Volleyball team’s high GPA stands out for Miraku’s program
UCO Bronchos Head Volleyball Coach Edgar Miraku spoke up with a statistic he felt was important.
Already having heard about his recently accomplished 250th win, his multiple top-25 rankings, and his MIAA tournament appearances, Miraku said, “Another stat for you: previously, up until a year or two ago, we were the highest team GPA combined for all UCO athletics for team sports for 11 years in a row.”
Academic excellence is a high priority in Miraku’s program, as shown by the large number of MIAA Academic All-Americans UCO Volleyball has seen under his watch. When this was brought to his attention, Miraku seemed genuinely flattered at the attention to his teams’ academic prowess.
“I think it’s important,” he said, “Everybody comes from different families, different values, different experiences. We try to instill, and have them—especially in their freshman year—work hard on their time management.”
This is a philosophy echoed by junior outside hitter and team captain Jenna Karp, who is double majoring in forensic molecular biology and biology medical sciences. She acknowledged that balancing being an athlete with that kind of study can be hard work.
“It’s a lot,” she said. “But as long as you just prioritize, schedule out beforehand, it’s not too hard.”
When asked about who his star players are, Miraku focused on the depth of his squad rather than calling attention to individual performances.
“One thing that’s worked well so far, has been our ability to figure out based on ‘who’s having a better night’ and can rely on them more,” he said.
After suggesting that he’s spoiled for depth, he replied that he is, an assertion supported by the fact that, as of September 15, 11 different players have appeared in 20 sets or more this season. “We’re definitely blessed with some athletes that last year achieved some huge accolades. Jaedynn Evans, (returning All-American), she was number one in the nation in digs, and number one in the nation in digs per set.”
But Miraku is quick to point out that the success of the team depends on far more than just individual performances.
“It’s been a lot of teamwork, to be honest,” he said, praising his squad’s depth. “In addition to our ‘usual suspects’, (as) I’m gonna call them: Jenna Karp, who’s our captain, Sydney Huck who was (MIAA) Freshman of the Year last year, Mallorie Koehn and Lindsey Houran.”
Just as the team has worked hard together to win matches, they have worked hard in the classroom as well.
“We also have team goals,” Miraku said. “Just like we have team goals on the athletic side: winning conference and this, that and the other; we also have team goals on team GPA.”
Though Miraku said he has loved his time on the court, he spoke passionately and at length about his favorite part of being a college coach: helping out the individual people under his tutelage.
“Some of my most memorable experiences as a coach—which doesn’t show in my record, doesn’t show in my resume—are some of these student athletes that they’re challenged, they think ‘I’m not good at this, I’m not good at math’; that’s the most traditional one,” he said. “And then two or three years later, they’re finishing (with) A’s in finals in their math classes.”
As of September 15, 2023, Miraku had a career record of 253-86, good enough for a .746 winning percentage. That’s a figure that placed him just outside of the top-10 out of active coaches in NCAA Division II. Miraku cares about his numbers and his stats, but the ones he places a high priority are ones you might not expect from your average coach. For example, after hitting the huge milestone of his 250th career win with a 3-set sweep over Illinois-Springfield on September 9, Edgar had to be congratulated via text message before he had any idea of his accomplishment.
“I did not know until the match was over, when I got the text from one of our Sports Information Directors. We finished the match in Texas last weekend and I looked at my phone and ‘bam,’” he said. As Miraku points out though, where his career sits on the stat sheet isn’t as important as his involvement in his players’ lives.
“But really, what makes me the most happy is this,” he said, “Becoming old with this program, who I’m also an alumni of UCO… and then secondly, to me, the older I get, it’s more of a testament to our program and to the student athletes. To me it’s not about numbers anymore, it’s about the names who have contributed… and people matter more than numbers.”
“A lot of coaches have a lot of wins but I haven’t been jumping around and doing that song and dance,” Miraku said.
“What really stands out is he cares about us off the court a lot,” said Sydney Huck, reflecting on a question about how the team views Miraku. “Like he cares about how much food we get and stuff like that.”
“(Whether) we’re eating right, sleeping right…” Karp said, “It’s not just volleyball; he actually does care about us as a person which is really cool.”
This echoed an earlier sentiment from the coach: “You’re not a commodity over here,” he said, “you’re a human being. And we need to help you not just (with) your volleyball; we need to help you with everything so you become better at life.”
Karp agreed and said that Edgar is “a really silly guy. He stays focused, but he definitely makes jokes with us which is fun, because then we don’t have to be serious all the time.”
Huck, who is a fan of the television series British Baking Show, said she can see some similarities between being in that competition and playing on the volleyball court. “I think you really just got to keep your cool, I think… that’s something that translates through both.”
Karp agreed. “Yeah, I would just say: calm under pressure,” she said, “As long as you’re cool, then it’s all good, you don’t have to worry too much.”
One of the most endearing things about Huck is her photogenic facial expressions; it’s difficult to find a photo of her on the Broncho Sports website where she’s not baring or gnashing her teeth as she goes for a pass or a spike. But also endearing is her total lack of hesitation in acknowledging that, yes, she knows she makes funny faces when she’s on the court.
“Oh my gosh, yes…they always choose the worst pictures to post of me, too,” she said, laughing. “I just have some weird, like, focus faces. It just happens. I always make the same face when I pass, I go like this,” she said, contorting her expression into one of intense concentration, her teeth bared.
Karp and Huck were quick to answer in unison when asked what match they have circled on the calendar this season: “Kearney! Ooh Kearney!” they both said almost simultaneously. “And Washburn. Kearney and Washburn.”
The reminder of last year’s MIAA Tournament exit to Washburn was evident in both players’ body language when it came up. “We beat them both times (in the regular season),” Huck said, almost rolling her eyes in frustration at the memory of falling to the Ichabods, as she acknowledged that the team was caught on an off night. “We played good, though,” Karp said, staring forward as she seemed to replay the match in her mind.
The two players shared a brief look, almost as if they were acknowledging that they won’t, and they can’t, let the season end like that again. And in that moment, on that court, it certainly felt like a very different kind of ending could be brewing for these Bronchos, a team galvanized by mutual experience, determination, grit, hard work, and success.