Story courtesy of Rob Bentley, Assistant Athletic Director, Communications Ferris State University
Big Rapids, Mich. - The Ferris State University women's volleyball program has achieved plenty of success throughout its rich history and continues to rank among the nation's top collegiate volleyball programs as the Bulldogs celebrate their 40th anniversary season this campaign.
The program was established in the early 1970's on the verge of Title IX and FSU recently picked up its 850th all-time victory with a win over Southern Indiana at the GLIAC/GLVC Crossover Tournament (Oct. 13). Since the program's inception in 1973, the Bulldogs have won 10 GLIAC titles, qualified 16 times for the NCAA Division II Tournament and recorded 33 winning seasons.
Ferris State's 850-plus victories and nearly 70 percent all-time winning percentage have came with only five head coaches directing the program over the 40 seasons. From the original head coach Marilyn Clark to Monica Folske, Kathy DeBoer and Jill Hirschinger and now current head coach Tia Brandel-Wilhelm, the results have been much the same.
"It's amazing we've had volleyball for 40 years and this is only the 40th anniversary of Title IX," Brandel-Wilhelm said. "Ferris was really on the cutting edge of putting women's sports out there and really highlighting them. It is such an honor for me to be part of this program and it is humbling to think of all the great coaches and players that have been here before us."
The Bulldogs earned conference runner-up honors in each of their first two campaigns under Clark's direction in 1973 and 1974 before Folske, a Bulldog Athletics Hall of Fame member, took the reigns.
After five seasons, she gave way to DeBoer, who led the Bulldogs to new heights by winning a pair of GLIAC titles and making two NCAA Tournament appearances in her final two campaigns. The current head of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, DeBoer led FSU to 43 wins in 1982 and 32 the following year before Hirschinger took the helm.
Hirschinger, who's currently the head coach at NCAA Division I New Hampshire, achieved tremendous success as well in her 12 seasons leading the Bulldog program. Her teams claimed GLIAC crowns in each of her first four seasons and added two more titles during her tenure. They also made seven trips to the NCAA Tournament, which included a memorable run to the Division II Final Four in 1987.
In addition to celebrating its 40th anniversary in the same year as the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the Bulldogs recently honored Hirschinger's
1987 squad as they commemorated their 25th anniversary this campaign at a home match against Lake Erie (Oct. 6).
"It was amazing to have those former players back because those women really set a bar for the program," said Brandel-Wilhelm. "They're people we have looked up to for years and they set the course for history. It was a privilege to honor them.
"We had only had the volleyball program for 15 years when they reached the final four so it was an important step for our program," she said.
Since the arrival of Brandel-Wilhelm in 1996, the program has continued to achieve beyond what anyone may have thought possible back in 1973. She ranks as the school's all-time winningest coach with 350 wins and counting at Ferris State and the Bulldogs have won 20 matches or more 10 times under her direction.
A year ago, Ferris State had its best season in more than two decades as the Bulldogs posted a 27-4 overall record, won the GLIAC North Division Championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. This season has been much the same as FSU has been a mainstay in the national rankings and one of the top contenders in the conference as the postseason draws near.
To say the least, the Bulldogs have had plenty of reason to celebrate their special 40th anniversary this fall.
As a kickoff to the campaign, Ferris State held a memorable 40th anniversary reunion on the eve of this year's opening of fall camp in August and a special all-time 40th Anniversary Team was announced as a way to recognize some of the outstanding players who've worn the Crimson & Gold over the years.
"This season has been a great opportunity to get together and highlight some of the big moments and history of our volleyball program," said Brandel-Wilhelm. "We've had former players back from all four decades and they've came back because of the relationships they formed while they were here and the fact they are still Bulldogs."
Throughout its rich history, success has been a constant in the Ferris State volleyball program. Seven players have totaled both 1,000 kills and digs, a total of 13 have achieved All-America accolades and countless others have claimed either All-GLIAC or All-Region recognition.
Much of FSU's 40 years of success has been due to a group of coaches who have combined to receive GLIAC Coach of the Year honors on 10 occasions. A large part is also due to a long list of talented student-athletes who continue to keep the Bulldogs dear to their hearts.
Brandel-Wilhelm said. "Once you're a Bulldog, you're always a Bulldog."