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Clay Blackwood keeping family philosophy at the heart of volleyball club

PORT ORCHARD — Clay Blackwood didn’t intend to put himself into a head coaching role again. The former high school, select and collegiate coach and administrator knew the decision wasn’t hard to make when he wanted to give his daughter the opportunity to keep playing.

Blackwood took over as U18 head coach and director for Washington Elite Volleyball Club. The position was vacated by Sara Todorovich-Ballas who relocated to Walla Walla with her family.

Todorovich-Ballas started Washington Elite six years ago and quickly developed several quality players who went on to play in college. Todorovich-Ballas and her husband Tim continue to own the club.

Blackwood said it wasn’t his goal to one day take over the club coaching position.

“My goal was to help my daughter,” he said, adding not only does Reyna play select, she’s involved with the Girl Scouts and Destination Imagination. Blackwood also coaches his son’s select 11U baseball team.

Clay Blackwood took over head coaching duties for Washington Elite Volleyball Club and became its director in October. Blackwood has coached at the high school, select and collegiate level for 28 seasons. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

“It was really about controlling the narrative a little bit for their schedule and my schedule,” he said.

Blackwood is a teacher at heart. Whether in the classroom at Olympic College where he’s been for 15 years, or on a volleyball court or softball field for 28 seasons. His wife Monica owns West Sound WorkForce. It’s a hectic, but fulfilling life for the Blackwoods. When Todorovich-Ballas broached the subject with Blackwood about taking over he didn’t immediately shy away from the idea. 

It also helped he was able to bring on his former assistant at North Kitsap, Kaelea Makaiwi. Makaiwi also took over for Blackwood when he left OC to coach at Evergreen State and their working relationship is a good one.

“Being back with Mak is huge for me,” Blackwood said. “Man and I are so tight. I hired her at North Kitsap as my assistant coach and at OC. She’s someone that I trust. We think alike. We finish each other’s sentences. And we have a passion for young athletes. She’s an educator, I’m an educator. It’s about educating young athletes about playing the game right and hopefully getting opportunities.”

Washington has two teams, 16U and 18U, with Blackwood guiding the 18’s. 

“I’m trying to do a lot of the training for both teams, but I still want my daughter to have a good experience with volleyball and that was the purpose … I wanted her to have the experience of learning the game,” he said.

Blackwood’s passion for the game of volleyball is evident during a training session at Olympic Fitness Center off Mile Hill in Port Orchard. His love of the game is only exceeded in his desire to coach the next generation to their goals. 

“I’m a sucker for the game,” he laughed. “I’ve not stopped coaching. I’ve always had my hands in something but it’s a good thing. It’s where I need to be.”

Makaiwi, who leads the 16U team and is an assistant volleyball and girls basketball coach at North Kitsap, said she was glad to coach with Blackwood again.

Kaelea Makaiwi coaches the 14U Washington Elite Volleyball Club team during a practice at Olympic Fitness Center in Port Orchard. Makaiwi, who teaches at North Kitsap and is an assistant coach in volleyball and girls basketball for the Vikings.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

“I’m glad he’s finally back,” she said. “We’ve asked before and he’s been so busy with his kids’ things … and then this opportunity came up and I told Sara, ‘Hey, if you’re serious about someone you trust, you should call Clay.’”

It didn’t take long for the two to find their coaching rhythm.

“I’m excited because I get to coach with him again,” Makaiwi said. “It’s been a long time coming I think.”

Blackwood said he’s not sure what the future holds for Washington Elite, but he does want to keep it simple, enjoyable and a great experience for all his players. It comes down to giving kids the opportunity to get better at volleyball, he said.

“Select sports are all about training,” Blackwood said. “It’s reps. You don’t win anything in select … it’s not about scholarships it’s about training to get better to play for your high school team, and I’m a big fan of high school sports, and maybe get a chance to play college ball. That’s really it. 

“If you want to go to college, we’re going to work so you can get better so you have those opportunities.”

With tryouts now over and area club teams prepping for the new season in January, Blackwood is looking forward to spending time with his family during Christmas and getting right back to work.

“Everybody that knows me, knows I love to coach,” he said. 

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