University of Illinois at Chicago Head Volleyball Coach Nancy Mueller knew that there was plenty of room for improvement, when the rookie skipper took over the Flames' program in 2004.
After all, UIC had finished seventh out of eight teams in the Horizon League and had won just two conference matches the season prior to her arrival.
Mueller, however, knew the recipe for success to help UIC turn their misfortunes around.
"Hard work is the backbone of any great program," Mueller said. "If you have hard work and discipline, success is imminent."
Mueller instilled her gritty work ethic upon her team, and the Flames responded in kind, improving from a seventh-place mark in 2003 to two fourth-place finishes in 2004 and 2005 and a program-best second place in 2006.
The Flames earned their second trip to the conference championship match in program history where they fell to top-seeded UW-Milwaukee.
Four seniors and an experienced group of upperclassman were the backbone to UIC's success in 2006. Starters included All-Horizon League recipients Ambria Springer and Katarina Nedeljkovic, plus Horizon League All-Tournament Team Katie Kozak. After an impressive season on the court, all three players now hold career, single-season or single-match records in the UIC records book.
At the conclusion of the season, Kozak owned first place with 4,640 career assists and second place in the single season records with 1,476 assists. Springer holds first place with 160 blocks in 2006 and first place with 312 career blocks. Junior Katarina Nedeljkovic currently owns spots in the top ten in career kills and career service aces, as well as a single-match record of eight service aces in one contest.
Transfer Amanda Kenny and newcomers Katerina Hanackova and Lana Lobdell each stepped up to the challenge their rookie season to help guide the Flames to the title match.
Kenny was acknowledged for her talent last season with Horizon League All-Newcomer team honors. Kenny ranked third on the team with 356 kills and 377 digs. In 64 games, Hanackova tallied 129 kills, 144 digs and 56 total blocks, while Lobdell ranked second on the team with 73 blocks and third with a .231 attack percentage.
Making a positive impact for the Flames in 2005 were stellar performances from junior Katie Kozak, All-Horizon League team recipients Ambria Springer and Katarina Nedeljkovic and junior transfer Maura McCarthy.
Kozak dished out a team and career-high 1,467 assists on the campaign, helping the Oak Forest, Ill., native secure a fourth-place spot in the UIC career records book, while Nedeljkovic garnered a team-high 531 kills and 48 service aces.
Leading the Flames with 113 total blocks, Springer racked up 395 kills, while leading UIC with a .272 attack percentage.
A transfer from Illinois State, McCarthy powered UIC with a team-high 318 digs and contributed 44 service aces in her first season with the Flames.
Mueller came to UIC after five standout seasons as the head coach at the University of South Florida, where she owned a record of 106-60 (.639) and was twice named Conference USA and AVCA/Tachikara Regional Coach of the Year.
During her tenure at USF, Mueller led the Bulls to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances (2000, 2002), two C-USA regular-season championships (2000, 2002) and a conference tournament title (2002). The 2002 campaign was Mueller's most impressive, guiding South Florida to a 30-7 record and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Her record of developing individual talent at USF is just as impressive as her team results. In Mueller's five years, she coached three players to all-conference and all-region accolades while helping produce the program's first-ever All-American, Michelle Collier.
Prior to taking the head coaching position at South Florida, Mueller served for five years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Houston under Bill Walton. The Cougars made four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament (1995-98) under her tutelage.
Mueller began her collegiate coaching career at Iowa State, serving as an assistant coach from 1993-95. She was a student assistant at the University of Tennessee during the spring of 1993.
Mueller graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1993 with a bachelor of science degree in education, exercise physiology. She was a four-year letterwinner on the Volunteer volleyball team as a defensive specialist and setter from 1988-92.
MUELLER'S HEAD COACHING RECORD
at SOUTH FLORIDA 2003 12-20 2002 30-7 NCAA Tournament Second Round, C-USA Regular- Season and Tournament Champions, C-USA and AVCA Regional Coach of the Year. 2001 21-9 No. 5 Ranking NCAA Midwest Region. 2000 28-6 NCAA Tournament First Round, C-USA Regular- Season Champions, C-USA and AVCA Regional Coach of the Year. 1999 15-18
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING ABOUT MUELLER:
"Nancy had a great deal of success at South Florida. Her 2002 team was one of the toughest that we faced all season and that was the year that we went to the Final Four.
"There is no doubt that she'll have similar success at UIC. She did great things in Tampa and I think the fans and players will really enjoy her."
- University of Florida Head Coach Mary Wise
"The Flames have made an exceptional hire in Nancy Mueller. She is highly respected for her coaching ability and knows what it takes to compete for conference titles and what it takes to compete in NCAA Championship competition.
"She has a sharp eye for talent, has a tremendous work ethic and is also one of the most well-liked coaches in the country. Nancy also knows her way around the state, since her roots are here in downstate Illinois.
"I am certain that she will have the program moving forward in very short order."
- University of Illinois Head Coach Don Hardin