Lewistown coach Tara Taylor encourages the Eagles against Whitefish at the Class A state volleyball tournament in Bozeman in 2016. (SLIM KIMMEL/MTN Sports)

LEWISTOWN — For the first time in nearly two decades, the Lewistown Golden Eagles’ volleyball program is searching for a new head coach.

Lewistown athletic director Jim Daniels sent a press release last week, indicating longtime coach Tara Taylor has submitted her resignation from the volleyball program, effective at the end of the school year.

“We sure hate to lose her, it’s a very tough one,” said Daniels. “Her 22 years here, 16 as the head coach, she’s done an excellent job.”

“It was difficult to walk away from something I love and have such a passion for,” Taylor told MTN Sports. “My profession while coaching has been as a case management social worker/supervisor, traveling a seven-county region while also being employed with a couple different hospital organizations during my coaching career. Aligning both schedules to accommodate practice times, matches, travel for both, attend meetings at school, meet my professional 40 hours per week obligations, and so on, that was very challenging.

“It took an immense amount of organization and dedication of myself as well as cooperation by work staff and coaching staff alike, as well as the players. It also resulted in me taking personal time off from work to run summer camps, make some regular-season matches when travel required it, as well as tournament time. Still, it was a sacrifice and choice I was willing to make to do something I loved.”

Taylor spent 22 seasons with the Eagles’ program, including the past 16 as head coach. Her varsity teams compiled an impressive record of 333 wins with only 119 losses. Lewistown went 127-17 in conference play, dominating the Central A conference and winning 10 divisional titles.

Taylor also guided the program to five Class A state championships, winning Montana’s top prize in 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011. The five state championships are tied for No. 4 in Montana history, behind powers Billings Senior, Huntley Project and Bridger. Roundup also owns five state championships. Taylor is one of only a handful of Montana prep volleyball coaches to win at least two consecutive titles.

“The most difficult realization is that I’m not going to be around the kids. (I won’t be) competing. Not being able to teach them the great game of volleyball and lifelong lessons that can also be taught through team sports and competition,” said Taylor.

“There are so many cherished memories I’ll be taking with me,” she continued. “Every time I hear the ‘Party Rock’ song I think of our 2011 team, their cohesiveness and their pre-match dance routine. Our divisional championship in 2013 over Belgrade in a second championship showed true character of that team, especially after losing in five sets, a 19-21 set No. 5 of an earlier match with Belgrade. We won the last two matches in five sets, as well, after losing a key senior outside hitter to a season-ending injury. It was a total team effort, with determination and hard work, aided by a large Golden Eagle fan base that day. Also, being able to coach my two nieces this past season was special. Each state championship has its own special place and memories with me, as well. Not every season ended as you had hoped, but each season had its own journey, own uniqueness, lessons along the way, and I’m grateful I was able to be a part of that journey each year, regardless of the outcome, as it provided me an opportunity to positively impact young female student-athletes.”

Taylor said “coaching high school sports is demanding” and noted it has “grown into a year-round dedication.” She admitted it has become a greater challenge to keep student-athletes participating throughout the calendar year, while the demanding schedule is also taxing on coaches.

Despite conflicts in schedules, exhausting days split between working and coaching, Taylor became one of the most well-respected coaches in Montana, beginning with her junior varsity program that went 95-25 in six seasons. Dozens of athletes enjoyed all-conference and all-state status, as well as the more important academic honors, under her tutelage.

“I would define my career as successful, humbling, meaningful, impactful and a career of lifelong relationships and bonds formed with players, coaches and others associated with the game of volleyball,” Taylor said. “It was a great 22 years and I’m grateful for all the opportunities afforded myself during this time.”