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UMD coach elevates team to the top of Division II volleyball

Here's a heads-up, Duluth: There's an honest-to-goodness sports dynasty right in your own backyard. And most of the credit goes to a coach who turned his back on a biology degree in order to teach women the finer points of college volleyball. Dur...

Here's a heads-up, Duluth: There's an honest-to-goodness sports dynasty right in your own backyard.

And most of the credit goes to a coach who turned his back on a biology degree in order to teach women the finer points of college volleyball.

During his five-plus seasons as Minnesota Duluth's coach, Jim Boos has posted the best winning percentage in NCAA Division II and guided the Bulldogs to three consecutive North Central Conference titles and Elite Eight appearances in 2004 and 2006.

Their goal might be higher this year. The fourth-ranked Bulldogs have big hitters up front in seniors Vicky Braegelmann and Kari Wolford and a capable setter in junior Katie Gangelhoff -- elements needed for a long playoff run.

But most important of all, they have Boos.

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The 35-year-old, who learned the game watching and playing with his parents in a Wisconsin bar league, is a master tactician and motivator. He's a go-getter, who upon enrolling at Wisconsin-Oshkosh and finding there was no men's club volleyball team, immediately formed one.

Seventeen years later, despite no formal training, he's in charge of, perhaps, the most dominant program in UMD history. So much for that biology degree.

"A door opened for me, and I enjoyed it so much that I realized that I didn't want to be a lab tech. I didn't want to be a cell biologist. I wanted to be a coach," said Boos, who later earned a master's degree in educational leadership at Oshkosh.

He went on to be an assistant coach at North Dakota State -- his younger brother, Dave, is head coach at Ball State -- where he established connections within the NCC and developed a label as a hot coaching prospect. UMD tabbed him to replace Pati Rolf in 2002.

There's been nonstop success since. Boos entered Tuesday's match against rival Concordia-St. Paul with a 151-23 career record (.868 winning percentage).

He's accomplished it with a hard-driving style that pushes the players to their limits.

"[The players] understand one of my strengths -- and weaknesses -- is that I'm a perfectionist," Boos said. "We can do something 95 percent correct and I'm going to pick apart the 5 percent. That's where my brain operates."

Wolford says the players respond well to Boos' methods.

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"He demands perfection,'' she said. "He knows every little detail that we have to do in order for everything to run smoothly."

A perfectionist attitude often doesn't resonate well with modern-day players.

"It's not always an easy sell," Boos said. "We come off a match where you win 3-0 and they ask, 'Why is he so worked up? Why is he unhappy with what we've done? We won.'

"But the biggest thing is I let these kids set their goals. I'm going to coach them based on their goals. If they set their goals high, then I tell them, 'You've given me the freedom to be more demanding.' If they set their goals at a different level, then I will peel back and give them more luxury to waffle between mediocrity and good. When their goals are set at a certain standard, it's my job to get them to those goals."

Braegelmann says those goals are as high as ever this season. Therefore, Boos is as demanding as ever.

"He knows what each player needs to make them better," said Braegelmann, the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division II co-player of the year in 2006.

Braegelmann and Wolford, who each have more than 1,000 career kills, came from Albany (Minn.) High School together. Boos says he's been recruiting bigger, more athletic players since the school's switch to the NCC in 2004. With the Bulldogs' record, it hasn't been difficult.

"This place can sell itself," Boos said. "The institution, the campus, the success with the program in previous years, Duluth itself -- it's not a hard place to convince young ladies to come."

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Or, apparently, to convince them to buy into Boos' methodology.

"Once you're there, there's a belief system," he said. "Those young kids don't want to be that group to let [the program] slip a notch. There's absolutely a pressure that comes with being a solid program, but there's a look of confidence and a work ethic that gets adopted year by year."

And that's the dawning of a dynasty.

RICK WEEGMAN can be reached at (218) 723-5302, (800) 456-8181 or e-mailed at rweegman@duluthnews.com

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