skip navigation

Meet The Staff

Bear Grassl -Club Director/ Head Coach 18 Mizuno

Coach Bear Grassl returns to Empire Volleyball Club for his 26th year as a coach, and Co-Director for the top club in the North Bay area.

In his tenure with Empire, Bear has coached at all levels of the program. His 18 Mizuno teams have been perennial fixtures in the NCVA Gold Division since he began coaching at the 18’s level.  Bear’s teams have finished in the top five in the region for nine years running. 

This year Coach Grassl returned for his 16th year as the head coach of the Sonoma State University volleyball program in 2017.

The four-time CCAA Coach of the Year has registered an overall record 276-154 in 15 seasons at the helm of the SSU program, including an incredible 198-70 record in the last nine years.

Last season in 2016, Sonoma State went 15-12 and finished second in the CCAA North Division standings with a 12-6 mark, but the Seawolves missed the NCAA tournament, ending an eight-year streak of appearing in the national postseason event.

In 2015, the CCAA Coach of the Year guided the Seawolves to their second straight CCAA title, their first CCAA Tournament championship in the conference's inaugural postseason event, and an appearance in the NCAA Division II Volleyball Championship Tournament for the eighth straight season, compiling a program-best 26-4 record.

In 2014, Grassl took the program to new heights, capturing the CCAA title for the first time in Sonoma State history and becoming the first team other than Cal State San Bernardino in nine seasons to win the CCAA banner.  The Seawolves continued on to the NCAA West Regional in Nampa, Idaho as the No. 7 seed, and after upsetting No. 2 Alaska Anchorage and No. 6 Cal State San Bernardino in the first two rounds, they captured the regional championship after a 3-1 win over No. 8 seed Dixie State to advance to the NCAA Division II Championships in Louisville, Ky.  Despite taking a 2-0 lead over Southwest Minnesota State in the national quarterfinal, Grassl and company saw their magical season come to an end after losing the next three sets in heartbreaking fashion.

The Seawolves, however, placed two of their players on the All-America Team, including the 2014 CCAA Most Valuable Player, senior Kelsey Hull, and the 2013 CCAA Most Valuable Player, junior Caylie Seitz.  Hull was also later named the 2014-15 CCAA Female Athlete of the Year despite missing the first six games of the 2014 season due to injury.  She finished the year with the fourth-most kills per set (3.67) and points per set (4.38) in the conference while leading the CCAA in service aces with 40 (an average of 0.46 per set).  Defensively, she recorded the third-most digs on the team with 289 (an average of 3.32 per set), to go along with 37 total blocks (0.43 blocks/set) and a .943 serve reception percentage.

In 2013, Grassl led the Seawolves to their most-ever wins in a season, sporting a 26-6 record, including an 18-4 mark in CCAA matches.  Sharing CCAA Co-Coach of the Year honors with longtime Cal State San Bernardino coach Kim Cherniss, Grassl guided Sonoma State to just its third NCAA postseason victory in the team's history with a 3-0 triumph over Western Washington in the first round of the 2013 NCAA tournament, but the Seawolves would see their record-breaking year come to an end with a 3-0 loss to Cherniss' Coyotes in the regional semifinal.

Also in 2013, Grassl coached the program's first CCAA Most Valuable Player in sophomore outside hitter Caylie Seitz, who led all outside hitters in the west region with a .330 hitting percentage and ranked among the top five in the CCAA in kills (443) and points per set (4.3).  She also ranked eighth among outside hitters in the nation in hitting percentage and 16th in the nation in kills per set.  Her 443 kills also broke the SSU sophomore kills record of 401 that was set in 2009.  Seitz, along with three of her teammates -- Kelsey Hull, Madelyn Densberger and Hayley Ross -- earned AVCA All-American recognition in 2013, the most in program history.

The 2009 Seawolves got out to the best start in program history, winning their first 11 matches on their way to a 23-8 overall record and their highest national ranking ever. Led by a core group of local players and a roster that featured a pair of All-Americans, the Seawolves advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year, where they were upset by Cal State L.A..

