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Meyer looks back on her impressive volleyball coaching career

By Brian Preece - Special to the Herald | May 9, 2022
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Retired high school volleyball coach Deanna Meyer poses with her state championship trophies.
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Retired volleyball coach Deanna Meyer, left, poses with former player Whitney Johnson, who competed at New Mexico and is now an associate athletic director at BYU over Student-Athlete Development, Diversity & Inclusion.
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Retired high school volleyball coach Deanna Meyer, center, poses with some former players and coaches. From L-R: Anna Burgess Dunford, Sammy Meyer Cannon, Mackie Mullane, Deanna Meyer, BreAnne Molen-Staheli, Ashlan Rogers Court, Jason Neubert.
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Memorabilia gathered over the year by high school volleyball coach Deanna Meyer, who retired this spring.

Deanna Meyer put up some impressive numbers in her volleyball coaching career that spanned 25 years at Granger, Lone Peak and most recently Skyridge High School.

Meyer led her teams to six state titles and 10 trips to the state championship game, along with a dozen region titles. In fact, she is the only volleyball coach in Utah history to lead three different programs to a region title and one of three coaches that won state titles at two different schools.

Meyer won five of those state titles at Lone Peak (2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2010) and one at Skyridge (2018), which was the first state title earned in school history.

Though Meyer had plenty of wins (490) in her career, to her, coaching and high school athletics is much more than winning and losing. Meyer recently had her retirement open house at Skyridge and plenty of her players came back to pay their respects, which Meyer appreciated.

“I think my payday is like what happened (at the open house) when kids come back because you meant something to them,” said Meyer. “You share a lot of emotions with them. You laugh with them, you cry with them. When it’s all said and done, it’s about the memories you create with them and the women they become.

“Hopefully I taught them to be brave, I taught them to be courageous. Hopefully I encouraged those things and for them to believe in themselves and have the discipline to do it,” added Meyer.

One of those players that dropped by to see Meyer off in her next chapter was Ashlan Rogers Court, who starred on two state title teams at Lone Peak and then went on to play at Utah State.

“Meyer was not only my coach, but she was my second Mom when I was in high school,”

Court said. “We just had a special bond and relationship. She’s not just this amazing volleyball coach where we took state two out of the three years I was there, but she had this way about her that makes you want to be your best player, and your best self, on and off the court.”

Whitney Johnson played on Meyer’s last state title team at Lone Peak in 2010, and in fact, had the final kill as the Knights downed rival Pleasant Grove three sets to two. Johnson actually played basketball at the University of New Mexico and now works in the BYU athletic department helping student athletes make the transition from college athletics to their next step in their lives. She also saw Meyer as an important role model in her life.

“Honestly, to this day, I would say Coach Meyer is one of the best, if not the best coach, I ever had,” said Johnson. “She zeroed in on our weaknesses until they were strengths. If there was something we were bad at as a team, we worked on it everyday in practice until we got amazing at it.”

Anna Burgess Dunford, who played for Meyer at Lone Peak and then later coached with her at both Lone Peak and Skyridge, echoed Johnson’s sentiments on how demanding Meyer could be of her athletes.

“She understood me as a player,” said Dunford. “I remember one time I was making a couple of errors, but she wouldn’t let me get through the drill making those errors. I was on my second or third bucket of balls because I was making the same errors and tearing up because I was so frustrated. But she wouldn’t let it go. She was tough on me, but it was what I needed.”

Mackie Mullane, who played on Meyer’s state title team in 2010, traveled all the way from Boise to attend the open house. In fact, the Mullane family and the Meyer family remain close.

“It was like having the best Mom around every moment of the day. She was ready to whip you into shape when she needed to and ready to love you when you needed it, a perfect balance of tough love.”

Johnson also said Meyer could be understanding and light hearted. She recalled how she and a teammate had fallen asleep before the quarterfinal game and couldn’t be found by Meyer or the rest of her teammates. They woke up just in time to make the match, but instead of Meyer being mad at them, she smiled and said, “oh good, you’re here.”

“She knew we felt bad, and she didn’t do anything to stress us out and we won the game and went on to take state,” Johnson related.

Meyer graduated from Skyline High School in 1987 and participated in four sports in high school (volleyball, basketball, softball and track and field) and was a key member of the 1985 volleyball state championship team. But unlike many of her athletes she coached, she didn’t play college volleyball but graduated from the University of Utah and started her career teaching Science at Westlake Junior High in Granite School District in 1991.

