Women Coaches Lead MCAC Volleyball

Women Coaches Lead MCAC Volleyball

Rochester, Mn- 

With the start of the 2018 volleyball season in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference, the first few weeks are similar for most programs.  Early season scrimmages to sort out line-ups, shepherding new student-athletes through the registration process, and ice bags on knees and shoulders after practice.  Lots of ice bags. 

In the MCAC volleyball ranks in 2018, there is one other common factor.  All of the MCAC programs are led by women. 

The Minnesota College Athletic Conference is the only college athletic conference in the upper midwest to feature an all-female head coaching roster.   The Tucker Center for Research on Girl's & Women in Sport releases an annual report card evaluating the percentage of women head coaches in various college sports, although NJCAA data is not currently listed.  The Tucker Center website notes that included in it's goals are to: "stimulate dialogue, raise awareness, and hold decision-makers accountable in the hiring and retention of women coaches." 

For more on the Tucker Center at the University of Minnesota, including information on their 2019 Women Coaches Symposium, head to:  http://www.cehd.umn.edutuckercenter

The 2019 Women's Coaches Symposium will be held on April 19, 2019.

The benefits to having women head coaches at MCAC schools are significant.

According to Leslie Reed, women's athletic director and volleyball coach at Itasca Community College, having all 14 MCAC volleyball programs led by women in 2018: "It means a lot for the sport of women's volleyball.   Female coaches are a dying breed in other sports but volleyball has always held strong with female head coaches during my 23 years of coaching volleyball."  Reed goes on to state "Being the women's AD at Itasca is something our administration feels is important for our female athletes.  It's nice to have a female advocating and supporting our female athletes.  I am passionate about athletics and being a coach and an AD for our ladies makes my job very satisfying."  

In addition to her many hats at ICC, Reed serves as a member of the MCAC Executive Committee, tasked with oversight of the Conference operations.

Dr. Missy Majerus, Dean of Student Life at St. Cloud Technical & Community College also noted: "as a former head coach in the MCAC I know how much time and effort these coaches put into, not only preparing their team during the season, but the countless hours they spend recruiting and assisting students during the off-season.  This "extra work" often goes unrecognized, but it's the work that matters most to the success of a program.  What's most impressive is that these coaches do this work not for fame and fortune, but like their players, they do it for the "love of the game!"   

Majerus and her staff recently hosted the re-vamped MCAC Crossover tournament, allowing for a photo-op of several of the MCAC head coaches. 

"I think it's great to see a Conference with several first and second-year women coaches just starting out on their college careers, who are competing with and against women coaches who have been in the league 10, 20 or almost 30 seasons." stated Peter Watkins, director of the MCAC.  "There is significant professional and informal mentoring among our coaches with each other, and it provides a unique opportunity for the young women on their teams who look up to them."

Early indications from tournaments, triangular matches and Conference play show that the MCAC race in both Divisions is shaping up to be competitive and entertaining.

For more on volleyball in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference, please read on...

MCAC Volleyball- Did you know?:

  • COLLEGE EXPERIENCE: Several MCAC coaches excelled as college student-athletes, including two at NCAA Division I programs University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (Sarah Herlofsky/ARCC) and the University of North Dakota (Courtney Nordby/NCTC).


  • ROOKIES & VETERANS: 2018 marks the debut of four first-year head coaches at Minnesota West (Rebecca Colon), Ridgewater (Courtney Lemke), Northland CTC (Courtney Nordby) and Hibbing CC (Nina Kangas), while two MCAC coaches are closing in on 30 years with their schools- Mel Millerbernd at Rainy River Community College and Jane Peterson at Central Lakes College.


  • NEAR & FAR: Minnesota West CTC head coach Rebecca Colon hails from Orlando Florida, while M State-Fergus Falls mentor Abby Crowser was raised in Fergus Falls. 


  • SHE'S PROBABLY TOUGHER THAN YOU: St. Cloud Technical & Community College head coach Heidi Smith was a member of the Minnesota Army National Guard from 2000-2006, serving in Iraq between 2003-2004. 


  • SCHOOL PRIDE: Four MCAC coaches work for colleges they attended as students; Brodeen (Vermilion), Nordby (Northland CTC), Reed (Itasca CC) and Kangas (Hibbing CC).


