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West High’s Dolson moves to Liberty High

Randy Dolson at the 2016 State Volleyball Tournament in Cedar Rapids. Dolson led the West High Women of Troy to the state quarterfinal round three times. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– Liberty High School’s academic and athletic coaching staffs continue to grow ahead of the doors opening in August for the first school year. Principal Scott Kibby announced on Monday, April 10, that West High varsity volleyball coach Randy Dolson had joined his staff as both a special education teacher and as the varsity volleyball coach.
Dolson came to West High in 2014 and led the Women of Troy to three Class 4A state tournament appearances after seven years at the top of Dubuque Hempstead’s program. He built a 202-62 record at Hempstead and was named the 2008 All-Area Coach of the Year and was the Mississippi Valley Conference (MVC) Coach of the Year in 2009, 2012 and 2013. Dolson also earned 2009 Iowa NE District Class 4A Coach of the Year and the 2013 East Iowa Class 5A Coach of the Year honors.
Prior to Hempstead, he was the head coach for the University of Dubuque with over 100 wins in six seasons, which included a 1998 NCAA Division III playoff appearance before rebuilding the program at Drake University in Des Moines.
“I took over a poor program with limited resources, yet I wanted to take the risk and challenge,” he said in a 2014 interview with the Leader. Dolson improved the Bulldogs’ fortunes over a three-year period.
Kibby, then the Athletic Director (AD) at West High, and West Principal Jerry Argenbright were key factors in Dolson’s decision to leave Hempstead and move to the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) in general, and North Liberty in particular. At that time, Liberty was only speculation.
“Once it (Liberty) became a reality, and then Kibby went and got hired, my wife (Peggy) and I started thinking about it,” Dolson said. After Peggy was hired to teach English and serve as the head of the English department (and coach sophomores), making the change became a matter of practicality. “I became really interested,” he said.
With another good season at West in the books, and a great team for the season ahead, Dolson wasn’t itching to leave.
“I told them (his West High players), ‘Just stick together, whoever the coach is, just stick together and you’ll be fine,’” Dolson said. “There’s enough talent they can do it. They’ll have some more great years.”
The trade-off, he said, in giving up a top-ranked program with a history of success comes down to working with Kibby (Dolson described Kibby’s energy and enthusiasm for Liberty as “contagious”) again, the facilities (space for five volleyball courts in air-conditioned gyms) and the extremely rare opportunity to build a program from scratch.
“Not everybody, no matter what level, gets the chance to build something from scratch,” he said. “As a coach, to build a program from the ground up, it’s exciting. It gets the energy level up.”

Laying the foundation and shaping the culture of Liberty volleyball were key points, Dolson stressed, as well as an acute awareness that Liberty is quickly becoming a community school, and a focal point for North Liberty. “I just feel that this community is going to be so excited and so supportive of almost everything (at Liberty),” he said.
As for those five, full-sized courts in the air-conditioned gym, Dolson said, “It’s going to be amazing, it’s going to be a treat... we feel like we’re spoiled already because every team is going to be able to practice at the same time right after school.”
Scheduling practice times is difficult at West due to a lack of space, he said. “We had to go until 8-o’clock at night or 8:30, sometimes even later.” Once West High switched to a 4 p.m. dismissal, varsity practices became even more problematic with freshman games starting at 5 p.m. “We would either go outside or take a day off. We even went up to (Norman) Borlaug Elementary (in Coralville) a few times instead of going until eight or nine,” he said. “That’s not fun, so this is gonna help. Kids can practice right after school and still get home at a decent time.”
Dolson acknowledged that when it comes to building the program from the foundation up, some of the initial ground work has been done with Liberty fielding a freshman volleyball team last fall (West High students who will be transferring to Liberty played as the “Lady Lightning,” and three freshmen played on the sophomore squad for West (that went 32-0). However, overall it was a small detachment of players, but he also described them and their efforts as a solid foundation.
Dolson envisions more participation this fall. “We had a small freshman team, and in girls’ sports, we’re seeing (nationwide) a dwindling of numbers, for a number of reasons,” he said. “I’m hoping we can get some more multi-sport athletes up here (at Liberty).”
He pointed to lower injury rates in multi-sport athletes as well as more favorable responses from college coaches. “They’re not burned out or injury prone,” he said. “We’re going to try to fill at least three teams this year (freshman, a sophomore/JV and varsity).” Dolson acknowledged it will be a challenge with most of the available pool being freshmen and sophomores. Some may play for one team, then suit up as a reserve for the varsity, Dolson said, depending on how the numbers look.
“It’s not gonna be easy,” he said. “I’ve got a plan to try and be successful but we’re gonna have to say, maybe, that success isn’t just determined by wins and losses. Maybe by how much we can improve, how kids can grow (throughout the season). We’re gonna be joining the Valley (Mississippi Valley Conference, Mississippi Division in 2018) so the experience we get this season, will just make us that much better next year.”
Dolson is very much looking forward to getting to work. “It’s gonna be fun really digging into the ground work with these kids, working on the fundamentals,” he said. “We’re gonna have to be tough defenders, tough servers. We’re not gonna have a whole lot of height to begin with, we’re gonna have to be a ‘grind, get after it’ kinda team.”
With the returning players and some promising eighth-graders coming, Dolson is encouraged and optimistic. “We’ll be all right,” he said.

