College Volleyball: CLC’s Peterson a rarity at any level

Central Lakes College head volleyball coach Jane Peterson can dance, motivate, do yogo, care and win volleyball games


There were small, circular holes drilled into the pavement of the cul-de-sac where Jane Peterson was raised.

A rectangle with intersecting lines was painted on the asphalt. It was one of Peterson’s first introductions to volleyball as neighborhood adults played pick-up games in the street.

The church Peterson attended in California played volleyball in the parking lot.

Whenever Peterson visited the beach people were playing volleyball. She grew up around volleyball, but it wasn’t until her sophomore year of high school she was allowed to play competitively.

“That was my first chance to really play on a real team,” Peterson said. “I was athletic. I had played a lot of sports. I had two older brothers so I was a fast learner or something because, by the end of the year, I was playing with the varsity. That was super memorable. I remember my first practice with the varsity and it was so hard. I remember our first playoff game, and I was playing with the varsity, and I scored a lot of points. It was so fun. Then every fall since then.”


For the past 31 falls, which includes last year’s COVID-19 suspended season, Peterson has coached the Central Lakes College Raiders women’s volleyball team. On Friday, Oct. 15, the wife and mother of two picked up her 699th career victory.

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Peterson will get a chance to reach 700 when the Raiders host Minnesota State Community and Technical College 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20. The Raiders also host Hibbing noon Thursday, Oct. 21.

As for win 700, Peterson has no reaction to the number.

Jane Peterson

“I’m just glad I enjoy what I’m doing,” she said. “I really enjoy it a lot and feel like it’s worthwhile, not just as an occupation, but a calling, maybe. I feel like I’m doing good in the world and I’m just really happy that I get to continue to do it. There aren’t that many women, especially, that stay in coaching this long because it requires a lot of sacrifices by the family and the spouse who has to understand it.

“I’m much more connected to all the people than the number.”

The people

Ken Miller has been Peterson’s assistant coach for the past 18 years. He praised Peterson’s ability to prepare teams for competition.


“I think we both find great enjoyment in the process of a season,” Miller said after CLC’s 3-0 victory over Rainy River Oct. 15. “We get a lot of positive energy from the players and it’s fun. I think that’s why she’s done it as long as she has. We don’t speak about it much, but that’s why I’ve been doing it as long as I have because it’s a joy. She says it all the time, that it’s the easiest job in the world because it’s not a job.”

Last season, Peterson visited some of her former players who now are coaches themselves to observe, help or even lead practices. Peterson said there are at least 20 former CLC players who coach at varying levels of competition. One such player is former Pine River-Backus and CLC graduate Toni Elyea. She was part of Peterson’s first two NJCAA Division III national champion teams along with Pierz graduate and All-American Katie Bell.

"I don’t know if she knew what she was necessarily doing, but she helped to guide us through that phase in our lives."

— Katie, Bell, former CLC player

“The 2000-01 team has an ongoing thing where Jane told us that if we won we could consider ourselves queens, but we had to win to do that,” Bell said. “Once we won in 2000 we just considered ourselves queens and to this day whenever we’re cheering each other on in our adult lives, we’re still hashtag queen. Toni Elyea was on our team and she coaches in North Carolina (Belmont Abbey College) and she just got her school record for wins and any time there is a success we celebrate being a queen and I just think Jane is the ultimate queen.”

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Bell, a nurse in San Diego, reconnects with Peterson whenever the coach travels west to visit her family. Miller said because of CLC’s location building relationships is easy thanks to long bus rides to Ely and International Falls.

“I’m not a natural extrovert,” Peterson said. “I have a small circle of friends so volleyball has been a great vehicle for me to stay connected with people that I definitely wouldn’t do in the rest of my life.”

Central Lakes College’s Shelby Uphoff gets a hug from Head Coach Jane Peterson Saturday after winning the Region 13B Championship. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)


Peterson understands her role is bigger than just a coach. The 57-year-old said she’s needed in a variety of ways although she doesn't profess to be everything to everybody. She tries to be what her players need. She said some players need more than others, but she wants all of them to know that she cares.

“To different people, I’m a different number of things,” Peterson said. “To some people, I am their coach. To some players, I am a mentor. To some, I am a friend, a leader. I’m not a counselor. I try not to be a counselor, but rather a caring person. I just know when my kids were this age, if they had an adult in their life who cared about them, that was a good thing. They had somebody else to care. It’s hard to have too many people caring about a kid when they’re away from home or at this age of uncertainty and struggle.”


Peterson's presence during a transformative time impacted Bell. She still remembers how her coach was there.

“You’re leaving home," Bell said. "You are living by yourself and not with your parents. You have this new independence and decision-making and all of that. I think that CLC was a good stepping stone for me coming from a small town. I think that was helpful and I think having Jane there, I don’t know if she knew what she was necessarily doing, but she helped to guide us through that phase in our lives. That period of being young adults. Knowing that we were going to make maybe not some great decisions and things like that, but we were going to learn from them and we were going to make better decisions the next time whether it was on the court or off the court. I don’t think we ever felt judged by Jane. She just let us make our choices. Maybe she wasn’t pleased with some of them, but she supported us and helped us along the way.”

