Bolingbrook volleyball coach Molly DeSerf blanches when one refers to her as a “relentless optimist.”
It’s hard, though, to take away any different impression of her. Especially when witnessing the way she relates messages of positivity both with her students and the athletes she coaches as the leader of both the boys and girls volleyball programs at Bolingbrook.
“I’m a positive person, I think, but I like to have positive messaging with a side of realness,” DeSerf said. “I don’t think you can do this job justice unless you are willing to understand what students go through and be there when they need you outside of the stats part of it. I don’t think that I would love the job if I didn’t know the kids for what they are and what they bring to the table.”
DeSerf’s social media feeds are a constant source of positive affirmation -- not only for the athletes in her own programs, but for pretty much everything even remotely associated with the student body. When the pandemic led to a disconnect between many students and their schools, DeSerf came to a realization about today’s youth that eluded or escaped some.
“We realized that there was a ton of stuff that had nothing to do with volleyball, that our kids had gone through and are continuing to go through,” DeSerf said. “As adults, we jumped back into real life and we expected the kids to jump back into it with us. But there was this whole heap of things that they kind of had to figure out on their own.
“Being with the kids is a very humbling experience, and you realize when some things might have been easier, they’ve gone through things that you can’t imagine. To come here every day and have them give what they give is a very humbling thing to get to be a part of.”
Those challenges, and many others, have kept DeSerf’s plate full. But, of course, instead of trying to find a way to ease those burdens, DeSerf went looking for more.
It all started as what DeSerf categorized as “a joke” with Bolingbrook boys’ basketball coach Rob Brost.
“She had been saying for a better part of the year, maybe longer, ‘When am I going to be a part of the basketball staff? What’s the deal,’” Brost said. “And while it started as sort of a joke, but I’d observed what she’d done with the volleyball program on both sides of them, and what she’s been able to do with them from a leadership standpoint. I see the interactions she has with our student athletes and I see the day-to-day interactions that she has with our students.”
DeSerf was adamant from the get-go that she wasn’t interested in learning the X’s and O’s of the game of basketball, and Brost was happy to allow her to carve out a role in his program in whatever way she saw fit.
“Her purpose was to take stuff off my plate, and from the second she joined our staff, that’s exactly what she did,” Brost said. “It started off as a ha, ha, funny, funny thing, but it turned into something moving forward that can probably be used in multiple schools and multiple places.”
DeSerf readily admits she probably can’t identify a zone trap. But for her, and for that matter, it was never about that. It was an opportunity to learn things outside of her own comfort zone and maybe a few things that she could apply to her own program.
“For me it was a twofold thing. I wanted an opportunity to not be in charge and to learn from other coaches in a different sport, in particular,” DeSerf said. “And it was just a reminder of all the things that go on, those kids are new (DeSerf works with freshman basketball players at Bolingbrook) and great and that they are figuring out priorities.”
Brost indicated that DeSerf is a big part of making sure that those priorities being developed are the right ones.
“We put her in charge of the freshmen. This is the first year we did not have one student athlete with a grade below a C at any time in any class this whole semester,” Brost said. “I give some of that credit to our freshman coaches, but I give most of it to her. Throughout the entire program she has been invaluable, she downplays with the whole ‘I don’t know anything about basketball,’ but she really underestimates her value to our program.”
And she’s taking back some lessons to her volleyball program as well.
“The basketball mentality is something we’ve tried to bring into our program,” DeSerf said. “If we can combine the fluidity of our sport with this gritty, mental fight and battle-it-out mentality that basketball sometimes brings.
“They coach heart, and I think that’s a great thing and finding a way to fit it in with our thing.”
And while DeSerf is quick to downplay exactly what she added to the mix, Brost will not let her off the hook so easily. DeSerf indicated that this was a one-year “experiment,” Brost isn’t likely to comply with that initial scenario.
“She sees what other people cannot see, not only within our student athletes, but within our school and within our teaching climate.” Brost said. “There’s a lot of things you could certainly be negative about, especially with COVID and all that, but that never hits her radar, but in a good way. She’s not in Never Never Land, she deals with issues that need to be dealt with, but she does it with relentless positivity and it’s really unmatched. She’s constantly looking ahead and looking for solutions for things.”
DeSerf does apply that relentless nature into her own program, but it doesn’t come delivered in an over-aggressive way and is packaged so mistakes aren’t dwelled on but used as opportunities to improve. It’s one small piece of what DeSerf hopes student athletes take away from the experience of playing in programs she leads.
“I think what I hope they take from our program is ... how to work with people maybe you don’t get along with,” DeSerf said. “I think what we talk a lot about is being a good teammate, and if you are a good teammate, all of that other stuff just follows.”
Brost admits that he can’t even quantify the value DeSerf brings to countless levels and areas of the school district.
“I can’t say enough about what she means to our program, and I’ll echo that with what she means to our school,” Brost said. “The care that she has for every student athlete that’s under her charge, whether it’s a boys basketball player, a volleyball player on the boys’ or girls’ side, the care that she has for those kids is unmatched. I can’t really explain it, you almost need to be in it to understand the extent that it goes.
“She really shows kids that they are capable of so much more than they think is possible. And she understands where they are coming from, and she understands and knows them to the point that she knows what they are going through. She’s empathetic but still has the expectations that they can do it.”
And to the point of whether Brost will abide to the one-year term of DeSerf’s apprenticeship on his coaching staff?
“Yeah, that’s not stopping,” Brost said with a laugh. “We are lucky to have her, and I hope we have her at our place forever, just for the benefit of our student athletes.”