Due to Amy Phelps' interim coaching status, a cloud of uncertainty hovered over Northwest Missouri Missouri State's volleyball program for the duration of the 2012 season.
No one on the team, including Phelps, knew whether she would remain the head coach beyond just one year.
When the players learned last week that Phelps was being retained, it provided them with a much-needed sense of relief.
"I always kind of had this doubt in my mind what if Amy is not here next year,?" said sophomore outside Brooke Bartosh, a third-team All-MIAA selection. "Who would be the coach instead of her? I was confident she would be the coach next year and I really hoped she would. I know the athletic department likes her, and I think most of the players on our team like her also. I'm excited."
With Bartosh and freshman setter Dallas Gardner present, Phelps was formally introduced as Northwest Missouri State's 11th head coach Tuesday in the Tower View Room of the J.W. Jones Student Union.
In her interim season, Northwest posted a 15-17 record, went 9-9 in league play and finished sixth in the conference.
The year ended with a loss to Central Missouri in the first round of the MIAA Tournament.
Phelps met with athletic director Wren Baker right after that match and said a decision on her coaching status was made quickly.
It's an exchange she knew was coming, but tried not to think about during the season.
"It's in the back of your brain, but you only can control the controllables," said Phelps, 33. "I said that from the beginning. I'm going to let the chips fall where they fall. With the amount of time we had to prepare for the season, I think a large amount of my brain was spent just getting though the day-to-day things that needed to happen for us to have success. I didn't put a lot of thought into it."
An assistant coach during the 2011 season, Phelps was appointed as Northwest Missouri State's interim head coach July 12 after former coach Jessica Rinehart resigned.
She inherited a team of only six upperclassmen that finished 14-17 the year before.
The Bearcats got off to their first-ever 5-0 start in conference play, making it almost a slam dunk that Phelps would shed the interim label.
But the Bearcats sputtered after that, losing six straight and going just 6-11 over their final 17 matches.
They also failed to beat a team above them in the standings.
This called into question whether Phelps would get to stick around.
"When we started 5-0, I think a lot of people were talking to me like 'oh, you're going to get that interim status taken off,' but like I said, I couldn't put a lot of thought into it," said Phelps. "I didn't want to because it's nothing that I can control and it's just going to put worry in my brain. I just wanted to go out and do the best I could regardless if I was the interim coach or head coach. The way I approach the season is just who I am."
Page 2 of 2 - After the tournament loss to Central, Phelps says she went around the locker room and gave hugs to all the players, expressing her gratitude for supporting her this year.
She did the same with all the parents who were in attendance.
"It was just kind of open-ended," said Bartosh. "Nobody knew how it was going to end."
A week later, both Phelps and her players could start looking forward to a future together.
Phelps has already gotten started with next year's recruiting class, adding three players during the early signing period.
She plans to sign one more to next year's roster.
Northwest loses first-team All-MIAA libero Tori Beckman, but returns all of its other significant contributors including Bartosh, outside hitter Abby Graves, middle Whitney Mason and Gardner.
"When you put all the pieces together, I think we have the parts to be where we need to be in the conference," said Phelps. "We will be young in a couple of spots, but it's a matter of having them grow up as quickly as possible. This year was really about stabilizing the program. I think you have to stabilize a program before you can move to improving it. That's what this spring is really going to be about. Are the pieces in place? Yes. It's really how much they're wanting it and how much we're pushing them and how much those things are going to work together."