The Seawolves then burst on to the scene in 2008 when they won 14 of their first 15 matches. As the season went on, Sonoma State stayed close in the CCAA title race but went 9-5 the rest of the season and finished tied for second in the conference (15-5). However, the Seawolves had a stellar home record, going 14-1 on the hardwood of the Seawolf Gym. Sonoma State also appeared in the NCAA Division II West Regional Tournament for the first time since 1993 but a first-round loss to conference-foe Chico State knocked the Seawolves out of national title contention.

Grassl took the reigns in 2002 and led the Seawolves to a 15-14 record. He repeated the feat in 2003 (15-14) and then went 14-12 in ‘04. In 2005 and 2006, the Seawolves struggled in the win column playing in the tough California Collegiate Athletic Association with a young squad.

In 15 seasons at Sonoma State, Grassl has coached 18 All-Americans and countless All-Conference and All-Region performers.

In addition to his success on the court, Grassl's teams have also displayed exceptional effort in the classroom in recent years, earning numerous Academic All-District honors, among other prestigious scholastic awards.  In 2011, one of his players (Keala Peterson) earned the nation's top scholastic honor -- the Capital One Academic All-America of the Year Award -- as well as the CCAA's Female Scholar Athlete of the Year honor.

A 1991 graduate of Sonoma State, Grassl was head coach at El Molino High School from 1992-2001. During that span, he guided the Lions to six Sonoma County League championships, seven North Coast Section titles, five Northern California championships and one California state championship, in 1999. His career coaching mark at El Molino was an impressive 267-78.

Kathy O’Neil -Club Director- Head Coach 16 Mizuno

Kathy has a long history with the sport of volleyball. Kathy started coaching a high school varsity team immediately after finishing her collegiate career. Kathy began coaching club volleyball with Empire soon after in 1992 and has since been involved in all aspects of running the club. She currently serves as club Co-Director.

Kathy has been with the top Empire 16 and under team since 1997. She has led her teams to the NCVA Gold division every season of her tenure. On the national scene, Kathy’s teams have had multiple Championship bracket finishes at the Volleyball Festival National Championships and at the AAU National Championships. Her teams have earned Junior Olympic and Junior Nationals bids. She has trained numerous All-American and Fab 50’s athletes. Kathy has coached with USA Volleyball in the High Performance Program since 2000.  

She has been on the staff of several top collegiate camp programs and has worked with the Olympic Festival organization as well as the regional High Performance program. Kathy is CAP (Coaching Accreditation Program) certified through USA Volleyball. Kathy is a Professor at Santa Rosa Junior College in the Communication Studies Department.

Bob O’Neil -Assistant Club Director -16 Mizuno Assistant Coach

Bob has been on the staff of Empire for the past sixteen years – but his coaching career spans over forty years! In addition to volleyball, Bob has expertise coaching basketball and track. Bob serves as the Director of our non-profit foundation providing opportunities for fundraising activities for our athletes. Bob is also in charge of all of the Empire Wear and club uniforms. Bob has served as a camp coach for elite collegiate programs including Stanford University.

He has been part of the USA staff at Junior National and Youth National team tryouts. Bob has Co-Coached the top Empire 16 and Under team with Kathy O’Neil since 1997 with great success. Prior to his retirement Bob was a career educator in the Sonoma Valley Unified District serving as Department Chair for Physical Education and as school Activities Director.  Bob has been on the Varsity coaching staff at Sonoma Valley High School, Analy High School, and Maria Carillo High School.

Daryl Kapis -Technical Coordinator, Assistant Club Director, Director of Empire Juniors Programs

Daryl has coached at the collegiate level for 18 years and in 2017 he is on staff with Sonoma State.  In 2016 he was on staff at the University of San Francisco as an assistant coach, but continues to teach in the Kinesiology Department.   

Prior to moving back home to the Bay Area in 2016 he was the Head Coach and Assistant Athletic Director at perennial power Division II Hawaii Pacific University located in Honolulu, Hawaii for ten years. Kapis' highlights include coaching two All-Americans at the middle and libero position, and also leading his team to set the defensive record per set for Division II with 20.33 digs per set. He also led the strength and conditioning program for his players and served as the head coach for the beach volleyball club team. 

