FREMONT — It’s a Wednesday afternoon on a 90-degree June day. Outside, the town of Fremont is quiet and subdued. On a tree by the school’s parking lot, a chrysalis hangs off a branch as a caterpillar prepares to emerge, retaking the world as a butterfly.
It’s an awe-inspiring process. The caterpillar is broken down at nearly a cellular level before it is reconstructed as a totally different creature, spreading its wings and taking flight once it breaks free from its cocoon. Just feet away, inside the high school gymnasium, the Eagles’ volleyball program is undergoing a similar transformation.
It’s the team’s third workout of the summer, one in which the players, just like that caterpillar outside, are being broken down, back to the basics of the sport. As the girls practice techniques that promote better ball handling, setting and serving, amongst other skills, a person, nearly indistinguishable from the players around her, roams the court.
She stands approximately 5-foot-8 with blonde hair that goes down a little below her shoulders. At first glance, you’re hard-pressed to pull her out of the crowd of athletes. But it doesn’t take long to notice she is different.
Hunter Gaerte’s enthusiasm is infectious.
The young coach, just two years removed from her college graduation, can often be seen taking part in drills alongside her players, nestled in amongst the crowd as she takes a very hands-on approach to teaching the game.
The first-year coach of the Eagles is confident, and that may be her most important trait. It’s also one she hopes rubs off on her new team.
“I know the record hasn’t been too great the past few years, and we’re going to try and change that. But it starts with instilling the confidence in the players that they can accomplish that.”
That confidence stems from a wealth of experience. Originally committing to Manchester University to play for the Spartans, Gaerte’s career was cut short when she suffered a shoulder injury during her freshman year.
The injury ended her collegiate playing career before it ever really took off, but opened another avenue for her to stay with the program. She spent the next four years as an assistant coach for the Spartans, learning the ropes of the coaching world. Last season, she was part of the staff at Northridge High School.
That’s a considerable resume for someone who has yet to turn 25 years old.
Needless to say, Gaerte believes in herself. She knows she can get the job done. She just needs her players to feel that, as well.
“(The players) knowing that I believe in them is the biggest thing,” she said. “That’s one of the best gifts a coach can give to their players, because if they know you don’t believe in them, then nothing will happen.”
For Gaerte, the opportunity represents a chance to discover more about herself as well. The job is her first gig as a head coach, one in which she will inevitably grow a considerable amount in.
Admittedly, Gaerte says the type of coach you get out of her might change by the day. Some days she’s more upbeat, others more subdued. One thing that doesn’t change, though, is the passion she brings to the job.
She interviewed at for a teaching position at Fremont out of college before ultimately going to Northridge. So when both a teaching position, as well as the coaching job, opened up recently, she felt a certain comfort level.
The Eagles were 4-22 last year and 6-18 the year before that, finishing second-to-last in the Northeast Corner Conference (save only Hamilton) both times. Gaerte knows it will be a process, but is also excited to learn and grow alongside her players.
It takes an average of 5 to 21 days for a caterpillar to hatch from its cocoon. The journey back for Fremont will take a bit longer than that. But, when the Eagles break free, Gaerte is determined to help them fly.