Then in 1998 she became the head coach at Granger High School and led the Lancers to a region championship in 1999. One of her star players was Shara Parker Park, who now is a news anchor with KSL-TV.

“Many years ago, before her dynasty days at Lone Peak and Skyridge, Deanna stepped in the role of head volleyball coach at Granger High School with the belief that she could turn a program with only one club player, myself, into something great. And she did,” said Park. “Deanna (Meyer) has an ability, I saw it then, and still see it now, to see the individual strengths of the young women she coaches and then develop them into a successful team. She did that at Granger, Lone Peak, and Skyridge. And in that process making sure each player feels loved, valued, and supported. She did that with me, and I will forever cherish the time I was coached by her.”

Park also remembered when she got a dose of tough love from Meyer that forever changed her perspective.

“I remember a match at Hunter High when I thought I knew more about the game than she did and I snapped at her to put in our original line up because we had dropped a game. Well, she listened and proceeded to put the original line up back in but without me. I was so angry. But she knew I needed to learn how to let others be in control and to trust her coaching. And so I sat there watching and fuming and when I finally humbled myself she leaned over and asked ‘if I was ready to be a part of a team now’. I will never forget that moment, and I never snapped her or any coach again. From that moment on I realized that Deanna was going to do great things.”

Being the 50th year since the passing of the landmark Title IX legislation, Meyer is very mindful of the opportunity she got to compete and coach.

“Title IX opened up a lot of doors, especially the generation of women right before me,” Meyer said. “Women like (former University of Utah volleyball and softball coach) Norma Carr and my own coach Joan Burdett, they didn’t have opportunities (to play sanctioned high school sports), but they fought for those opportunities for us. So for girls like me, we got to do more and now we can do even more.”

“I think sports is a great way for our girls to learn how to become leaders, learn grit and learn to deal with failure in a safe environment,” Meyer said.

Meyer said that girls volleyball is very different now than when she played.

“The game I played isn’t the game I coached. It has definitely evolved,” Meyer said.

Meyer hasn’t limited herself to just coaching females and volleyball. She has also been a track and field assistant coach at all three high schools where she taught. One athlete she had a great impact on was former BYU football player and track and field athlete, Nate Soelberg.

“She could be tough on you as a coach, but she knew potential and talent when she saw it and she made sure that you understood that and approached it on a personal level when needed,” stated Soelberg. “She took care of her athletes. When I was running track in some 10 year-old beat up spikes, she made sure to help me get the correct gear from the right people and she made sure I was doing the correct workouts that helped me eventually become a state champion in the 100 meters and long jump at Granger High School.”

Meyer had some important mentors including former BYU volleyball coach Carl McGown.

“Carl would always write me a nice note when we took state and wrote a letter of recommendation for me when I once applied for a college coaching job.”

Meyer felt she worked with a lot of great assistant coaches, including her oldest daughter Sammy Meyer Cannon, but she didn’t want “yes people” on her staff.

“I wanted coaches that would challenge me. I had coaching staffs where we had a lot of discussion and debate,” Meyer said.

One of those assistants was Jason Neubert, who was an assistant coach for Meyer for several years.

“She really cared about the girls and the team and got them to really want them to fight and learn,” said Neubert. “She always had the confidence that the team would come together and win.”

Meyer also is a voracious reader on coaching philosophy and said UCLA coaching men’s basketball coaching legend John Wooden was a huge influence on her teaching and coaching philosophy. In fact, Wooden was so influential that her husband John Meyer got her a signed photograph of John Wooden with a personal message as a Christmas present.

Meyer was also definitely influenced by her father, the late Dennis Preece, who was the architect of the Uintah wrestling dynasty of the late 1960’s and 1970’s where he coached nine state title teams along with another one in golf.

“I saw that my Dad worked hard at his craft and at improving his craft and that he taught the men he coached to have integrity, to win with class and dignity and lose with honor,” said Meyer. “I also grew up watching a community supporting a program, so it was something I always dreamed of. I always felt that your athletes should come from the community of the school.”

After 31 years of classroom teaching and 25 as a head volleyball and assistant track and field coach, Meyer feels there’s a season for all things in life and it’s time to move on to other things. Her youngest daughter Kaitlyn plays in the Skyridge soccer program and Meyer is looking forward to seeing more of her games, while also making some trips to Northeastern Junior College in Colorado to see her other daughter Emma, who graduates from Skyridge this month, continue her volleyball career at the next level.

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