Friday, December 2, 2022

The Road to 500

After several stops in her illustrious career, MSU volleyball head coach Cathy George just one win shy of No. 500

September 25, 2012
Volleyball head coach Cathy George hugs former outside hitter Jenilee Rathje while being honored for being named an AVCA third team All-American before the game against Purdue on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. Family and friends attended the game to cheer for Rathje. Julia Nagy/The State News
Volleyball head coach Cathy George hugs former outside hitter Jenilee Rathje while being honored for being named an AVCA third team All-American before the game against Purdue on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. Family and friends attended the game to cheer for Rathje. Julia Nagy/The State News —
Photo by Julia Nagy | and Julia Nagy The State News

To some coaches, approaching a milestone is something to thrive for. To MSU volleyball head coach Cathy George, however, talking about the journey to her 500th win is just another topic to roll her eyes at.

With George sitting at 499 wins and looking at the chance to grab No. 500 Wednesday against Nebraska, she had to at least be thinking about her historical achievement, right?

“Not at all,” said George shaking her head earnestly. “Somebody just told me the other day (I was close to 500), and I had no idea where I was.”

The next time the Spartans bring home a victory, George will be the 34th active coach to notch a 500th career win.

How does a coach reach such a historical plateau? George will be the first to say it’s her longevity that kept her win total climbing to the top.

“I’ve had many years in the job,” George said, thinking about her trip down memory lane back to when she started coaching at North Dakota State in 1987.

In just her second year with the Bison, she was named the NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year, leading her team to a 43-3 season and a third-place national finish. `Shortly after in 1989, she took the head coaching position at University of Texas-Arlington and became the first woman head coach to lead her team to the NCAA Division I Final Four in 1989.

In 1994, she took the reins of head coach at Western Michigan, and after 11 successful years as a Bronco, she became a Spartan in 2004.

With an individual résumé that impressive, one might think those would be the memories she was thinking about, but George’s accomplishments are more in-depth than the surface. Her finest memories are stepping onto campuses and turning their volleyball program around with her teams, she said.

“Every program (I’ve been at), there were times where the team was either low on depth or they haven’t been doing well for years, and you needed to go in there and bring them some life,” George said.

Aside from her efforts in recruiting and her patience, some MSU players used the same two words to describe George — intense and passionate.

“There is never a dull moment,” junior middle blocker Alexis Mathews said, seconds after George playfully hurled a ball at sophomore Taylor Galloway for botching a spike during practice.

Aside from stirring up laughs from the players in the relaxed, yet fast-paced, practice atmosphere, sophomore libero Kori Moster said that her passion lured her to MSU.

“She has a very intense personality about the sport, and the thing that really put me here was her passion for the game, and that is something I can connect with her on,” Moster said. Those personal relationships also are something that has stuck out more than wins to George. When thinking of her journey to 500, she mentioned her relationship with her players being one of her fondest memories.

“I love hearing back from my players and teams, because now they have kids and those kids are going on and playing high school and college sports,” George said.

“It’s great to know that you touched a lot of people’s lives and they’ve touched yours as well.”

So is it the wins and milestones that George thrives on? Maybe not, but then again, that passion and sincerity with her players could be the reason she is classified as an elite coach.

The Spartans take on Nebraska on Wednesday to try to give George her 500th win, but to her, it’s just another game.

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