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End of an era for NWC volleyball program

NWC head volleyball coach Shaun Pohlman discusses strategy with outside hitter Luana Rezende during a game against Eastern Wyoming College earlier this season. NWC head volleyball coach Shaun Pohlman discusses strategy with outside hitter Luana Rezende during a game against Eastern Wyoming College earlier this season. Tribune photo by Don Cogger

Pohlman leaves behind legacy of excellence on and off the court

Northwest College head volleyball coach Shaun Pohlman announced last week that he’s accepted the head coaching position at Lewis-Clark State College, a four-year school in Lewiston, Idaho. The school competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)’s Frontier Conference, which is a step up from the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) that includes NWC.

“I wasn’t hired to be average,” Pohlman said of the new job.

Average is something that Pohlman was not during his seven-year career at Northwest College, either, leading the Lady Trappers to 168 wins and averaging 24 wins per season. He leaves the Region IX North with a 74-15 record, earning four region titles en route to four straight top 10 finishes at the national tournament. That went along with many other honors (see related story below).

Discovering a love for the game

Despite all of his achievements on the court, Pohlman’s start in volleyball was not a traditional one.

Pohlman first remembers being around the sport at about 10 years of age, while watching his parents play in a rec department league in his hometown of Twin Falls, Idaho.

Pohlman didn’t actually play volleyball until competing in a Powder Puff game during his senior year of high school. There just weren’t many opportunities for men to play the sport.

“I never put two and two together that, ‘Hey, maybe volleyball could be a thing I could do,’” Pohlman said.

After graduating high school, he joined his dad’s rec league and played in some rec tournaments.

“We were just living in the moment of volleyball,” said Pohlman of the time. “[Volleyball] really got in on a recreational side and not a business or a serious side. It was something more, and maybe that’s where the passion for this game comes from — this was never a job for me.”

Over time, Pohlman got picked up playing in tournaments within the rec department and worked up from playing in D-level tournaments to the A-level. Every Sunday, the rec center in his hometown would open the gym for volleyball and he’d play from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with his team.

“That’s where things really started skyrocketing,” Pohlman said. He would videotape himself setting because “I wanted those hands,” indicating the setting motion.

“The game teaches the game, and I was learning by playing it,” Pohlman said.

He started playing in another town’s rec department from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday, so every Sunday, Pohlman was playing 10 hours of volleyball.

“That’s where it just kind of came full force,” he recalled. While he’d played baseball, football and basketball in high school, “this is now my sport,” Pohlman said.

Pohlman attended college in Twin Falls at an outreach program through Idaho State. But right before his last semester, ISU closed down their outreach program, forcing Pohlman to move.

“I never intended on leaving Twin Falls,” said Pohlman, describing himself as a homebody who’d never been more than three hours from his hometown.

Pohlman’s choices were to attend school in either Boise or Pocatello.

When he started looking into Idaho State in Pocatello and saw they had men’s club volleyball, “all of a sudden I see this vision of me being able to play men’s volleyball,” Pohlman said.

Pohlman went to Pocatello and joined the team.

“I really participated as much as I could,” said Pohlman, who ended up being the team’s setter.

Pohlman said he’d also play at an LDS Church on Thursday nights from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

“It was again just a love of the game type of a thing,” Pohlman said of the hours he spent playing.

Throughout his stint on the club volleyball team, Pohlman helped recruit and tried finding ways to keep the team motivated. He also did fundraising to help with a “scholarship” of sorts for the club sport and scheduled practices.

“I was doing everything I could to keep this thing afloat,” Pohlman said.

In college club sports, members of the team have to pay a fee to participate but are not offered academic scholarships.

During his senior year, Pohlman had to finish in Boise because his major — sign language interpreting — was no longer offered in Pocatello. However, he kept playing for his club team in Pocatello, and drove to games on the weekends.

“Just having a dream and having a plan and saying ‘I will not be deterred, I don’t care what comes I will make this work,’” Pohlman said of his dedication.

“It was not an easy journey, but it was the most worthwhile; I grew up a lot,” Pohlman said of his college playing career. “I would say I was born and raised in Twin Falls, but I grew up in Pocatello, because it was that age. I learned how to be away from home for the first time.”

