by Bob San
Thanh Pham and his University of St. Thomas volleyball team made history when it defeated Calvin (Mich.) College, 13-25, 17-25, 25-18, 25-16, 15-9, Saturday, Nov. 24, in Holland, Mich., to win the NCAA Division III volleyball championship.
Pham, a 1993 graduate of Osseo High School, is in his 10th season as the Tommies head coach. The Tommies, who won their last 35 matches in a row, not only captured the school’s first national title, also became the first team from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to win the national championship in volleyball. They finished the year 40-1.
“To be down two sets, in that environment, and to be able to pull out the win speaks volumes about our girls and how much they wanted it,” Pham said. “This team went 40-1 and won the national championship but it is not the most talented team I’ve had. There were teams with more talents but this team is stubborn, gritty and refuses to lose. I watched some of the matches and said, ‘How did we win?’ They’re just fighters. They fought through it. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Pham, who wrestled under legendary coach Ken Droegemueller at Osseo High, has built a successful volleyball program at St. Thomas. He has been voted MIAC Coach of the Year in 2005, 2007 and 2008. UST has had the conference Player of the Year in five of his eight seasons. Two of his former players are now head coaches in the conference — All-Americans Jane Gibbs (Augsburg) and Rachelle Dosch (Gustavus).
Pham, who has 15 years of college coaching experience in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), was named UST head coach in April 2003. His nine-year record with the Tommies is 248-62, including six MIAC titles and seven NCAA playoff berths. Pham’s ability to motivate his players is a big reason for his success.
“He is the best motivational speaker I’ve ever heard,” said sophomore middle blocker Mallory Johnson of Maple Grove. “He is blunt and will call you out and coach you and make sure you won’t make the same mistake again. He really cares about us and he is all about making us a family. And he is all about student-athlete, with the student first. If you have exams and have to miss practice, he is totally OK with that.”
That emphasis on academic shows. Seven times in the last decade, UST has received a team academic award from the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) for having a team grade-point average above 3.30 for a school year.
Pham, a 1997 Augsburg College graduate, coached seven seasons in the Auggies’ program. He was an assistant coach as an undergraduate from 1994-97, then was Augsburg’s Interim and Co-Head Coach from 1998-2000. He also competed for three seasons in the Auggies’ nationally-known wrestling program.
Pham has also worked as a Junior Olympic coach for more than a dozen seasons, the latter years as head coach at Minnesota One and of the Wayzata 17-1s. He also has served as the Wayzata Middle School volleyball coach, and has a background as a camp instructor and clinician. He has a master’s degree from St. Mary’s University in Minneapolis, and previously worked as a math teacher in the Wayzata school district.