Almost exactly 15 years after she got her first win, Western Washington University coach Diane Flick watched her team complete a four-set win over Hawaii Pacific University for her 300th career coaching victory.
The match also shared a funny coincidence with her first win — it was a home match played away from Carver Gymnasium.
The historic win came at Squalicum High School because WWU was holding its annual Viking Night event in Carver.
“Our men’s soccer coach asked if I could remember my first win, and it was actually against Sonoma State at Whatcom Community College because of the same event,” Flick said. “It was a little different, but after 15 years and 15 Viking Nights in my career, it’s just part of the job.”
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Flick began playing volleyball in junior high, and a successful high school career led to her playing for the University of Washington in college. She began coaching a club team for 14- to 18-year-olds after graduating, until her former UW coach called.
“I got a call from my coach at UW to come and be an assistant, and I told him I would do it through the end of the year or until he could find someone who was more qualified,” Flick said.
After four years as a UW assistant, Flick took over at WWU in 2000 and found immediate success, leading the team to a 24-9 overall record. The next three years she guided the Vikings to three league titles and a 57-match winning streak in league play that lasted from 2000 to 2004.
“I was pretty lucky in the fact that I inherited a pretty good team,” Flick said. “There were some players who needed a little more structure and vision, but I didn’t need to bring in new players. They were ready to learn and grow and maximize their potential, so when I walked in the door I looked brilliant, but they were the ones that did all the work.”
In 2007, Flick took the Vikings all the way to the NCAA Division II national championship match, where they finished runner-up.
Katie Emmons, a setter on that team, is now a volleyball coach at Nooksack Valley High School. Emmons has taken a few of Flick’s mannerisms and coaching tendencies to the Pioneers’ program, and the experience of playing for national championship, in particular, had a big effect, Emmons said.
“She had a speech before the match, and she said, ‘It’s just another turkey dinner,’” Emmons recalled in a phone interview. “She explained that you can have a turkey dinner any day of the year, but for some reason it’s really special on Thanksgiving. It meant that just because it’s the national championship, it isn’t different from any game before that.
“So when we (Nooksack Valley) went to state in 2012, we put that on the back of our shirts to remind us that it isn’t any different.”
Sustaining her early success challenged Flick to continue changing tactics and stay a few steps ahead of WWU’s conference rivals.
“We’ve been able to continuously push the envelope,” she said. “I think that’s something you have to continually do because as you make leaps forward in your program, there’s always people trying to catch you.”
One way she has stayed ahead recently was completing her masters degree in coaching and sports administration at Concordia-Irvine.
“It was a great opportunity to get a refresher on what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years — should I continue to do it, should I re-tweak it,” Flick said. “You always have to challenge yourself, or if you stay stagnant, everyone is going to pass you.”
Three Whatcom County high school volleyball coaches have come out of Flick’s program and followed her footsteps into coaching. Emmons, Shannon Claeys at Meridian and Laurie Quigley at Squalicum are leading teams and spreading the impact of Flick’s program throughout the county.
“It’s great because it means they have a passion for it,” Flick said. “There are a lot of players who leave college and don’t want to see the game for awhile. They are not only playing, but coaching, and hopefully their experience here has inspired them to inspire others.”
In her 308 wins entering play on Saturday, Oct. 4, Flick has had some big games. Upsets, blowouts and comebacks included, the one that she said sticks out the most to her came in 2011.
The Vikings were taking on No. 24 Seattle Pacific University, which led the conference at the time. WWU had traded sets so far with the Falcons at Carver, going 25-20, 30-32, 25-20, 20-25, heading into the final set.
“We were down 8-1, which is an insurmountable lead when you talk about going to 15 points,” she said, “but we ended up winning 18-16. We rode the back of Marlayna Geary, who just swung as hard as she could, and Laurie Yearout kept feeding her the ball. We had some great serves and great digs. There was a moment where they decided to switch and just play.
“It was great to just sit back and watch them, because you don’t really make plans for when you’re down 8-1 and coming back. It’s not a great coaching move, but the players made it happen.”