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The Best Division III Volleyball Coaches

Updated on April 5, 2015
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There are currently over four hundred colleges in Division III. A large majority of them sponsor the sport of women's volleyball. Women's volleyball is played in the Fall while men's volleyball is play in the Winter and Spring and has less than one hundred teams.

This article will focus on those coaches in the women's game that have earned enough accomplishments through wins, national rankings, or national titles to be considered the best of the best in Division III. For those interested in a more historical take, The Best Division III Coaches of the Past might be more to your liking.

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Amber Warners

Amber Warners is in her 13th year as head coach of the Calvin volleyball program. She also served as interim head volleyball coach at Hope College in 1994. Now in her her 14th year as a head collegiate volleyball coach, Warners has compiled an impressive won-loss record of 384-72 for a winning percentage of .842 that ranks her second among active NCAA III coaches for winning percentage. In 12 years as Calvin’s head coach, she has compiled a won-loss record of 363-61 for a winning percentage of .856.

In 2010, she led Calvin to its first-ever NCAA III title in women's volleyball as the Knights defeated top-ranked Emory University in four sets. She was later named the 2010 AVCA Division III National Coach of the Year. In 2012, she was once again named the AVCA Division III National Coach of the Year after leading her team to the national championship finals. In 2013, she led Calvin to its second national title in four years as the Knights defeated Cal Lutheran University in five sets. She was subsequently named the AVCA Division III National Coach of the Year for the third time in four years.

She has led Calvin to 10 consecutive berths in the NCAA III Tournament including appearances in the Great Lakes Regional finals in 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. In 2010, Calvin captured the regional title with an upset win over second-ranked Wittenberg University and did so again in 2012 and 2013.

In 2006, she was named Great Lakes Regional Coach of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association after leading Calvin to a 34-2 record. In 2008, she was once again named Great Lakes Regional Coach of the Year after leading a youthful Calvin team to a record of 26-5 including an NCAA III Tournament bid.

She landed her third Great Lakes Regional Coach of the Year honor in 2011 after leading Calvin to a 33-1 record which included a number-one national ranking throughout the regular season. Her most recent Great Lakes Regional Coach of the Year award came in 2012 as she led Calvin to an undefeated MIAA season and a number-one national ranking heading into the NCAA III Tournament.

Warners has led Calvin to NCAA III Tournament appearances in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 and to MIAA Tournament titles in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. She has also led Calvin to MIAA regular season titles in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

(Source - Calvin)

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Jenny McDowell

Jennifer McDowell has elevated the Emory University volleyball program to national prominence, culminating with the Eagles' claiming their first-ever NCAA Championship when they brought the 2008 crown back to Atlanta.

McDowell, who assumed control of the program in the spring of 1996, has guided Emory to 18 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division III Tournament, advancing to the "Sweet 16" round 15 times. In addition, she has directed the team to four berths in the NCAA Final Four, the first coming in 2003 when the Eagles posted a fourth-place finish in the tournament, the second in 2008 when the squad took home the national title, the third in 2010 when it advanced to the national championship match and, most recently, in 2013 when the Eagles advanced to the national semis.

Her 18-year Emory record now stands at 579-139. Jenny notched her 500th career triumph on October 8, 2011, when the Eagles topped Maryville, 3-0. That win over the Scots was the team's 23rd consecutive win, tying the 1994 team for the school record.

The American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) recognized McDowell's efforts during the 2008 campaign, tabbing her as the National Division III Coach of the Year. She has also honored by the AVCA as the Regional Coach of the Year on five occasions (2004, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2012).

Heading into the 2013 season, her .802 winning percentage ranked sixth all-time among Division III coaches. Among Division I, II and III coaches, she ranks as the 18th all-time winningest coach in NCAA annals (min. 10 years as an ncaa head coach).

Every year since 1997, Emory has ranked among the top 20 teams in the nation in every weekly poll conducted by the AVCA. In 2009, Emory ended the regular season in a deadlock for the No. 2 spot in the national poll while holding down the No. 5 position in the organization's final ranking.

Before McDowell's arrival the volleyball team had 30 wins or more in only one season. In her 18 years, the team has bested 30 wins 15 times including 11 of the past 12 seasons. The 2009 team fashioned an overall ledger of 34-6 with the victory total then the second highest in program history.

