Walk through the doors of the Lake Mills volleyball gym.
Coach Jim Boehmer shouts, “Butterfly drill!”
The seniors sprint to the net, gesturing to the four corners of each court, each side has a line for passing and a line for serving. Within seconds, they’re ready, and the whistle blows.
Boehmer stands at the center of the folded-up purple bleachers, watching his seniors run his practice.
“I have three sons and people ask me if I’m disappointed that I never had a daughter to play volleyball,” Boehmer said. “I tell them I have hundreds of daughters.”
Boehmer has been coaching volleyball at Lake Mills High School for 26 years, so he can point to players and tell you, “I coached her mom, and her mom.”
He’ll tell you over and over again, “I never envisioned myself coaching volleyball, but I don’t know what I would be doing if I wasn’t coaching.”
Boehmer never played, but his sister played at Waldorf and UNI Then, he married a college volleyball player, Angie, with aspirations to coach.
The coaching job at Lake Mills opened up in 1992, but Angie didn’t have her teaching certificate yet. Boehmer did, and he took the job, coaching with her help.
Once the boys came along, Boehmer took over completely. And he’s never left.
Boehmer has built a legacy at Lake Mills. The Bulldogs have been conference champions 21 times, and currently haven’t lost a conference title or game since 2003. That’s 13 years and 96 straight conference game wins.
“Coaches say or people will ask, ‘Do you talk about the streaks or not so the girls don’t worry about it?’” Boehmer asks. “Whether you talk about it or not, they know it, they’re aware of it, they come here for an assembly, they’re here for P.E. class and they can look up on the board and they know. They’re reminded of it.”
But besides a list of title years, there are a lot of things hanging on the walls of the Lake Mills volleyball gym.
On one side, the purple padding has a list of inspirational words bolded in different colors.
Under an orange poster that reads, “Commitment. You’re either in or you’re out. There’s no such thing as life in between,” the words are listed and taped together with green and white duct tape:
Commitment. Attitude. Effort.
Discipline. Think. Unity.
Determination. Confidence. Goals.
Trust. Cooperate. Sacrifice.
Dedication. Tradition. Focus.
Perseverance. Pride. Integrity.
Respect. Loyalty. Enthusiasm.
Each word has been taped up by a group of players throughout the preseason. Every couple of days, a group of girls, usually by grade, chooses a word and explains why it’s important to exemplify in life on and off the court.
“We preach good character what it means to become an adult and become successful,” Boehmer said. “That’s always been our focus and we kind of figure along the way we’re going to learn to play some good volleyball.”
Next to the list is a series of quotes on different sheets of paper, scattered over the purple mat.
One of them includes Lou Holtz’s three questions, “Can people trust me to do what’s right? Am I committed to doing my best? Do I care about other people and show it?
If the answers to these questions are ‘yes,’ there is no way you can fail.”
“We try to establish ownership in this gym, see that wall?” Boehmer said. He points to the opposite end of the gym.
“Those are all just goals they had for themselves this week. There’s a better chance you’re going to work hard and make those goals come true if you know other people are looking at them, you’re not keeping them to yourself. It’s easier to break a New Years’ resolution if you’re not telling everybody about it, so if you tell the people you care about, they’ll hold you to it.”
And they’re detailed. Like working on a drop step, mastering a top-spin serve, improving right-wing defensive play, or staying off the knee pads.
These posters travel with the girls, even when they’re an hour and a half away at team camp in Esterville, Iowa at Iowa Lakes Community College.
Boehmer actively tries to draw inspiration from anything, especially movies. When “Remember the Titans” came out in 2000, Boehmer came up with the idea of a sleepaway team camp.
“You know when coach took them to Gettysburg College and tried to get the white and black players to learn that they’re human beings and to put stupid differences aside,” Boehner said. “And I remember when that movie came out, I just loved that team philosophy and what a team can do and I said, ‘You know, we’ve got to do our own trip.’”
For five days, the girls stay in the dorms at Iowa Lakes Community college. They’ll eat every meal and endure the long hours of conditioning together. Evenings consist of yoga in the rain, decorating volleyballs and a team-themed movies on the big screen in the gym. This year’s movie was, “Miracle” and last year’s was, “Radio.”
The seniors plan the roommates, placing freshman and sophomores in rooms with them, because despite having three separate school teams, they want to be one.
”Coach says all the time that volleyball is like the biggest team sport ever,” senior libero Dana Baumann said. “Somebody has to touch the ball. In football, you can have the greatest quarterback ever, and he can take the ball himself. But, in volleyball, there’s three hits and everyone needs to touch it because you can’t just have one great hitter hit it twice in a row.”
The togetherness is evident in drills and scrimmages when the girls mix together. Older players expect the younger players to play to their level.
“We had a professional player at team camp, Krista DeGeest, tell us that it’s crazy that our back row can tell our front row ‘hey keep your elbow high, strong snap’,” Baumann said. “It brings us a lot closer together when people don’t know what they’re doing, but the person who used to play that will be giving them pointers.”
At the end of the week, the Bulldogs will scrimmage local teams from the Esterville area. By that time, the new gym has become a home.
“We take down all our posters at Iowa Lakes and all those teams come in, but we’re like, ‘We’ve been here all week,’” Baumann said. “You can’t beat us on this court.”
All those memories and bonds travel back to Lake Mills, where all 22 girls assemble for the butterfly drill.
Boehmer walks over to a table with volleyball programs and registration forms. He takes a manila folder off the table. It’s a letter from Baumann.
Dana will trust herself and be a ball hog and take as many balls as possible this afternoon session. Hold her to it.
He laughs to himself.
“I want the girls to see that we’re going to win some volleyball games,” Boehmer said. “But that’s not what we’re about. It’s about meeting good people and working hard and finding things that are bigger than you.”