The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) girls state volleyball tournament was in its infancy when coach Dennis Erickson and his Robbinsdale Armstrong volleyball team left a lasting impression.
In 1978, Armstrong made the first of seven consecutive appearances in the state tournament. The Falcons won five consecutive state championships — from 1980 to 1984.
In that span, the Falcons compiled a 138-14 record. Erickson is just one of two coaches to win five state titles and Armstrong is the only program to win five consecutive volleyball championships.
Erickson, of Plymouth, died May 19 from complications of COVID-19. He was 83.
“During the early years Dennis was a role model of a positive coach,” said former MSHSL associate director Dorothy McIntyre. “He could bring out the best in his players in crucial moments. Armstrong’s state championships confirmed that volleyball would take its place as a major team sport in Minnesota.”
Edina High School Assistant Principal Jenny Johnson, who was a member of three of Armstrong’s state championship teams, said, “Being a part of the Armstrong volleyball program through those state championship years provided lifelong memories.
“Denny was the heart of those championships. He demanded maximum effort, perfection and teamwork, all while fostering a fun and competitive environment. It certainly translated to victories. His coaching style influenced those of us that went into coaching. The discipline and focus he required during each and every minute impacted my own athletic and professional career. His ‘one ball at a time approach’ is a lifelong mantra we all took away. Denny’s legacy still stands in the record books and also in our hearts and memories.”
Erickson, who also coached golf, was a speech pathologist in the Robbinsdale school district for 32 years.
He was born Sept. 8, 1937 to Eugene and Alice Erickson in Willmar.
After graduating from Willmar High School in 1955, he served in the Army for three years. He earned a degree in speech pathology from St. Cloud State in 1962 and went to work for the Robbinsdale school district.
In 1996, Erickson was a member of the inaugural class of the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
He is survived by Karen, his wife of 57 years, sons David of Motley and Brian of Plymouth, eight grandchildren and sister Vonnie Anderson of Santa Barbara, Calif.
A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.