Most people celebrate the Big 4-0! Nancy Hoeke, head volleyball coach for the Milbank Lady Bulldogs, just hit the Big 400. Hoeke entered her 400th win into the books at the conclusion of the Pentagon Tournament in Sioux Falls on Saturday, September 24.
“It’s a fun milestone,” she says. “At the beginning of the season, I was at 391 wins, so I was hoping it would happen this year. If not, we wouldn’t be having a having very good season,” she says with a laugh.
Although, the 400 wins include only her 22 years as a head coach in Milbank, she also experienced the thrill of victory as a player back in the 80s. “I went to Aberdeen Central High School from 1981 to 1984. They didn’t have a volleyball team, but I played in an intramural league. A college player from Northern (NSU) ran the league for us, and she suggested I go to the first practice at Northern in the fall of my freshman year there. I ended up playing for Northern for four years and helped coach during my fifth year.”
Hoeke gives a lot of credit to that player, Melody Eichelberg-Gross, for getting her involved in the sport. In fact, she refers to Eichelberg-Gross as her “Volleyball Angel.” “Melody and I ended up rooming together for an entire year,” Hoeke says, “and we are still good friends today.”
Hoeke started her high school coaching career with her first job as an assistant coach at Central’s cross-town rival, Aberdeen Roncalli. She stayed at Roncalli for a year and a half and then relocated to Milbank.
“As soon as I moved to Milbank, I made my way to the gym at the AUD and volunteered to help during volleyball season,” she recalls. “I then became the C team coach until Vaughn Johnson retired from the assistant coaching position and I was hired to replace her.”
When Brad Olson left his position as head coach, Hoeke took over and the honors have followed her. She was selected Coach Of The Year in 2004 and 2006. Those years also coincide with the seasons the Lady Bulldogs won the state volleyball championships. The Milbank team also finished as the runners-up at the 2005 and 2009 state tournaments.
Hoeke can claim 48-straight win streaks –2004 -2005, and 38-straight win streaks — 2006 -2007. She and her team made seven-straight state tourney appearances from 2003 to 2009.
Several of her players have also received awards. Senior players who received the honor of Miss Volleyball from amongst all of South Dakota’s Class A players include Stephanie Nygaard, who was chosen in 2004; Kelsey Paulson, who was chosen in 2006; and Amber Wollschalger, who earned the award in 2007. Hoeke also served as the executive secretary for the South Dakota Volleyball Coaches Association.
She says, coaching her own young daughters, Mikaela and Jaden, was an especially meaningful experience. “There were some difficult times, and they had difficult times having their mom as their coach. But, today, we are thankful we shared those times.” Both daughters have taken on coaching duties in recent years, and Hoeke says, “I love watching them and supporting them now as coaches.”
Kelli Pillatzki who is an assistant volleyball coach for Milbank says, Hoeke has also mentored her. “Where do I start? Coach Hoeke has taught me so much! She has taught me to be confident, to relax, and to think about what’s best for the team — even if that’s hard. She has encouraged me to take chances and about the importance of support from your coaching staff. Mistakes happen, but as coaches we learn from it and move on.”
After an already-successful 30-year career, why does Hoeke continue to choose the hectic schedule of volleyball coach? “A gym…a ball! Enough said,” she says with a laugh and then adds, “I really enjoy watching the progress and improvement of a team and individual players. So many life lessons happen daily during a sport. I hope these teachable moments help a girl down the road. As a coach, and even as a player, you never know when you made a difference.” She adds, “Many years with special teams and working with awesome young ladies is what makes coaching worth it and makes it fun.”