In intercollegiate athletics, coaching matters most. Whether it is a newcomer or a storied figure within the sport, the coaching position is always surrounded by a certain mystique of seasons passed.
Sure, you can load up a team with former high school state champions, all-league stars and coveted transfers, but that will only get you so far. You need organization, conditioning and leadership.
A great coach fills all of those roles, and finding a coach as dedicated to his players and program as head volleyball coach Shane Kimura is a daunting task.
Kimura first inherited the program in 1975. Let’s put that into perspective: In 1975, Gerald Ford was president, a stamp cost 10 cents and gasoline was 53 cents per gallon. Needless to say, he has seen the waters ebb and flow. Kimura has won with all levels of talent and proved himself in the process.
In Kimura’s first year, the volleyball team finished just 3-12. By the end of the next season, it had improved to 8-14, good enough for second in the conference.
During the next two years, as Kimura stepped down to assistant coach, his contributions helped push the team to its first conference championship in 1978, amassing a 27-8 record.
That’s quite a turnaround for a program in just four short years.
One more thing: All the while Kimura was working toward his bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Linfield as an undergraduate, which he received in 1978.
Today, Kimura can still be found on the volleyball court. He is ever-present and patient. He doles out constructive criticism with a natural confidence and humility that he gained over the past three decades at the helm.
When I met Kimura on my first story assignment for the Review last year, I didn’t know what to expect.
I did my research and learned about the team’s strong tradition and winning legacy. From that knowledge I formed an image of Kimura as a strong-mouthed, swaggering, cocky coach.
I could not have been more wrong.
Kimura was quiet but engaging. He was busy but relaxed. He seemed to put real thought into the questions I asked of him and his team, which was not out of courtesy but out of passion for a sport he has worked to master for much of his life.
In the midst of last year’s early-season success, Kimura was still searching for something more, something just short of perfection.
In short, he saw room for improvement from all of his players, not because of
some unreachable expectation but because of his genuine belief in hard work that has allowed him to flourish as head coach.
Kimura came into this season riding massive expectations. He entered with a career record of 565-391 and stands among the most experienced coaches in Linfield history.
So far, so good. Kimura’s players have stepped up to fill the shoes of standouts like Katelyn Baker, Lisa Brocard and Molly Taylor, who all graduated last spring.
With a 4-0 record, winning each of their matches in three straight games, there is not much more one could ask for thus far.
It seems there is only one thing that can slow Kimura down: Mother Nature. On Sept. 10, Linfield canceled its trip to the River City Classic in San Antonio, Texas, because Hurricane Ike is expected to make landfall along the eastern part of the state with winds as fast as 130 mph.
The tournament was set to feature some of the nation’s premier teams. It was the last chance to get into form before the conference opener Sept. 19 against Pacific Lutheran University. Kimura, it seems, will have to make due without that last chance to fix any kinks on the court.
Players come and go but coaches remain. Winning seasons seem to arrive at the hand of some tempestuous deck of cards, one that brings talent, leadership, health, drive and, ultimately, success.
If the test of an athletic program is consistent success over time, Kimura has been immaculate.
Through the yearly graduation of high-performance
athletes, a new crop of freshmen always finds itself at the ready, eager for success, with a sincere love for volleyball. Kimura is the one who shows them the path to winning and to building themselves up as leaders on the court.
One test remains for Kimura: Can he string together back-to-back conference championships for the ‘Cats?
It didn’t happen last year, on the heels of a 2006 conference title. For this season, the goal is clear: another Northwest Conference championship and a long run into the postseason.
Kimura and the women’s volleyball team have their eye on great heights, and with five seniors stepping up to lead the way, they have a real shot at winning the conference.
Linfield, ranked third in a recent NWC coaches’ poll, will have to go through Pacific Lutheran University and University of Puget Sound to do it.
With Kimura at the helm, it’s not a stretch to think they will.