It is not often that individuals have opportunities to build something from the ground-up. For Susi Armstrong, that challenge took the form of the volleyball program at West Salem High School.
Susi came to West Salem High in 2002 to help open the school as a physical education teacher and to construct the Titan volleyball program “from scratch”. A former standout volleyballer and track star at Pacific University in Forest Grove herself, Armstrong brought a wealth of experience from her previous jobs at North Bend High School on the southern Oregon coast and, before that, at Gold Beach High.
While at Pacific, Armstrong was a star athlete - named as the outstanding female senior athlete at the school in 1983. She was conference long jump champion her junior and senior year, while holding school records in the 100 and 200 meters, and the long jump. She also placed in the long jump at the NAIA District track meet. Additionally, Susi was the starting outside hitter for the Boxer volleyball program, and was a member of the women’s basketball team for a season. She was inducted into the Pacific University Hall of Fame in 1998.
When it came to establishing the West Salem volleyball program, Armstrong faced an uphill battle to start. She started the first year – 2002 - with just one senior in the program. She also had no assistant coaches to start her August workouts due to a district hiring freeze. She recalls that while it was a struggle, she had some great volunteers to help get the program going.
The popularity of volleyball itself helped to sell the West volleyball program. A few small JV and freshman volleyball tournaments helped to attract new team members as well. Susi’s view on the value of sports includes a long list of benefits, including development of a positive work ethic, learning to win and lose with class, pushing to become better as an individual and a team, and valuing relationships and making memories to last a lifetime.
The Titan team began to become a force in Oregon. Armstrong took two teams to the “elite eight” state tournament—first in 2005 and again in 2006. Susi recalls the 2006 post season vividly. She had just been diagnosed with breast cancer – a malady she successfully battled and defeated. She got the scary medical news as her team prepared to play second-seeded Lincoln of Portland for the right to move on to the state tournament. Her team rallied in five sets to win the match, and went on to finish fifth in state.
Armstrong has no career coaching record to share - saying the records were never important to her. So she never started a tally. She does like to talk about the players she coached who continued to play after their time at West. Those players include Kyley Sexton who competed at San Diego State University, Samantha Ward at Western Oregon, and Paige Whipple—who Susi mentored as a middle schooler—and who had a fine career at the University of Arizona. Armstrong also likes to add in Katie Benson, who was named conference player of the year in 2011 as a libero… a quite unusual, but fitting honor for a player that Susi proudly says could do it all.
Armstrong finally gave up her position as West’s volleyball coach at the conclusion of the 2011 season, continuing on as a PE and health teacher, allowing her time to see her own kids - Andy and Ayle - compete in their own sports. Andy and Ayle were both three-sport athletes at West – Andy participated in football, basketball, and baseball; Ayle was a volleyball player, a swimmer, and a thrower in track and field - before each went on to Oregon State University. Andy played middle infield for legendary Beaver coach Pat Casey before moving on to professional minor league baseball.
Susi finally retired as a teacher in 2021 - completing 38 years in the classroom. She hopes that she will be remembered for her intense drive to compete, the high expectations she set for her athletes, her love for her athletes, and her own strong work ethic. These days, Susi enjoys golfing, walking her dogs, and playing pickleball - all with enthusiasm. Susi Armstrong was a force of nature during her time at West Salem High School, and her presence made the school decidedly better as a result. She unquestionably deserves the title of Beacon.