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Editor's column: Don’t pass on volleyball team

October 27, 2012
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

After watching the SMSU volleyball team steamroll its way to a 14th straight win Saturday against Minot State, I was curious to find out how Minot State's coach prepared his team to play the No. 1-ranked team in Division II. So I decided to do a quick interview.

It was quick alright.

"We prepare the same for every team," the coach told me after I asked him about getting ready to square off against the best team in the country and having the opportunity to pull off one killer upset.

After asking him what he, as a coach, thinks makes SMSU so good, he informed me he wasn't interested in talking about the Mustangs, but that he would talk about his program.

Fair enough. But knowing my readers would just as soon peruse a Hy-Vee Trader from 2005 than something about a volleyball team from North Dakota, I tried to sneak in another question that would result in some useful quotes for this column - I think it was something about building a program to a level similar to where the Mustangs are at. It was a question that could've been answered sans any reference to SMSU, but it went over worse than the first two. Again, he told me he had no interest in talking about a program other than his. By now, I was under his skin, and as if to say, "I'd love to punch you in the face right now but there are too many witnesses," coach gave me a patronizing pat on the shoulder, told me to have a good day and walked away before I could get another question out. It was the equivalent of getting hung up on or having a door slammed in your face. He wanted nothing to do with me. I felt like a traveling salesman on the front steps of a frat house.

Sheesh, I haven't been blown off by a coach like that in about 15 years. Still feels good. Kind of makes you feel alive.

Being dissed by a coach is nothing new for reporters, and I'm not surprised it happened. His team traveled eight hours to play a match that was over in one. Though I have a feeling had his team knocked off the Mustangs, he could've filled up my note pad.

Such is life when you're coaching against this year's Mustangs. Minot State became the third team to get swept by SMSU since it climbed the charts to No. 1.

I've seen coach Terry Culhane's teams do this to opponents before. Back in the '90s, his high school teams were winning state tournament matches in three games. His teams, even on off nights, have a way of making things look way too easy.

Minot State had early leads in the first two games against SMSU on Saturday, but in volleyball, especially against SMSU, that's kind of like having an umbrella with a dozen holes in it. SMSU called one timeout during the match - in the third game after Minot State cut the Mustangs' lead to 13-9. A few minutes later, it was 22-12.

The Mustangs are the best Division II team in the nation. With 14 straight wins heading into Friday's match against Winona State, they're hotter than "Gangnam Style" right now. They're 21-1, and they don't just beat teams, they beat them down. Volleyball matches aren't supposed to be over in an hour, are they?

There's a chance this is falling on deaf ears. Not everyone cares about volleyball, or sports, for that matter, but I think it's important to realize how cool it is to have the best team in the country playing in our own backyard. I also think it's important to support this team - all the SMSU teams, as the university has built a winning culture on campus. The football team is in the middle of the pack again, but they also almost pulled the upset of the year a couple weeks ago at Minnesota State, Mankato. The women's basketball team has struggled of late, too, but as we saw from that program in the first two years of the 2000s, when a team catches a little lightning in a bottle, it's fun to hop on the bandwagon and enjoy the ride.

Yes, SMSU teams have proven that every once in a while they have the capacity to grab our attention.

The high-octane football team of the early '90s did it, weekly scoring as many or more points than a basketball team compiles in a half. The men's basketball team, which lost 26 games during the 1992-93 season and all but fell off the face of the planet during the 1994-95 season as their coach bailed, more recently went to the NCAA Division II National Tournament twice in a span of eight years.

And now the volleyball team, which made two NAIA national tournaments in the early '90s and has qualified for the NCAA Division II Tournament eight years running, is doing it.

If this program - the first in school history to hit No. 1 - doesn't have your attention by now, it's a shame.



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