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RIO RANCHO, N.M. — There’s an old saying in sports, that coaches are hired to be fired.
Brian Ainsworth, hired away from Pojoaque High School in 2012 to win championships at Cleveland High — and, please, bring your talented daughter Briana — said he never saw this coming: He’s no longer the volleyball coach at Cleveland High School.
Neither did his chief rival on the court, Rio Rancho High School coach Toby Manzanares.
“He’s a very good coach; a very good tactician,” Manzanares said. “He’s always (got his teams) prepared night in and night out — it’s a really good coach not to have in the coaching ranks.”
Although CHS Principal Scott Affentranger and the school’s athletic director, Matt Martinez, didn’t respond to the Observer’s email seeking information on Ainsworth’s dismissal, the district’s AD did.
“It’s never easy to make a change and never a right time to make a change,” RRPS Athletics Director Larry Chavez said, adding he wasn’t at liberty to say anything else.
Ainsworth, a former Clovis High and New Mexico Highlands University record-setting quarterback, was 107-76 in eight seasons with the Storm.
He took Cleveland to the championship match in his first season (2012) and brought the blue trophy home. A year earlier, the Storm had finished second. The Storm returned to the championship matches in 2013 and 2015, but settled for second.
“I got a summons from Scott’s office a week ago Thursday, ‘Please come by my office; I want to talk about the volleyball program,'” Ainsworth said. “No problem. I walked in there and saw Matt, Vicki (McCarty, an assistant principal) and Scott.
“‘There’s no easy way to say this; we want to go in a different direction,’ Scott said. “Wow, can you let me know why? … Please, you can get a different coach, but don’t go in a different direction. We made sure these ladies were ready for the future.
“There was no eye contact. … He just said, ‘We want to make some changes in the girls programs.’ ‘Was it anything I did — anything?’ I said. To this date, I don’t know why — I don’t know what caused it,” Ainsworth said. “It was one of those things that was very weird to me. I thought the program was headed in the right direction; we had only one losing season.
“Last year, we had a great year (17-10) — we were very, very competitive,” he said.
Plus, he said, his spikers were no slouch in the classroom: “Last year, the whole program had a 3.4 GPA; the varsity’s was 3.5.”
Thus, after an appearance at last November’s state tournament, where a 3-2 loss to district foe Cibola was all that kept the Storm out of the final four, “I was honestly caught off-guard,” Ainsworth said.
“In coaching, you’re not just a coach — you’re a counselor, additional parent — and you talk these kids through the difficult times in their lives. I’m very disappointed in how it was handled, but what were the reasons?” he asked. “I donated all my time to go help during seventh period — for offseason stuff. I didn’t get compensated for it, but donated my time.
“It can’t be anything related to volleyball,” Ainsworth affirmed. “I’m baffled; I’m puzzled. The kids are devastated — the program’s got a good bunch; we return some key components, and need a setter and two hitters. We were definitely going to be one of the teams to be reckoned with.”
Manzanares said he was shocked to hear of his buddy’s dismissal.
“I’m shocked that it happened; the timing of it’s kinda weird, too,” Manzanares said. “He called and told me and we talked for about 30 minutes.
“Obviously, we’ve become good friends through our association within our respective programs… We’ve done a great job in my estimation of cooperating in enhancing both volleyball programs — summer camps, sixth-grade metro league, our spring series. The grassroots level is important for any volleyball program,” Manzanares said.
“Toby and I donate all our time — two nights a week — to get the feeder programs,” Ainsworth echoed, noting there were about 100 youngsters attending, hoping someday to play for the Storm or the Rams.
The state championship was naturally one of the highlights, Ainsworth said, but “One of the things I enjoyed was working with the kids. I still love to compete, get out there and strategize.”
Between Ainsworth and Manzanares, their programs raised more than $100,000 from the annual “Dig Pink” breast cancer research fundraising matches, “and all that money went directly to people in our community.
“We represented Cleveland real well,” Ainsworth added. “During this season, we had a mandatory study hall — and never had any of our kids ineligible. Coaching my daughter to another state title is something I was proud of. There are tons of highlights we can be proud of.”
But that’s the past, and now his present is shaken.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” Ainsworth said, adding he’ll do a lot of thinking over the next few weeks.