The stage is set, the players are in place and the Pischke father-son duo is taking one final run at winning a national championship before the curtain closes.
For Garth Pischke, in his 32nd season as University of Manitoba Bisons men's volleyball coach, there will be another season after this one. But this is the last season for Garth's son Dane, a right-side hitter in his fifth and final year of eligibility.
"My dad is a great coach, he's coached me my whole life so I've been thinking about it quite a bit," said Dane. "You need to think about the short term, what's in front of us right now, as opposed to the long term. We've got a really good team this year, so winning a national championship is our main goal."
Garth has won nine Canadian Interuniversity Sport titles as a head coach but it's been nine years since the last one in 2002-2003.
"I've been through it quite a few times, winning championships over the years, and I know how exciting it is to have that run. Certainly I would like to do that, very much, with Dane," Garth said. "But things have changed immensely over the years. There's way more good teams now, the calibre of volleyball is way better than it was 15 years ago. Now, you're only as strong as your eighth or ninth player, whereas back in the early days, you could have one or two decent players and win."
Though four years of coaching his son has gone by in the blink of an eye, Garth has watched Dane improve every season. Last season, he had a breakout year and was named a CIS first-team All-Canadian after being a conference first-team all-star.
"It's fantastic, it's been the icing on the cake to have this opportunity to coach him at this level and to see the way he's developed as a player," Garth said. "The last couple of years have been beyond my wildest dreams. He's been able to meet all challenges -- and being my son carries an extra challenge to deal with. He's only getting better and he's starting to realize how good he can be."
Dane said playing more aggressively has made him better.
"I came into it cautious, not wanting to make mistakes. But when you're at this level, you have to go after it or you're not going to score," Dane said. "You have to go after it, as hard as you can, give it your all, and that's the way you and your team will succeed."
Dane is one of five fifth-year players that have loaded the Bisons starting rotation, a group that went 4-14 and were third-last in Canada West in their first year together.
"It's a credit to these guys, they've improved every year," said Garth.
The next two seasons, the Bisons were 9-9 and 11-7 and made the playoffs. Last season, the 18-2 Bisons were Canada West silver medallists and went to nationals for the first time in six years. Manitoba won bronze after losing to Laval in the CIS semifinals.
"We took a huge step last year getting to nationals and playing as well as we did. We were right there, right in the mix," Garth said. "We played a little nervous at the beginning at nationals because we hadn't been there. We have that under our belt now, that confidence that we can go there and do well, because we've done it."
At left-side, Chris Voth also had a big season last year and is hunting for a gold medal in his fifth year. His father is also on the Bisons staff. Chris's dad Lloyd, an assistant coach, was coached by Garth in 1975-76.
Libero Derek Nieroda, middle Joseph Brooks and Carson Kauenhowen are the other fifth-year players.
The 3-0 Bisons, ranked No. 3 in Canada, play on the road for the next two weekends (this weekend in Brandon) before returning home on Nov. 22-23 to host Thompson Rivers.
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Dean of coaches
A look at Garth Pischke's university coaching career:
32nd season as Bisons head coach
career winning percentage of 78.7 per cent (all matches)
career coaching record 1,218-330 (includes 9-4 record this season)
has taken Bisons teams to the CIS championship tournament 26 times
has won 23 medals in those 26 appearances: nine gold, nine silver, five bronze along with two fourths and a fifth-place finish
coached Canada's national men's team from 1996-2000 bringing Canada to No. 10 in the world from No. 21
PISCHKE'S hall of fame inductions and honours as a player:
Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame (1989)
Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame (1999)
Canadian Volleyball Hall of Fame (2000)
Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association Hall of Fame (2009)
Manitoba's Male Amateur Athlete of the 20th Century (2000) by the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame