West Albany alum Megan Wallace takes over Bulldog volleyball program
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West Albany alum Megan Wallace takes over Bulldog volleyball program

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Megan Wallace has experienced West Albany High volleyball from her time as a player and six years as an assistant coach.

Now it’s her time to see it from the top.

Wallace was recently hired as the Bulldogs’ head coach, taking over the successful program from her mentor Kelli Backer, who stepped down after the 2019 season.

A 2005 West graduate whose maiden name was Irving, Wallace said she’s excited about the challenge of keeping the program at a high level.

She knows she has big shoes to fill, but said “I am confident in my abilities. (Backer) has given me a great opportunity to just keep pushing forward and continue to build on what she’s done already.”

Last fall, the Bulldogs shared the Mid-Willamette Conference title with Corvallis and finished fifth at the 5A state tournament. Keeping that momentum going will be aided by the fact there were 12 non-seniors on the West roster. Class of 2021 seniors Maddie Dowell, Elijah Sanders and Hannah Stadstad were all-conference first-team selections last season.

Wallace jumps into her new position with the benefit of familiarity of her players. She coached next year’s seniors on the freshman team and then as junior varsity players before serving as varsity assistant in 2019.

“So to be able to coach them in their senior season, fingers crossed obviously that we have that … the connection that I have with these girls is very strong and they are just so talented,” Wallace said. “I am looking forward to what we can accomplish this year.”

Because of Backer’s influence on Wallace, the new head coach doesn’t expect any major changes right away. Wallace says she has ideas on how to change the program “a little” with a fresh perspective.

Wallace has asked the remainder of the previous coaching staff to return because “they’re just rock-solid across the board.” She’s still looking to fill a few positions.

“We could not be more pleased to have Megan join the ranks of head coaches here at West Albany. She has been a part of West Albany’s volleyball community in one way or another for over 20 years and she knows how special the Bulldog culture is,” West athletic director Patrick Richards said. “We have no doubt that she will continue to build upon the solid foundation that coach Backer has established and that she will provide excellent guidance for the student athletes in her program.”

Wallace, who grew up playing soccer on travel teams, saw her love of volleyball sprout after an ankle injury in eighth grade. That led her to start playing more volleyball as her interest in soccer waned.

“I just couldn’t say no to it. It just captivated me,” she said. “The adrenaline, the camaraderie that it brings, the chance for females to be in a powerful position on the court. It was really a fun experience.”

Wallace played two years of varsity volleyball during a stretch of time in which Backer was an assistant under Dani Blackwell.

Backer got to know Wallace when she was a student in Backer’s biology class at West Albany.

Wallace joined Backer’s staff in 2012, and Backer asked her father, Dennis Swanson, a longtime coach, to be Wallace’s assistant on the freshman team to give her some guidance.

“He came to me after the first few practices and said, ‘she doesn’t need my help,'” Backer said. “I can just remember thinking that she’s a natural and we need to keep her around.”

The Bulldogs won a 5A state title that season and again in 2013, when Wallace coached the junior varsity.

Experiencing what Backer did to build and maintain an elite program had an impact on Wallace.

“Just to be a part of that and seeing what that feels like and looks like and all the things she brings and what a coach should be doing to get your program to look that way. She’s given me so much that I couldn’t get from anywhere else,” Wallace said.

Wallace moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2014 and was the interim head coach at Bixby High School. Wallace was also the director of OKX Volleyball Club.

She and her family — husband Kris and sons Royce, now 9, and Crews, now 4 — moved back to Oregon in 2016 and rejoined the West Albany program.

Wallace says there was nowhere else she would want to coach and that it was “absolutely a no-brainer for me.” She said there’s nothing like the “Bulldog culture” because of the enthusiasm and support from the school’s community.

“I just think she’s a great fit,” Backer said. “She’s experienced the whole program. She knows what it’s like at all three levels. I think she’s ready. She’s very calm, she’s very competitive. She listens. She makes good connections with the athletes.”

Backer said sometimes with younger coaches there’s a worry about them getting too close to the athletes. But Backer said she learned that concern wasn’t necessary with Wallace during her first coaching stint with the program.

“Megan just always had that natural instinct that, ‘I’m your coach,’” Backer said. “She established that very clear boundary, but she also made good connections with the girls.”

Along with her in-laws, Wallace and her husband co-own Albany-based Hal’s Delivery Service, which contracts with City of Albany and Linn-Benton Community College, among others.

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