Mark Ragland runs a website for his Albemarle volleyball program and while a lot of programs have websites, only a handful rival Ragland’s for depth and thoroughness.
There’s a roster for this year, and this past fall’s schedule, but that’s standard. There’s also a list of the nearly 40 Albemarle players who’ve gone on to play college volleyball, a list of the 27 pairs and trios of sisters who’ve played for the Patriots and the dozen Albemarle players who were named district player of the year.
Then there’s the record book, a page that chronicles the program’s top seasons and careers by statistics, ranging from kills to serve/receive percentage. It seems like a simple idea to keep a program record book, but a lot of programs just…don’t.
Albemarle’s record book — in conjunction with an annual alumni game — has become a symbol for the culture Ragland created over his 37 years as Albemarle’s volleyball coach before he officially retired last week.
“The more you can make people aware of what happened before them, the more you develop a sense of history,” Ragland said. “At alumni games, you not only see the records, you see the person who set the record and you gain a sense of appreciation.”
Ragland retires as the VHSL’s all-time wins leader with 667 career victories. He won a state title with the Patriots’ in a 2008 title run and won 23 district championships. It’s Albemarle volleyball’s persistent, family-like culture though that is Ragland’s lasting legacy as a coach.
“It happened as a byproduct of how we do business in volleyball at Albemarle,” Ragland said. “As the kids bought in, we just started to feel like a family. The culture was developed among the alumni and they continue to have an impact on the current players.”
That family-like feel also made stepping away a difficult decision, but Ragland has always been something of a pragmatist rather than a perfectionist. Willing to adjust, improvise and accept a different way to get the job done that wasn’t the textbook approach.
“There’s never a perfect time to step away, but it just felt like a good time,” Ragland said.
Ragland, who also taught physical education in Albemarle County for two decades before managing rental properties and working as a realtor, had a seismic impact on local volleyball over the years, starting the first local club team — the Jefferson Area juniors — that he ran from 1989 to 1999. The development of a locally-based club team helped fuel Albemarle’s success and it also helped raise the standard for other area programs.
For the Patriots under Ragland though it has never solely been about talent. The difference-maker, in fact, during that 2008 state title run wasn’t who had the best players in the state that year, not after Albemarle lost three times to Commonwealth District foe Colonial Forge during that campaign. The difference-maker was that squad’s approach and focus.
“We lost three times that year to the same team,” Ragland said. “We weren’t the best team in the state talent-wise that year, but we were the best from a teamwork and attitude standpoint. The seniors said we are not going down without a fight and they started celebrating every point.”
Those celebrations kept piling up all the way to the Siegel Center in Richmond where the Patriots won 3-1 over Westfield to capture the volleyball program’s first state championship.
While that squad that included stars Kara Elder, Laura Gomez, Abby Hendrix and current Monticello coach Meg Carpenter certainly stands out, Ragland pointed to a ton of other players over the years who he’s had the pleasure of coaching.
“So many of them become like my daughters — they’re some of the most incredible young ladies,” Ragland said. “They live with integrity and they’re the kind of people that make the world better. I’m just honored to have spent time with them in such a meaningful manner.”
Nearly 40 years of coaching requires buy-in not just from players, but from his family. Both Ragland’s daughters played in the program, his sons chipped in to film matches at times and his wife, Jacquelyn Ragland, has been unconditionally supportive of his coaching career.
“My wife has been incredible throughout my entire career. She has not once complained or asked me to change something,” Ragland said.
That’s how a special, meaningful coaching career happens really: an incredibly supportive family. Players who buy-in. An intentional effort to create culture and pride.
Ragland had the things he needed and he created the things that weren’t there. Because of that, he leaves on his terms as one of the state’s all-time greats.