NICK’S NOTES: Nick’s notes: The gold standard

A few weeks ago, I was collecting interviews from Southwest Minnesota State University Mustang volleyball players for a season preview. While I was speaking with head coach Terry Culhane, assistant coach Paul Soupir walked into the PE gym with two big gulp-sized soft drinks for himself and Terry.

I thought to myself, “Is this what one of the most successful coaches in Minnesota history drinks?” I thought coaches just cut their protein shakes with high-octane gasoline.

Nope, Culhane enjoys the sugary stuff just like the rest of us.

That’s what I like about Mustang volleyball. You would expect a program with SMSU’s record of success to look like an athletic version of the Ford Rouge Plant, turning young athletes into volleyball playing machines.

But it isn’t like that. It’s a delightfully human program.

There’s always the possibility of the “Local girl made good” headlines with over a quarter of the team coming from southwest Minnesota.

And of course there is a literal family atmosphere on the team. Freshman Kaylee Burmeister joined her sister Whitney on this year’s team. While older sister Brooke played on the team from 2009-2012.

The Mustangs also take the student part of student-athlete seriously. The team carried a 3.75 GPA last season and was awarded with the highest overall GPA at the NCAA National tournament. Whitney Burmeister also earned the prestigious NSIC Will R. Kelly Scholar-Athlete award, which recognizes the NSIC’s top female student-athlete.

Also, two of the top players on the team, Claire Sames and Emilee Gutzmer, are double-majoring in Biology and Chemistry. I had enough trouble passing those classes without athletic commitments taking up my time.

All-American Abbey Thissen would probably have Michael Jordan-type numbers had she chosen to attend a school with a less well-renowned volleyball program, but she chose SMSU where some of her individual achievement was sacrificed for the greater good of the team. And she’s totally humble about it.

How many times does a program have one of the best players in school history come back and coach the same program? Devin Diedrich, a 2012 graduate and third overall in kills in team history, returned as a graduate assistant this season.

I noticed something else about this team this past summer when they hosted two weeks of camps for volleyball players of all ages. There were over 400 girls at the team camp. The players were engaged, encouraging and enthusiastic about teaching young girls volleyball skills. You don’t see that level of caring among all college students.

On the national sporting radar, volleyball is pretty far down the list of events people pay attention to. However, Marshall prides itself as being a hidden gem in Minnesota. It’s good to our volleyball the exact same way.