Diehlmann fosters turnaround Coach of the Year 1992 All-Anne Arundel County volleyball team

Meet South River's Melissa Diehlmann: volleyball coach and team psychologist.

"It was really hard for me to get those girls to realize how good they were and to play up to their potential," she said. "They're a great bunch of girls -- great heads on their shoulders, intelligent and great volleyball players. But they'd get into these little shells at times, thinking they weren't as good.


"My biggest challenge was being able to pull out from within them the ability they had."

Diehlmann, 24, The Baltimore Sun's Anne Arundel County Volleyball Coach of the Year, was up to the challenge.


Two years ago, before Diehlmann's arrival, the Seahawks were 1-13 and barely able to keep the program afloat. And losing had proven to be hazardous to more than just their record.

"It would be damaging for anybody to have to go through a season like that, especially at their age," she said. "They associate losing with failure, and it hacks at their self-esteem. They had the talent, but it was going unnurtured."

That's where Diehlmann comes into the picture. In her two seasons, South River has won 17 matches and been to the Class 3A region playoffs twice. The Seahawks finished this season 11-5, including a four-game loss to McDonough of Charles County in the region semifinals, and a No. 8 ranking in the metro area.

Diehlmann's players have been producing like winners.

"It's unbelievable what she's done there," said Severna Park coach Tim Dunbar, whose team needed four games to dispose of the Seahawks. "They had a losing record last year [6-7], and they're a top 10 team this year. I think she's done a great job."

But word has been slow to get out at South River. Even after last year's turnaround, Diehlmann wasn't besieged with players at August tryouts. Only 20 girls showed up, and she said, "We're not as highly populated as other schools, so we're doing the best we can with what we've got.

"I think we're on our way, but right now, volleyball at South River isn't one of the more favorable sports. My JV and varsity combined isn't as big as Severna Park's varsity. There just isn't as much interest in volleyball here, but I think that's changing."

One of the most obvious changes that Diehlmann brought to the Edgewater school was a winning attitude, acquired partly from her years as a setter at McDonough. She also developed what she believes to be the ideal coach-player relationship.


"Some parents might think I should be a little more disciplined with the girls, but I take my background as a player and my past experiences and relate it with how I would have wanted to be treated," she said.

"I know there are times you need to sit down on them, but there also are times you need to laugh and talk about what they did that day. It helps to bring you together, to put you on the same wavelength.

"I can relate to some of the problems they're going through."

And the players can relate to her.

"She's very energetic," said junior Pam Patterson. "Being such a young age and having been there before, it's like she's playing through us.

"We look at her as a coach and a best friend. She fills that gap in your life. If you're missing a parent or a best friend, she's there for you."