Since the inception of Brother Rice’s volleyball program 22 years ago, coach Br. Paul Ickes has amassed more wins than anyone in Illinois.
The first to reach the 500-win milestone — and the only head coach in Brother Rice volleyball history — Ickes has piloted the Crusaders to 10 regional championships in the last 11 years, advancing to the state quarterfinals five times during that span.
But all the victories won’t define Ickes’ career, which is slated to conclude at the end of the season.
“Paul’s been a tremendous advocate for boys volleyball over the years,” said Wheaton Warrenville South coach Bill Schreier, a seven-time state champ and the only other boys coach in Illinois with more than 500 wins. “He’s going to be sorely missed.”
Ickes, 50, joked about being a “Godfather” of the sport. He announced his plans to leave the ministry at Brother Rice when the season began in order to help his family improve their financial standing after his father passed away in October.
“I’m leaving my chosen family to take care of my blood family,” Ickes said. “There are a lot of mixed feelings, but I’m excited about the possibilities for the future.”
One thing is for certain, Ickes will carry a staunch following where ever he goes.
“He’s top-notch. I would support him in whatever he does,” Glenbard West coach Christine Mayer said. “He always plays with passion and it shows because his kids play for him. When you have a team that plays for your coach, you can’t lose.”
Losing isn’t something Brother Rice has done often. With nine seniors looking to give their head coach a storybook ending, the Crusaders (31-2) are legitimate state title contenders fielding one of the their most talented rosters ever.
“Having seven of my guys sign on to play collegiately next year is by far the most we’ve had in a year,” Ickes said. “I’m really, really proud of that.
“This particular group of seniors has just been amazing in so many respects. While it’s flattering that they want to win it for me, I hope that they focus on doing it for themselves more than anything.”
Ickes isn’t the only staple leaving Brother Rice. Mitch Weiler, only the second four-year varsity player in program history alongside 2005 graduate Jordan Vidivoc, is headed to Ball State.
“Pound for pound, Mitch is the best player that we’ve ever had,” Ickes said. “Mitch is just so smooth, and he’s an even better person.”
Weiler was just as complimentary talking about his coach.
“The fact that he’s leaving is on our minds,” Weiler said. “We want to win it even more for him.”
It won’t come easy. Brother Rice finds itself in a Marist Sectional that includes Lincoln-Way East, Lincoln-Way North and Sandburg.
However the finish, Ickes expects to stay involved with the sport in some aspect. For now, he’s enjoying the ride.
“It’s been a pleasure to literally build this thing from the ground up,” Ickes said. “It continues to grow and expand with amazing possibilities down the road.”
A road that started with Ickes.