Veteran head coach Debbie Kirch, who guided the Phoenix to the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance, will enter her 16th season at Green Bay in 2012. Beginning her role prior to the 1997 season, Kirch is the longest tenured and winningest volleyball coach in program history.
After inheriting a team that went just 3-26 in 1996, the year prior to her arrival, Kirch resurrected the Green Bay program. In addition to leading the Phoenix to the 2003 NCAA Tournament, she has guided her squads to double-digit win totals nine of the past eleven seasons, led the 2006 squad to its best Horizon League regular-season finish in school history and boosted Green Bay's win total in five straight years from 1999 through 2003.
In 2011 Kirch led the Phoenix to 11 wins and a 7-9 mark in Horizon
League play. Kirch guided a pair of all-conference players, as senior Abbey Gitter and junior Brittany Groth picked up All-Horizon League honors. Groth, who returns for her senior campaign in 2012, averaged a school-record 5.78 digs per set, a figure that ranked ninth in the NCAA.
The rise of the Phoenix began with Kirch's commitment to recruiting the top in-state talent, as well as players from the best high school and club teams throughout the Midwest. Once acquiring top student-athletes, she has successfully worked to further develop her players' skills, turning the Phoenix into a league contender on a yearly basis.
To illustrate the success of Kirch's program, one can merely look at the numbers. Green Bay has averaged 13 wins per season over the last eleven years after averaging just seven over the previous 13 campaigns. Green Bay's nine double-digit victory seasons in the past eleven years are two more than the program had in its first 17 years.
In 2003, the Phoenix soared to record heights. A 23-11 record, the program's inaugural league tournament title and the first NCAA Tournament appearance in the history of the program highlighted the landmark season. Ranked among the top 10 teams in the Midwest Region throughout the year, Green Bay showed its mettle with upsets of the top two seeds in the Horizon League tournament. The team's season culminated in a first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Minnesota, a team that ultimately advanced to the national semifinals.
The promising campaign opened with six straight wins, a streak the Phoenix later matched in October during league play. In addition, the Phoenix also earned its first all-time win over a Big Ten team that season, as Green Bay upset Indiana in the five-game championship match of the Hoosiers' Taylor/TIS Invitational.
Following the campaign, Kirch earned 2003 Midwest Region Coach of the Year accolades from the American Volleyball Coaches Association, and was among nine finalists for National Coach of the Year honors.
Three years later, she became the first Green Bay volleyball coach to earn career win No. 100, as the Phoenix defeated IUPUI in five games on Sept. 9, 2006. In 15 seasons at the helm, she has 159 wins, which includes 75 league victories.
The Green Bay program took major steps forward beginning in 2001. That season, the Phoenix won its first-ever conference tournament match as a Division I member. In addition, the watershed 2001 season opened with back-to-back non-conference tournament wins at the Tulsa Golden Hurricane Classic and the AmeriHost Invitational. In a testament to the improved talent level and offensive prowess of the team, 15 Green Bay statistical records were broken over the course of the fall.
In 2002, Green Bay posted its first-ever back-to-back league wins over Butler and Wright State, recorded a road upset of league tournament champion Milwaukee and notched its first-ever victory over regional rival DePaul. The team also swept UIC in the first round of the Horizon League championship. The team's tie for third place in the 2002 league standings was the best in 20 years of program history at the time.
Another standout year for the Phoenix came in 2006. Despite being tabbed to finish seventh in the preseason poll, Green Bay earned its highest Horizon League finish ever by tying for second place. The squad's 8-6 league record marked the second time that the program finished better than .500 in league play. Both have occurred in the past five seasons.
The list of individual honors awarded to her players is impressive: four Academic All-Americans, a conference Player of the Year, a league Defensive Player of the Year, a league tournament MVP, 13 first-team all-league selections, 11 all-newcomer picks, 20 Horizon League Player of the Week selections and four All-Midwest Region honorees. Each of the program's 13 all-conference selections under Kirch have come since 2001. Prior to that season, the Phoenix had not had a first-team all-conference selection since 1989.
Off the court, Kirch's teams earned appearances on the AVCA Academic Team Award list from 2000-04 and 2006-09. In the spring of 2011, the squad led all Green Bay athletics programs with an impressive 3.66 grade-point average. The team has earned the Horizon League's Community Service and "Raise Your Sights" awards for volunteer hours in the community.
Active nationally in the volleyball community, Kirch served on the AVCA All-American Committee from 2007-09. She was also a member of the AVCA All-Midwest Region Committee from 2005-09.
Prior to her appointment as Green Bay head coach, Kirch served as both the assistant women's volleyball coach and head coach of the men's volleyball club team at Northwestern University. Kirch was also an assistant at Mississippi State University and head coach of both the boys and girls volleyball programs at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill.
She coached five Chicago Tribune all-stars, two all-state members, and three high school players who played at the collegiate Division I level. In 1995, Kirch led the New Trier boys team to a 33-4 record and the Illinois high school state championship. She also served as the school's publications and public information assistant.
Kirch earned a bachelor's degree in communication in 1988 from the University of Denver, where she was a volleyball letterwinner from 1985-87. The defensive specialist was a two-time Continental Divide Conference All-Academic first team selection. She earned a master's degree in sports administration from Mississippi State in 1990.
An avid runner who has twice completed the Green Bay Marathon, Kirch is married to Green Bay associate athletics director Dan McIver. The couple resides on Green Bay's west side.