McDowell's players have flourished under her tutelage. She has mentored 21 different players to a total of 37 All-America berths while coaching six players to UAA Player of the Year accolades, the most recent being Breanah Bourque in 2012, and seven to UAA Rookie of the Year acclaim. In addition, she has seen her players rack up a total of 102 All-UAA honors. Two of McDowell's players, Amelia McCall in 2010 and Courtney Rose in 2005, earned Division III National Player of the Year honors.

McDowell and her assistants have been recognized as the conference "Coaching Staff of the Year" in 1996, 2000, 2005, 2007 and 2009.

(Source - Emory)

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Thanh Pham

Thanh Pham is starting his 12th season as Tommie head volleyball coach in 2014. His St. Thomas squads have been ranked in the AVCA Top-25 for 81 of the last 82 consecutive polls.

Pham's 2012 squad won the NCAA Championship on their way to a 40-1 record.

Pham has been voted MIAC Coach of the Year in 2005, 2007 and 2008. UST has had the conference Player of the Year in five of his eight seasons. Two of his former players are now head coaches in the conference – All-Americans Jane Gibbs (Augsburg) and Rachelle Dosch (Gustavus).

Pham, who has 17 years of college coaching experience in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), was named UST head coach in April 2003. His eleven-year record with the Tommies is 316-66, including seven MIAC titles and eight NCAA playoff berths.


(Source - St. Thomas)

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Paco Labrador

Wittenberg head coach Paco Labrador has won with more regularity than almost any other active NCAA coach. His career winning percentage of .859 in 11 seasons at the helm of the Tigers ranks first in all of NCAA Division III and second across all divisions. Overall, his sparkling career record stands at 348-57.

Twenty-nine of those wins have come in NCAA Division III Tournament play, including a dominating run to the 2011 national championship. Labrador’s postseason record in 11 straight trips to the NCAA Division III Tournament is 29-10 and includes nine appearances in regional championship matches, three consecutive trips to the national semifinals between 2005 and 2007 and the university’s first NCAA title in any sport in 34 years in 2011, which was the first NCAA women’s volleyball title for any Ohio school.

Under Labrador’s guidance, 12 Tiger student-athletes have garnered All-America accolades, including the most highly decorated athlete in Wittenberg history, Sarah Yuskewich, who holds the Division III record for assists in a season and was a three-time first-team All-America honoree.

The Tigers have dominated the NCAC under Labrador’s training. The Red and White have amassed a phenomenal 130-2 record in conference play under Labrador and have hoisted 10 regular season championship trophies and 10 conference tournament trophies. In addition, Wittenberg has won five NCAA Division III Tournament Regional crowns during that time.

Labrador was named American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) National Coach of the Year in 2011, a piece of hardware that now sits alongside Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year awards earned in 2004 and 2007 and NCAC Coach of the Year awards earned in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2013.

(Source - Wittenberg)

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Kellee Roesel

Kellee Roesel continues to be one of the top Division III coaches in the country. 2013 was a banner year for the Regals and Roesel. Already the all-time winningest coach in program history, Roesel led the Regals to the 2013 Division III National Championship game where they narrowly fell in five-set thriller. The Regals had the winningest season in program history going 35-2 including a 29 game win-streak. In addtition to capturing her fourth straight SCIAC title, Roesel also collected her 200th win while coach at CLU.

Roesel was named the 2012 DIII American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) West Region Coach of the Year after guiding Cal Lutheran to their third-straight SCIAC championship and second consecutive NCAA Tournament No. 1 West Region seed. It was her second coach of the year honor in the past three seasons.

Roesel has produced at least one AVCA All-America player during each of her seven seasons at the helm of the Regals program. A trio of players have earned First Team All-American status including Kylie McLogan in 2012. First Team All-American Allison Kerr led all of NCAA Division III in kills in 2010.

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Lindsay Birch

Since beginning her career at Christopher Newport, Lindsay Birch has taken the volleyball team to amazing heights. First as a player and then as a head coach, she has transformed CNU into one of the preeminent programs in the nation. During the Captains’ illustrious history, they have advanced to the NCAA Tournament 11 times and Birch has been a vital cog on each of those squads.

After leading CNU to its first NCAA appearance as a senior outside hitter in 2001, she quickly took over as head coach the following year and has never looked back. Since 2002, Birch has compiled a staggering 378-96 record for a winning percentage of .797. In conference play, her numbers are even more amazing. Under her watch, the Captains are 155-8 in league action.

