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Step inside Diane Lichtenberg's office, located in a narrow hallway on the bottom floor of Bettendorf High School, and the history of its volleyball program is in every corner of the room.

The walls are covered with senior portraits of Lichtenberg's former players, team pictures of every squad she has coached, newspaper clippings and a section of photographs specifically for players who have represented Bettendorf in the Iowa Girls Coaches Association all-star game.

"These are all my girls," she said, pointing to multiple areas.

The names and faces of the players have changed in Bettendorf's program for the past 32 seasons. The leader has not. 

Lichtenberg became just the ninth active and 17th high school volleyball coach in Iowa to reach 700 career victories after Saturday's win over Bondurant-Farrar at the Johnston Invitational.

"It is certainly something I'm very proud of," she said.

The 55-year-old physical education teacher is the dean of Mississippi Athletic Conference volleyball coaches by 27 seasons.

Stability has brought a wealth of success. 

Since 1990, the program never has had a losing record or finished in the lower half of the MAC standings. 

Lichtenberg has directed eight teams to the state tournament — half of those in the last six seasons. She's coached two state championship teams (2012 and 2013), three other state runner-up squads (2005, '14, '15) and helped shape a bevy of Division I players.

Just last year, Lichtenberg was a finalist for National Coach of the Year by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.

"It has just been a great place to raise my family," she said. "I like what I'm doing, I like the size of the community, and we've had a supportive administration.

"There hasn't been any other place I've wanted to go."

Coaching at the collegiate level has never piqued her interest because of the travel and recruiting.

"I like the high school level because I feel like I have an impact on the kids and can still teach them things that they don't feel like they know," she said.

Road to coaching success

Raised in River Groves, Ill., Lichtenberg (Doles) is one of seven children. There is just nine years between the oldest and youngest. 

She played volleyball, basketball and ran track. Early on, she had a desire to become a physical education teacher.

At West Leydon High School, students had PE class every day. By her senior year, she was a student helper in those classes and would officiate games, lead skill work or stretches.

"I always loved sports," she said. "I had good relationships with my coaches and always saw myself teaching PE and coaching."

She accepted a volleyball scholarship to Iowa State. As a Cyclone from 1980-83, Lichtenberg was a two-time all-Big Eight performer as a middle hitter and Iowa State's Female Athlete of the Year her senior season. 

"It was a way different game back then," Lichtenberg said. "I had a pretty decent vertical and was pretty mobile, but ball control was not my strength."

For three years, Lichtenberg played for Mary Wise, who is at Florida and the all-time wins leader among female coaches at the Division I level. 

Once she graduated from Iowa State, Lichtenberg accepted a position as a PE teacher at Bettendorf before her 21st birthday.

She spent the first two years as Bettendorf's sophomore coach before moving to the varsity level in 1986 to replace Diane Hill. 

The Bulldogs did not have immediate success. They were 41-57-19 in her first four seasons. 

"It wasn't real glamorous at the beginning," Lichtenberg said. "Club wasn't around, so you work with what you have and try and improve each year.

"I look at some of those early teams we had, and some of those girls would have struggled to make any team now."

Gradually, Bettendorf worked its way up the MAC pecking order.

After a series of third- and fourth-place finishes, the Bulldogs claimed their first conference crown under Lichtenberg in 1996. They won another in 1997 and started to become a fixture at the top along with Davenport North.

It wasn't until 2002, her 17th season, that Bettendorf had a team get over the hump and qualify for the state tournament.

"We had some special teams, but we got paired up with Davenport North so many times and lose to them in regional finals," Lichtenberg said. "It was just so crushing."

Lichtenberg's state tournament debut didn't last long. The Bulldogs lost to powerhouse Dubuque Wahlert in the opening round.

Bettendorf returned to state in 2005, '06 and '07. Her daughter, Ashley, was a pivotal piece on those teams. During Ashley's junior season, the Bulldogs were state runners-up and she was captain of the all-tournament team.

"It was a very neat experience to coach my daughter," she said. 

The program has reached even greater heights recently.

With an influx of athletes specializing in volleyball, many of whom went on to the Division I level, Bettendorf advanced to four consecutive state championship matches.

The Bulldogs beat Iowa City High for the 2012 title and clipped Dowling Catholic for the 2013 crown.

The first championship was somewhat unexpected given Bettendorf was 20-11 going into the state tournament.

