Legendary coach gets her day on court

BYU honors her by etching her name on the playing floor where she excelled

PROVO, Utah — For more than 40 years, Elaine Michaelis virtually owned the main court in BYU's George Albert Smith Fieldhouse. So it was only appropriate that the school officially put her name on it in ceremonies Friday, Sept. 2, prior to the Cougars' pre-season match with the University of Kansas.

Her phenomenally successful volleyball coaching career began on the court in 1961 and ended in 2002. Except for a few games in the Marriott Center after it was built in 1971, the Cougars played their home games on the fieldhouse court that now has the name Elaine Michaelis printed on each side.

The ceremony immediately preceded BYU's 3-1 non-conference victory over Kansas.

Presiding was University President Cecil O. Samuelson, a member of the Seventy. He congratulated the legendary coach on all her achievements and then said, "It is my great privilege and responsibility on behalf of the Board of Trustees of Brigham Young University and the university administration to officially declare that this is the Elaine Michaelis Court in the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse."

Speaking of the sports arena that was dedicated in 1954, Sister Michaelis said in response, "It is an overwhelming honor to have my name associated with the building named after a great prophet of the Lord. President George Albert Smith was a . . . loving prophet who exemplified kindness and Christlike love. It would be well for all of us to remember his life and teachings and seek to follow his example. I shall always strive to be worthy of this association and recognition."

Justifying adding the name Elaine Michaelis to those of LaVell Edwards and Clarence Robinson as the only coaches with BYU sports facilities named after them, athletic director Tom Holmoe listed during the ceremony some of her accomplishments. Many of them were visually reinforced on banners hanging over the south end of the court.

Coach Michaelis, in volleyball, had an overall record of 886-225-5, never having a losing season and finished her career with 28 straight 20-win seasons. Having coached in every conference the Cougars belonged to, she was dominating, her teams winning more than 90 percent of their games. The banners declared five Intermountain Conference championships, four titles in the High Country Conference, six Western Athletic Conference championships and the championship of the Mountain West Conference in its inaugural season. In the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women — which preceded the adoption of women's sports into the NCAA — Coach Michaelis' Cougars went to the final four twice and to the final eight another four times. In NCAA tournament competition, she led BYU to the final eight seven times and to the final four in 1993.

Though there were ups and downs during her career at BYU, Coach Michaelis spoke only words of praise for the school. Reading her prepared response to more than 2,000 fans at the ceremony, she said, "I've been in an ideal position here at BYU. I've been at the best university in the world. I've been blessed with wonderful players and students who have had the gospel of Jesus Christ as an influence in their lives."

During a Church News interview that followed, she said, "I just love BYU!"

She showed an endearing humility during the ceremony by using plural pronouns. "We have been fortunate to have excellent coaches who have assisted us with hard work in the trenches of training." "The administration has been supportive in providing us with the resources we needed to compete at a national level." "Caring families have prepared and supported our athletes and students." "We've had the greatest fans a university can have."

The fans focused their feelings directly at her with multiple standing ovations.

In a post-ceremony interview, athletic director Holmoe noted that Sister Michaelis arrived on the coaching scene at a time when "a lot of people didn't want ladies to play. But she really took BYU from nothing to one of the most respected programs in the country."

In those early years — after playing volleyball, softball and basketball herself at BYU, Sister Michaelis coached everything, including volleyball, basketball, softball and field hockey. In the meantime, she earned a master's degree in physical education.

"As women's athletics matured and we got to where our seasons were longer, I had to retire from some and it ended up by pursuing basketball and volleyball."

Finally, in 1977, she became a one-sport coach in volleyball, though she did take on the role of women's athletic director in 1995. Her career as volleyball coach ended in 2002 and her term as women's athletic director came to an end in 2004 when her position was terminated.

A member of the inaugural class inducted into the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2003, she told the Church News, "I love the game of volleyball. It's a wonderful game. Then to have it at BYU, where we can do it our way and have a special experience."

Our way?

She responded, "We like to play by the rules and maybe set a high standard; play well. Excellence is what we were after and I think the teams did that."

The BYU way also included a spiritual side, which she said was very positive. "We really enjoyed the opportunity to do firesides as we traveled. Our young people have such wonderful testimonies and were great examples to the youth. That was what we were about — trying to further the work of the kingdom through the sport of volleyball."

Even in retirement she is active furthering the work, recently called as Relief Society president in the Lakeview 8th Ward, Orem Utah Lakeview Stake.

During the ceremony, BYU Advancement Vice President Fred Skousen said it was his privilege to work closely with Sister Michaelis for six years at the school. "During that time, it was easy for me to see her passion for BYU sports, particularly women's volleyball and to observe firsthand the love and the concern she had for the young people with whom she worked."

Finally, Brother Holmoe told the Church News why the school decided to honor Sister Michaelis the way it did. He said, "If you think about it, she's been on this court more times than anybody. . . . I don't think there's anybody who's spent more hours and won more games on this court, or ever will."

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