WINONA, Minn. — The Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota volleyball team has opened each of its last 19 seasons with the same head coach at the helm.
When the Cardinals kick off the 2017 campaign, however, Mike Lester will not be roaming the sidelines.
Lester announced Monday that he is stepping down as the Cardinals’ head volleyball coach and assistant athletic director to accept the Director of Athletics position at Rochester Community and Technical College.
“This is very bittersweet for me,” said Lester, who has spent the last 21 years at Saint Mary’s—two as an assistant volleyball coach, and the last 19 as the team’s head coach. “I have absolutely loved my time here at Saint Mary’s—this place has been home for over two decades.
“It was not an easy decision to step down,” Lester added. “I just felt that, at this time in my life, the time was right to take on a new challenge.”
During his time at Saint Mary’s, Lester led the Cardinals to the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Playoffs 11 times in the 16-year history of the post-season tournament—including each of the last four seasons. In his final season in 2016, the Cardinals finished 24-5 overall, including an 8-3 showing in conference play.
Under his tutelage, the Cardinals made the first two trips to the NCAA Division III National Championships in program history. In 2000, Lester led Saint Mary’s to its first-ever MIAC regular-season championship, a team-record 27 wins, and an NCAA berth, while in 2009, the Lester-led Cardinals went 22-10, and once again earned an NCAA post-season berth.
“I want to thank Brother William, and Nikki Fennern, for their support—and to Don Olson and Linda Anderson, for giving a 25-year old kid the opportunity to live out a dream,” said Lester, the 2001 MIAC Coach of the Year. “I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to work at such an amazing institution, with so many amazing people—who always put students first.
“To all my assistant coaches—especially Jackie Kiecker, Tessa Wagnild, Chris Rhode, and Corey Phelps—I can’t thank you enough for all the time and effort you have put into this program. “And to all the amazing student-athletes who have given everything they could to this program—they will never know the impact that they had, not only on the volleyball program, but on me as an individual.”
“To say that I am thankful and appreciative for all Mike has done for Saint Mary’s University and Cardinal athletics is an understatement,” said athletic director Nikki Fennern. “For over 20 years, Mike has been a staple on the volleyball sidelines and in the athletic department. His work as a coach and as an administrator for the university have helped to advance the athletic department in numerous ways. He has been a leader within the department and in his work with various parts of the university.
“Mike has impacted the lives of thousands of students, while proving to be a mentor for many, many coaches over the years,” Fennern added. “He will be definitely be missed, but I am excited for him in his new leadership opportunity. “