By Brian Kalish
September 6, 2019
WAUSAU– When Cathy Newton began coaching volleyball at Wausau West in 1985, the price of gas was $1.12 per gallon, Back to the Future was at the top of the box office, and Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States.
A lot has changed over thirty plus years– culturally, economically, and in the narrow sphere of high school athletics– but, at least for Newton, one thing has remained the same.
“It’s the kids who keep you doing it,” Newton said.
Newton reached a career milestone on August 29 when, after the Warriors defeated Marathon in the Wausau West Quad, she notched her 700th victory at the varsity level.
One could understand if Newton had been counting down the games until win 700.
Newton said she knew it was getting close, but didn’t realize she had crossed the threshold when West knocked off Marathon.
Newton may not have known, but the Warriors’ athletic department, her assistant coaches, and fans in attendance all knew.
“One of my staff members knew from last spring because we have to turn in a sheet with all our records every year, so they kind of knew where we were at,” Newton said. “They spread the word and I didn’t know.”
Newton’s coaching philosophy has more to do with connecting with players and helping them develop– both as individuals and as a cohesive unit– than piling up gaudy win totals each season.
“I don’t really think about wins and losses very often,” Newton said. “People will say that, but it’s just kind of a big mark. I’ve been coaching for a really long time, so it was a nice recognition, and I think that moment when it happens, you’re like, is it really going to happen? It did, and I think it was special.”
Newton has touched hundreds of lives throughout her career. The scope of her influence was evident on August 29.
Longtime assistant coaches Paul Linzmeyer, Theran Peterson, Janna Hillman and Channon Galligan were on hand to celebrate.
Beyond that, the scorekeeper of the match against Marathon was an assistant coach from years past, a former Wausau West player was an official during the quad, and in attendance was another former West player of Newton’s who is the parent of a current Marathon player.
Those connections were the icing on the cake.
“That part was really pretty cool,” Newton said. “There were a lot of really neat little pieces like that. It wasn’t just an individual accomplishment, if that makes sense. And of course, doing it on my home court, that was special.”
Linzmeyer has been coaching volleyball with Newton for 20 years and said that her impact extends beyond the court.
“When I think of Warrior sports, she has been that constant presence,” Linzmeyer said. “She has been a role model, friend, mentor, kind word source, kick in the backside when needed, and sounding board for not only myself and the rest of our coaching staff, but for countless others.
“Passion is another word that comes to mind. She has a passion for this sport that is unbelievable.”
Wausau West athletic director Brian Miller noted Newton’s dedication and ability to connect with athletes.
“Once in a great while athletic directors have the distinct pleasure of having someone
like Cathy Newton on their staff,” Miller said. “For those AD’s who have had a coach like her, they can appreciate what a Cathy Newton means to a program. Rarely would I say this, for we all have areas of weakness, I haven’t found Cathy’s yet. Her knowledge of the game is phenomenal and yet she is a continual learner. She always looks for ways to be more effective in teaching skills. Her connection with her players, and classroom students, is exceptional. Students respond positively and with motivation to Cathy’s teaching and coaching.”
After more than three decades coaching high school volleyball, Newton said she still feels excitement at the start of every season.
“You do, otherwise you wouldn’t do it,” Newton said. “I came into the sport when it was relatively new. Girls athletics itself was relatively new and I think I was able to grow with the sport.”
There’s good reason for Newton to feel optimistic this season.
The Warriors, fresh off a second place finish in the Valley last season, are off to a strong start so far in 2019.
On the way to rolling to a 19-1 record as of September 5, West clawed to a 6-1 record at the UW-Stout Sprawl on Labor Day weekend to claim the championship in the tournament’s silver bracket.
It was a big step forward for this year’s squad.
“We’re building from the success of the team from last year,” Newton said. “They had a really good year, and we lost a lot, but our key positions got a lot of experience last year. So those graduations, while they’re critical in terms of chemistry and some of the play, didn’t hit us as hard as I thought they might.”
Wausau West will begin the real test of 2019 as Wisconsin Valley Conference play begins on September 12 when they square off against SPASH.
“I know the conference is going to be really strong,” Newton said. “I’m very comfortable with where we are. We have a lot of things to work on, there’s a lot of stuff we still need to get better at. But overall it’s a nice team.”
No matter what happens for the rest of the season, Newton’s legacy is firmly entrenched in the Warriors’ athletic program.
Miller put it very simply, saying, “Wausau West High School is extremely fortunate to have Cathy as a Warrior.”