The first time we “met” was in 1999. I was a young assistant coach at Penn State and we were playing your Pacific Tigers in the National Semifinals in Hawaii. One of my main responsibilities at that time in my coaching career was to scout our opponents. I watched hours of film on your team, and I knew it was going to be a tough matchup. We were coming off two straight seasons of losing in the national finals and while our group was experienced, your team had me worried. You used two different setters and had an outside hitter named Elsa Stegemann. She was fantastic and from what I can recall sitting here today, she had somewhere around 40 kills against us. We managed to win the match in 5 games and then went on to win the finals against a Stanford team featuring the great Kerri Walsh and Logan Tom. Despite your team’s difficult loss against us, you were a true gentleman. As a young coach, I noticed that.
Over the years, I have been fortunate to continue learning from you in a variety of ways. A few times in direct conversation but also in other ways: listening to you talk at coaching clinics, reading articles you wrote, watching you on the sidelines, and – maybe most important – watching your team play. I also know that Madi Bugg, an alumna of Triangle Volleyball Club, where I now serve as the Associate Director, had an incredible experience playing for you at Stanford (where you have coached since leaving Pacific).
This evening, at 9:00, your young Stanford team will battle the University of Texas for the national championship. With all due respect to Texas and their fine team and staff, I hope your team wins. Here is why…
- You are a true teacher who cares deeply about the health and well being of your athletes.
- You have created an environment where it is clear that the process of learning matters. Your team got off to a rocky start this year and somehow stormed through the tournament to land in the finals.
- You are humble. You take the time to talk with everybody you come in contact with.
- You are an encourager. I have seen you on the sidelines and can never tell if your team is winning or losing.
When I spoke with you briefly yesterday at the AVCA Convention, I didn’t have a chance to thank you for your leadership. So, Coach, I will be cheering for Stanford tonight. Thank you for the example you have set over the years of how a coach should act, how a coach should teach, and how a coach should lead. Regardless of the outcome, I want you to know how much you are appreciated.
Update 12/18/16: Congratulations to Coach Dunning, the Stanford staff, and Stanford players for winning the 2016 NCAA Championships.