  • MED CITY HOSTS NATIONALS: The 2018 NJCAA Division III National Tournament will be held in Rochester, Minnesota and will feature an expanded 12-team format at RCTC.


  • MIAC CONNECTION: Two MCAC coaches were NCAA Division III student-athletes in the MIAC; Abby Crowser/Concordia (MN) College and Courtney Lemke / Augsburg University.


A quick rundown of the women mentors who lead the Minnesota College Athletic Conference volleyball programs. 


Sara Herlofsky

Coach Sarah Herlofsky enters her second season with the Golden Rams in 2018 after serving as a coach in the Spring Lake Park high school program for 17 years.  Additionally, Coach Herlofsky has 18 years experience coaching USVBA club teams ranging from 10U - 18U.

Herlofsky played high school volleyball for Columbia Heights, winning two state championships and being a member of the USA Today #1 ranked High School Volleyball team.  She continued her volleyball career playing for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full athletic scholarship.  As a Tarheel, Coach Herlofsky was a middle hitter and named Rookie of the Year in the ACC.  She spent one additional year at UNC as an assistant coach and an 18U club coach before moving back to Minnesota.

Coach Herlofsky has one son, Jack, who is starting his first year at the University of Minnesota-Duluth as a member of the Bulldog track and field team.

Coach Herlofsky has a competitive spirit and enjoys the challenges that come with coaching and developing winning teams.  She loves the intensity and pace of the game and looks forward to starting this new chapter in her coaching career with the Golden Rams!



Jane Peterson

Coach Jane Peterson is in her 28th season as the Raiders head coach.  Peterson is one of the winningest active coaches in the NJCAA.

She has been state and region coach of the year numerous times. In 2017 she was the Northern Division, Region 13, and AVCA West Region Coach of the Year. She was awarded the NJCAA National Coach of the Year in 2000, 2001 and the AVCA Two Year College Coach of the Year in 2007 when her Raider teams captured national championships.

The Raiders have made 14 national tournament appearances. Her 2017 team concluded the regular season with a record of 27-9, finishing third at the NJCAA DIII National Tournament. In 2012, Coach Peterson was inducted into the NJCAA Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame. She is a member of the College of William and Mary's athletic Hall of Fame.


Nina Kangas

Nina Kangas is entering her first season as Head Coach for the Cardinals Volleyball program after serving as an assistant coach in 2017.

Kangas is a graduate of Hibbing High School where she and her teammates participated in three consecutive State Tournaments in class AAA. Following High School Nina attended Hibbing Community College and played Volleyball for two seasons. Nina was named to the NJCAA Academic All-American Team and also to the NJCAA All-American Team as a setter. Nina holds records for set assists per set, individual season set assists and career set assists at HCC.

A resident of Hibbing, Nina lives with her husband Wayne and two young daughters. Kangas has earned her MBA in Leadership & Change from the College of St. Scholastica, a Bachelor degree in psychology from the Univeristy of Wisconsin-Superior and her Associates Degree from Hibbing Community College. 

Leslie Reed

In 2018,Leslie Reed heads into her 18th season as the Head Women's Volleyball Coach. Coach Reed remains has been working hard to make Itasca Volleyball one of the top programs in Minnesota. She is an alumnus of Itasca Community College and played on the volleyball teams in 1989 and 1990.

Some of Leslie Reed's coaching accomplishments at Itasca include six straight Region tournament appearances, highlighted by runner-up finish in 2014.  Under Reed, ICC's 2010 team finished 5th in the country at the NJCAA Division III national tournament. 

Like many of her counterparts, Reed wears many hats for the Vikings, serving as the women's athletic director, instructor and as a member of the Minnesota College Athletic Conference Executive Committee. 

Sara Matuszak

Sara Matuszak is new to Mesabi Range College in 2018 but is a familiar face to MCAC volleyball fans and followers.  Matuszak led the team at Hibbing Community College in 2017, a year in which the Cardinals earned a 17-11 overall recorded and collected a 10-4 MCAC Northern Division mark, one of the better HCC season's in the past several years. Matuszak's Hibbing team concluded the 2017 season with a post-season playoff appearance, losing to Northland CTC in the Region XIIIB semi-finals. 

