New Bisons coach up for the challenge
In 38 seasons coaching the University of Manitoba Bisons men’s volleyball team, Garth Pischke led the program to nine national titles and became the all-time winningest collegiate coach in North American men’s volleyball history.
That’s a tough act to follow.
Filling Pischke’s shoes may seem like a near-impossible task, but Arnd ‘Lupo’ Ludwig is up for the challenge. The U of M named Ludwig the new head coach of the Bisons men’s volleyball team last week and he will officially take over in September. Ludwig coached a professional women’s team, Dresdner SC, in his home country of Germany from 2002-09 before taking over the Canadian women’s national team from 2009-16 when it was based in Winnipeg.
“It was a really, really difficult hiring decision,” U of M athletic director Gene Muller told the Free Press on Tuesday.
“I think what swung it Lupo’s way is that Lupo was previously a national team coach, so he coaches at a very high technical standard. We feel that the team can really achieve a lot under Lupo.”
Ludwig has been living in Winnipeg full time since 2009 with his wife, a former Bisons volleyball star, Loriann (nee Sawatzky) and two sons, Joshua, 17, and Samuel, 16. After his time with the Canadian national team, Ludwig coached club volleyball for WinMan and the Junior Bison and worked as a high school teacher, most recently at River East Collegiate.
U Sports volleyball coaching jobs don’t come up often in Manitoba, so when Ludwig saw there was an opening with Pischke retiring, he jumped at the opportunity.
“Well, that’s tough,” said Ludwig, 53, on replacing a legend in Pischke.
“We practised in the same gym when I was coaching the national team, so I had lots of talks with Garth. I really think he did a great job in these last 40 years at the U of M. I know it’s going to be really difficult to follow in his footsteps. I hope I can fulfil them and I will try my very best to have the same history that he had.”
Ludwig met Loriann when she was playing professionally in Germany. When they’d travel to Winnipeg to visit Loriann’s family, Ludwig would spend a week helping out with the Canadian women’s national team, which led to him landing the gig full time in 2009. He led the program to the world championships in Japan in 2010 and Italy in 2014 as well as the Pan American Games in Mexico in 2011 and Toronto in 2015.
“It was a great experience. It wasn’t as successful as I wish it would’ve been, but it was awesome,” Ludwig said. “We did a lot of work. We developed the team, we really got a lot of players into better contracts over the eight years I coached the team. Unfortunately, we never reached the Olympics, which was a bit disappointing.”
The Herd are coming off a lacklustre season where they finished 8-14 and Ludwig wants to get the program back to its winning ways. In order to do that, he said they need to be able to convince the top players in the province to stay home instead of opting to take their talents to schools out west. Ludwig’s game plan is to put a bigger emphasis on a strong development program for kids within the youth club system as a way to build the program from the bottom up.
“Twenty years ago when Garth was really at the peak of his success, he didn’t have to recruit a lot because everybody wanted to come here,” said Ludwig, who played professionally in Germany for seven years.
“Now everything has shifted a bit to Alberta and Trinity Western (Langley, B.C.). When you’re a good athlete and one of the top players in your province, you want to go to the team that wins national championships and you want to make the national team. I think this is something that we have to create here is a team that is consistently competing for the national championship.”
But in order for Ludwig and the Bisons to compete for a national championship, there has to be a season. There will be no Canada West volleyball this fall as the conference is currently proposing a reduced season with travel restrictions that would likely start in January. However, a decision on the season won’t be made until October. It’s obviously not an ideal time to take over a program, but Ludwig believes having some extra time with the players before competition resumes could be beneficial as a first-year coach.
“It’s gonna be a difficult year coming up for us because of COVID and because we don’t play until (2021). But on the other side, this is a really good chance for me to get to know each player… It’s bad, but for me, I think it’s positive that I have this time.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.