By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Pat Lipira won a total of 897 games as a volleyball and softball coach at Missouri Southern.
Today Lipira’s job title at MSSU is interim vice president of academic affairs, but in many ways, she’s still coaching.
“Instead of shortstop and left field, it’s faculty and a staff,” Lipira said. “It’s still a team. We have faculty, staff, administration, students, and everybody has a role. Our goal is the same: We want Missouri Southern to be a great place to go to school and work.
“To me, it’s just like coaching. We have to pull together. Everybody has to do their part.”
Lipira, a graduate of St. Joseph Central High School and Northwest Missouri State, arrived on the Missouri Southern campus in 1981 as the volleyball and softball coach.
“I taught math for two years at Liberty High School,” said Lipira, who also was head volleyball coach and a track assistant — the school did not have a softball team. “When I got my master’s from Kansas State, I thought I can teach college now.
“I started looking and applied to Missouri Southern. I didn’t even know where it was at, but it was a volleyball-softball job with teaching, so I applied and didn’t hear anything.
“I got an interview. Sallie Beard told me I was in the top 10, and they had interviewed a couple of folks and it didn’t go well. Sallie started calling people and telling them who was in the top 10, and they had Pat Lipira is who you want. That’s what I tell students here: You have to leave places with people feeling good about you because you never know when they might get a call.”
“Pat Lipira is the best hire I think Missouri Southern ever made,” Beard said. “It didn’t matter what you asked Pat to do — academics or athletics — she excels at everything she takes on. If she makes a commitment to take something on, it will get done.
“She also has a magnetic personality and a special knack for getting the most out of someone’s talent. Whether it’s athletic ability or a particular academic skill, she has the knack of finding out what that individual’s strength is and makes the most of it.”
In addition to being volleyball and softball coach, Lipira was Missouri Southern’s intramurals director and had a 50 percent teaching load. And, she had no assistant coach.
“I gave up the intramurals first,” Lipira said. “I coached volleyball for seven years, and I still remember asking Dr. (Julio) Leon (MSSU president) if I could just coach one sport. He wanted me to coach two sports and not teach, and I said no, I love teaching. I had a passion for teaching and didn’t want to stop.”
Lipira compiled a 265-90-11 record in seven seasons as the Lions’ volleyball coach. They finished in the top three in the Central States Intercollegiate Conference six times, highlighted by a league title in 1984.
But softball is Lipira’s favorite sport.
“I had coached volleyball more but I had played more softball,” she said. “Softball is what I had my scholarship for in college at Northwest.”
The Lions went 632-275 in 19 seasons under Lipira. They won four District 16 championships during their last eight years as an NAIA member and finished in the top 10 four times, including a fourth place in 1986.
Then in the first 11 years at the Division II level, the Lions won four MIAA championships and made seven NCAA Tournament appearances, highlighted by the 1992 national title.
It’s been 13 years since Lipira resigned as the Lions’ coach.
“It doesn’t seem like that long,” she said. “I miss the girls a lot. I miss the strategy. I love the game.
“I don’t know if I could coach any more because the game has changed so much. When I coached, it was all about pitching and defense. We just kind of expected a 1-0 game, and now I see scores of 12-10 and I don’t know if I could coach that. We were all about trying to get a runner in scoring position and hit a sacrifice fly. Now it’s swing away and get to running. With the lively bats and balls, they have more home runs in a doubleheader than we had in a season.”