Work continues on finalizing the schedule for matches and tournaments. To help build excitement, Dolson said he’s working on trying to put together some preseason scrimmages.
Liberty High will be an independent school (not affiliated with any athletic conference) this year. Both the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union have granted waivers for teams to schedule an extra match with Liberty so that the fledgling teams have a full slate of competition.
“Kibby has done a great job trying to piecemeal this independent schedule together,” Dolson said, adding the freshman schedule is set, only a couple more dates are needed for the sophomores and that the varsity schedule is almost complete. Liberty will play Clear Creek Amana, Solon, Mount Vernon and in West High’s annual Caroline Found Tournament, he said. “That’s a tough tournament. That’s gonna be an eye-opener for a lot of us, but it’ll still be fun.” Dolson is also looking at other tournaments where his young squad can be competitive and gain valuable experience.
When Liberty’s squad hits the floor this season in their black or purple uniforms, they likely will not be known as “The Lady Lightning.”
“I don’t like ‘Lady anything,’” he said. “If I have my say, we’re not gonna be ‘Lady Lightning.’ No. My preference is not, ‘Lady-anything,’ just, ‘The Lightning,’ or, ‘The Bolts.’ I don’t think the football team (the “Original Bolts” or “O-Bolts”) has a patent on ‘Bolts.’ I think the kids like to call themselves ‘The Bolts’ in every sport.”
Building community, a sense of excitement for Liberty volleyball and developing future players will be a priority for Dolson, who has already met with North Central Junior High’s players. “I’ve got them and their parents in a database and have already been sending them stuff,” he said.
Dolson is already planning on hosting camps for younger players this summer, and wants to have a community-wide event to introduce himself, his staff and the players.
He also wants to build a good working relationship with the club coaches in the area. “I think it’s going to be important that we tie everything together,” he said. That includes youth programs at the North Liberty Recreation Center.
“I hope I can make it to the elementaries in town and talk to those kids, too, but I really want to have a community-wide event for everybody: high school, junior high, even third and fourth graders,” Dolson said. “And just have a ‘fireside chat,’ if you will, about volleyball in North Liberty.”
Dolson is also eager to build relationships with his team. “Every coach struggles at times with connecting with everybody on the team. We all try our best to connect,” he said. “It comes down to be caring, communicating as much as you can. Be grateful for what you have. Make sure you’re that your players know that you care about them, you’re grateful for all that you have together, for what you’re trying to build, make sure kids know their roles.”
He pointed out with volleyball, a small portion of the team is out on the floor at any given time. “But everybody is important,” he said. “Building that foundation in practice is going to be vitally important. We’re gonna need everybody.”
It will be a very busy summer, he said, “But, it should be fun. It’s gonna be a heckuva year.”