A remarkable run by the Northwest College volleyball team has drawn national attention and coach Shaun Pohlman hopes to continue the program’s success, despite revenue woes that have meant budget cuts for Wyoming’s colleges.
The Trappers’ 2016 season ended with their fourth straight Region IX North championship and appearance in the National NJCAA Division I tournament.
Pohlman had some concerns at the beginning of the year.
“We had lost two All-Americans (from the 2015 team) along with our libero and some others who contributed,” Pohlman said. “Having to rebuild after those losses was a challenge.”
To add to the challenge, Pohlman had to work without an assistant coach. Last year’s budget cuts, among other things, meant the program couldn’t afford the position.
“I knew balancing those challenges and being a repeat conference champion would be difficult,” Pohlman said.
In the end, though, Pohlman and his team were able to continue NWC’s success. They survived a strong challenge from Laramie County Community College at the regional tournament to earn a spot in the national competition, then advanced to the national quarterfinals before losing to the eventual runner-up. The Trappers eventually placed sixth in the country.
“Overall, I was happy with how we finished,” Pohlman said. “I think I did the best I possibly could and the team did the best they possibly could to be successful.”
Since the tournament, Pohlman has fielded calls from coaches at major colleges — including Penn State, Louisiana State and Arkansas. Pohlman said that indicates awareness of the quality of NWC’s program.
“That’s what we have built here now, and we want to maintain that,” he said. “But there is a level of uncertainty right now, and we’re seeing it across the state. Wyoming’s economy isn’t going to turn around right away.”
“But I am very appreciative that the administration, the (Northwest College) Foundation and the booster club have been working to give us the support we need,” Pohlman said.
As state revenue declines, though, more cuts are likely, and Pohlman said that would likely limit how much aid he can offer to athletes interested in playing at NWC — especially international students.
International students have become an important part of many junior college teams, which was evident from the rosters of the 16 schools competing in the national tournament this year. Only two teams had no international students. Two to six such players was typical, but three teams had eight or more. The champion, Miami-Dade College, included 12 international students from six different countries and one player from Florida.
Four international students made the Trapper’s roster this season, including sophomore setter Jelena Slijepcevic from Serbia and sophomore outside hitter Mikayla Sellers-Wiebe of Canada. Two freshmen from Montenegro — Nevena Pejovic and Aleksandra Saric — also saw action.
Pohlman has built a strong program in his six years at NWC as demonstrated not only by the four regional championships and trips to the national tournament, but by the many conference, regional and national awards his players have won. Four of his players have been named as NJCAA All- Americans and many of his players have been honored as Academic All-Americans. This year, he was named Region IX North Coach of the Year for the third consecutive season.
Despite the leaner times, Pohlman said his aim is to continue building a program that will bring success to NWC, and he will work with the foundation and the college to that end.
“We’re going to do what we can to maintain the program at that level,” Pohlman said. “I’m working with the foundation and the college to deal with the budget woes so we can maintain what we have achieved.”