Akpan takes over for Stone as Ashland volleyball coach

The Class 5A volleyball landscape is a challenging one to grasp given the relative isolation for Ashland and Eagle Point high schools.

That task was turned over to new coaches at both schools Monday, with the Grizzlies promoting assistant coach Robin Akpan to the head position and the Eagles bringing Elizabeth Bilden back into the fold after one season as head coach at Crater High.

Akpan, 30, replaces former Ashland standout Emily Stone, who served one season in the top spot after taking over for Jodee Scott. Formerly Robin Lawrence during her playing days at Ashland, Akpan was an all-conference volleyball player and also played on the softball team. She graduated from Ashland in 1998 and went on to play four years of volleyball at Sonoma State University.

"I'm ecstatic," Akpan said of the promotion. "I'm really looking forward to this and very excited about the opportunity to return to Ashland High School, especially as the head coach and follow in the footsteps of the legacy of the coaches that I have seen and played for at Ashland and gotten a chance to watch and coach with."

While this will be her first turn as a head coach at the high school level, Akpan has an extensive coaching background at the club level dating back to when she was in college, through a stint at the University of Hawaii to the local club scene with Mocan, formerly known as the Southern Oregon Volleyball Club.

"She's a very positive person with high energy who really cares about kids," said Ashland athletic director Karl Kemper. "The bar's pretty high for the history of this program. There's some new challenges with our current (Oregon School Activities Association) setup, but she's going to treat kids right and they're going to have a positive experience and grow as people with her as the coach."

The Grizzlies sported a 10-5 overall record last season, including a 7-3 run against the Class 6A Southern Oregon Hybrid teams. Ashland won the 5A SOH division by securing a better final power ranking than Eagle Point, which split the two-game season series with the Grizzlies.

"We have a wonderful group of girls coming back," said Akpan, who returned to Ashland in 2006 with her husband and two children. "I'm excited to take what they have now and build with it and really kinda help them dream a little bit and work toward their goals in that realm essentially. I think we're going to have a great year."

"We're pushing to inspire these girls, give them vision and help them plan their goals and then guide them and give them the tools to achieve those in their future," she added.

Bilden, a 2006 EPHS graduate, was an assistant coach at her alma mater for three seasons before assuming her first head coaching position last year with the Comets. Crater sported an 8-8 overall record, going 5-5 against Class 6A SOH opponents.

"I'm happy to be where I played and started my coaching career," said Bilden, 22. "Although I loved Crater and the opportunity I had there, it was too much to pass up coaching at my alma mater."

The 2010 Southern Oregon University graduate has been highly involved with the North Jackson Volleyball Club since 2006, coaching the 14-and-under and 12-and-under divisions.

"It's very exciting to be able to come back and to coach these athletes that I've started with since they were essentially in middle school," said Bilden.

Bilden will continue teaching math and health at Prospect Charter School.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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