A career in coaching begins

After college, Pohlman was asked to be the assistant coach at Filer High School in Filer, Idaho.

That spring, he worked with the eighth grade team and the following year, he built his own traveling volleyball club.

“Now I’m getting into full management having players and staff,” said Pohlman of his change of roles.

After opening up his own club team, he found out that the student he expected to interpret for was no longer going to attend that high school; Pohlman was going to be losing his job.

About this same time, someone from Dodge City Community College told him of a coaching position opening up.

Pohlman’s wife Megan told him that, with the amount of hours he was already spending on volleyball each week, it would be no different than the time he was already spending.

“I would not be in this sport probably if it was not for my wife supporting me in that dream,” Pohlman said. “I just really appreciate my wife.”

Pohlman took the coaching position at Dodge City Community College and spent four years as the head coach before transferring to Northwest College seven years ago.

On to the next adventure

Now, Pohlman is continuing his journey by coaching at Lewis-Clark State College. He described himself as “really grateful for my journey,” adding that he and his wife have enjoyed their time here in Powell and will miss the community and friends they’ve made here.

“There are serendipitous moments throughout life where a lot of people say, ‘Hey, I’m pretty lucky,’ but I really do feel lucky and feel fortunate,” Pohlman said.

His passion for coaching volleyball has been recognized by several of his colleagues.

“Shaun has been one of the most successful volleyball coaches on and off the court in the history of Northwest,” said NWC head men’s basketball coach Brian Erickson. “He has accomplished a NJCAA National All-Academic Team every year at Northwest. He has a 91 percent graduation rate and has the most successful run of championships in school history on the court. One of the most successful volleyball coaches we have had on and off at Northwest will be missed. Wish we could keep him.”

Added NWC President Stefani Hicswa, “Our loss is Lewis and Clark’s gain. Shaun has a great future ahead of him.”

Pohlman said he didn’t have much direction when he came out of high school, describing himself as impressionable and someone who never looked towards the future and didn’t have his own identity.

“That’s why I love being in this job here: I get the opportunity to help 18-19 [year-olds] gain what their future is going to look like,” Pohlman said. “Your success is determined by your influences.”

When Pohlman had doors close on him, he found another door to open through a work ethic and drive.

“It’s just having that something inside of you that no one else can give you, almost; it’s wanting something and being willing to go through whatever it takes to get it — and I don’t know where I got that from,” he said.

The coach wishes more kids would decide what they want, “then be realistic in those goals”; for example, he says you need to be in the gym if you want to be the highest jumper on the team.

“[You] need to quit finding excuses as to why something won’t happen,” Pohlman said, “and just make it happen.”

A successful run

Shaun Pohlman is leaving Northwest College’s volleyball program with a long list of accomplishments.

During his seven-year tenure with the Lady Trappers, the team made several runs at the NJCAA title — including an eighth-place showing in 2013, followed by back to back Final Four appearances (fourth place) in 2014 and 2015 and a sixth-place finish in 2016.

Pohlman also won 11 Coach of the Year Awards, including two that were presented by AVCA’s West Region, nominating him for National Coach of the Year.

His teams also gained the accolades of 23 All-Region IX players, 22 Wyoming Community College Athletic Conference (WCCAC) members, 21 Region IX North All-Tournament players, sevem NJCAA Division I All-Americans, six American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA), six NJCAA National Players of the Week, five All-Region IX/WCCAC Players of the Year, four NJCAA National All-Tournament members, two Region IX North/WCCAC Freshmen of the Year, and a Setter and Libero of the Year in Region IX North/WCCAC.

Pohlman stressed success in the classroom and throughout his stint at NWC, his teams finished on the NJCAA National Academic Team list (3.0 GPA minimum) every season. That award is accompanied by 23 NJCAA Academic All-Americans while earning three AVCA Academic Team awards (3.3 GPA minimum). Additionally, in 2011 and 2015, the Lady Trappers team won the Sheila R. Worley Sportsmanship Award, given to the team at the Region IX North tournament for their display of sportsmanship.

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