Illinois State senior Mike Bolhuis hasn’t even begun his teaching career yet, but he’s already led a high school volleyball team to a state title in his first year as head coach.

The Deer Creek-Mackinaw High School varsity girls won the Class 2A state title Saturday at Redbird Arena, a fitting end to an impressive 38-1 season. Bolhuis’ team is the first from Dee-Mack, a school district just west of Bloomington-Normal, to win a state championship – in any sport.

Mike Bolhuis

Illinois State senior Mike Bolhuis.

Bolhuis came to Dee-Mack after two years as a junior varsity coach in the Tri-Valley school district, plus four years as a Twin City club-team coach. Dee-Mack has always had a strong volleyball program, Bolhuis says, but he was tasked with beefing up the Chiefs’ practice regimen when he took over the team.

“I came in there, worked them hard, got them to buy into the same idea,” the physical education major said. “Once we had that – the talent was already there. It was all about executing.”

Bolhuis started playing volleyball in eighth grade and kept at it all four years at Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort. Bolhuis will complete his student-teaching in the spring, and then look for a teaching job that also allows him to coach. Bolhuis is also looking at some college coaching options.

Bolhuis has been “very demanding” of his team, yet effective, said Dee-Mack Athletic Director Scott Krause, noting that it’s uncommon for a district like Dee-Mack to have a college student as a head coach.

“He runs a good, tight ship, but at the same time he’s developed relationships with his kids,” Krause said. “They trust him, they respect him, and they respond to him.”

Bolhuis took the Dee-Mack job with a dual purpose – to continue impacting student lives while bolstering his coaching resume ahead of his May 2013 graduation. Now he has a state title under his belt.

But he says coaching, to him, is about more than wins and losses. The 22-year-old sees coaching as a way to teach life lessons, “making these girls have an impact on each other’s lives.” During one team-building exercise each week, his players take a half-hour practice break away from sets and spikes for what he calls “character training,” forcing his players to discuss positive character traits.

“That’s the rewarding part to me,” he said. “We had a lot of raw talent. On top of that, we had this mentality of being extremely selfless. We were really playing for each other before they took the glory for themselves.”

The championship team was honored with a celebration ceremony on Saturday after the big win.

“From an AD standpoint, Mike’s doing a great job,” Krause added. “He’s very mature for a young guy, jumping in a situation like that. And he’s very cool on the sideline, very cerebral in his approach.”

Ryan Denham can be reached at