Before he packed his bags and moved to Hawaii he was the Head Volleyball Coach at San Jose City College where he led his team to its first and only State Championship tournament appearance in 2005 where his team went 25-6 and finished 5th in the state.   Daryl has also coached at the Division I level making stops at UCLA, San Jose State and the University of San Francisco. 

USA Volleyball recognized Daryl's potential back in 1999 and, since that time, Daryl has worked at all levels of the USA Youth and Junior National pipeline programs. Most recently this past summer his team received a Gold Medal at the A2 camp and tournament in Colorado Springs. 

Daryl has an impressive record of success in club volleyball as both an administrator and a coach.  Daryl has locally worked with Vision, City Beach, Yahoo,  and Golden Bear.  In Hawaii Daryl was affiliated with Jammers Volleyball Club and with the Junior Jammers clinics for young aspiring players. In 2002 he took his 17's team to a 5th place finish in the Open Division of Junior Nationals. 

As a high school coach Daryl coached at Archbishop Mitty High School for three years and assisted in taking the team to the Division I State Championships, and two strong runs into the Northern California State playoffs.   Daryl was the Head Varsity Volleyball Coach at his alma mater at Aptos High School taking them to a shared Santa Cruz Athletic League title, and a run into the CCS playoffs. 

Daryl is a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, along with being a certified power lifting Instructor.  Daryl has had multiple articles published in Performance Conditioning for Volleyball.  Daryl was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Archbishop Mitty High School for six years, and prior to that he interned at Stanford University where he assisted with the strength and conditioning of the Men's and Women's Volleyball programs.  

Daryl earned his bachelor's degree from San Francisco State University and a master's from Saint Mary's of Moraga, in the Kinesiology field.   He has taught at University of San Francisco, San Jose State, San Jose City College, Mission College as well as Archbishop Mitty and Aptos High School. 

Daryl is the Director of the Empire Juniors Volleyball clinics which will be working on teaching volleyball fundamentals to boys and girls ages 7-12. 

Michaela Ebben - Head Coach 17 Mizuno

Michaela came up through the Empire program and made her mark as a prep athlete. She accepted a volleyball scholarship to the University of Arizona, competing for the Wildcats as a top collegiate player. Michaela has coached across the age groups at Empire over the years, being utilized by many staffers for her setting expertise. Michaela is currently the Assistant Coach at Sonoma State University.

Andrea Barnes - Head Coach 16-Black

Andrea Barnes is in her third season with Empire in the under 16s and 15s programs.  Andrea Barnes has been involved with volleyball as a player and coach for over 10 years.

Coach Barnes played 3 seasons at Sonoma State, both offense and defense positions and 4 years of club.

Andrea is a graduate of Union Mine High School where she was part of the 2011 CIF state championship team. Andrea’s passion for the game of volleyball is evident as you will usually find her on a court playing indoor, grass and beach volleyball. Andrea has been a part of Empire Volleyball since 2014, along with assistant coaching the Sonoma State Mens Volleyball Team. She is also a coach at Petaluma High School. Andrea is in her 4th year at Sonoma State University in the Environmental Studies program with a graduation date set for 2019.

David Irving - Assistant Coach 16-Black

David Irving joins us after spending time in his hometown of Chico. At Chico State, he worked as an assistant coach and statistical analyst for the  Women’s Volleyball team. Before coaching for the wildcats David spent a year as an assistant volleyball coach and strength and conditioning coach at Butte College for the 2012 season. Prior to coaching at Butte, he attended Azusa Pacific University (APU) where he received his bachelors in Physical Education. In 2011 Irving coached the APU women’s club team. David has spent his last two summers coaching volleyball camps around the country (California, Arizona, Oregon, Nebraska, and Michigan) with Gold Medal Squared. 

David is assisting the 16 Black team and the Maria Carrillo High Varsity program.

