PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- Jill Cook hated to see the season end for the Pittsfield volleyball team.
The Saukees lost 12-25, 25-21, 25-21 to Auburn in the semifinals of the Class 2A Pittsfield Regional, and their season ended with a 21-12-2 record. It's the first winning record for the Saukees since the 2005 season, and it's the reason why Cook has been chosen as The Herald-Whig's Coach of the Year.
It's how her team reacted to the final loss, Cook said, that actually made her smile.
"Oh, don't get me wrong. They were devastated afterward," she said. "It showed how much they cared. I hate for them to be heartbroken.
"But last year, it was no big deal to lose. Now they know what it's like to lose after you've tasted victory."
Tasting victory has been rare for the Pittsfield volleyball program. The last two teams won a combined 10 games.
Cook, a 2004 graduate of Payson Seymour High School, moved to Pittsfield to work as a physical therapist for Advance Physical Therapy three years ago. She was invited to watch a volleyball match and was struck by one thing.
"They just didn't look like they were having fun," Cook said.
That team she watched won just two games. She was asked to be an assistant on last year's team that won eight games, and when the opportunity was presented for her to be the head coach, Cook took it.
"The girls just lacked volleyball knowledge," she said. "It was no fault of any coach. They had numerous coaches, and the girls just had to learn so much.
"I told them when I took the job that you can have fun while you do this. There was an intensity missing in the program, and you have to work it into practice. I'm sure when we got started, the girls thought, 'Holy crap. This coach is crazy.'"
Senior Maggie Marable had grown weary of all the losing while adjusting to different coaches during her career.
"We've had a new coach in Pittsfield every year for I don't know how long," she said. "Every year, you have to learn a new rotation or learn a new way to block. But Coach Cook brought a lot of fun.
"Last year, we weren't used to winning, so yeah, we were excited when we won, but when we lost, it wasn't a big deal. It was like, 'We're same ol' Pittsfield. We're going to lose.'"
A team led by six seniors bonded with the underclassmen during movie nights and pizza parties at the coach's house, along with playing a more extensive summer schedule. A victory over Southeastern, a traditionally strong area power, in the first game gave Cook the idea that something special might be happening.
The new-look Saukees then shocked volleyball fans in the area by winning their first eight games of the season.
"Starting 8-0, that got us going," Marable said.
"Our goal was to have a winning season," Cook said. "I didn't know we'd start with quite the bang that we did, but when you look back, we probably should have been closer to 26 victories.
"I knew they had the potential to do well. Did I know it would be as successful as it was? Heck no. I always say perfection is unattainable, but if you shoot for it, you'll maintain excellence. So why not chase perfection? We ended up pretty darned good."
Marable said she wasn't surprised.
"Everyone was on board, and we had an awesome coach," she said. "Coach believed in us. She knew we had the potential, and she believed in us."
Cook isn't willing to let the program become "Same Ol' Pittsfield" again. Six seniors will be difficult to replace, but five underclassmen also were part of the rotation.
"I don't imagine this being a one-year 'wham bam' thing," Cook said. "The more you lose, the more you lose, and you forget what it feels like to win. But now the girls know what it feels like to win. We've got it now.
"The more you win, the more you want to win."