Coming off a season in which the Western Michigan volleyball team claimed their first Mid-American Conference Tournament title since 2000 and went to the NCAA Tournament, 2014 MAC Coach of the Year Colleen Munson can lay claim to achievements that no other coach in Bronco history can match. Her tenure at WMU has included a program record eight consecutive 20-win seasons from 2005-12 and nine overall trips to Big Dance in 2008, 2011, and 2014, including a berth in the Sweet 16 in 2008. Furthermore, there is every reason to believe that Munson has constructed a team that will challenge at the top of the Mid-American Conference for years to come.
Taking over a program in 2005 that finished better than third in the MAC West just three times since 1990, Munson has led the Broncos to four MAC West championships, including an outright MAC title in 2008, a MAC Tournament title and trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2014, and NCAA Tournament at-large bids in 2008 and 2011. The Broncos have turned University Arena into one of the best home court advantages in the MAC under Munson, boasting a 93-23 record at home and a 63-15 mark against their conference foes.
Over the years, Munson has had the opportunity to coach players that have earned accolades on the conference and national levels. Under Munson’s tutelage, the Broncos have had 31 players earn All-MAC status; four players have won MAC Freshman of the Year, including Sydney LeMay in 2014; three players have earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year, including Lena Oliver in 2012; and the Broncos have dominated the MAC Setter of the Year awards, winning the honor in four of the last seven seasons. On the national level, Oliver was honored as a two-time COBRA Magazine National Defensive Player of the Year, and Ali Gossen and Kaycee Acree were both named to the 2012 USA National A2 Volleyball team.
In 2014 WMU shocked the field at the MAC Tournament by becoming the first team to win the bracket with four victories in as many nights, entering the Tournament as the fifth seed and upsetting three higher seeds en route to a championship. After sweeping the Buffalo Bulls 3-0 in the first round match, the Broncos got a measure of revenge against their MAC West rival, downing the fourth-seeded Ball State Cardinals in the second round after losing to them twice in the regular season. The Broncos produced the most shocking result of the Tournament in the semifinal round, beating the hosting Ohio Bobcats – who entered the tournament as the top seed with a perfect 16-0 mark in MAC play – by coming back from a 2-0 deficit to win the match 3-2. The Broncos turned the trick one more time in the championship match, coming back from a 0-2 hole to beat the third-seeded Miami RedHawks 3-2 for the title. First Team All-MAC selections Lexie Pawlik and Sydney LeMay both made it to the All-Tournament team, with Pawlik – who led NCAA Division I in total assists in 2014 – claiming MAC Tournament MVP honors.
The Broncos’ success on the court has been matched by their success in the classroom. Western Michigan has earned the American Volleyball Coaches Association Team Academic Award in 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2009-10 for having a team grade-point average of 3.30 or higher. Munson’s teams have also been recognized by the NCAA for ranking in the top-10 percent of all volleyball programs in Academic Progress Rate (APR) in 2007 and 2008. Katie Eberling and Allyson Doyle combined for five CoSIDA Academic All-District awards from 2007-10, and Doyle became the first CoSIDA Academic All-American for the program since Julie Young in 1991. Finally, since Munson took the head coaching reins in 2005, the Broncos have placed 18 student-athletes on the Academic All-MAC team after having just one such player since 1998.
Volleyball may be the sport of choice for those entering the Bronco program, but lately one of Munson’s former players has gained national exposure. Thanks to the strength and conditioning she received while a member of the Broncos, Katie Eberling became a target for the USA National Bobsled Team, joining the squad as a brakeman. Eberling helped Team USA to a bronze medal in the 2012 World Championships, and again to a silver medal in the 2013 Championships. The 2014 Olympic hopeful was honored by her hometown baseball team early in 2013, when she was given the opportunity to throw out the first pitch of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants on April 11, 2013.
The Broncos recorded their ninth straight winning season under Munson and 11th overall in 2013, going 17-14 despite having to replace a number of key players from the previous season’s MAC West championship team. Redshirt freshman Ave Stout showed that the time the coaching staff spent developing her in 2012 was more than worthwhile, capturing MAC Freshman of the Year honors as well as a First Team All-MAC nod; she became the third straight Bronco to be named the conference’s top newcomer. Likewise, junior transfer Lexie Pawlik stepped right in and earned accolades from the conference, being named First Team All-MAC in her first season with the Broncos. Lena Oliver wrapped a terrific four-year career as a Bronco by earning Second Team All-MAC honors reaching significant statistical milestones, becoming just the second player in the history of the MAC to reach 2,500 digs and finishing her career 11th in NCAA history in the category.
