Carrie Ciesla Thammarath remembers what it was like as an opposing volleyball player at Greenwood having to play at Siloam Springs, taking in what she called an "electrifying" environment, led by a fun student section at Panther Activity Center and having to battle the Lady Panthers on their home floor.
Now Thammarath, only six years removed from her high school playing days, is hoping to be a part of that same dynamic Lady Panthers experience, but this time as the program's head coach.
Thammarath, 23, a former Greenwood and John Brown standout, was hired by the Siloam Springs School Board on Thursday to be the next high school head volleyball coach at Siloam Springs.
"Head coaching always been a dream of mine," Thammarath said Friday afternoon after her first practice with the Lady Panthers. "When I found out (the job) was open and I came up here to interview, I said, 'This is what I want.' What drew me to this job was the definitely the Siloam Springs community, being around it and the support for athletics and kids in general, and developing kids was what I fell in love with in college and I always hoped to come back here."
Thammarath replaces Joellen Wright, who was head coach since 2017 and been in the program since 1995. Wright, who led the Lady Panthers to back-to-back state semifinals in 2017 and 2018, submitted her resignation in December and it was approved by the school board on Jan. 12.
The last four seasons have been tough for the Lady Panthers as they have failed to qualify for the state tournament in each of the four years, including the 2020 covid-19 season.
Siloam Springs athletics director Jeff Williams believes the district made a good hire with Thammarath.
"We feel like Carrie is an up and coming star in the coaching profession," Williams said. "We talked to a lot of people who've been around her. She's dynamic and very organized, from seventh grade up to 12th grade and also with youth leagues. We just feel like she's going to bring some energy to the program and organization and expectation. She's won wherever she's been, been a round a lot of good programs and good people. She's very well respected throughout the volleyball community."
Thammarath brings a championship pedigree from her playing days at Greenwood, where as a setter/hitter she helped the Lady Bulldogs win back-t0-back conference championships and a Class 6A state championship in 2017. She was named Most Valuable Player in the title match with 11 kills and 25 assists. She was a multiple-All-State and All-Conference selection.
In the Lady Bulldogs' state championship season of 2017, Greenwood had to get through a talented Siloam Springs team in the semifinals at H.B. Stewart Bulldog Arena in Greenwood -- a Lady Panthers team that featured her future JBU teammate Ellie Lampton, along with future college players Shaylon Sharp and Chloe Price.
"I've always been someone who likes to push," Thammarath said. "Having a push from Siloam, they were always a team we couldn't count out because they were going to fight."
Greenwood head coach Jennifer Golden feels like Thammarath is ready for the challenge.
"She called me (Thursday) night with the news," Golden said. "When she told me she was getting an interview, we had some good long talks about all facets of what is involved in running a program and I just knew that she was ready to step into a head coaching job. As her former coach, I know first hand the passion and dedication that Carrie will bring to the Siloam Springs program. It will be bittersweet to see her at a rival conference school, but I couldn't be prouder. I have a lot of respect for her abilities and I know she will bring new energy and strategy to the team."
Following her high school career, Thammarath played three seasons at John Brown.
As a freshman in 2018, she split time as a primary setter and recorded 357 assists and had 20 or more assists in a game seven times.
In 2019, she played in 32 matches and finished eighth in the Sooner Athletic Conference with 603 assists and was third in the team with 37 aces along with 197 digs.
The 2020 season was actually played in the spring of 2021 due to the covid-19 pandemic, and Thammarath played in 15 games with 76 assists and 61 digs. That same spring of 2021, she participating in a teaching internship, first at Springdale Central and then at Siloam Springs High School.
"We're excited for her to come back into the area," said JBU coach Ken Carver. "She was a very knowledgeable player that worked hard. I think Siloam Springs hit a home run in the character and person Carrie is, but also what she's going to bring to the table to develop a program."
Following the spring of 2021, Thammarath had an opportunity to graduate early from John Brown and get her first teaching/coaching job at Morrilton, where she was assistant senior high volleyball coach and head seventh-grade coach. She also helped with softball.
She's also coached at Club Velocity, a club volleyball team based out of Greenwood.
Thammarath got to meet with all the coaches and players at Siloam Springs on Friday, the day after being hired.
She said she will finish her contract at Morrilton and travel up to Siloam Springs as often as possible.
"The first thing I want to do is definitely build that competitive energy and the belief that if we work hard and have a no give-up attitude good things will happen, and as good things will happen we will win," she said. "I want to focus on developing that fight. Just watching practice I've seen some skills and fundamentals we can work on."
Thammarath played all six rotations in high school and is familiar with all aspects of the game.
"I've been very fortunate in having an opportunity to play almost all the positions," she said, with the only exception being the libero. "It's given me a unique understanding and being a student of the game and being able to know what it was like in those positions. One thing I really want to do is develop the chemistry but also spend time developing each individual to be really good at their position as well."
Thammarath also hopes to drum up excitement for the Lady Panthers on the court, similar to what she experienced as a visiting player here.
"I remember the support of the student section," she said. "Theme nights were always very invested. You could tell that everyone wanted the team to do well. I loved that. It was a very electrifying environment. As an athlete I remember they would video us (on the jumbo tron). That extra step the school takes to celebrate the game and enjoy the game, the fun of the sport -- it's a very fun environment. I always looked forward to playing here because it's a fun place to play."