Clark’s volleyball team has been practicing for almost two hours. Sweat glistens off players’ brows as the team struggles to execute a play.
A serve to Jazmyn Boyd-Clark is vollied high into the air. Kinsey Pease receives it and sets up Vanessa Muckerheide, who slams the ball for a kill.
“That’s what I’m talking about!”
No one has ever accused head coach Mark Dunn of lacking enthusiasm. In fact, it’s Dunn’s passion that is propelling his team to the Northwest Athletic Conference playoffs once again.
This passion doesn’t stem from playing the game as much as it does watching and coaching his three daughters. He worked his way up from middle school to high school and eventually found himself as the head coach of the Division II Sonoma State Seawolves. The men went on to win a national championship in 2010.
From there, he became an assistant at Pacific University. When the head coach there told him Clark had an opening, Dunn wasted no time impressing the athletic department.
Former athletic director Charles Guthrie said he believed Dunn would “infuse the volleyball program with an intense level of energy and excitement.”
Dunn said he interviewed with four former players and Guthrie. “After the interview, Guthrie asked me if he could play for me,” Dunn said.
“His drive and passion for the game makes us want to win,” Boyd-Clark said.
And win they have.
As of Oct. 29, Clark ranks second in the West Region and with two weeks until the NWAC tournament in Tacoma, the Penguins are eyeing a playoff berth.
“If we’re able to keep going the way we’re going, we’ll make the NWAC playoffs,” Dunn said.
Clark hadn’t been to the NWAC tournament in two years when Dunn arrived. They also hadn’t won a game in the tournament in five years.
Dunn managed to do both in his first year.
Both of Dunn’s seasons at Clark, however, had a rocky start. Last year the team started 4-8 before conference play. This year the team limped to a 3-12 start.
With half the team consisting of freshmen, it can be difficult adjusting to new teammates. The team had to learn how to play together according to Dunn.
“They’re not here to play for me,” he said. “I have my accolades.”
However, freshman captain Meghan Turner sees the slow start as a strength for the Penguins.
“A lot of people see us as underdogs,” Turner said. “But coming out this season we’ve shown that we belong here.” Turner leads Clark in digs per game with 3.95 according to nwacsports.org.
Dunn said he recruits athletes who “want to compete and know how to win.”
According to clarkpenguins.com, Boyd-Clark and Muckerheide are two-sport athletes for Clark. Boyd-Clark is an infielder on the softball team and Muckerheide is on the track team.
Another struggle for the Penguins has been finishing games. Clark has lost four matches this season after winning the first set.
Even though they got off to a poor start, Clark ranks in the top 10 out of 29 in the NWAC in assists, kills and blocks.
“The exciting thing for me is to see how they’ve grown as a team since I first watched them in early September,” said new athletic director Ann Walker.
Before the team stepped on the court this season, they decided their goal would be to win the West Region, something they hadn’t done since 2003.
Despite losing their first league game, the Penguins rattled off eleven wins in a row. Walker attributes this to Dunn.
“That just doesn’t happen. That’s gotta start from the top.”