Nov. 30, 2016
Ever since she was a young girl, Janet Berry knew that she wanted to become a teacher and coach when she grew up. Her childhood involved sports, her parents were both athletes, and her entire family was very competitive.
Berry, a native of Burlington, Iowa, earned her bachelor's degree in physical education from Iowa State University. After graduating from ISU, she then spent a few years coaching at the high school level before deciding to pursue a master's degree. She became a graduate assistant coach while working on that master's degree at Mankato State University in Mankato, Minn.
"I had to decide whether I wanted to pursue a head coaching job after serving as a graduate assistant or if I wanted to go after an assistant position say at a Division I or II level," she says.
Meanwhile, just a few hours back down the road to the south, was then Buena Vista College hall of fame coach John Naughton announcing his retirement from leading the Beaver women's basketball team. The position had opened quickly, but Berry was prepared for any opening and chose to apply and see what happened.
"I knew I wanted a job somewhere in the Midwest," she recalls. "If it happened to be in Iowa, it was going to be even better."
Things would get better a short time later as she remembers getting a special phone call on what was a very special day for her.
"I can still remember getting that phone call from Rick Lampe on my twenty-ninth birthday," she says, referencing her being offered the coaching job. "I was so happy, I jumped in my car and headed to Des Moines for what was the start of the girls state basketball tournament."
I'm very fortunate to wake up each morning, to come into the office, and just do what I love.Janet Berry
Berry took over as head coach at Buena Vista in 1992 with hopes of getting her feet wet for a few years and then moving on. However, here we stand 25 years and more than 350 wins later, and that same girl who had a dream of becoming a head coach, is still patrolling the sidelines for the Beavers.
"I didn't know Division III at all when I got here," she said. "I wasn't as familiar with the small private college settings. I saw it as an opportunity to get started. But I quickly fell in love with BV as well as a local guy [her husband Steve], and I have no regrets looking back."
Berry has guided the blue and gold to 14 winning seasons in her tenure and is the all-time winningest coach in program history with 368 as her squad tips-off Iowa Conference play at home on November 30 against the University of Dubuque. She's currently the second-longest tenured head coach in the Iowa Conference and her 366 wins entering the 2016-17 season ranked 43rd among all active Division III head coaches.
The five-time Iowa Conference Coach of the Year quickly got the Beaver program back to the top of the league once she took over. After winning 13 games total in the two seasons combined prior to her arrival, the Beavers went from 8-17 in her first year to 18-7 in her third campaign, including a 12-4 conference mark and the first of three straight IIAC titles. She was named the league's coach of the year all three of those seasons and coached her first IIAC Most Valuable Player in 1996-97 (Steph Gronau).
Over the next five years, the Berry-led teams averaged nearly 13 wins per year before beginning another historic stretch.
From the start of the 2002-03 season thru the end of the 2004-05 campaign, the Beavers went on to go 71-14, win back-to-back IIAC titles (2003-04 and 2004-05) and land both the league MVP and Coach of the Year honors.
The 2003-04 team won a school record 27 games while the 2004-05 group went a perfect 16-0 in conference play.
As it is with most coaches, being able to balance a family life with the coaching profession itself can be difficult. It has been no different for Berry in her career, but she also got to do something most head coaches do not – have her spouse on the bench with her as an assistant.
Berry had her husband, Steve, as an assistant coach during that 2003 and 2004 championship run. It's part of her career she will never forget and says he was an instrumental part of the team's success.
"He just had a way with managing players and their emotions," she says. "He connected well with each one, and it was a joy to get to experience that success with him."
When asked to differentiate what separated those two years from the three championships from earlier in her career, Berry says it's a difficult comparison.
"I've coached a lot of great players over the years," she states. "Sometimes, though, the ball just has to bounce the right way, and it did more times than not in those two years. What was so impressive with that bunch is we never did any shoot-arounds and the ladies never once sat and watched any game film. They just picked up the ball and went out and played."
So what has made BV such a special place for so many years for one coach?
"I knew I could pursue excellence here," says Berry. "I've had tremendous support from the administration over the years as well as from the community. We've been able to bring in such great individuals that were not only great players but even better people. I've truly been blessed to have been on this journey for so many years with them."
Berry's counterpart on the men's side, BVU head men's coach Brian Van Haaften, who is in his 21st season at BVU, has been someone she has turned to throughout her career for coaching advice or tips, and the two have been great friends throughout.
"It's been great to have someone like Brian to bounce ideas off of every now and then," she adds. "He's an outstanding colleague. Our programs have always gotten along together, and oddly enough, our teams have produced a number of marriages over the years too."
Although there are several great memories that build up over 25 years in one spot, there are always a few that stand out as being some of the greatest.
"The night we clinched our first conference title together is certainly something I'll never forget," she says. "I remember we had just finished our game and we needed Luther to lose. It was before the internet was around so we had to play a waiting game with nothing to follow. I was sitting in my office and can recall Jay Miller coming on the PA and saying ‘Congratulations to your conference champion Buena Vista women's basketball team' after he had received a phone call with the Luther score."
"Our win over California-San Diego in 1997 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen was also a special moment as was 2004 when we came back to defeat Carleton to make it back to another Sweet Sixteen."
Times have certainly changed from the time she first stepped foot on campus until the present day, but the one thing she says stands out the most is the change in recruiting.
"It's largely due to the advancement of technology over the years," she says. "The way we can now communicate with recruits to the amount of information we can read and see about them, has evolved immensely."
"The way in which we as coaches prep and prepare for games has also changed significantly," she adds. "The way we can go about uploading game film now is amazing. We had to go by word of mouth and phone calls and reading stat sheets when I first began to now being able to watch nearly any game of every opponent beforehand."
Berry points out there has been a lot of change that has taken place throughout her illustrious coaching career to this point, but there is one thing that has not – her passion for the game and for coaching.
"I absolutely love what I do, and do not consider it a job at all," she says. "I'm very fortunate to wake up each morning, to come into the office, and just do what I love."
Can we see Berry pacing up the baseline, coaching her players with a folded program in her hand for another 25 years?
"When I'm no longer happy with a win and no longer mad with a loss, then I'll know it's time to hang up the whistle for the final time," she says.