Violet Johnson - 16 Gold Head Coach

Ally Deal - Head Coach 15-Mizuno

Ally (Sather) Deal is an Empire alumnus out of Maria Carillo High School.  Ally earned numerous honors during her prep career, culminating with the Empire MVP award her senior year.  Ally chose to stay close to home for her collegiate career, competing at Sonoma State University as an outside hitter.  Ally was a four-time All CCAA performer and a two-time All Region honoree.  Ally broke the career kill record at SSU, which had stood for fourteen years prior to Ally’s arrival on the scene.  Ally was selected to the AVCA All American Team during her senior year. 

Ally has been coaching with Empire for the past eight years in the under 13, 14, 15 and 16 programs.  In 2013 Ally returned to her alma mater, Maria Carillo High School, to take over as the Head Coach of the outstanding Puma Varsity program.

Tayler Moore - Head Coach 15-Gold

Tayler Moore joins Empire for her second season in the under 14s program. Tayler, a Sonoma State Seawolf is original from Loomis, CA

Tayler Moore is a Junior student at Sonoma State University.  She is currently beginning her third year coaching for Empire Volleyball Club.  Coach Moore has four years of club coaching coaching experience, with an addition two years of beach coaching experience.   

Coach Moore  has been playing competitive club volleyball since she was eight years old. In high school, she received first team all league both her Junior and Senior year, as well as best offensive player three years out of her four years playing high school volleyball. 

Tayler also made the optimist team for her northern California league, a team that is put together by the league with the top players from each school, to play the optimist team from neighboring leagues.

Ashleigh Phelps -Assistant Coach 15-Gold

Coach Phelps returns to Empire Volleyball Club for her second year, and will be an Assistant Coach for our 15-Gold team.  

A graduate of  Pitman High School in Turlock, California Ashleigh is a current member of the Sonoma State Volleyball program. 

Currently a Junior at Sonoma State Ashleigh is majoring in business with a concentration in accounting. 

A life long back row specialist, Coach Phelps received two second team awards in Volleyball, and a First Team award for soccer.

Academically,  Ashleigh held academic honors all four years in high school, and has continued that success in the classroom at Sonoma State where she has earned academic honors the last two years at Sonoma State. 



Kelsey McIntire - Head Coach 15-White

Kelsey McIntire joined  Empire as a Head Coach in 2017. Originally from Manhattan Beach, California she will be leading up  the 15-White team.  

Coach McIntire is on her fifth year at Sonoma State and is just finishing up her degree in Early Childhood Education. She is a substitute preschool teacher and hopes to eventually open up her own preschool program.

Growing up in Manhattan Beach she has been playing volleyball for 12 years. She played for powerhouse Mira Costa High School for four years and was one of the youngest players on the varsity team as a Sophomore.

She started as a middle hitter for three years at Sonoma State. During her Sophomore and Junior years, she earned All-Tournament honors two years in a row at the CCAA tournament. During her final season as a senior in 2017, she earned First Team All Conference, All West-Region, and All-American honors.

She is excited to move on from being a collegiate athlete and focus on helping young volleyball players improve and take their game to the next level.

Brianna Ranney - Head Coach 15 Premier

Coach Brianna Ranney takes over the 15-Premier team in 2018 in her first year of coaching for Empire Volleyball Club.  Coach Ranney's past experience in coaching was at Mendenhall Middle School in Livermore.

A graduate of Granada high school in Livermore California.  Currently Coach Ranney attends Sonoma State where she plays for the Seawolves as a middle and outside hitter.  

In Ranney's 18s year of club her team made it to nationals in Dallas, Texas where they placed second in the American division. 

Coach Ranney is currently majoring in Kinesiology. 


Ryan Hughes - Head Coach 14-Black

Coach Ryan Hughes returns to Empire for his eighth season, to once again coach the 14-Black team for the third straight year.

Currently Ryan just finished his fourth season as Head Coach at Petaluma High School, and is the assistant coach for the Petlauma Junior High Programs.  In his four years at Petlauma High School his programs finished 2nd in the SCL each of those years.  Petaluma High School went to NCS playoffs each of those years.  Coach Hughes also started the Sonoma Academy High School program in 2006.

