Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Legendary Hibbing girl’s volleyball coach to be inducted into national coaching hall of fame

A coach talks to players on the volleyball team
Hibbing High School volleyball coach Gail Nucech has called it a career after 44 seasons and a Minnesota-record 884 match wins.
Duluth News Tribune 2012 file

On Tuesday, a legendary Minnesota high school coach will be inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame.

Gail Nucech started the girls volleyball program in Hibbing in 1969 and holds a Minnesota record of 884 match victories over 44 seasons, including leading the team to 23 state tournament appearances. She also coached gymnastics, basketball, softball and track.

Nucech joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to reflect on her coaching career ahead of her induction.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Tomorrow, a legendary Minnesota high school coach will be inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches' Hall of Fame. Gail Nucech started the girls' volleyball program in Hibbing in 1969. And she holds a Minnesota record, 884 match victories over 44 seasons, including leading the team to 23 state tournament appearances. She also coached gymnastics, basketball, softball, and track. Gail is on the road right now to Bismarck, where she'll be honored. She joins us on the phone. Wow, congratulations.

GAIL NUCECH: Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: So you came to Hibbing in 1969, and I'm curious as to what was the spark for you to get this girls' volleyball program up and running?

GAIL NUCECH: Well, I enjoyed athletics. And it started with GAA, and the first state tournament in volleyball was not until '74.

CATHY WURZER: OK, so you started this program when girls' sports were kind of starting to get some traction. Did you run into some problems with maybe male athletic directors?

GAIL NUCECH: Well, yeah, you do. You had to fight for gym space and equipment and all of those types of things. It didn't matter what sports like in track or whatever, because the males dominated the gyms and all that type of thing. But we worked it out, and here it is.

CATHY WURZER: So you had to fight for gym space in the beginning. Where did you all practice? Where did you hold your matches? How did that work?

GAIL NUCECH: We used to have something in the high school. It was called the boys' gym and the girls' gym. So we would practice in the boys' gym. It was a small gym with a balcony around it. And we had the Lincoln gym that it was the bigger floor and everything else.

So our first games were kind of held in the smaller area, and but it worked out. And then we moved over to the Lincoln, which is the bigger facility. And as the program grew, my C squad played over at the high school that was with-- and our seventh and eighth graders also played there.

CATHY WURZER: Of course, the Hibbing High School is a gorgeous place, and that gym is huge. So I can see-- I totally forgot about boys and girls' gyms. You're right. That's how old I am, I guess. [LAUGHS]

GAIL NUCECH: That's how old I am.

CATHY WURZER: [LAUGHS] What was it like to see girls' sports evolve in your time as a coach? It had to be pretty exciting.

GAIL NUCECH: Yes, it is. You start out with young kids and see them growing into young ladies and all the work habits and just the dedication and everybody that helps you, their parents and their coaches and everybody that makes your program go.

But it has grown to-- well, if you look at the Big Ten now in athletics and how, before, we used to play like 4' 2, and now they're playing 5' 1", 6' 2"s, and offenses. And, well, we didn't have that many tall people. But now you have some volleyball people that are 6' 7". And they can hammer the ball. I guess I wouldn't want to be on the other side.

CATHY WURZER: [LAUGHS] Well, yeah, there are some amazing, amazing players. I'm curious, what was your coaching philosophy? If you had to have a philosophy, if you were trying to explain to somebody, what would that be?

GAIL NUCECH: I guess it was something that-- let everybody get involved and have the opportunity to play and improve themselves and become a better person for your community and your school and all around, and basically work, work ethics, and to develop a lifestyle that you can be successful in life.

CATHY WURZER: So, when you were coming up, when you were a kid, what were the sports availability for you? I mean, probably not a whole lot, right? Maybe girls' basketball?

GAIL NUCECH: Well, again, it was GAA, you know? And our GAA was, today, you'd play volleyball. Tomorrow, you'd play softball and whatever was available at the time. But I also played softball on the league that I had to travel over to Grand Rapids, you know? And then we played slow pitch, and I played on a fast pitch league and the slow pitch league, and that had increased from there. Then volleyball started, that recreation volleyball, and went on from there.

CATHY WURZER: OK, so you were active as a young woman, too, which is great. So, you're going up to Bismarck. This is a really big deal. I mean, congratulations. This is a huge honor to be in the National High School Athletic Coaches' Hall of Fame. What the heck did you say when you learned you were going in?

GAIL NUCECH: Well, when I learned, I kept on-- I said to my husband, did you nominate me? Crystal-- my daughter-- did you? And I kept on asking all these people. How did they get this honor, you know? And then I finally asked Dave. I said, how did I get this honor? And he said, because I was inducted into the Minnesota High School Coaches Hall, I think all the names are put in there, and they have a committee that meets. And I guess they chose me for some reason or another, I guess.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, no, don't be modest now. I mean, yeah, you're in the state hall, but we should also say you're in the Hibbing High School Athletic Hall of Fame, the Bemidji State Hall of Fame, the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. So this makes an awful lot of sense that you're going to the National High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame, to be honest.

GAIL NUCECH: And Greenway High School Hall of Fame.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, oh, see, I forgot about Greenway there.

GAIL NUCECH: Oh, that's OK. That's where I went to school at, you know? High school. So but yeah, now we have a seven-hour drive out here.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, my gosh. OK, so, as you think about all you've done, what are your hopes for the future of girls' high school sports?

GAIL NUCECH: I hope that it can continue on and improve. And I think it has to-- any athletics has to start with the basics, so you can get a better offense or defense. But I think just to develop a better-- for your community, for your school, and develop young girls, young ladies, so they'll be more successful and prominent in the world.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah. Coach, congratulations. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

GAIL NUCECH: Well, thank you for very much for having me. Kind of nerve wracking, but it was great.


GAIL NUCECH: Thanks again. And you have a good day.

CATHY WURZER: You, too. Thank you so much, and all the best. Gail Nucech has been with us. Legendary, legendary high school coach in Hibbing. She's being inducted tomorrow into the National High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame. She truly is an amazing woman.

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