As a volleyball coach for more than 30 years, Paul Giesselmann has approached his job one practice and one match at a time. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that he was completely caught off guard when the Midland volleyball coach secured his 500th career victory.
Giesselmann earned that milestone victory on September 3rd with a 3-1 victory over fourth-ranked Park University during the Labor Day Classic in North Sioux City, South Dakota.
“I had no idea. It’s all about the team for me, so I’m always focused on the next practice or the next match,” Giesselmann said. “When the girls presented me with a signed volleyball after our win, it was a big surprise. What was important to me was that it was a big win for our team over a program that is one of the best in the nation. That’s the part I love.”
There have been many big wins for Giesselmann since he arrived at Midland in 2010. Of his 503 career victories, 276 have come with the Warriors, making him the winningest coach in program history. He has guided the Warriors to seven NAIA National Tournament appearances, including three trips to the Final Four and two more to the Elite Eight. He served for seven years as coach at College of St. Mary, leading them to a Final Four appearance, and also spent six seasons as an assistant coach at Creighton.
The crowning achievement for the Warrior program came last spring when they reached the NAIA championship game, losing in five sets to Missouri Baptist. It came in the most bizarre of all seasons as COVID-19 forced the season to be played in two parts, with regular-season matches in the fall and championship play in the spring. “No season in all the years I’ve coached had as many challenges as last season,” Giesselmann said. “Our girls took almost three months off from volleyball, and they came back as refreshed and motivated as any group I’ve had. We had girls working full-time jobs and others who were student-teaching, yet they still wanted to be a part of our program. I was so happy to see the run they made to the championship game because of their commitment level.”
The 2021 version of the Warriors may turn out to be Giesselmann’s best one yet. A 14-0 start that includes six victories over top 25 opponents (including a five-set win over defending champion Missouri Baptist) has earned the Warriors the No. 1 ranking in the latest NAIA poll. Giesselmann says a rigorous early-season slate is vital in preparing them for a championship run. “I’ve always believed in challenging a team early,” he said. “You want to create that adversity and see how your team will respond, and the only way to do that is by playing against good teams. If you never challenge them, you never give them the opportunity to experience great moments.”
Great moments occur because of great people, and Giesselmann has always made sure to surround himself with great people, no matter where the coaching road has taken him. “It starts with the players. I’ve always believed in recruiting high character players with great work ethics,” he said. “If you have those two things, you can do a lot as a program. We are blessed to have so much volleyball talent in this state, and having so much local talent has helped us build a program and helped create an excellent environment for our home matches. No one in the NAIA comes close to our environment for home matches.”
“In 2019, we had more than 15,000 fans at our home matches, which would have put us in the top 50 of Division I programs for attendance. I take a lot of pride in that, but it all goes back to our culture. We recruit outstanding young women, and our community knows that. We have amazing young women who are doing great things even after they are done with volleyball.”
Those players helped build a foundation for one of the top volleyball programs in the nation, something Giesselmann wants his current group to understand. “I tell our current players, it’s not their locker room, they are just the caretakers for the people who came before them, and our program represents every player who has been a part of it,” he said. “The phone calls, text messages, and Facebook messages I got from former players after the 500th win means as much as anything to me. It’s great to know those players are still engaged and thinking about our program.”
He’s also grateful for the many coaches and administrators who guided him through all levels of coaching. “Anybody who’s ever had success had somebody help them along the way, and I’ve had an unbelievable group of people I’ve been fortunate enough to be around,” he said. “My first coaching job was at Winside High School, and Jim Winch was the athletic director. He took me under his wing and taught me how to be a coach, and convinced people to be patient with me. I was also fortunate to attend practices run by Terry Pettit (former Nebraska volleyball coach) and Tom Osborne to see how they did things. Then I had the opportunity to coach with Kirsten Bernthal Booth and Angie Behrens at Creighton, and even though I was the coach with most of the experience, I learned so much from them. It wasn’t just about volleyball, but it was learning how to treat people. Being around them made me a better coach.”
Giesselmann has as much passion for coaching as he did 30 years ago. He’s blessed to be able to do what he loves doing at Midland. “Midland has been such a fantastic fit for me. I’ve been able to be close to my family and watch both of my boys play golf and graduate from Midland,” he said. “Every year is like a new puzzle, and the question is, can you get all the pieces to fit by the end of the year? My challenge each year is that I want our team to be playing its best volleyball by the end of the season.”