Ryan Hughes graduated from Sonoma State in 2009, where he acquired three Bachelor's degrees.  Currently he is working on his nursing license, while concurrently working at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in the Intensive Care Unit.  

Coach Hughes played for the men's program at Sonoma State University.  In his time he was awarded the libero of the year in league play in 2006, and was a Nationally recognized libero for Division II club programs.

Coach Hughes restarted the men's program at Sonoma State after a 12 year hiatus, which eventually won the Men's National Club Championship in 2009.

Currently Hughes is also an assistant coach for the Santa Rosa Junior College program which made the Junior College playoffs in 2017.

Emily O'Brien - Assistant Coach 14-Black

Hannah Andrews - Head Coach 14-Gold

Coach Hannah Andrews joins the Empire Volleyball Coaching staff for her first season in leading up the 14-Gold team. 

Coach Andrews had a stellar collegiate career where she played and started for four years at Division II Concordia University of Irvine.  Hannah was coached by former Olympian, and National Team assistant coach Paula Weishoff.  

A powerful outside and right-side hitter, Andrews was successful both on the court and in the classroom.  Andrews was named to the Academic All-PacWest Team in 2015 and 2016, along with being an All-PacWest Honorable mention in 2015.   As a team in 2016 Concordia of Irvine won their first PacWest Championship.   Andrews also played on the Beach Volleyball team during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. 

Academically Andrews graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 2017.  Andrews earned Dean’s List recognition, for outstanding performance in the 2016-2017 academic year. 

Locally Andrews played for four years at Rincon Valley Christian School where she graduated in 2013.  As a prep athlete Andrews was League MVP in 2012, and 2013, and was a First-Team member in 2011, and Honorable Mention in 2010.

Andrews was named the Player of the Year in 2013 for the All-Empire Small School Division, and was named the Female Athlete of the year for Rincon Valley Christian School. 

At the club level Hannah played for Empire Volleyball club from 2009-2013 and on the 14's-18's teams. 

Hannah has also been the lead assistant with Director Daryl Kapis for the Empire Juniors program which helps coach young aspiring volleyball players ages 7-12.

Kierstin Andrews - Co-Head Coach 14-Gold

Coach Kierstin Andrews originally from Rohnert Park, California returns for her fourth year of coaching at Empire Volleyball Club, as well as her third year in the 14's age group.

Kierstin excelled on the court and in the classroom at Rincon Valley Christian where she was All-league honorable mention as a Freshman, and first team All-league for Sophomore, Junior and Senior seasons.

Currently Coach Andrews is working on her undergraduate degree at Sonoma State University and is majoring in Kinesiology and minoring in Early Childhood Studies.  Kierstin has earned Dean's Highest Honors for her first two semesters.

Locally Kierstin has assisted with elementary, middle, and high school programs, while also being very instrumental in our own Empire Spring Season programs for the past six years. 

Once Coach Andrews graduates from college she plans to go to acquire her Doctorate of Physical Therapy, ,and to become a pediatric physical therapist. 

Natalia Neumann - Head Coach 14-White

Jeff Nielson - Head Coach 14-Premier

In his 26th year of coaching, Coach Nielson returns for his 9th year of coaching for Empire Volleyball Club as he takes over the reigns as Head Coach for the 14-Premier team.

Nielson has coached teams in the 16 and 17 age groups and for the last 3 years and has been involved with our younger players in the 14's division.

Currently he holds the position as Head Coach of the Cardinal Newman High School Volleyball program where he has been at the helm of the Cardinals since 2015 where he led the Cardinals to their first ever League Co-Championship. 

At the college level Coach Nielson served as an assistant coach at Western Colorado University.

Jeff also serves as a court coach for USA Volleyball in their High Performance program.

Jeff began his playing career at Bothell High School before moving back to his Southern California roots to attend San Diego State University from 1987-1991. While in college, Jeff began his coaching career at San Dieguito High School in Encinitas as an assistant in the boys program.

