Back in the day, there was a time when Hailey’s Wood River High School was the most feared juggernaut in Idaho prep volleyball—before the reigns of programs like Preston and St. Maries.
The Idaho High School Activities Association (IHSAA) started sanctioning volleyball and staging state tournaments for the first time in 1976.
One year later, with the sport still in its infancy in Idaho, Wood River captured the first of two consecutive State Class A tournaments. They were that good, despite being a Class B classification school based on student population.
Those two state championship teams have been ushered into the inaugural class of the Wood River High Hall of Fame.
In 1977, Wood River finished 18-1 and outscored its opponents 600-377 in points. The Wolverines won all 10 of their tournament matches that year.
Suddenly the favored team, Wood River did even better with a target on its back in 1978. The Wolverines finished 24-1, outscored opponents 803-465, won 50 of their 55 games and took all nine of their tournament matches including six at the State Class A meet.
At one point straddling the 1977 and 1978 seasons, Wood River won 28 straight matches. The Wolverines lost once to Jerome during the 1977 season, and once at Meridian in 1978 by a 15-13, 14-16, 15-11 score.
They did it with a new coach who had to be introduced to the 6-0 offense common in California.
Conducting the lessons, day by day, practice by practice and match by match, was a group of four Wolverines who had migrated from the beaches of Corona Del Mar, Ca., to Hailey prior to the 1977 season.
Dave Neumann was the coach. He learned quickly from the Californians—three sisters named Teri, Patti and Toni Moore, and a friend named Maria DeLorenzo who was glue holding it together.
Neumann said after the 1977 state tournament win, “The girls from California brought a competitive attitude and passed it along to the other girls. I was apprehensive at first about the 6-0 attack, but I saw it kept the girls moving.”
Wood River played a disciplined finesse game that unraveled its opponents. Neumann said, “We tried to control the pace to get passes to the front line and make the opposition play our game.”
The 1977 State Class A tournament was played at Meridian High School. On the first day, the Wolverines upset hometown favorite Meridian and also beat Kuna and Highland of Pocatello to advance.
After that first day, Meridian coach Hugo Jacobsmeyer was a believer. He said, “Wood River just wears you down with their style of play. I think they are the best team here, strong and disciplined.”
The final day was a four-team double elimination. Wood River opened beating Vallivue of Caldwell 15-3, 15-13 and stayed unbeaten 15-9, 15-9 over Sandpoint, with Jill Peterson playing a major role at the end against Sandpoint.
Sandpoint earned another shot at Wood River in the championship match and handled the Wolverines 15-11 in the first game, despite the hustling, never-say die efforts of Hailey senior co-captain and four-sport star Lori Hazen.
Wood River regrouped, built early leads and won the final two games 15-12, 15-9. Co-captain was senior Tracy Thorpe. Jonna Newcomb also played a role along with the Moore sisters and DeLorenzo.
Compared to 1977, Wood River breezed to victory in 1978. At Meridian in 1977, Wood River won six tournament matches. In three of them, the best-of-three games format was extended to a pivotal third game.
Over in Blackfoot during 1978 state competition, Wood River also won six matches, but only the semi-final match against arch-rival Meridian went to a decisive third match.
Senior co-captain Jonna Newcomb said, “There was a lot more pressure on us this year. People expected us to win. It wasn’t as exciting winning this year as it was last year, but it was satisfying.”
Wood River principal Phil Homer, always an enthusiastic supporter of Wolverine teams wherever they played, was in Blackfoot for the final day of the 1978 state tournament.
He said before the championship match against Sandpoint, “Winning the state championship is really something. If we win state twice in a row, that could be an accomplishment—real hard to do.”
On the first day at Blackfoot, Wood River beat Sandpoint 16-14, 15-8, won over Vallivue 15-11, 15-13 and crunched Highland 15-4, 15-9.
In Saturday’s 1978 state playoffs, the confident Wolverines beat Skyline of Idaho Falls 15-7, 15-5, survived 15-13, 11-15, 15-13 over Meridian and handled Sandpoint 15-9, 15-7 in the final. Co-captains were Jonna Newcomb and Mary Beth Prodromides, with DeLorenzo and Toni Moore playing major roles in the title match.
Fortunately Wood River got to Sandpoint before the Bulldogs won their first of 14 state championships in 1980.
Coach Neumann parlayed his success with the 1977-78 Wolverine teams into an excellent career of over 30 years in Idaho education and athletics.
A California native, Neumann graduated from the University of Idaho and taught in Juneau, Alaska for a year before settling down in Hailey as a Wood River High School multi-occupational program teacher during the 1976-77 year.
Neumann, who never played competitive volleyball, also coached the high school junior varsity volleyball team for a year, before taking over the head job in 1977. He was 24 years old at the time.
He compiled a 243-97 (.715 winning percentage) record as Wood River’s volleyball coach for 13 seasons from 1977-89, including 10 district championships and trips to the state tournament in 12 years.
Neumann continued as an administrator at Wood River before ending his 17-year stint in Hailey and heading north.
Hired as principal at Genesee High School in 1992, Neumann also became the volleyball coach at the small school, and won three additional state championships—two straight in State 1A in 2000-01, and a third in 1A Division 1 in 2009.
Neumann was also Superintendent of Schools in Genesee and became active in Idaho High School Activities Association administration—serving on the 2nd District board.
He received an IHSAA Distinguished Service Award and, in 2016, was one of three persons inducted that year into the IHSAA Hall of Fame.