Chatham Head Women’s Volleyball Coach Dylan Lasher has always been a cat. In elementary school, he was a Tiger. In high school, a Bobcat. At Thiel College, he was a Tomcat. He played for their volleyball team, but it was as assistant student coach for Thiel’s women’s team that he saw the Chatham Cougars in action.
“Every time I saw them play, they were always having fun,” Dylan said. “They had a clear passion for the game and for each other. At the time, the program was struggling a little bit, and I remember thinking that I’d love to jump in and see if I could help out with things.”
He got his chance. Dylan saw an advertisement for an assistant coach position at Chatham, and sent in his application. When he didn’t hear back in a few days, he came down to the Athletic and Fitness Center to hand in his resume in person. If it was his initiative that got him the job, his sterling volleyball pedigree (he’s been playing competitively since 9th grade and comes from a family of competitive players) and coaching experience (five years plus an academic minor in coaching at Thiel) didn’t hurt.
In 2015, the year Dylan came on as assistant coach, Chatham’s women’s volleyball team won one game and lost 30. In February 2016, he was promoted to head coach, and was determined to improve the team’s record. One strategy, of course, is recruitment. And there is one player whose game he knows very, very well.
Justyne Lasher ’20 remembers her first season of playing competitive volleyball. She was in 7th grade. “I served out of bounds long-ways, which was really exciting, because at that age, you’re just trying to get it over the net,” she says. “It was very exciting to feel that power.”
Justyne tamed her serve while retaining her power: in high school, she was a two-time first-team All-WPIAL outside hitter. She drew the attention of college recruiters, including her older brother. Justyne was drawn to Chatham for a number of reasons, including the chance to play volleyball, but felt some trepidation.
“At first I was nervous coming here,” she says. “My mom was my coach in high school, so I had to deal with that whole ‘you’re only playing because your mom’s the coach’. Then me and my sister (Kenzie, 17) played on the same team, and we proved that we do deserve to play—we ended up winning WPIALs that year. But people at Chatham didn’t know how I play, so I was worried that the whole thing would happen again. Personally, I feel like Dylan would bench me before he would want to play me!”
Today, Justyne is a second-year student at Chatham. She lives in Fickes Residence Hall and is pursuing a criminology major while also taking classes toward an associate in science degree in aviation technology at Community College of Allegheny College. Her dream is to become an airline pilot. She hopes to work for Delta, and eventually for FedEx or UPS, flying international routes. In addition to playing volleyball, she runs track in the spring, and is the DJ for the women’s ice hockey team.
With Justyne on board, the Cougars’ game picked up in 2016. Their record was 8 and 23, and they beat Thiel and St. Vincent for the first time in Chatham’s history. But it was in 2017 that things got crazy. “We were struggling a little bit at the beginning of the season”, says Dylan. “We had a good opening tournament but dropped our first four conference matches. But our Geneva match—beating them 3-2 on their home court—turned everything around.” Sophomore outside hitter Justyne Lasher exploded for a match-high 22 kills and provided 19 digs, three total blocks and two aces, is what the Chatham Athletics website had to say about that game. Justyne was named Cougar of the Week.
“They were a team that didn’t know their potential. They knew how to play volleyball, but they didn’t know how good they are. They still don’t.” – Coach Dylan Lasher
“The team connected; they were feeling good; they were finally looking like a team that wasn’t a young team anymore,” says Dylan. “They were looking powerful, quick, smart, and it hit there and just continued from there.” After Geneva, the Cougars went on to win their next six games. On October 21, they beat Grove City, clinching their spot in the playoffs. Justyne lead the attack with 16 kills.
On Halloween, the Cougars played Bethany College for the PAC quarterfinals. “That match was the craziest thing they could have experienced,” says Dylan. “I’m so glad they got to experience what it is to be in playoffs. You get butterflies. it’s do or die. You’re three matches away from taking the conference championship and it gives you a bid into the NCAA tournament. Playoffs is why you play the game—seeing how far you can go and how hard you can work. It’s a completely different game.”
The Cougars lost that game, and their season was over. They ended it 17-11. They had beaten Geneva, Bethany, and Grove City for the first time in Chatham history. Dylan won PAC Coach of the Year.
“That playoff game lit a fire under them,” says Dylan. “Now they’re hyped up; they want to compete for that conference championship; they know that they have the talent. It’s all confidence. As soon as these wins started happening, it started changing their mentality. We’re the new faces for Chatham volleyball. We want to keep going and keep building on this.”
And coach and one of his star players being brother and sister? They’d both tell you, in the common parlance, that it’s not a thing.
“Everyone says it must be so weird, but it’s really not,” says Dylan. “Me and Jus have had a solid brother-sister bond since (pause) ever, and we’re both super passionate about volleyball. She respects me and respects my play, and same to her. She’s killed it in the past two years here.”
“At the time I don’t look at him and think ‘yeah, that’s my bro’”, agrees Justyne. “We’re there to learn volleyball and get better at it, so we just don’t think about it. The team itself says that for the most part they forget we’re related.”
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