WMU captured its fourth MAC West division title under Munson in 2012, compiling a 13-3 record that rated as the second-best conference record in the MAC. The Broncos dominated the year-end awards in the conference, placing three players (Jessica Brown, Lena Oliver, and Terin Norris) on the All-MAC First Team. Oliver finally broke through as the MAC Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference in each of the previous two seasons, while Norris was named MAC Setter of the Year in a season in which she led the conference in assists and the Broncos led in team kills. Freshman Stephenee Yancy earned MAC Freshman of the Year honors, marking the second straight season that a Bronco took home the award, by locking down a starting spot at middle blocker and leading the team in rejections. Brown wrapped her career as the second leading kills producer in program history, become just the second player in the history of the Bronco program to notch better than 1,500 kills.
The Broncos reached their second NCAA Tournament under Munson in 2011, compiling a 24-9 record and receiving an at-large bid to the tournament. The Broncos finished fourth in NCAA Division I in assists and ninth in kills, buoyed by their setter and MAC Freshman of the Year Terin Norris. Norris was one of three Broncos to receive First Team All-MAC honors, joining middle blocker Jessica Brown and libero Lena Oliver, and ranked 14th in the nation in assists, one of the top marks for a freshman. Oliver earned her second straight COBRA Magazine National Defensive Player of the Year award, tying the single-season program record for digs (700) and ranking second in digs per set (5.71).
In 2010, the Broncos finished with a 22-10 overall record and were 12-4 in the MAC, finishing second in the West division before falling in the MAC Tournament to Miami. Setter Sam Viox continued the tradition of quality setters, winning MAC Setter of the Year honors; it was the third consecutive season that a Bronco earned the award. Viox picked up All-MAC First-Team honors, as did junior middle blocker Jessica Brown. Brown notched 379 kills last season for an average of 3.30 kills per set, a figure that ranked seventh in the MAC. Brown also ranked eighth in the conference in hitting percentage, putting balls away at a .311 clip; she was one of just two players in the MAC to rank in the top-10 in both kills per set and hitting percentage in 2010.
Doyle concluded her career on a strong note by earning All-MAC Second-Team honors. Freshman libero Lena Oliver was named COBRA Magazine Defensive Player of the Year after finishing eighth in the nation and second in the MAC in digs with an average of 5.61 digs per set in 2010. That average ranks second for a single season in the WMU record book, while her total of 645 digs ranks fourth for a single season.
The 2009 edition of the Broncos finished 24-11 and dominated the MAC West with a 13-3 mark on the way to reaching the finals of the MAC Tournament for the second consecutive season. Senior setter Jillian Mitchell was named MAC Setter of the Year for the second season in a row, while Jessica Brown became the fourth MAC Freshman of the Year in school history and the first since 1993. The Broncos finished the season ranked 54th in the country in the final rankings released by the NCAA. The Broncos continued to display outstanding defense as they finished the season 43rd of 329 teams in digs per set (16.65). WMU was also in the top-90 in assists per set (79th-12.25), kills per set (83rd-13.18) and attack percentage (87th-.223).
Munson first took the Broncos to the NCAA Tournament in 2008, when she led Western Michigan to the best season in more than 20 years and a Mid-American Conference record 10th NCAA Tournament, and a berth in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1987. The 2008 Broncos defeated host Dayton, 3-1, in the opening round and No. 16 Tulane, 3-2, in the second round to earn two NCAA Tournament victories for only the second time in school history and the first time since 1983. With all of that success, WMU ended the year No. 25 in the country in the final NCAA Ratings Percentage Index and No. 26 in the final Bison/American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25.
Overall, the Broncos finished the year 28-7, the most wins since 1987, and won their eighth Mid-American Conference championship with a 14-2 mark.
Mitchell became the first MAC Setter of the Year in WMU history in 2008, while also earning First Team All-MAC and AVCA All-Mideast Region Honorable Mention honors. Junior Caitlin Strimel was named MAC Defensive Player of the Year for the second season in a row, the first time that has ever happened in MAC history, in addition to being named First Team All-MAC with junior outside hitter Michelle Moore, only the 10th two-time first team selection in school history. Sophomore middle blocker Jaime Gotham was named Second Team All-MAC as the Broncos won three tournaments (Aquafina Invitational, Redbird Classic and Golden Dome Invitational) during the regular season.