 Jeff met his future wife Amy at Western and upon graduation returned to her hometown of Santa Rosa where Jeff obtained his teaching credential in 1996 from Sonoma State University.

Jeff began coaching in California again shortly thereafter at Vanden High School in Fairfield and led the team to first ever League Championship in 1999. In 2002, Jeff took over as Head Coach at Maria Carrillo High School where he spent the next 11 years. In that time, the Pumas won 11 straight NBL Championships and 3 NCS Championships. In 2010, he was awarded with the NCS Honor Coach of the Year Award.

Coach Nielson has a degree in History and also a B.A. degree in Kinesiology.  Jeff works as a teacher and Athletic Director at Sonoma Country Day School and along with his wife, Amy, they have 2 boys, Matthew (16) and Micah (12).

Morgan Annala - Head Coach 13-Black

Coach Annala takes over the reigns of the 13-Black team.  A graduate of Vacaville High School Coach Annala played on Varsity for 3 years, and graduated with academic honors.

At the club level Annala played at multiple clubs such as Vacaville Extreme, Five Starz, and Club Solano.

Currently she plays at Sonoma State and is a Senior Middle Blocker who made 2nd team CCAA in the Fall of 2017. Coach Annala majors in Kinesiology and is minoring in Women’s Health. Her future plans are to go to graduate school to become a physical therapist, and coach on the side.  

This will be Coach Annala's  fifth year of coaching, and returns to Empire Volleyball Club for her second year.  In 2017 Coach Annala was the assistant coach for the 13-Black team.

Baelei Wiesner - Co-Head Coach 13-Gold

Coach Baelei Wiesner returns to Empire Volleyball Club for her 2nd year to Coach the 13-Gold Team. 

A graduate of Maria Carrillo High School Wiesner played volleyball all four years, with three years at the Varsity level.  Baelei earned Co-MVP her senior year, All-Empire second team her junior year, and first team her senior years as a setter and a rightside.  At the club level Wiesner played five years for Empire Volleyball Club. In 2015 her 18's team went to the Junior Olympics in New Orleans and won silver in the American division. 

Currently Wiesner is a member of the Sonoma State University program where she is a setter.   Academically Baelei is majoring in Business with a concentration in Wine Business. 



Caiti Wiesner - Co-Head Coach 13-Gold

Coach Wiesner in her second year coaching for Empire Volleyball Club where she is the Co-Head Coach of the 13-Gold team. 

A local product, Wiesner is a graduate of Maria Carrillo High School. Caiti played volleyball where she excelled on the court.   In her senior year she received the co-most valuable player award with her twin sister Baelei. 

No stranger to Empire Volleyball Club Caiti  played for Empire since she was 14 and in her 18's year she was awarded first team All-Tournament at Junior Nationals in the American Division. 

Currently Coach Wiesner in in her junior year of college at Sonoma State University where she is an outside hitter. Caiti is a business major, and is looking into a computer science minor. In her sophomore season she earned an All-Second Team for the CCAA.  



Lexi Mudd - Assistant Coach 13-Premier

Lexi Mudd joins us in her first coaching season after being an Empire alumni. Lexi had a stellar career locally in Sonoma County at Analy High School, before starting her collegiate career at Sonoma State. Lexi is leading the 13-Premier team.

Chris Woodbury - Head Coach 12-Black/11's

Chris grew up in Sonoma County and attended Analy High School.  She played four years of volleyball at Analy. After graduating from Analy, Chris attended Santa Rosa Junior College where she played for the Bear Cubs on the SRJC women’s team.  Chris transferred to Chico State University to finish her education.  She is currently and has been for the past 22 years, a Physical Education teacher.  Twenty of those years have been at Rincon Valley Middle School, where she teaches 7th grade PE.  

Chris began coaching at Analy.  She has been a very successful coach at RVMS for the past 20 years.  She has continued her success at the high school level, coaching at Maria Carrillo for four years.  She is currently in her seventh year coaching at Empire.  Chris has been married for 25 years and has two children.  Daughter Mikaela played for Empire and played at Butte College.