NEW BRAUNFELS -- Given the success high school volleyball coach Robin Gerlich has had in the past 25 years, it's not like her career needed any more validation before she left Seguin in March to take over the tradition-rich program at New Braunfels.
But after leading the Unicorns to their first state tournament since 2005, when they won the Class 4A crown, Gerlich has pulled off another noteworthy feat. New Braunfels is the third school she has guided to the big show since she started coaching at La Vernia in 1987.
Gerlich took Churchill to the state tournament in 1998 and Seguin, her alma mater, in 2009.
New Braunfels (45-4) plays McKinney Boyd in the 5A semifinals at 5 p.m. Friday at the Culwell Center in Garland.
Defending state champion Coppell (47-3) meets Houston Clear Lake (32-9) at 7 p.m. in the other 5A semifinal. Coppell defeated McKinney Boyd in last year's final.
The 5A state final is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday.
"This is a very determined and tight-knit group," Gerlich said Wednesday before the Unicorns left for Garland. "They are very motivated, very focused. The first day I walked in for practice in August, they were 30 minutes early. That's just typical of the little things that have gone on this season.
"You give them a challenge and they want to figure it out. I knew they were special from the minute I walked in here. I knew we had a lot to get through with me being their new head coach, but I also knew it was important to lead them, not pull them along."
New Braunfels making 10th trip to state tournament
Despite her sterling credentials, Gerlich faced the challenge of succeeding another outstanding coach, Phyllis Fowler, who led New Braunfels to two state championships during her 17-year tenure.
"This program has had a lot of success in the past," Gerlich said. "A lot of tribute goes to these kids and these parents in the community because they had to come in and trust a whole lot in the beginning.
"We really worked on those relationships early in the first part of the season. I had to learn a lot of what they could live with and what I could live with. Coming in here, I felt like I had a learned a lot in 25 years and just wanted to see if there were things I could do better."
New Braunfels is making its 10th trip to the state tournament. The Unicorns also won the 4A title in 2000 under Fowler, who took New Braunfels to state five times before resigning last February to take a job as volleyball coach and girls athletic coordinator at Navarro.
"I texted her right after I got the job and told her I had big shoes to fill, and that I'd do my best to carry on the tradition that she had here," Gerlich said.
Gerlich, 50, was assistant athletic director at Seguin for two years before coaching the volleyball team for five seasons.
"I missed coaching," Gerlich said. "It was a good situation to go into."
She led the Matadors to the playoffs in her first year, 2007, and the 4A state semifinals two seasons later.
Gerlich in 24th season as volleyball coach
Gerlich's entry into the coaching profession is a story in itself. After graduating from Southwest Texas State in 1985 with a business degree in fashion merchandising, she worked in the retail world for two years.
"I started subbing in PE and thought I might like to do this for a living, so I went back to school and got my certification," Gerlich said. "I applied for a job at the middle school in La Vernia, but my teaching field didn't fit. But it fit for the high school job."
Gerlich was hired as the Bears' head volleyball coach in 1987, starting a career that is now in its 26th year, including the two she spent as assistant athletic director in Seguin.
After six seasons at La Vernia, where she still lives, she had a two-year stint at Holmes. She moved to Churchill in 1995 and coached the Chargers until moving to Seguin in 2005.
Gerlich is married to Seguin boys basketball coach Dwayne Gerlich.
Robin Gerlich, who never has been an assistant coach, has a 581-280 career record and has led her teams to 18 playoff appearances and nine regional-tournament berths. Her 1998 Churchill team lost in the 5A state semifinals.
Never having worked under any other coach, Gerlich made it a point once her career got going to learn as much as she could from some of the best volleyball coaches in San Antonio area history, including Kirby Jameson (Clark) and Donna Boehle (New Braunfels Canyon).
"I felt like I had to get in their gyms and see what they did because all I've really known is what I do myself," Gerlich said.
Gerlich praised assistant coaches Ashley Bird and Heather Cox for their contributions this season. Bird is in her fourth season at New Braunfels and Cox moved from Smithson Valley this year.
"Our staff has really bonded well," Gerlich said.
New Braunfels has won six consecutive matches since losing to Smithson Valley, the only team to beat the Unicorns in District 25-5A play. New Braunfels avenged the loss in the Region IV final last Saturday, beating the Rangers in four games.
"Ball control and defense is what has been our bread and butter," Gerlich said. "Offensively, we have really started to pick it up."
Senior Jessica Waldrip, who will play at UTSA next year, averages 9.5 assists per game. and junior Neka Cuppetilli averages 3.46 kills. Lauren Kenney leads the team in digs with 283, followed by Ashley Myer (257) and Ali Hubicsak (255).