Among a host of awards, she has been named the VaSID All-Virginia Coach of the Year nine times and earned the Conference Coach of the Year honor on eight occasions. She is also the youngest coach in NCAA history to reach 200 wins after joining the club at 29.

During the course of her career, the Captains have not missed the NCAA Tournament since 2006 and have advanced to the Elite Eight four times, including an appearance in the championship match in 2011. Christopher Newport continued its run of success in 2013 after leaving the USA South for the Capital Athletic Conference.

Along with her recent successes, Birch has a long list of incredible achievements as the CNU head coach. She has helped the Captains earn 18 All-American awards and guided 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament during her 12 seasons at the helm of the program. The squad has also captured 10 conference postseason titles and at least a share of 11 regular season crowns. Overall, Christopher Newport has won 127 straight regular season conference matches.

(Source - CNU)

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Becky Schmidt

Becky Schmidt made her mark on Hope volleyball as a student-athlete and now is doing the same as a head coach.

Schmidt guided the 2014 Flying Dutch to their first national championship with a 6-0 run during the NCAA Division III Tournament. Hope matched a school record for wins in a single season with a 34-2 record.

The Flying Dutch won more than 20 matches for the 10th consecutive season. The team tied for first in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) regular standings and received a bid to the NCAA Division III Championships for a seventh consecutive time.

Schmidt's 11-season Hope record is 302-73 (.805). Her collegiate coaching record, which includes three seasons (38-33) at the University of Redlands, Calif., is 340-106 (.762), which ranks her among the nation's elite.

Twice, Schmidt has guided the Flying Dutch to undefeated (16-0) MIAA seasons (2005 and 2009). The 2009 team had a 34-4 mark, a school record for victories, and advanced to the national semifinals. The 2013 team reached the national quarterfinals and ended with a 32-3 record.

In November 2008, she was elected the NCAA Division III representative to the Board of Directors of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA).

Schmidt had an article published in the June-July, 2008 issue of "Coaching Volleyball", the publication of the American Volleyball Coaches Association. The article, "Cultivating Competition: Five Scrimmages to Kindle Your Athletes' Competitive Fire," flows from coach Schmidt's twin interests: volleyball and sports psychology.

A 1999 Hope graduate, Schmidt played middle blocker and ranked among the NCAA leaders in several statistical categories. She was voted the most valuable player in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) as both a junior and senior. As a senior she became the first Hope volleyball player to receive NCAA Division III All-American honors. She was also awarded an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.

(Source - Hope)

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Julie Jenkins

Julie Jenkins, in her 29th year at the Tigers helm, is one of the most successful volleyball coaches in NCAA history.

Coach Jenkins, who joined the Trinity staff in 1985, has guided the Tigers to the NCAA Division III playoffs 19 times, including the 2012 season.

Coach Jenkins is ranked No. 2 among active Division III coaches in victories, and sixth among all-time DIII coaches.

She has compiled an overall record of 760-366 (.675), and stands at 737-340 (.6845 as head coach at Trinity. Since 1991, when Trinity began volleyball competition in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC), the Tigers have amassed an overall record of 655-201 (.765), and are 252-22 (.920) in the SCAC.

Coach Jenkins was elected the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division III Coach of the year in 1999, after guiding the Tigers to the NCAA Championship match. She has been named AVCA South Region Coach of the Year six times, and SCAC Coach of the Year on 10 occasions, including the 2012 campaign.

Under Coach Jenkins’ leadership, the Tigers, in addition to advancing to the NCAA title match, earned a third-place ranking (2002), and have made five trips to the quarterfinals, the last of which came in 2009.

Trinity has captured 15 SCAC Championships, including 11 in a row from 1998-2008.

Twenty-one Tiger student-athletes have been elected to All-America Teams a total of 35 times since 1991.

(Source - Trinity)

Honorable Mention

Heather Pavlik, Rick Swan, Hannah Long, Leanne Ulmer, Stacy Boudreau, Julie Hall, Kate Witte, Mark Birtwistle, Vanessa Walby, Mark Massey, Kevin Aoki, Johan Dulfer, Matt Guifre, Terry Condon.

Who would you want to coach your team?

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    • Valeant profile image
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      JOC 2 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      I definitely considered her for honorable mention.

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      gest 2 years ago

      dorothy webb?