Enshrinement: UCM Volleyball Program

In the early 1970s, three professors – Dr. Jessie Jutten, Dr. Dean Martin and Dr. Millie Barnes – launched women’s sports at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.

Among them was volleyball in 1970, with graduate assistants coaching the first five seasons and physical education majors making up most of the rosters. In 1975, Peggy Martin was hired as an assistant professor and coach of volleyball and softball, with her becoming a full-time coach in 1985.

“Our practices back in the late 70’s and early 80’s were tough,” said Lynette “Tillie” Jarvis, an outside hitter from 1978-1982. “We knew that Coach had high expectations, and we wanted to please her. There was an honest fear of coach, but not in a bad way but in a way that made us work hard because we didn’t want to disappoint her or your teammates.”

From there rose a powerhouse in collegiate volleyball, and the success over the past several decades is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct the University of Central Missouri Volleyball Program with the Class of 2023.

Since they began in the fall of 1970, the Jennies are 1,530-428-9. Much of the success was a combination of coaching continuity, recruiting and teamwork. The Jennies were led for 33 seasons by Peggy Martin and then Flip Piontek, who coached 13 seasons before retiring after the 2021 season but also was an assistant for 23 years prior.

The program has enjoyed 51 winning seasons, and 36 trips to the NCAA Tournament. In the past 43 seasons, the Jennies have produced 73 All-Americans and 236 All-MIAA selections. The 1987 team was an NCAA Division II national runner-up. UCM finished in the Top 20 some 32 times, including 16 times in the Top 10.

That first decade of the 1970s planted the seeds to it all, with the 1981 team winning the state tournament and advancing to the 16-team nationals for the first time.

“This was a special experience for all of us,” said Lori Hackett, an All-American setter. “After the regional championship, I remember Coach Martin gathering us and saying, ‘Do y’all even realize what you’ve done?’ We didn’t.”

What they did was launch a powerhouse and, by 1987, the Jennies reached the national finals. Call it team chemistry. And coaching. Many players were born and raised in Missouri.

In the regional, the Jennies beat Florida Southern on its home court in the semifinals and then avenged an earlier loss by beating East Texas State in the finals to earn a trip to the Final Four in Omaha, Neb. UCM then beat Nebraska-Omaha for the third time that season and reached the semifinals.

“The 1987 team had a very strong chemistry,” said Susan Dixon Kohl, an All-American setter. “We were friends and supportive of each other, both on and off the court. Even today, with many miles separating us, we stay in touch and often get together as a group.”

By raising the bar, the teams that followed built on the tradition and tried to raise it even further.

“First and foremost, it was such an honor,” said  Sarah Dallas Welch, a three-time All-American and senior in 1999. “I always felt so lucky to be a part of this team, this family. This family, who were very different people, but at the same time, very much the same when it came to representing Jennie’s Volleyball and Coach Martin. We never wanted to let her or our team down.”

Another turning point was the team playing full-time in the new Multipurpose Building in 1988. In the prior dozen years, the team had purchased its first real uniforms and played in Garrison Gym.

From 1983 to 2000, the Jennies won the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association each year, or 19 seasons, 17 outright. Because of it, UCM played a huge role in the Midwest in the rise of club volleyball, designed for youths and teens eager to enhance their skillsets.

“Even though we are decades apart in age, we all have the same bond of being a part of this incredible program,” said Caitlin Peterson, a former player and current head coach. “They helped me understand what it really meant to be a Jennie and the importance of all the lessons Coach Martin was teaching us on and off the court. We are trying to continue this tradition of exposing our current players to past Jennies to help them grasp how fortunate they are to be a part of something much bigger than themselves.”