Nichelle Bethune brings positive approach to coaching the program she used to play for back in the day
Nichelle Bethune is all about Evergreen, all the time.
There were some years when she was working at another high school, but she always knew in her heart that she wanted to end up back at Evergreen.
Heck, when she graduated from Evergreen in 2002, she put in her yearbook that her goal was to one day become the head coach of the volleyball program.
It was a long journey, but here she is, the head coach for Evergreen volleyball.
“Perfection,” she said. “Home. When I walk through the doors, it’s home.”
Nichelle starred for Evergreen as Nichelle McMillan 20 years ago. Back then, Evergreen was a winner on the court. The team won a district title in Nichelle’s senior season.
Winning at Evergreen is one thing. But just being from the neighborhood is another big benefit to coaching at Evergreen.
“I think the girls know that I’m not just here for a paycheck. They know. I did this before them,” Bethune said. “They know their coach went through this.”
The program has struggled in recent years. Bethune is confident she can turn things around, build the program again. But it will not start with results on the scoreboard.
“These girls are focused on how many wins we have. I want to get them out of that,” Bethune said. “We have to measure our success on the effort we put into the program. Having them here three days a week, through the entire summer, incorporating strength training and knowledge about volleyball in their body. Establish that.”
Bethune was hired prior to what would have been the 2020 fall season. COVID changed all that, of course. While there was an abbreviated season in early 2021, life in the pandemic has made it tough for any new coach trying to establish a culture.
There were positive signs, though. Evergreen won more matches in the spring than it had in the previous full season, back in 2019.
The athletes see themselves in a different light, as well.
Bethune said it was as if they said, “Oh, we’re actually competitors.”
“Exactly,” their coach told them. “Let’s compete.”
Evergreen had a tough schedule to open this season but earlier this week picked up its first win of the campaign. But again, Bethune is not worried about the record just now.
“If we lose to a better team, we have to be OK with that,” Bethune said …
… As long as the team is improving. As long as the players can be proud of the effort. That is what the coach wants to observe.
This process will take time.
Bethune knows all about the long game.
She took a year off of volleyball after graduating from Evergreen, then returned to action at Olympic College in Bremerton. She transferred to Clark College for her sophomore year, where she met her husband James.
She got into coaching in 2006, at the club level, and soon she was hired as an assistant coach to Lori Piland at Evergreen. Piland was Nichelle’s coach in her playing days with the Plainsmen, as well.
It would be the start of a long coaching partnership that has turned into a great friendship.
Bethune was at Evergreen for three seasons, took a break when she and James had a baby. Then Bethune was hired as an assistant at Union. Soon after, Piland became the head coach at Union, and Bethune and Piland were back together again on the sideline.
Prior to that reunion, Bethune applied for the head coaching position at Evergreen in 2013.
“Maybe it wasn’t my time,” Bethune says, looking back.
Instead of being upset, she committed to doing the best she could as an assistant.
When the Evergreen position was open again, she figured she was ready. But she also had to get a push from her father.
“He said, ‘You know you’re supposed to do that. That’s you,’” Bethune said.
Harrison “Mac” McMillan Jr. said he was looking forward to watching his daughter as the head coach, sitting in the corner of the gym with his popcorn and his Mountain Dew.
Mac, known around the Clark County sports community as a basketball official, never got the chance to see Nichelle as the head coach. Diagnosed with cancer in July of 2020, he died the next month.
He did know that Nichelle got the job, though. That was important for the family. He was so proud.
Evergreen’s first victory with Nichelle Bethune as coach was special.
“I did feel him when we won our first game,” Nichelle said. “Looking at (my players) and the way they made me feel, I knew this is what I needed to be doing. ‘OK Dad. you wanted me to do this, so I’m here.’”
Volleyball is family, too. The new coach at Evergreen is all about that. Describing herself as a Black American, she said it is important for athletes of color to see a woman of color in a leadership role.
The focus, though, is bringing everyone together.
“We are very diverse,” said Angel Lopez, a senior co-captain. “We’re welcoming everyone as a family. It doesn’t matter what your nationality is. We don’t look at that. We just look at the love of volleyball and the desire for the game.”
Jocie Snyder, a junior co-captain, said her coach is all about unity.
“She loves to focus on building a community,” Snyder said. “That’s the focus here, building a community.”
It helps that Bethune is all-in at Evergreen every day. She works security for Evergreen Public Schools and is assigned at Evergreen High School.
“She’s always there when we need to talk to her,” Snyder said. “If anyone has any problems, she’s always there. We’re her first priorities. It means a lot knowing we have somebody there who is always going to be there for us.”
The gym was open pretty much all summer. The captains noticed the commitment.
“Coach Nichelle puts her all in this program. She’s accepting of everyone, wants everyone to play volleyball just for the love of the game,” Lopez said. “She had workouts all summer, which she didn’t have to do. But she did it for us and she did it for the program. That means so much. Especially as independent women, it just means so much to us.”
These days, there is a little extra pride when the team huddles and breaks with “Evergreen,” Bethune said.
“I’ve always said that I’ve bled green and gold,” she said.