A world-class volleyball player when he started coaching at the University of Manitoba, Garth Pischke has brought that same elite performance to the Bison sidelines for 31 years.
Pischke is on the doorstep of recording his 1,200th win as a university volleyball coach, an amazing total. He and the No. 2-ranked Bisons team are hosting the No. 1-ranked Trinity Western Spartans tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the U of M Investors Group Athletic Centre.
"I think it's fantastic and I'm really excited about the opportunity to get 1,200 wins, but it's going to be tough this weekend. Trinity Western are quite a bit better than just about anyone in the country," said Pischke, whose record is 1,199-324. He started at the U of M in 1977-78 and has coached at different levels for a total of 35 years.
"I'm proud of the long career I've been able to have here at Manitoba," said 56-year-old Pischke, whose teams have won 22 medals in 25 appearances at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship, including nine national titles. "How many hours I've spent in gyms, not just for games but practices, that's a lot of time and a lot of kids," he said. "The gratifying part has been giving them the opportunity to play volleyball at this level and be the best that they can be as a player."
A two-time Olympian as a player (Montreal 1976, Los Angeles 1984), Pischke was Canada's national men's volleyball team head coach from 1996-2000, taking Canada to a No. 10 world ranking from 21st.
Larry McKay, the head coach of the University of Winnipeg Wesmen men's volleyball team since 1989, said his start as a university coach came as Pischke's assistant.
"I feel so lucky that he gave me that opportunity to be around. If it weren't for that, I wouldn't be where I am today," said McKay, who was on the Bisons bench with Pischke on Jan. 23, 1988 when the Bisons beat UCLA 15-0 in the fifth set (old scoring system) of the final at the University of California-Santa Barbara tournament. UCLA was coached by the legendary Al Scates, who now has more than 1,100 NCAA wins.
"We were the only Canadian team to ever win that, which at the time, was a huge tournament with over 20 teams from across North America," McKay said.
Pischke played at the U of W before playing and coaching at Manitoba.
"Garth had come to represent, at a very early age, that great tradition that Manitoba has had in volleyball and he's been at the forefront of that since the 1970s," McKay said.
Lloyd Voth, a teacher at St. Paul's High School for the past 31 years, was coached by Pischke in 1975-76. Now Voth's son Chris is a left-side player on Pischke's team.
"It was awesome to play for him. He was instantly respected as a coach because he's so knowledgable and we all knew him as an incredibly talented player," Lloyd said, noting he and his wife Valorie spent their honeymoon in Los Angeles in 1984 so they could watch Pischke play for Canada at the Olympic Games. "He was a great player and he just became a great coach. He's done so many things for the Manitoba program. Over the last 30 years, it's been the best university program in Canada."
Voth's son Chris and Garth's son Dane, a fourth-year right-side player, are now teammates on the current generation of Bisons.
"I'm proud to be able to follow in his footsteps and I like how well our team is doing right now," Dane said.
"His record is incredible. Not many coaches will be able to hit that milestone in their careers. His win record (78.7 winning percentage) has shown that he's been a very good coach. Hopefully we can get it this weekend."
Garth and wife Cindy will see their daughter Taylor join the Bisons volleyball family with coach Ken Bentley's women's team in the fall.
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 (2009)
Manitoba's Male Amateur Athlete of the 20th Century (2000) by the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.