Matuszak stepped in to the role of head coach at Mesabi Range College with the departure of Jojo Scott, who was named Athletic Director at Eveleth-Gilbert High School over the summer.  Early on in 2018, things are looking up for Matuszak and her new Norse squad; MRC is 3-2 overall with wins over Ridgewater and Anoka-Ramsey at the MCAC Crossover, as well as a 3-1 victory at Rainy River Community College to begin Northern Division play. 

Matuszak will face off against her former Hibbing team on Tuesday, September 11 at home in Virginia, MN.

Photo courtesy of the Mesabi Daily News


Abby Crowser

Abby (Scheel) Crowser is in her fourth season as head coach of the Spartan volleyball team. A Fergus Falls native and a graduate of Hillcrest Lutheran Academy in Fergus Falls, she earned a bachelor's degree in exercise science and minors in nutrition and coaching at Concordia College in Moorhead.

As a student-athlete at Concordia, Crowser twice received All-Conference honors in volleyball and also was selected All Region and All American her senior year. During her career at Concordia, Croswer's team was ranked in the top #25 in the nation. Crowser was also a part of the 2006 team which posted the Cobber's most successful season with a record of 25-2 overall record and an 11-0 MIAC mark.

In the last three years of coaching at M State, Crowser's volleyball teams have reached the Regional tournament every year, including a Regional runner up finish in 2016. The 2016 season marked one of the best volleyball seasons in program history with a 27-4 record that included a 21 game winning streak. Crowser was also named the MCAC Southern Division Coach of the Year in 2016.

Prior to her role with the Spartans, Crowser had extensive experience coaching at volleyball camps around Minnesota and North Dakota, coaching teams with Junior Olympic volleyball and she was the assistant volleyball coach at Hillcrest Lutheran Academy for two years. Coach Crowser and her husband, Brandon, live in Fergus Falls with their two children, daughter Emery and son Jack.


Rebecca Colon

One of several new head coaches in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference, MnWest LadyJay head coach Rebecca Colon, arrived in Worthington from Florida. In a recent article by Doug Wolter, the new head at the Minnesota West Community and Technical College noted she was excited and ready to start the season. 

"I'm just extremely excited about the season. I want it to start right away. But I'm really looking forward to meeting the girls," she said this week in her office. Colon was born and raised in Orlando, Fla., and this is her first time in Minnesota.

"My personality has always been to try something new. When an opportunity is put into your path, there's a reason. Don't take an opportunity for granted, to let it fall to the wayside and later regret it," she explained.

Colon will lead a Minnesota West team coming off one of its best seasons in recent memory under the direction of Marie Johnson, who stepped down after posting an 11-6 record to devote more time to her family. Some key performers from last year's squad have graduated, but Colon has high hopes.

Colon played as an outside hitter during her high school career and was her team's offensive MVP twice. She played at the next level at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, where she was moved to libero. Desiring to be closer to home, she later played at the University of Central Florida where she also competed at club and sand volleyball. She's an experienced coach, and her resume includes two years as a coach at Osceola High School, which resulted in district championships both years.

Minnesota's climate is not like Florida's, but Colon is embracing it. She smiles when she says she has vacationed in the cold weather of the Northeast, adding, "But it's a lot different going from a week or two to living in it. It will definitely be a change."

(Material courtesy of the Daily Globe / Doug Walter)

Courtney Nordby

Northland Community & Technical College (NCTC) alumna, Courtney Nordby, was named the Northland Pioneers head volleyball coach in January, 2018. Nordby becomes the ninth head coach in the history of the program.

Nordby - an Oklee, MN, native - was a standout at Red Lake County Central High School, earning all-state team honors as a senior. A NCAA Division I student-athlete at the University of North Dakota (2007 - 2010).   Following UND, Nordby continued her education at NCTC earning her Occupational Therapy Assistant degree and began her coaching career working as the assistant coach for the Pioneers volleyball program from 2011-2015.

In addition to her success on the court, NCTC athletic director Mike Curfman also points to Nordby's keen ability to connect with her players and develop them as student-athletes.

"While Courtney was here as an assistant coach, she made quite an impression on our student athletes with her volleyball knowledge and communication skills. We are very excited that she will be our next head coach and look for her to build on the strong volleyball tradition that NCTC has enjoyed," said Curfman.

