SCARBOROUGH – When Jon Roberts came to Scarborough three years ago from Connecticut, he never imagined coaching volleyball.

However, just as Roberts was inspired to coach a successful program in Connecticut by his best friend, Matt Hurlock, Roberts, a police officer in Portland, said he took the coaching job at Scarborough to do the same, to help spread the legacy Hurlock had created in Coventry, Conn.

Together, Hurlock and Roberts not only led Coventry High School to the Class S state title four times, they built one of the top girls’ volleyball programs in a volleyball state, often beating teams from larger schools.

Then, last August, just when Roberts started as coach at Scarborough, Hurlock was diagnosed with stage four cancer. In July, he lost that battle.

Now, as Roberts heads into his second year as Scarborough coach, without his friend to turn to for advice, he says he’s a changed coach.

“When I saw the girls on the (Coventry) team at his service, we talked and cried, and the things we talked about was all the good he stood for,” Roberts said, “and the experience we shared through a sport we all loved. It wasn’t about winning.”

Losing Hurlock, he said, gave him a new perspective and a greater love of the game, because it was volleyball that helped them teach their many high school players how to be confident and determined, and how to strive for their best.

The competitive edge from so many titles remains, but Roberts says he’s softened. He wants to enjoy the game, his team, and the process of teaching.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about Matt on the court,” Roberts said. “The girls, without even knowing it, are feeling the influence of his coaching.”

But Roberts’ Red Storm team has noticed the change in their coach — and a new spirit. And the irony is, Roberts’ softer approach isn’t softening his players. They want to play harder for him.

“He told us this year would be different,” said senior captain Amber Bowen. “Last year he was trying to be tough on us, because that’s his way. But this year he said he’d have a more positive outlook. If we messed up, rather than telling us we messed up, he’d tell us what to do better. So far, it’s working.”

Through a new sense of friendship, and his same quiet intensity, Roberts is inspiring his team to believe anything is possible.

“He’s much more positive. There is more of a connection with us as individuals,” said senior setter Emily Robbins.

At a school that has championship banners hanging in the gym for just about every sport except volleyball, many feel the time has come for the Red Storm to have a big year.

“The skill has gone up. Most of us played summer ball,” Robbins said. “Biddeford knows we’re coming after them.”

And the new drive moving through the team is more than the feel-good feeling of friendship. Formerly a team that hoped just to make the tournament, Scarborough now rates as a contender according to many Class A coaches.

“I’ve been watching Scarbor-ough for a long time. I’ve seen them change tremendously, having Jon as their coach. He knows the game, he knows it well. I don’t think he’ll settle for anything but their best. And I think they’re going to give it to him,” said Biddeford Coach Ruth Shaw, whose Tigers won the Class A state title last year.

“He has a knowledge for the game and an intensity for the game, and I’ve watched them for three to four years. There is a different mentality.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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