Coach Steph Schmidt leads the Lady Rams to triple their win total from last season
The women’s volleyball team has been turning heads within the North Central athletics department.
Led by Coach Schmidt, the team tripled its win count from the previous year, going 6-28 on the season and 1-13 in UMAC contests.
Despite a four-game differential in the team’s record, those in and around the volleyball program have seen a tremendous amount of growth in the team due to the influence of head coach Steph Schmidt.
Schmidt, who finished her second season coaching the Rams, was hired as a result of the athletic department’s push to have all head coaches work on campus fulltime. The previous coach, Ryan Schlangen, worked for a nonprofit and coached the team on nights and weekends. Due to his other commitments he was unable to coach the team year round. While he was well liked by his players and the athletics department, the drive to have coaches work on campus was what triggered the transition.
“I think what people probably don’t realize is that the program needs to have direction and leadership year-round,” said Jon High, director of athletics. “That’s why it’s important for us to have our coaches on campus in some capacity. It’s just a proven fact that the teams that have the head coach working at North Central in some capacity—they do better. The team dynamic, recruiting, retention, all of these things play into that.”
Team captain and junior children and family ministries major Veronica Parks has noticed the impact Schmidt’s presence has had on the team.
“I think that it was hard for Ryan [Schlangen] to develop the program when he wasn’t here on a day-to-day basis, but now that Steph is here all the time…it’s completely different,” said Parks. “Steph is very determined and is always looking ahead and is always trying to develop us and develop the team. Her mind is always volleyball.”
Schmidt has remolded the volleyball program into a more competitive unit while personally investing in her players.
Junior intercultural studies major Beth Beckstrand believes she would not be the same person had she not played volleyball for the Rams. “I consider it to be a privilege to play for Coach [Schmidt]; she has pushed me and stretched me in ways that I never thought possible,” said Beckstrand. “The heart and passion that she has for us and the sport is something that made me work even harder every day in the gym.”
A resounding theme that echoed throughout the players’ comments was how Schmidt pushed them to achieve their potential.
Sophomore elementary education major Karlee Cox is one of those players who appreciates the impact Schmidt is making with the team.
“Coach Schmidt is a great coach,” said Cox. “She expects much from us and helps us get there. She has taken the time to know how each one of us progresses then pushes us in ways that will motivate us to get better.”
This has translated onto the volleyball court. While a four-game differential between seasons may not seem like a definitive year of growth from a team record standpoint, Jon High noted that scores within matches have been tighter, given the improvement in the team’s ability to defend against opponents’ attacks and set up their own offense.
Coach Schmidt is not just making a positive impression on her players and the athletic director, but other coaches are taking notice.
“One of the things that we need to do in building athletic team culture is teaching the basics,” said Jeff Grenell, head coach of the women’s basketball team. “Sometimes a college or university coach can forget about that. What I respect greatly about Coach Schmidt is her commitment to teaching our athletes the game of volleyball. What will follow that is performance.”
Freshman elementary education major Elissa Pheneger was a newcomer to the team this season but found her place on the team as the Rams’ starting setter. “It was an overall smooth transition coming into the program because it was already, for the most part, established,” said Pheneger. “The whole team was very welcoming to me, and I could tell from the start that they held strong team values.”
“When I first came here, we stared off as a fairly young team,” said Cox. “It has been fun to watch each girl improve and grow. This program is growing stronger and gains more potential each year. We have become more fundamentally and strategically smart. I’m really excited for the years to come.”