In terms of professional success, Dennis Janzen is among Tabor College’s most outstanding alum.
His Fresno Pacific (Calif.) University volleyball teams don’t just win a lot, they win nearly all the time, including four consecutive NAIA volleyball championships. In this day and age, it’s rare to see one school dominate.
Janzen lettered in tennis and soccer while attending Tabor in the 1970s, but he has distinguished himself as a volleyball coach, and he has helped put Fresno Pacific on the map.
“Dennis has been more than a highly successful volleyball coach at Fresno Pacific,” said Fresno Pacific president Merrill Ewert, another Tabor alum. “He has helped place the university on the national stage with his teams’ achievements on the court and his leadership on campus and in his sport. If people know only one thing about Fresno Pacific, it’s probably the fact that we have a winning volleyball program. I hear about it everywhere I go.
“I’ve met a number of fans who come to all FPU matches, not because they have any connection with the university, but because they like to watch great volleyball. Several years ago, a couple of season ticketholders from Fresno State came to watch the Bulldogs take on Fresno Pacific in our gym. It was the first time that the two teams had ever played.
“After watching the Sunbirds put Fresno State away in three quick sets, we had two new fans. You now see them in the front row at most FPU matches,” Ewert said.
Janzen readily admits that establishing a dynasty requires talented student-athletes. While the majority of his athletes hail from California, his teams have included some talented international student-athletes.
There appears to be some truth to the adage, “Build it and they will come.”
Although Janzen has never traveled overseas to recruit, he said, “they find us.”
Janzen’s teams have never been dominated by international players, “but I realized the benefits that come from having some international players on our team. Our Americans benefit from that experience and the international players benefit as well.”
What does Janzen like the most about coaching volleyball?
“I love the explosiveness of it. It is the type of sport in which athletes can look very athletic. ‘Try and better the ball’ is a phrase we use. It’s a pass, set, hit game. It’s one of the more consummate team games,” Janzen said.
If all goes as planned, Fresno Pacific will leave the NAIA for new challenges at the NCAA Division II level.
“We love the NAIA; however, increasingly the top-level institutions are leaving for the NCAA,” Janzen said. And he notes that the NAIA does little to reimburse schools, while the NCAA does reimburse for post-season play.
“The West is increasingly becoming NCAA and less NAIA, making less sense for us to stay in the NAIA,” Janzen said.
If all goes as planned, Fresno Pacific will be post-season eligible in NCAA Division II in 2013, which is probably good news for NAIA schools who keep losing to the Sunbirds.
Janzen’s success goes beyond winning championships. According to Ewert, “(Janzen’s) teams not only succeed on the court, but also in the classroom and in life. He recruits student-athletes who are leaders on campus, graduate in four years, and go on to successful careers in their areas of interest. I love the fact that many of Dennis’s players have gone on to become teachers and coaches—mentoring yet another generation of student-athletes.”
For all of Janzen’s awards, to my knowledge, he is yet to be recognized by his alma mater.
The membership of Tabor’s Athletic Hall of Fame is generally reserved for student-athletes who excelled while attending Tabor. That’s understandable, but there ought to be room for an alum who has excelled in coaching at the national level.
Another option would be for Tabor to honor Janzen with an Alumni Award.
Then again, it’s not as if Janzen needs any more awards. He already has more than a few.
And his record, which includes being the winningest college volleyball coach in the last 10 years at any level, speaks for itself.