The process

Peterson said she’s mellowed over the years, but Bell said she’s always considered her coach to be mellow. Peterson started yoga and said the exercise has made her less reactive and more proactive. Her focus changed from coaching to teaching volleyball.

Another former Pierz graduate and member of the 2007 national championship team, Lisa (Kurtz) Kline, whole-heartedly agreed that Peterson is much different in practices.

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“I would definitely have to agree with that,” Kline said. “I had the opportunity to be back in the gym with her this fall helping out with this year’s team. Another player that was on that same team, we both kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, she’s kind of just a little bit more go-with-the-flow.’ We just felt there were some things where if we would have done them she wouldn’t have let that slide by at practice. Just little things like that. It’s a little bit different approach to how she’s coaching than when we were there.”

Peterson is not worried about the outcome, but rather the process of building the entire season.

“That was a big theme for us both years, was the common goal and the goals that we set forth as a team,” Bell said. “We talked about that often and we always had that in our sights. What helped us the most, especially with Jane, was that she was patient with the process. I think that’s just how she is as a coach. Doing it for so many years I think she just knows that it takes time and some years are going to be better than others. Overall, she’s just really patient with the process.”

Jane Peterson coaches from the sidelines during a volleyball game this past season at Central Lakes College in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey Brainerd Dispatch
Jane Peterson coaches from the sidelines during a volleyball game this past season at Central Lakes College in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey Brainerd Dispatch

Peterson remembers her very first home game. It’s a memory she won’t forget. It was not part of the 699 wins.

“The other team’s coach wanted to talk to my team afterward because she was so impressed,” Peterson said. “We were way more competitive than the team before, I guess. But we lost. We won the first two sets and then lost and that was disappointing. That was a really disappointing loss. It was a match we should have won and I was just mad that the other team’s coach wanted to tell my team they were great when they weren’t. They had lost. That made me mad. I remember that feeling.”

In the form of contemporaries, only Rainy River’s Mel Millerbernd has coached close to as many years as Peterson among Minnesota College Athletic Conference programs and she’s retiring at the end of this season. Miller said other MCAC programs have gone through numerous coaching changes. Meanwhile, Peterson and the Raiders have racked up 699 career wins and 16 national tournament appearances. The Raiders are currently on a seven-year run of national tournament appearances. They were fifth in 2019 with titles in 2000, 2001 and in 2007. Since 2000, CLC has won the North Division 17 times out of the 20 years of action. The Raiders have 16 state titles in that time.

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“We won a national championship against a team I thought was better than us,” Peterson said. “They had a weakness and we could take advantage of it. I just remember that. They had beaten us before and we beat them in the national championship game. That was really memorable.”

Most of Peterson’s memories, however, are people-specific. If she remembers a person she remembers a certain play or their overall growth during a season. She has many of those memories and all indications are that she’ll continue to add more.

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One of Kline’s memories of Peterson was her coach dancing with the team before games to get her players fired up.

“Our (national title run) started out with being on the 2006 team that finished third (at nationals),” Kline said. “A lot of us had that drive to win a national championship and Jane really made all of us believe we could become good enough to be that national championship team. Then she really strived for team-building activities and creating that culture to learn, trust and problem solve together as one unit instead of as individuals.”

The future

The MCAC doesn’t have any records of how many coaches have reached 700 career wins. The American Volleyball Coaches Association doesn’t keep records and the NJCAA didn’t return calls or emails inquiring where Peterson sits nationally on the career wins list.

While Peterson is proud of what she’s done on the court, she’s still invested as a CLC teacher. She takes pride in that part of her life and feels her colleagues are some of the best and often undervalued educators around.

Coach Jane Peterson hits the ball as Sydney Berg practices blocking at the net Monday, Aug. 19, at Central Lakes College. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

She said as long as she enjoys teaching and coaching she’ll continue to do them.

“People are asking that and my answer is I don’t know,” she said. “Whenever it feels like I’m not excited to do it. I really don’t know. I’m doing it next year. I know that. After that, I don’t know. There was a couple of weeks ago where three people within a week said something. It was a current player, a former player and someone who is not on my team who said something to me all in one week, said that they appreciated what I’m doing or what I’m doing is worthwhile or something like that to pump me up. There were three messages in one week. I better stay with it. Not just volleyball, but the whole job is pretty good and fun for me. I’m not going to win the lottery because I don’t gamble so I don’t know how long I’ll be doing this.”

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or Follow on Twitter at

If you go

What: Central Lake College head coach Jane Peterson going for career win 700

Who: vs. Minnesota State Community and Technical College

Where: Central Lakes College

When: 6:30 p.m.

Other: CLC campus requires masks

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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