In 2007, the Broncos won their first Mid-American Conference West Division title since 2000 with a 12-4 conference mark and a 21-12 record overall. WMU was led by Strimel, the first MAC Defensive Player of the Year in school history, First Team All-MAC outside hitter Moore, Second Team All-MAC middle blocker Ashley Vogl and MAC All-Freshman Team outside hitter Allyson Doyle.
The Broncos opened the year by splitting against two 2007 NCAA Tournament teams in Northern Iowa and Kentucky (W, 3-0) at the UNI Invitational and then closed the season against two more NCAA Tournament members to finish the season with six on the schedule (No. 15 Dayton, No. 20 Ohio, Xavier, Miami-Ohio).
In 2006, Munson led the Broncos to a 21-15 campaign and a berth in the MAC Tournament semifinals. WMU featured five all-conference performers, led by First Team All-MAC senior setter Jenifer Sulewski. Sulewski led the MAC with a WMU record 1,760 assists and the first two triple-doubles in school history.
Senior outside hitter Kathryn Babcock and Vogl were both named Second Team All-MAC. Babcock was among the MAC leaders in kills and points and finished the year with 1,014 career kills to become only the 15th player in school history to achieve that feat. Vogl blossomed in her second season under Munson to become the second most efficient hitter in the MAC (.313 attack percentage).
The Broncos also featured a talented freshman class that earned WMU Prepvolleyball.com Highest Honorable Mention honors for its depth and quality. Three of those players made an immediate impact and two, Katie Eberling and Strimel, were named to the MAC All-Freshman Team. Eberling delivered 460 kills in her rookie campaign, the seventh-best single season total in school history, while Strimel finished with a school-record 700 digs.
The team continued to play a tough schedule that included five 2006 NCAA Tournament teams, three of which finished the season in the CSTV/AVCA Coaches Top 25 (No. 3 UCLA, No. 18 Purdue, No. 25 Ohio, Long Beach State and UC-Santa Barbara).
In her first season as head coach, Munson led the Broncos to their best finish since 2000 (20-9, 11-5 MAC) and a bye into the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament. The Broncos started the season strong by winning the Indiana University TIS Invitational and the WMU Fall Kickoff Tournament and ended strong as Marquette Tournament champions. The team was also successful in the classroom and was awarded the AVCA Academic Award.
Munson helped Shaylen Jackson and Sulewski earn All-MAC accolades and Jackson received Honorable Mention All-Mideast Region honors by the AVCA.
Munson spent five seasons as head coach at East Carolina (2000-04). During her first season, she became only the third coach in program history to post a first-year winning record in leading the Pirates to their first winning campaign since 1995. The team went 17-13 behind the play of two all-conference performers and finished third in the Colonial Athletic Association and ranked sixth regionally, the first regional ranking in school history.
ECU made the move up in competition to Conference USA in 2001 and Munson guided the team to the Conference USA Tournament in her first season in the league. In 2003, Jaime Bevan made the C-USA All-Freshman Team to become the first Pirate volleyball player to earn all-conference honors since ECU joined the league.
A native of Glen Ellyn, Ill., Munson spent three years (1997-99) as an assistant at Western Michigan for head coach Cathy George. During her stint in Kalamazoo, the Broncos had a .619 winning percentage (57-35), including a 25-7 season in 1999 that saw the team go 15-3 in the MAC and advance to the MAC Tournament title match for the first time in a decade. With several players that Munson helped recruit, WMU went on to go 26-5 and advance to the NCAA Tournament in 2000.
With Munson’s help, four players earned all-conference honors (Traci Morin, Mandy Whitfield, Stefanie Rotunno, Jen Nowak) and two players were alternates and training squad members for the United States entry in the Pan Am games in 1999.
Munson was also a successful coach at the club level for the West Michigan Volleyball Association’s 17- and 18-year old teams. Her nationally-recognized “Dead Frogs” competed at the highest levels possible and continually earned regional and national acclaim. In both 1998 and 1999, the Dead Frogs finished fifth in the country at the national tournament and featured three total All-America honorees during that span.
Munson started her collegiate career at North Dakota State before transferring to Texas-Arlington for the 1990 season. She helped lead the Mavericks to the NCAA Tournament in 1990 and Southland Conference championships in 1990 and 1992. As a three-year starter, Munson ended her career fifth all-time at UTA with 4,089 assists.
Munson earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Texas-Arlington in 1993 and a master’s in athletic administration from Western Michigan in 2001.
Prior to moving on to the college ranks, Munson was a player on the 1986 and 1987 Sports Performance back-to-back national championship club teams.
Munson and her husband, Matt, are the parents of a son, Jacob, and daughter, Bryn. They reside in Portage.