Western Hills volleyball coach Kristi Buffenmyer, wearing a green shirt, cheers along with players and fans during Thursday's match against Woodford County. Buffenmyer is retiring after 25 years as coach at WHHS. (Linda Younkin)

Coaching was something Kristi Buffenmyer always wanted to do.

Now, after 25 years, she’ll be stepping away from the profession.

Buffenmyer, 47, is retiring as Western Hills’ volleyball coach at the end of this season. The Lady Wolverines begin postseason play Tuesday in the 41st District Tournament at Franklin County.

“Really and truly, it’s been 25 years, and I can feel it’s time,” she said when asked why she’s retiring. “My good friend Craig Fry told me you’ll know when you know, and I felt this past spring that this probably needed to be my last season.

“It wasn’t an easy decision. I’m going to miss the kids. I’m going to miss the camaraderie of volleyball, and I’ll probably miss the competitiveness. It’s going to be pretty tough.”

Buffenmyer graduated from Madison Comprehensive High School in Mansfield, Ohio, in 1991, where she played basketball and volleyball and ran track.

She was offered a scholarship to play volleyball and basketball at Midway. She played basketball at Midway for two years and volleyball for four years, graduating in 1995 with a degree in psychology. She earned an associate’s degree in secondary education in 1993.

Buffenmyer’s first coaching job was with a summer volleyball league in Sandusky, Ohio, from 1991-94.

She was hired as WHHS’ coach right out of college.

“I always wanted to be a coach,” Buffenmyer said. “Our garage collapsed this past summer, and I was going through stuff. I found some high school stuff.

“There was a form that said, ‘what do you want to be after gradation?’ and I wrote ‘a science teacher and coach.’ There were other forms that said ‘what do you want to do five years after graduation, 10 years, and I wrote ‘I want to be a coach.’

“I think that’s one reason it’s been so hard to say goodbye, because I always wanted to be a coach.”

It’s a job she’s done well.

She has 376 career victories with four district championships and seven district runner-up finishes. WHHS advanced to the state tournament in 2001 as a regional runner-up. Today, only teams that win a regional title qualify for the state tournament.

“She genuinely cares about the players she coaches, on the court and off the court,” said Bethany Senter, a 1998 graduate of WHHS who played for Buffenmyer and later served as her assistant coach. “She cares about the girls.”

Buffenmyer has also spent time as a coach and board member for the Frankfort Elite Volleyball Association.

She’s done all this while working full time, and she’s currently the executive director at Everyday Matters, LLC, serving over-50 adults with developmental disabilities in Frankfort.

WHHS closed out the regular season at home Thursday against Woodford County, coached by FCHS graduate Meghan Bottom.

Buffenmyer picked Woodford for her last home match.

“Woodford County has meant so much to me through the years,” Buffenmyer said, “and Meghan, who I coached against, and Kate (Osterloh), who I coached.”

Osterloh had a successful stint as head coach at Franklin County.

“To see kids who’ve played for you or against you become successful coaches, that maybe they learned a little something from you along the way, that means a lot,” Buffenmyer said.

“I was honored when she asked us to be her last regular-season home match opponent,” Bottom said. “I knew it was going to be a very special night filled with a gamut of emotions. Kristi has meant so much to the volleyball community, so when she asked Woodford County to be part of her special night, the answer was an ecstatic yes.”

Bottom sees little change in Buffenmyer’s coaching style over the years.

“Kristi is as passionate now about volleyball and her players as she was when I played against her teams as a player,” Bottom said. “No matter what my role has been, player or coach, there have always been constants when playing against Western Hills. Her teams are going to be scrappy and will hustle to cover every inch of the playable surface, and they are going to fight for each other to the very last point.

“Matches versus Western Hills will always have high energy and lots of intensity, something Kristi always models in her coaching style. Kristi embodies the spirit of family and has woven that into her program for 25 years making each and every player, even the ones of us who never actually played for her, feel like she is one of Kristi's daughters.”

“As a parent, to see someone invest time in my kids means the world to me,” Senter said. “Parents see that Kristi loves their kids, that she cares about life after volleyball and what kind of women they become.”

That sums up Buffenmyer’s coaching philosophy.

“As a coach, you must be invested in the kids,” Buffenmyer wrote in a program distributed at Thursday’s match. “You cannot demand investment in your program if you are not invested in them outside of the program. If you believe in them, they will believe in themselves.

“I have always wanted to build a culture and atmosphere of respect for all involved, other programs, teams, parents, players, and tried to show the kids how to do that through example.

“Our goal has always been to give kids the tools they need to succeed outside of Western Hills volleyball and high school. My only hope is that has been accomplished.”

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