Rich Meyer called the Unity volleyball players "sponges" for the way they soaked in all the coaching and information he provided.
The veteran coach had to soak everything in first.
Hired last summer to take over the Unity program -- it was Meyer's fourth different school he'd coached at in Adams County in a 35-year career -- Meyer had to see how fundamentally sound the Mustangs were. So he started out observing and critiquing without doing much coaching.
"We had to do a lot of surveying and see which kids fit into what spots," said Meyer, who has more than 800 career victories. "The kids there were receptive to that and showed me they wanted to play. We could see they had some fundamentals and needed to buy into the right team concept."
Once they did, the Mustangs found their stride.
Unity won a Class 1A regional championship, the 13th in program history and first since 2012, as Meyer shuffled the deck, introduced players to new positions and developed team chemistry that couldn't be broken. It's why he's earned Herald-Whig Coach of the Year honors for the fourth time in his career and with his third different program.
"We knew he had a lot experience and knew he could teach us a lot about the game," Unity senior middle hitter Krista Schrader said. "Whenever we brought energy, it made him have energy. So we always tried our best during practice and during games to make him happy."
Giving him energy became the goal when the Mustangs learned Meyer was battling stage 4 bone cancer.
The players made t-shirts that bore a saying reminding Meyer since he provided them guidance they would always be in his corner. They unveiled during a late-season practice.
"We walked up to him with all of us wearing them, and he started crying," Schrader said. "It was so sweet."
Meyer didn't hide his pain or his struggle from his players. On days he felt more pain or couldn't lift things, the players set up the net or other equipment and took charge of doing any extra work to lessen Meyer's load.
"You could tell during practice when he felt pain," Schrader said. "So it became our goal to make him feel better."
Adapting to what he wanted to do was the No. 1 thing.
"We set up a new offense, a new defense and they bought into it," Meyer said. "We had to teach them we wanted to run an offense that didn't rely on one hitter or one or two attackers. It relies on everybody to do their job. They were able to see that and do that."
It created higher expectations.
"We got a lot better, and he kept reminding us if we kept pushing we would get better and better," Schrader said. "When I felt I couldn't reach my goals, he always supported me and kept me going. I want to thank him for helping me reach my potential."
He did that for everyone.
"Coach Meyer was definitely an inspiration for my teammates as well as myself," Schrader said. "He was a role model and led by example for us."