PILOT ROCK — Three Pilot Rock coaches are about to take on their first-ever high school head coaching gigs.
Starting this fall, Danielle Baleztena will take over the varsity volleyball program, while Tyler Zyph and AmyLee Perrine are set to helm the boys and girls basketball teams in the winter, respectively. Zyph will also head the Rockets’ cross-country team.
Baleztena replaces Elainna Howland, who held the position for seven seasons. Zyph is taking over for former boys basketball coach Eric Smidt, and Perrine is stepping in for Dan Deist. Both Smidt and Perrine guided the Rockets on the court for two seasons.
The new coaching trio was officially hired in the spring after the most recent basketball season came to a close.
“Right after the season ended, we had some changes that were being made,” Rockets Athletic Director TJ Presley said. “We did a big search.”
Zyph had previously coached at Clara Brownell Middle School in Umatilla. He also has experience teaching physical education and health.
“Tyler is coming to us with experience as a teacher,” Presley said. “He’s a very versatile coach.”
Born and raised in Pendleton, Zyph attended college at Blue Mountain, Lane, and Eastern Oregon University. As a Mountaineer, he earned his Masters in Teaching before taking his first job at Clara Brownell. He held the job for three years before making the move to Pilot Rock.
“(Pilot Rock) is a lot closer to my family,” he said, “so, I just thought it’d be a better move to come back home. The coaching opportunity is definitely the cherry on top.”
The Rockets are coming off a season where they went 3-19 overall and 2-10 in the Blue Mountain Conference.
“As soon as I got hired, my main thing was that I wanted to meet the kids,” Zyph said. “Being local, I’ve seen Pilot Rock play. I knew what kind of kids I was going to receive. I wanted to get their pros and cons of the last season.”
Zyph got the ball rolling right away. He formed a summer basketball league, opening the gym for potential varsity Rockets to come and play.
“A bunch of guys stepped up,” Zyph said. “I wanted us to get to know each other, and to get familiar with the offensive things we plan on doing. Hopefully, we’ll start something more structured. We hit the ground running.”
For help, Zyph didn’t have to look far. This winter, he’s enlisting his father Bill as an assistant coach. Bill, Zyph said, has a few years of college experience under his belt.
“It’s a dream come true to coach with him,” Zyph said. “The kids bought into what’s going on. They’re excited. I’m getting messages every day about going over stuff and getting extra shots. I’m very confident in them and in myself. I want to provide new blood, new opportunities, and a new face.”
Baleztena is following a season in which the Rockets’ volleyball team finished fifth of seven in the BMC standings.
“We’re going to improve the morale of volleyball in Pilot Rock,” she said. “We’ve been in a slump for a long time. We’re just going to have to start winning and get lots of people involved. When I came to these high school games, I’d only see about 10 people in the stands. I want to fill those stands again.”
A BMCC graduate, Baleztena’s history is rooted in Pilot Rock. She played on the volleyball team for her freshman and senior years. Her husband Mike coaches the football team. Her daughter Bre plays basketball, and her son Bryson runs track. She’s also coached volleyball and girls basketball for the Rockets at the junior high level for a decade.
“When I applied for the (high school coaching) position, I was scared to death,” Baleztena said. “I’d been in the junior high bubble for 10 years. I had a lot of people encourage me, and I said, ‘OK, we’ll bite it off and do it.’”
Perrine is taking over for a girls basketball program that went 8-14 overall and 2-10 in conference action last year. A 2015 Corbin University graduate, she brings a lifetime of basketball experience, two years of junior high coaching, and varsity assistant coaching to the table.
“My expectations for Rockets basketball is set high,” she said. “I want to bring that back. I want other teams to have to prepare for us.”
Like Baleztena, Perrine was hesitant to lead the program, but the support of her hometown gave her the push she needed.
“I think we can both say that our town is really supportive,” Perrine said. “It’s nice to have that. People I didn’t even know in town were congratulating us.”
Perrine also teaches high school science and leadership for the Rockets.
“AmyLee has been a really huge part of our basketball program,” Presley said. “She’s super knowledgeable and has a good rapport with our kids. We’re very optimistic and excited to have some new faces on our staff. They’re bringing a lot of positive energy that we’re looking for in our department.”
It will be a few months until fans get to see Zyph and Perrine courtside, but the Rockets volleyball season kicks off on Thursday, Aug. 29 with a nonleague match at Helix. Their first home showing is set for Tuesday, Sept. 3 against Imbler at 6:30 p.m.