Jodi Shilling, 41, head coach of the Waynedale High volleyball team and longtime Smithville educator, died early Sunday morning after an extended battle with cancer.

Just over two weeks ago, Shilling completed her most successful season in her 12 years with the Golden Bears, as she continued to coach even as her declining health forced her to step away from her position as an art teacher earlier in the school year.

“It’s a unique situation because she taught at Smithville and she coached 12 years here at Waynedale, so we have two communities that have heavy hearts about the loss of Jodi,” Waynedale Athletic Director Chris Lapish said. “A very caring individual, especially with her players. She was a players-first coach, outside of her knowledge of the sport, but just her relationships that she’s had.

“The girls loved her, the community loved her and she was a great coach and a great human being and she’ll be sorely missed.”

“The news of Jodi’s passing doesn’t just impact Green Local, it impacts Wayne County and beyond,” Smithville High Principal Andy Bratcher said. “Her impact in the classroom with her students and on the volleyball court with her athletes is second to none.”

Waynedale won its volleyball program’s first district title and made its subsequent first regional tournament appearance this season. The Bears reached the Elite Eight of the Division III tournament after clinching a victory in their Barberton regional semifinal, further extending the historic season.

Along the way, the team’s drive and motivation came from wanting to deliver for its coach, whose career record with the Bears stands at 185-108.

“Jodi’s Team” T-shirts were made available to order before the regional tournament, with proceeds benefiting the Shilling family, and the Barberton High gym was twice filled with Waynedale supporters, many wearing the gray cotton shirts with pink lettering, alongside the team, which donned them during warm-ups.

Printed on the back was a Christopher Reeve quote: “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Shortly after the season, Shilling made public her decision to stop chemotherapy and pursue alternate treatments. She underwent a minor procedure to drain fluid that accumulated in her body the Tuesday following her team’s regional final match.

Over the past two weeks, close to $3,000 has been raised for a Jodi Shilling Benefit Fund to support Shilling’s medical expenses. Last Sunday, tickets sales from a Wayne County Athletic League all-star match held at The College of Wooster went directly to benefit Shilling.

“I salute the local volleyball community that really rallied behind her. I know she was moved by the incredible support,” said Triway volleyball coach John Finn, who has known Shilling since 1997, when he was an assistant coach for The College of Wooster volleyball team she played on. “I can’t imagine how she felt after some of her treatments and other procedures, but she refused to back down, and that inspired not only her players, but everyone else in this tight-knit volleyball community.”

Before going on this year’s historic postseason run, which ended earlier this month at 23-4 overall, Shilling led the Bears to their third consecutive Wayne County Athletic League title.

“We had a volleyball championship banquet on Wednesday night at Amish Door and what we do at Waynedale, any league championship team, we get a big banquet at the Amish Door in Wilmot,” Lapish said. “She was courageous and brave and stood up there and she talked, she talked for about an hour, and she was struggling up there, but she did it — very strong and courageous — and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end.”

Shilling was a graduate of Smithville High School and College of Wooster, playing volleyball at both. This past February, she received the Barrett Coaching Award, which honors College of Wooster graduates who have made significant coaching contributions to any sport at any level.

Prior to taking the head coaching job at Waynedale in 2007, the year in which she received her first cancer diagnosis, Shilling was a junior varsity coach at Smithville for eight seasons. In addition, she coached Junior Olympic volleyball teams and for the Kidron Volleyball Club for many years.

Shilling underwent chemotherapy, surgery and radiation to battle breast cancer over an 11-month span beginning after her first season at Waynedale and concluding in October 2008.

Just shy of being five years cancer-free, in the spring of 2013, Shilling found out the disease had returned in her spine and liver. The Stage 4 disease was inoperable and incurable, but treatable, leading to an aggressive chemotherapy regimen to shrink the tumor to a manageable size.

In 2013, the Bears won their program-first WCAL title, breaking ground for a total of four in the past six seasons under Shilling.

“I would’ve come back and done it with a team that had four wins because I just love volleyball,” she told the Daily Record in 2013 about her decision to continue coaching through cancer treatment. “I have something to go to that makes me happy, so I’m going to go there and be happy for those two to three hours rather than sit at home and worry about it. I’d rather help kids do what I like to do because volleyball’s my biggest love.”

Shilling (nee Deibler) is survived by her parents and her husband, Matt.