Lichtenberg had trouble controlling her emotions following the win.

"It just means a lot, and it is nice when you feel you make a difference," she said.

The '13 and '15 teams might have been Lichtenberg's most talented.

Besides sophomores Megan Sharkey and Danielle Pennington, it included stalwarts Caitlin Wernentin, Devan Porter and Anna Willey, all of whom went on to play at the Division I level.

The 2015 senior class had six players who committed to play volleyball or beach at a Division I school — Sharkey, Pennington, Josie Herbst, Alexa Ito, Maggie Runge and Karlee Scheib.

"Definitely a special class," Lichtenberg said. "They started younger, stayed together and played in a ton of tournaments. They all loved volleyball."

'Not a fighter, not a yeller'

Lichtenberg is reserved on the sideline during a match. You won't see her slam a clipboard, stomp her feet or even scream.

"I'm not a fighter, not a yeller," she said. "That's just not my nature. If things aren't going well, I'm certainly not afraid to say, 'Get on the line (and run).' That doesn't happen very often.

"It is more about naturally making punishments part of the game. We'll put pressure on them in practice because we're going to be in pressure situations."

Deep down, like most coaches, there is a fierce competitive spirit.

Whether it is a volleyball match or a game of corn hole, Lichtenberg wants the upper hand.

"She's a really competitive person," Lichtenberg's son, Kyle, said in an interview during his Iowa State football career four years ago. "Whenever I go home, she wants to play board games and a bunch of other stuff. My dad refuses to play her."

Junior Ally Grothusen admitted there was an intimidation factor stepping into the program as a freshman given her success.

"She has the big name behind her and has built this program into what it is now," Grothusen said. "But once you meet her, she is one of the kindest individuals you could be around.

"She cares about you deeply, not just as a volleyball player but how you're doing in school, on the court and off the court. She's a really good figure for all of us."

Lichtenberg is organized and goal-driven.

She has a preseason meeting with parents and then sends weekly emails during the season to keep them in the loop. She has her team bond and establish season goals with an overnight trip before the opener in late August each year.

"It has been so great to play for her," senior Lita Solbrig said. "She takes an interest in our lives, and she takes into account what we go through at home. She does a very good job at keeping the team connected."

Those relationships often extend beyond high school.

Many of her former players have invited her to their weddings.

"It does make you go back and think that you do have a bit of an impact," Lichtenberg said. "It does make you feel special."

On the court, opposing coaches realize her impact.

"She's a Hall of Fame coach," PV  coach Amber Hall said.

"Her teams are always so prepared and fundamentally sound," Assumption coach Bre Scherler said. "They don't make a lot of silly errors."

Time has forced Lichtenberg and her staff to adapt.

The speed of the game has ratcheted up, athletes are stronger and offenses are operating at a quicker tempo.

"Girls are coming in more skilled, so you want to make sure they're not digressing when they are with you," Lichtenberg said. "Weight training is way more commonplace."

How much longer?

Coaching a varsity high school sport is not just an in-season commitment anymore. There are offseason camps, weight training and coaching clinics to attend to stay up on the latest trends in the game.

Lichtenberg credits a supportive spouse. Mark Lichtenberg played football at Iowa State and has spent the past 30 years in a gym following her teams.

"If you don't have a supportive spouse, it just can't work," she said. "I'm not sure how many volleyball matches he's watched."

Lichtenberg is eligible to retire after this school year.

She isn't quite certain when she'll put the whistle and clipboard away. Besides exercising, she enjoys crafting, sewing, reading, building puzzles and watching movies.

Her daughter Ashley is married and lives in the Denver area. Kyle resides in Minneapolis but will be moving near his sister later this fall.

"My children are grown; I still enjoy it and still feel like I'm being effective at my job," she said. "I can't hit balls or run drills like I used to, but I still have the knowledge and can still toss balls."

Bettendorf is 26-5 heading into Monday's regular-season finale against Davenport Central. While the Bulldogs will need some help to earn a share of a fifth consecutive MAC title, they still have their sights on making it to the state tournament in Cedar Rapids next month.

"This team has exceeded my expectations," Lichtenberg said. "I thought we had a lot of talent, but we had a lot of new parts in there in different places. I've been very pleased.

"It is really fun to coach those teams where you can see the growth from the start of the season to the end."


Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.