For Gwen Egbert, it was time.
Egbert, the highly successful girls’ high school and club coach, recently retired from both teaching and coaching at Papillion-La Vista South High School in Papillion, Neb., and accepted the head women’s coaching position at Doane College, an NAIA institution in Crete, Nebraska.
The 2011 Mizuno/Volleyball Girls’ High School Coach of the Year, Egbert led Papio South to three state championships in a row from 2010-2012. Her last three teams went a combined 123-1.
“I’ve always wanted to coach in college,” she told Volleyball recently. “I’m at a pretty good spot where I could retire [from teaching]. I thought about it and interviewed in January and they offered me the job.”
Egbert will also remain as one of the directors of the extremely successful Nebraska Juniors club program and stay on as coach of the Nebraska Juniors 18s.
“I wanted to be able to continue coaching club, which I really enjoy,” she said. “I have the opportunity here to do both. I’ve been with the club a long time. It’s a nice club with a lot of nice kids. I want to continue to develop that and develop these young kids.”
For Egbert, leaving high school coaching is bittersweet.
“I’ll miss it, but it’s good to be doing something different,” she said. “It was the right time. Twenty-six seasons is a long time. This is a good opportunity for me.”
Egbert noted she was tempted to apply for two college head-coaching opportunities last year at Nebraska Wesleyan (Lincoln, Neb.) and Peru State (Peru, Neb.), but she decided to wait one more year.
“I wanted to finish out with this group of seniors,” she said. “I was real close to leaving.”
Egbert coached at Papillion-La Vista High School for 16 seasons and then spent 10 seasons at Papio South, where she started the program when the school opened in 2003. Egbert amassed a career high school record of 700-223, and led teams to six Nebraska Class A state titles. Her teams finished second in the state on seven occasions and reached the Nebraska state-championship match in 13 of their 17 state tournament appearances.
Papio South went 41-0 in 2010 and 2011. Its winning streak ran up to 97 matches in a row earlier last season before losing to Assumption (Louisville, Ken.) in a much-publicized match in Omaha. The team will bring a 109-match winning streak against Nebraska Class A competition into next season.
But for Egbert, the highlight of her high school coaching career wasn’t the hundreds of wins and trophies she collected.
“The best part was the type of kid I was able to coach,” she said. “A lot of hard work went into it in the gym and outside of the gym. You have to pay attention to details and understand the talent and abilities you have and stay with things and not give up.
“The players, the other coaches, and the atmosphere of being in a high school setting was always exciting,” Egbert said. “Now I’ll have the opportunity to work with college athletes. College student-athletes are working on so many different things in their lives. They are at different places in their lives. I’m looking forward to it.”
Egbert played volleyball at the University of Nebraska for legendary Huskers coach Terry Pettit. She was a member of two Nebraska Big 8 Conference championship teams and a captain her senior year, a season in which the Huskers made their first NCAA tournament appearance. She also got her coaching start at Nebraska as a grad assistant for Pettit.
“Gwen Egbert is an excellent choice for the head women’s volleyball coaching position at Doane College,” Pettit said in a Doane College news release. “For years Gwen has been one of the best coaches at developing players in the state of Nebraska. Her passion for the sport and the high energy she brings to practice on a daily basis will serve to take a very good program to the next level. She demands a lot from her players, but even more from herself. She will make a significant contribution to the athletic department at Doane College.”
Egbert replaces longtime Doane coach Cindy Meyer. Doane went 28-9 in 2012 and qualified for the NAIA national tournament for the fourth time in the last five seasons. The college is about an hour from where Egbert resides.
“She cares about players, no matter what,” said Papio South setter Kelly Hunter, a 2012 Mizuno/Volleyball Girls’ High School All-American second-team selection. “She devotes a lot of her time to us. She’s been in the business a long time. You can tell volleyball is something she really loves and enjoys. She’s a volleyball nut. She’s a good coach who likes a challenge. This will be good for her.”
Hunter, who will play at Nebraska next year along with fellow High School All-American teammates Amber and Kadie Rolfzen, said Egbert played a huge role in Papio South’s success over the years.
“We would be good, but not as good without her,” Hunter said. “She always made us do better and work harder. She pushed us to be better on and off the court. She helped us to be as good as we could be and that helped us win some crucial matches.”
Papio South senior Olivia Schonewise didn’t know what to think about the news at first.
“I’m surprised but not surprised,” said Schonewise, who will play at Albany this fall. “It’s way overdue for her. Egbert probably loves the sport more than anybody I’ve met in my life. She’s more passionate about it than all of us combined. Her love for the game and her drive makes her stand out more than any of the other coaches I’ve played for. She can be successful anywhere. She has a work ethic like I’ve never seen and a love for the game. Anybody who plays under her is going to be successful. Any team she coaches will find success. She gets the players’ best because they respect her. She expects your best every day.”
Egbert started spring practice with Doane in early March and will finish out the school year at Papio South where she is a physical education teacher.
Originally published in June 2013