When hired Nordby noted: "Right now my expectations are just getting to know the team as well as the incoming class. Opening that line of communication and starting to develop that team bond that can play such a crucial role in the success of a team. Communication and competitiveness are the two key ideals I hope to help our athletes to achieve growth with. These ideals can be utilized on the court and in the classroom."

So far in 2018, the Pioneer's are  6-1 overall, with wins over a pair of NJCAA Division II teams and a 1-0 mark in Northern Division play.  In addition to coaching, Nordby also works at Sanford Health as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). 

(Material courtesy of NCTC Communications) 

Mel Millerbernd

Coach Mel Millerbernd has been coaching Voyageur Women's Volleyball since 1989 and was named Minnesota Community College Coach of the Year in 1996, 2001, 2002, and 2004. In 2002 Coach Millerbernd was also named Region 13B and District D Coach of the Year. Coach Millerbernd has had the honor of being the first woman in the state to play and coach in a State High School Basketball Tournament. In 2014, Millerbernd was inducted into her high school's Athletic Hall of Fame.

Coach Millerbernd earned her Master of Science degree in Physical Education from Bemidji State University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Physical Education and Health from Concordia College.

Rainy River opened up 2018 Northern Division play with a 3-1 setback to Mesabi Range College and will hope to break into the win column on Wednesday, September 5 when they host Hibbing Community College.

Read more about Mel Millerbernd in this feature story at this link for a story in support of the 2017 Girls & Women in Sport Day. 


Courtney Lemke

Courtney Lemke, a Brownton, Minnesota native,  was been named the new Head Volleyball Coach at Ridgewater College, beginning with the 2018 season

Lemke is a 2017 graduate of Augsburg College where she participated in volleyball for four years. Following her playing career at Augsburg, Courtney served on the volleyball coaching staff with the Auggies.   While coaching at Augsburg, Courtney assisted the staf with daily practice plans, program operations, recruiting, monitoring statistics, developing game plans, and scouting opponents. Courtney also has coaching experience at the JO level, has been a volleyball official and has assisted at numerous volleyball camps.

Lemke claimed her first head coaching victory when her Warrior squad upended Itasca Community College, 3-2 on August 24.  Saturday, September 5 will offer Ridgewater a chance to reach another milestone, as Lemke and her team open up MCAC Southern Division play against M State-Fergus Falls. 



Amber Zitzow

Amber Zitzow enters her seventh season at the helm of Yellowjacket Volleyball. Named the 2015 Heidi Hutchinson Coach of the Year, 2015 Minnesota College Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, and 2015 Rochester Area Sports Commission Banquet Finalist, Zitzow looks to continue building Rochester Community and Technical College into a perennial powerhouse. With Zitzow leading the way, the Yellowjackets were the 2015 NJCAA Division III National Champions, Region XIIIA Champions, winners of their third MCAC Conference Championship with a 14-0 record, and finalists for the 2015 RASC Banquet Team.

Since arriving at RCTC, Zitzow owns a 131-58 record.

The Yellowjackets are coming off back-to-back third place finishes in the MCAC Conference with a 10-4 record in league action. During the 2017 campaign, the Yellowjackets were named the Sportsmanship Team of the Year. Ashley Bichel was named NJCAA All-American in 2016.

Completing a historic year in 2015, Zitzow led the Yellowjackets to a 27-6 overall record and a league-best 14-0 MCAC Conference finish, culminating with the 2015 National Championship. 

Zitzow arrived at RCTC in August of 2012. In her first season, the Yellowjackets finished with a 17-9 record and a 3rd place finish in the MCAC Conference, while Marcy Swenson earned Honorable Mention All-American. During the 2013 season, Zitzow lead the Yellowjackets to a 26-6 record, MCAC Co-Conference Championship, and Region 13A Runner-Up. She was named MCAC Coach of the Year, while Taylor Aakre was named MCAC Conference Player of the Year. Taylor Aakre and Lindsay Ayers were named NJCAA All-Americans. Taylor Aakre was also an AVCA All-American.

So far in 2018, Zitzow and her Yellowjacket squad are off to a strong start, going 4-1 overall and opening up Southern Division play with a 3-0 win at Western Technical College. 


