8 Patak went on to play for U.C. Santa Barbara, then both professionally around the world and internationally for the United States, winning five medals in various competitions.
“When we would go to tournaments, they would flood to the area where we would go to warm up just to watch him hit,” said Collins of Patak. “It was amazing – the ball made a different sound when he hit.”
Great memories to be sure, but how many more years lay ahead to create more memories?
“I told a group of parents the other night not another 25 years for sure,” said Collins. My son is a sophomore, and I will finish it out with him and then reevaluate.
"Hansen always told me, 'You’ll know when it’s time.'”