Mother and daughter return to state tourney, this time as coaches
Dennis Nucech's travel plans are a lot easier this week. After criss-crossing the Northland the last couple weeks trying to watch the Hibbing and Virginia volleyball teams in the section playoffs, Nucech can sit tight in one place over the next f...
Dennis Nucech's travel plans are a lot easier this week.
After criss-crossing the Northland the last couple weeks trying to watch the Hibbing and Virginia volleyball teams in the section playoffs, Nucech can sit tight in one place over the next few days and see them both.
Hibbing, coached by Nucech's wife, Gail, and Virginia, coached by their daughter, Crystal Nucech-Duesler, both qualified for the Minnesota high school state tournament.
"It's a first; it's very special,'' Dennis Nucech said.
Hibbing (25-5) meets Blaine (27-3) in a Class AAA quarterfinal at 11 a.m. today at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Virginia (19-11) and LeSueur-Henderson (23-8) square off in a Class AA quarterfinal at 7 p.m. The tournament continues Friday and Saturday.
It's not the first time mother and daughter have been at the state tournament together. The duo was there in the 1997-99 seasons, when Crystal was Hibbing's setter, part of a record 20 state tournament appearances for Gail.
But now Crystal is emulating her mother on the sideline.
"It's different,'' Crystal said. "I told the girls, 'I've been there as a player and it's the most awesome experience.'"
While Hibbing's appearance was predictable -- the Bluejackets' berth broke a tie with Columbia Heights for the most state trips in the 33-year history of the event -- Virginia was somewhat of a surprise. The Blue Devils barely broke the .500 barrier last year in Nucech-Duesler's first year at the helm.
But after hard-fought victories over Greenway, Crosby-Ironton and Pine River-Backus in the Section 7 tournament, the Blue Devils made it back to state for the sixth time and the first since 2003.
Hibbing swept four opponents in the Section 7AAA field and now has won eight straight matches by 3-0 counts.
Perhaps it's no coincidence that these teams -- and coaches -- both qualified. Few have the pedigree that the younger Nucech owns. Her mother formed Hibbing's program in 1969 and coached it ever since, while her father headed up its successful Junior Olympic program. Crystal later played at Wisconsin-Green Bay and Minnesota Duluth.
Though she's melded together what she learned through the years, her mother's teachings remain close to home. That's apparent in her quiet bench demeanor.
"We have the same style. I take what I learned from my mom and from college,'' Crystal said. "She's mellowed out since I was there, but she still has the louder voice of the two of us.''
Her father says Crystal, like her mother for the most part, is a calm, quiet coach.
"She doesn't get that from me,'' said Dennis, who watched Virginia several times this season including last week's tournament matches. "Crystal, through it all, was quite calm in the playoffs.''
Crystal says she calls her mother after every match and isn't afraid to ask for a tip or two during the season. Her mother is quick to offer her opinion when asked. Perhaps that's why the teams have some similarities.
"There's always something you see and you say, 'Hmmm, that looks a lot like a Hibbing team,''' Gail said. "But she's her own coach.
"Hopefully, she'll have a lot of success down there."
* Littlefork-Big Falls (23-2-3) makes its second straight appearance and will play Climax-Fisher (25-5) in a Class A quarterfinal at 3 p.m. today. The Vikings were consolation champions a year ago and are on a 12-match winning streak dating to Sept. 30.
RICK WEEGMAN covers prep volleyball for the News Tribune. He can be reached at (218) 723-5302, (800) 456-8181 or e-mailed at email@example.com