Heidi Smith

Heidi (Dumpprope) Smith, the head volleyball coach at the St Cloud Technical and Community College since 2011, started her volleyball career at Staples-Motley High School (MN) where she was a defensive specialist and setter on the varsity team for three years, earning All-Conference honors and also played softball. 

Smith attended North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, ND, where she played defensive specialist and coached for the Moorhead Juniors volleyball club.  During her sophomore season at NDSCS,  her team competed at the NJCAA National tournament, with the Wildcats eventually earning a runner-up finish at the competition.  Upon completion of her NJCAA eligibility at NDSCS, Heidi moved onto to finish her Bachelor's Degree at St. Cloud State University and coached volleyball for the Sauk Rapids-Rice School District. 

Heidi returned to St Cloud State University for her Master's Degree in Sports Management while assistant coaching for the College of Saint Benedict Volleyball team.  During Heidi's two seasons with the Blazers, they competed in the National Tournament; in 2008, the team made an appearance in the Elite Eight.  During the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Coach Smith was the head volleyball coach at Northland College in Ashland, WI.  During her first season at Northland, the volleyball team placed 3rd in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, the best finish for Northland College Volleyball in conference history. 

Coach Smith has also coached club volleyball in St Cloud and conducts private lessons, summer camps and clinics.   Heidi and her husband Jeff, and daughter Elizabelle, reside in Rice.

Currently, the Cyclones are off to a strong start in 2018, with 4-2 overall record, including a 4-0 sweep at the MCAC / U.S. Marine Corps Crossover tournament hosted by SCTCC. 

Krystal Brodeen

Krystal Brodeen enters her second year as head volleyball coach for Vermilion Community College for the 2018-19 season.  In addition to her volleyball duties, Brodeen is also the head coach for the Vermilion women's basketball program 

Coach Brodeen is from Cook, Minnesota, where she lettered in both volleyball and basketball, with her senior year being North Woods High School's inaugural year in 2011-12.

She attended and graduated from Vermilion Community College in the 2014-15 school year, earning All-Academic Honors in volleyball and captain for basketball. Coach Brodeen graduated from Bemidji State University in the spring of 2016 and is looking forward to being back in the area and working with women's athletics.

The 2018 Vermilion squad boasts a blend of freshman and sophomore athletes, and currently sits at 0-1 in MCAC Northern Division play.  Brodeen and her VCC team will take on Mesabi Range College, Tuesday September 4 at 6:30pm.  

Jenny Watson

Western Technical College volleyball is led by head coach Jen Watson.  The Cavalier Volleyball team is a member of NJCAA Region XIII,  as well as the Minnesota College Athletic Conference.
Coach Watson is entering her sixth season as the head coach at Western.  Watson began her athletic career at Aquinas High School, playing volleyball, basketball, and softball.  She continued athletics during her time attending WTC, playing basketball and volleyball.
Outside of coaching volleyball at Western, Watson also coaches basketball and softball for the local Boys and Girls' Club.

In addition to their MCAC Southern Division schedule, Western Tech will take on the JV team of Viterbo University, Milwaykee Area Technical College and Dakota County Technical College among their 2018 non-Conference opponents. 

Along with Watson at the helm of the Western Tech program, assistant coach Rachael Sackett is an integral part of the Cavalier staff in 2018.  The Cavaliers dropped their frist match of the season to RCTC and will take the court again on Friday, September 7 as they travel to St. Cloud Technical & Community College.  Matchtime is set for 6:30pm in the Whitney Center. 


Be sure to follow MCAC Volleyball social media feeds on our Facebook page and on Twitter: @MCACSPORTS

Conference Stats Leaders are athttp://www.mcacsports.org/sports/wvball/2018-19/leaders

Also, look to @NJCAAVolleyball on Twitter for NJCAA Volleyball news and information on the national community college volleyball scene. 

About the Minnesota College Athletic Conference

The Minnesota College Athletic Conference is the organizational body for NJCAA-affiliated two-year technical and community college athletic programs in the Minnesota State system.  The mission of the Minnesota College Athletic Conference is to advance intercollegiate athletics by providing an engaging and supportive environment for success of our student athletes and competition among member institutions.  The MCAC is committed to the guiding principles of encouraging the development and success of student athletes, promoting the integrity, honesty and loyalty to member schools as well as upholding the sustainability of conference athletic programs.

For more information, visit www.mcacsports.org