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Dr. Joe Bowman has spent more time in the Hodge Center than anyone else. In 41 years at USC Upstate, the 6-4 New Mexico native spent countless hours as an instructor in the physical education department. He had to design a curriculum for the department when he was hired as the department head in 1969. In the meantime, he was also put in charge of the basketball program, as described before.
By 1974, when the school moved toward becoming a baccalaureate institution, Bowman felt he needed to step down as the head coach of the basketball team to focus on updating and redesigning a curriculum for the physical education department. He finished work on his doctorate of education by 1977 at the University of South Carolina, while still teaching a full course-load and still coaching the golf and bowling teams.
It probably shocks no one that after his doctorate was done, Dr. Bowman was ready for a new challenge, and he found it when he took over the reigns of the volleyball team in 1978. For a decade, he coached the team, racking up more than 300 wins, averaging 33 wins per year. By 1987, though, with Bowman's two sons nearing high school age, he decided it was time to step down.
After returning from an 0-5 trip to Hawaii, Bowman told the team of his decision to hand up the whistle at the end of the year. The team responded with wins in 12 of their last 13 matches, with only one of those wins coming inside the Hodge Center. In 41 regular-season matches, the Rifles played just 11 inside the friendly confines, though they did win 10 of them.
USCS moved on to the NAIA District Six Championship as the No. 2 seed with a 30-11 record and breezed into the winner's brackets finals, where it survived a 2-1 win over 20th-ranked Presbyterian, posting a 16-14 win in the last set to win the match, as Tonya Wright served up four straight points after the Blue Hose took a 14-12 lead.
The Lady Rifles then dismissed the Blue Hose again in the championship in two sets, earning USCS the right to host the Bi-District XI Championship against Nova University. The winner of the match earned the right to compete in the 20-team NAIA National Tournament in Milwaukee.
For Bowman, the extra home match was a fitting end to his tenure as volleyball coach, one that senior setter Diane Babington said the team worked to make sure would happen.
"We've worked a little harder since this is his last season, and so far it has paid off," the All-District Six selection said.
The Lady Rifles made it quick work of the Knights in that championship on Nov. 14, 1987. In the first set, Carla Gambrell, who went on to earn All-American honors in 1988, served up six points and USCS rolled to a 15-4 win, needing just 10 side-outs to finish off the set.
The second set was tougher, with Nova taking an 11-6 lead before the Rifles could regroup, led by three points from Babington and then three more from Angie Ramsey. Holding a 12-11 lead, the Rifles posted another side-out and Ellie Cassidy scored the next three points, giving USCS the 15-11 win.
The two teams started slow in the third set, with Novo holding a 2-1 lead before Gambrell served for six straight points, giving USCS a 7-2 lead en route to the 15-3 win, sending USCS to the national tournament for the first of three straight years.
"We started to have success and it started to build on itself," Bowman said. "We gradually got some better kids and the program just grew. It took us a while but we got to the point where we were the best in NAIA District Six. It was a slow workmanlike progression."
For Bowman, it was what he thought was going to be his last hurrah at the Hodge Center. He led his team to a 1-3 performance in Milwaukee, but after three runner-up finishes at the District Six Championships and one third-place finish, the national tournament and the Bi-District XI Championships were icing on the cake. That the Lady Rifles won the Bi-District title at the Hodge Center, that was perfect.