The 2008 volleyball season has been the most successful year for the program since the hire of head coach Dominic Yoder in 2006.
The Wildcats (20-12) made it to the NCAA regional tournament and lost in the first round, 3-2 to the Indianapolis Greyhounds.
Yoder said the loss is a step in the right direction for the future of the program.
“We showed, at times, that we had greatness, but other times we did not play to our potential,” he said. “I think each year that we progress as a team, and as a program, some new opportunities open up.”
Over the past two years, Yoder said he has wanted nothing more than success for the volleyball program.
Junior libero Cassie Osiecki said Yoder’s coaching is the main reason for that success.
“He has turned our program around, and he has made a big difference,” she said. “He knows his stuff. He knows the game very well. And he brings that to the gym every day, and that is why we are so successful.”
In 2006, the year before Yoder took over at head coach, NMU finished fifth in the GLIAC with an 8-10 record. Since Yoder’s tenure, the team has placed second (13-5 in 2007) and third (11-5 in 2008) in the conference.
Yoder said the strong finishes are just the start to building a stronger program.
“I wanted success for the university and also to return the program back to its glory days,” he said. “So every single day that I have worked this job, it has been with that goal in mind.”
Senior captain Breanne Zaremba said Yoder has brought more to this team than tallies in the win column.
“This program would not be what it is right now if it wasn’t for him. He is an excellent coach,” she said. “And his coaching and everything goes way beyond the volleyball court. He is always about school and life and the future, it is not just all volleyball.”
The success off the court has also shined for the Wildcat volleyball team. The women had the highest GPA for any athletic team in the 2008 winter semester, with a 3.73 average, and 11 of 12 athletes made the dean’s list.
This accomplishment is also a reflection of Yoder’s coaching philosophy.
“They are student athletes, and student comes first,” Yoder said. “It is a combined experience that they really have to work for on both areas to be successful here at NMU.”
As the Wildcat volleyball team closes out the 2008 chapter, it will be losing three seniors in Zaremba, middle hitter Caryn VanBeckum and outside hitter Daniela Bezerra.
Yoder said he will not only miss the play these athletes provided, he will also miss what they exemplified.
“I think they are a bridge from the past, and window to the future,” he said. “They were really the outlook into the future, as to what to be, to be successful and move in the right direction.”
Yoder said with the loss of Bezzera and VanBeckum, the ‘Cats will lose, on average, six kills a set. And with Zaremba leaving, they lose something that was not written in the scorebooks.
“Zaremba was the kind of player that would run through walls, and to lose that type of person is difficult for any team,” Yoder said.
Zaremba said she hoped her mentality on the court will live through as an example for the younger players.
“Personally, I left the legacy behind of passion, and just playing for the love of the game and playing with heart,” she said. “I may not have the best skills, but every time I step on the court I give 120 percent.”
To replace these seniors and cross that bridge into the future, Yoder is looking to bring in some new recruits and is putting faith in the returning players.
“You always have that improvement from year to year. So you’re hoping that your younger players are training and improving,” Yoder said. “And they will be the players to fill those shoes. But those are big shoes to fill.”
Osiecki said she has full faith in Yoder to improve the program for next season.
“It is very easy to trust him. And the recruits he has are talented. He does a very good job of keeping our program strong,” she said.
As Yoder and his team ready for the offseason, he said he will use this past year as another step for success in the future.
“We will take a look at what we were able to accomplish this season and things that we can improve on for next season,” he said. “We will look to try and progress our weakness to strengths.”