Denise Craig is the Greater Kansas City Officials Association Coach of the Year for volleyball.

Denise Craig is the Greater Kansas City Officials Association Coach of the Year for volleyball.

That proves Leo Durocher was wrong – nice gals do finish first.

Craig, who led the Patriots to an improbable Class 15 district championship match against Park Hill South (which they lost 25-10, 25-10), lost eight seniors off her 2010 team and wondered what might happen this season."

I remember a conversation I had with the enthusiastic coach at the Lee’s Summit North Summer League, where she watched her young squad take some monumental baby steps.

“Don’t print this,” she said in confidence, “but I don’t know if we can win a match this year. We are so young and so inexperienced. I’ve never had a team like this at Truman.”

Her 14-17 team started 0-4 and lost seven of its first eight matches before the light finally switched on.

“Once they got it, they really got it,” said Craig, who topped Fort Osage 25-16, 25-17 in the opening round of district play before falling to eventual champion Park Hill South in the semifinals.

“When we started, they didn’t know very much at all. I’d been used to having all those girls who played volleyball all the time, and here I had all these enthusiastic young players who really didn’t know much about the game.

“But I said from day one that this would be a fun season, because the girls were really fun to be around. As it turned out, it was even more fun than any of us ever anticipated.”

Despite the early struggles, Truman was 5-5 over its last 10 matches and Craig’s wide-eyed ducklings were suddenly becoming beautiful swans.

“Just think – we lost eight seniors and had kids playing varsity who didn’t even have junior varsity experience,” Craig said. “We lost to Fort early in the season, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

“And then the girls started getting really mad when they lost, and you could see them come together as a team. It was fun to watch, and now, I can’t wait for next year.”

Neither can Eric Holm, one of her biggest fans and the activities director at Truman High School.

“I am really proud of the officials association because they did their homework,” Holm said. “You could give this award to the coach with the best record, but that oftentimes means that coach has the best players.

“We didn’t have the best players, but they worked hard on becoming better players every day in practice. And what they did this year was a lot of fun to watch.

“And believe me, there isn’t a coach in the metro area who deserves this honor more than Denise.”

Early in the season, she threw six newcomers to the wolves and watched them struggle, and grow, and develop and mature into the type of team we are all accustomed to seeing at Truman High School.

I’ve said many times that the school district should erect a statue to Denise Craig because she is Truman High School.

And the simple fact that the coach of a team with a sub-.500 record wins one of the most prestigious awards in the area only backs that statement.

In a world where teen moms and Jersey Shore, spray-tanned bimbos and himbos receive more attention than teachers and police, it’s nice to see one of the good gals receive some recognition.