Volleyball coach Mary Malinauskas reflects on coaching style, undefeated regular season, pain of losing


Photo courtesy Iris Guo

Volleyball coach Mary Malinauskas celebrates with her team while holding their championship plaque.

For the first time, girls’ volleyball coach Mary Malinauskas has a team who went undefeated through the regular season, won the first ever county championship, and made it to the state semifinals. What did Malinauskas do to bring her squad so far?

When Malinauskas was growing up, there were little to no options when it came to organized sports for girls. She played basketball recreationally since they had a hoop and picked up volleyball in eighth grade. She was on her school’s teams from eighth grade to senior year in high school, eventually becoming a Division 1 basketball athlete in college.

Upon moving to Maryland as an adult, Malinauskas heard through her son’s teacher (a former Maryland volleyball state champion) that the school needed a volleyball coach. Malinauskas applied and became the junior varsity coach. Five years later, she got promoted to varsity coach and has been coaching the varsity squad ever since.

Malinauskas was a math teacher 10 years, but retired to focus on coaching. “I enjoy coaching because those who are here want to be here and they want to do well, and they want to listen. [That’s] not always the case in math class,” Malinauskas said.

As she got more experienced and received a promotion, she transitioned from being a strict coach into a more strategic and tactical one. One of the reasons she changed her coaching style was because yelling at her players was unproductive. “Nobody wants to be yelled at or told what to do,” Malinasukas said.

But someone is bound to make a mistake, and when that happens she wants that person to focus on the next play. “They already feel bad, nobody wants to make a mistake. So sometimes it’s useful to just say ‘everybody makes a mistake’ and just laugh [along],” Malinasukas said.

Malinauskas’ players appreciate her coaching style, which includes her blunt honesty. “[Malinauskas] knows exactly what we need, if we need tough love she’ll give it to us, if we’re doing great and need support she’s there,” captain and senior Samantha Bolze said.

When it comes to being undefeated in the regular season and the deep run in playoffs, “this team has a honed appreciation for being out on the court because of last year… It’s not the work of going to practice, because they knew what it was like not being able to play how they want to train and compete,” Malinauskas said.

Sooner or later, everyone experiences the pain of losing. In the event of a tough loss, Malinauskas does not talk to anybody for 24 hours and just thinks. “It’s always so disappointing to lose, not because of the banner or the championship, but because you’re finished with those kids. And that’s always really difficult. You want the best for them, you want to see all of their work pan out in a positive way, so that’s really hard,” Malinauskas said.

Eventually, you have to let go, and as the days, weeks, and months pass the pain starts to dissipate. “The hurt starts to go away and you start to put everything in perspective where it belongs, and I hope that everyone had a good experience… It’s just [those] relationships that you’ve built, and it’s the end of that,” Malinauskas said.