Diers looks back at 28 years of volleyballRelationships key to Trojans’ success
The year was 1986.
Fresh out of college, a volleyball and softball player out of South Dakota State named Nancy Diers decided to take a coaching job in Fairfield, Iowa. She would be the second volleyball coach in the high school’s history.
“They were 17 and 18, and I’m stepping in and I’m 23 or 24,” Diers said. “I’m not a whole lot older than them. They were willing to listen and to learn. There was a lot of they taught me and I taught them, but I would say they mostly taught me at that point in time.”
When Diers coached her first game, she was nervous. The Trojans’ bench was right in front of the home crowd, not on the east side like it is today. She was worried the home fans would put too much pressure on her players.
Diers also remembers her first tournament. It was at Harmony. She was so anxious she took her players outside into the grass to warm up. Relief swept over her as she watched her players huddle after the tournament. They had won.
Fairfield’s first state tournament was that year as well. The Trojans would lose to Hoover High School out of Des Moines.
“What a stupid thing to do,” Diers said. “Set the bar high my first year out of college.”
Now, 27 years later, Diers finds herself in the same town with the same team. She hasn’t even changed gymnasiums.
Fairfield only had two seasons of volleyball before Diers became acquainted with the head coaching position. Judy Schwarz started the Trojan volleyball program in 1984. The next year, the varsity program was created. In 1986, Diers was brought on to coach. She has never given up the job.
Diers’ career has allowed her to coach and mentor a vast amount of people. Many of her players went on to play collegiately. Fairfield Middle School Principal Laura Atwood played under Diers. She was even able to coach her two future stepdaughters.
Diers would marry her husband Dwight in 1998, right after his twin daughter’s senior years at Fairfield High School. His twins, Heidi Fulsaas and Jenni Slagel, both respect Diers immensely.
“She was a great coach,” Fulsaas said. “Everybody respected her. She knew how to connect with us.”
Slagel’s relationship with Diers was a bit more complicated. Slagel became Mount Pleasant’s volleyball coach from 2006-09. Fairfield plays Mount Pleasant twice a season and even occasionally in the playoffs. In 2006, Slagel’s Panthers eliminated the Trojans in the first round of regionals. That would cap off a four-year run of Mount Pleasant eliminating Fairfield.
Yearly bragging rights at the family reunion were at stake.
“It was probably one of the most nerve racking games of the season,” Slagel said.
Intensity is something that Diers has always brought to her job. It is on display every day in the Fairfield gym. She gives firm instruction to her players because she knows exactly what they need to do. However, Diers is just is likely to dish out compliments as she is criticism.
“It was intensity in a good way,” former Fairfield volleyball player and current freshmen coach Diana Drish said. “Intensity for us to do our best. I wanted to be pushed and I wanted to be better.”
No one can have success like this without help. Diers has received a lot of help from her husband, especially when it comes to taking care of their son Mark, who is now in seventh grade.
Diana and her husband Ron are now both assistants under Diers. Diana believes she and her husband have helped Diers keep an open mind when it comes to coaching.
“It’s always good to have different opinions,” Drish said. “Having Ron and I on board has brought out some different strategies in her.”
It wasn’t always like this. Some years had less democracy than others. Some clipboards were broken out of frustration.
“I can still be that way,” Diers said. “There’s not a lot of democracy at certain points in time. As a coach you’ve got to learn, you’ve got to mature, and you have to change your style a bit. I still think that I’m pretty intense with what I want.”
Ron Drish thinks there is a noticeable difference between the Diers of today and the Diers he started coaching with in 2001.
“She was a very intense coach,” he said. “But she has calmed down since I started.”
Diers enjoys the challenge each season brings, no matter her intensity level. Different girls and different tasks build every season.
Diers has built a program she believes has a target on its back every season because of its success. Helping her athletes achieve success is what keeps her going. This fact is not lost on Ron Drish.
“It definitely takes passion to coach that long,” he said. “For the game, and for the kids.”