Oregon State Women's Volleyball Led by a Proven Leader
by Ryan Reiswig
To say Terry Liskevych is a seasoned veteran of women's athletics would be like saying Jerry Rice was a pretty good wide receiver, you are leaving way too much credit on the table.
A three-time U.S. Olympic head coach, a gold medalist and former National Coach of the Year, Liskevych has seen and done about all there is in women's athletics.
The Pac-10 celebrates its 25th anniversary of women's sports this year and has Liskevych, one of the biggest names in women's volleyball for the past 30 years, patrolling Oregon State's sidelines. This will be his sixth season at OSU after previously building a program from the ground-up to national prominence and leading multiple USA Olympic teams into battle.
A Chicago native, Liskevych got his start in the coaching ranks under legendary Olympic and national team coach Jim Coleman as an assistant at George Williams College. His stay there lasted three seasons and included a NAIA National Championship in 1974. From there, he landed his first head coaching job at Ohio State University where he led the men's team for two years, leading them to the NCAA national semifinals both years and coaching three players who would go on to play on the 1984 U.S. Olympic gold medal winning team.
Not knowing what the state of men's volleyball was going to become because of the advent of Title IX, Liskevych decided to take his career to the West Coast and landed a job University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., with the women's program, which had just gone to Division I. Liskevych set his sights high from the start, modeling his program after perennial-power UCLA and head coach Andy Banachowski.
"You know, I've got to be like them," Liskevych said at the time. "If I could beat them, we're going to be good. So in 1977, we gave the first guarantee I think in women's volleyball, $250, for UCLA to come play us. They beat us in 28 minutes."
UCLA may have gotten the best of UOP that day, but also might've woken up a sleeping giant. Liskevych's teams ended up going 10-8 against UCLA in his tenure there.
"I should've retired because not that many people have a record like that against Andy," Liskevych jokes.
Liskevych turned UOP's women's program into a national power, going to five NCAA semifinals in his nine years there. After just his fourth season, they ranked fourth in the nation with a second-place finish in 1980. His teams were undefeated NorCal Champions in 1979, 1980, and 1981, and he was the Collegiate Volleyball Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 1983.
Liskevych had made a huge mark on the landscape of women's volleyball.
In 1984, Liskevych took his talents to the national level accepting the coaching job for the U.S. Women's Volleyball National team. He coached the team in the Olympics in 1988, 1992 and 1996, leading them to a bronze medal in 1992. In 1995, his team won a gold medal at the World Grand Prix and he was named Federation of International Volleyball Coach of the Year. His tenure as head coach of the National Team lasted 12 years until 1996.
Liskevych took a nine year break from coaching and then got the coaching itch once again.
"I missed college. I missed mentoring young people. I'm teaching life skills, getting them to graduate and I'm making them good volleyball players, in that order," says Liskevych.
He met his current assistant, Mark Barnard, who was the Australian National Coach.
"I told him, when my two children were getting older, getting ready to go college, 'Hey, I'm thinking about getting into college coaching, would you think about coming and coaching in the states?'" says Liskevych. "He said, 'In a heartbeat.'"
The two accomplished coaches began shopping around for opportunities and they preferred something in the Pac-10 or Big Ten. Oregon State was looking for a coach and Liskevych thought it was the perfect match.
"We really have been having fun at Oregon State. The Pac-10 is a terrific conference," Liskevych says. "Great coaches, great programs. Every night is a battle."
Just as Liskevych welcomed the challenge of coaching a one-year-old program at UOP 34 years ago, he welcomes the challenge of coaching in one of women's volleyballs toughest conferences.
"It takes a lot of perseverance to be good in this conference. You take Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington, Arizona, all teams that have been to the NCAA semifinals," says Liskevych. "I was joking last year, I think we were 27th or 28th ranked in a poll in the third week of the Pac-10. That's the good news, out of 331 teams. The bad news, seven Pac-10 teams were in front of us."
With so many great schools in the conference, one would think it would help in recruiting. Liskevych mentions it "does and it doesn't help" because recruits always look at your record. With so much competition, the Pac-10 teams "beat each other up."
That high level of competition in the conference is what makes going to a Pac-10 women's volleyball game so entertaining. Liskevych points out that women's volleyball is unique to other women's sports in that it's played on women's dimensions. Women's basketball is played on a 10-foot hoop like men's basketball, while women's volleyball is played with a net eight inches lower than men's height.
"You can see the physicality at the net, therefore you see great athletes," says Liskevych. "There's a lot more rallies and there's power in the women's game, but not so much that it's just sideout, sideout, sideout. It's a great sport, a great spectator sport. You come once, you'll come back."
During Liskevych's time around the game of women's volleyball, which has spanned over 30 years and seven United States Presidents in and out of office, the game he loves has changed. He cites the same reason as what drew him to the women's game, Title IX, as the reason why it's growing.
"I think it's really grown on the women's side," Liskevych said. "Because of Title IX, there are hundreds of thousands of ladies playing club volleyball all over the United States. And that's really the growth of the game, the junior community has really grown and fueled that. The game is quicker, faster, more athletic, with great athletes playing the game."
Great athletes playing the game and a great coach coaching. Throughout his career, Liskevych has accomplished more than most volleyball coaches can dream of.
"I've been very fortunate. I've lived a charmed life," he said. "A kid from the Ukrainian community in Chicago to get where I've gotten, it has been a dream come true. The American Dream."
What's his greatest accomplishment so far in his career?
"It's yet to come," Liskevych says.
If that means it's winning a National Championship, the Pac-10 and the rest of the nation better watch out.