SAN ANTONIO, Texas — After having the best winning season since his start on July 1, 2015, Head Volleyball Coach Dan Behnke still did not expect to get the highest honor for a coach in the Red River Athletic Association. At the conference banquet where his name was called for the honor, an unassuming Behnke just sat in his seat, not out of timidity but in focus on his team.
“To me, the banquet is about the kids,” Behnke shared. “I didn’t think they would recognize Coach of the Year there. When they mentioned my name, I didn’t go up. I was like ‘thanks.’ This was about the kids. I can tell they (the players) wanted me to go up to get it, so I got up, accepted the award, took the picture, and sat back down. I try to avoid the spotlight; it’s just not me.”
The 2018-19 season started well for Behnke. The players worked really hard and earned a 4-0 start to the season at a tournament in New Orleans. Then, that following Wednesday, the team beat Prairie View A&M University, a big feat, a “game changer” for the Huston-Tillotson University team, with Prairie View being an NCAA division one team.
“If we can beat an NCAA division one team, we can do everything else.” That was the mindset as the season continued.
Another big accomplishment was the first-ever volleyball win over Our Lady of the Lake University of San Antonio.
Yet another big deal was the team going undefeated at home for the entire season.
How all of this success?
“We played very well as a team,” Behnke explained. “We didn’t have the MVP. Instead, we played as a team and were so good defensively and improved offensively.”
The improvement this season was huge for a team that did not make it to the championship last year or the year before or the year before that. But this year, the team did not only make it to the championship; the team earned the title of “Co-Champions” for the team’s 28-5 record. They fell just short of the overall championship win, losing to Wiley College and defeating their hope of going to the national NAIA tournament.
But all is not lost.
“We completed half of our goal this year of making it to the championship and winning a title, albeit co-conference. But every year, our goal is to win the championship and advance to the national round and of course win the national title, a huge step forward from a prior goal of just making it to the championship game.”
Now, it’s time to pick up where the team left off this season for next season. The team will lose only one player to graduation, Senior Maranda Washington. But other than that, the team has a ton of returners. Even more, a recent tryout turned out 18 prospects. And just like a top coach, a Coach of the Year, would do, Behnke will find spots for improvement and fill those to take his team to the next level.
Behnke got his coaching start under a successful Central Texas coach, Texas State’s Karen Chisum; Chisum is the third-winningest coach in division one volleyball.
“I had the privilege to be under her for a season,” Behnke shared. Then, Behnke felt the time was ripe to step up to be a head coach, and he learned of the opportunity at Huston-Tillotson.
“I felt strongly after Texas State that I was qualified for this position, the background in social work, mediation and problem solving that I teach families and kids, I can now use to effect change in volleyball. (Behnke spent 13 years in social services, working with patients in treatment and foster care homes.) Those things really help other than knowing the Xs and Os.”
Behnke also played volleyball in college at the University of Wisconsin – Stout; he was a right-side hitter. He also played beach volleyball and in professional tournaments.
When he arrived at HT in 2015, he wanted to start a culture of winning and discipline. He methodically made that happen.
“Each year, the team gets stronger, and stronger players are taking a look at Huston-Tillotson University. It’s all about building HT up, being able to advance our name; that’s been a goal of mine.”
As a byproduct of advancing Huston-Tillotson’s name, Behnke has advanced his name as Coach of the Year. However, a modest Behnke maintains that the Coach of the Year honor is all about his team.
“I look at it as a team award still because it’s the body of work that our team did.”
Behnke ended with thanks.
“I want to thank a few people for the season we had. I want to thank the administration and (Athletic Director) Charles Dubra for giving me the opportunity to guide and push this program in a positive way and my wife for being the guiding force behind the scene and allowing me to be away from home all of that time to do what we do.”