Culture paramount as B1G programs rebuild for 2023 volleyball season

CHICAGO — Pedro Mendes was coaching Hylte/Halmstad VBK in Sweden two years ago.

On Tuesday, the new Northwestern assistant coach was sitting in a conference room in the Big Ten Network office building as the public face for the volleyball program and answering questions about a lawsuit alleging hazing during the 2020-21 season.

Mendes was filling in for head coach Shane Davis at the second annual Big Ten Conference volleyball media days after the school issued a statement at 5:30 p.m. on Monday saying he would not attend the event.

Mendes, who was hired as a full-time assistant coach in February after serving as a volunteer coach for a year, couldn’t get into many details about the allegations since he wasn’t at the school when the alleged incidents occurred. However, he said that he hasn’t seen anything negative during his time with the Wildcats.

“I don’t think since I joined the team I have ever experienced or heard or seen any type of situation where I would consider myself or the players around me as hazing,” he said. “The way we coach, at least, again, from my time here, it’s been a lot about respect, and we try to keep the standards pretty high, but we’re always trying to make sure that the athletes are feeling respected and heard. That’s how we do it, and we’re going to keep doing it the same way.”

Sophomore defensive specialist Ellee Stinson also addressed the topic, saying that she has felt nothing but love during her time at Northwestern. She said they try to be honest with each other, not to be mean, but because they care for one another.

“One of our program values is actually relationships with one another,” she said. “From the time that I’ve been here, I can only say positive things about the coaching staff and feeling welcomed and supported by my teammates.”

During the first session of media day, several teams talked about the importance of building positive team culture even with the increase of transfers.

Ohio State is rebuilding its culture after losing five fifth-year players to the portal. The Buckeyes established new bonds and priorities during the off-season, aided by a trip to Italy and Greece. Senior middle blocker Rylee Rader said she’s never seen a team bond as fast as they did.

“I think the biggest part of our culture that is helping this team is the fact that everyone is so bought into what we’re reaching for,” OSU opposite Emily Londot said. “I think all of our goals, everyone wants it just the same.”

Several players talked about summer’s importance in building a strong culture. Because coaches can’t work with players, they have to take ownership of the expectations and work ethic and demonstrate leadership to get buy-in from the players.

After one of the most successful seasons in recent years, Indiana is trying to springboard that into better results this fall.

Senior outside hitter Grae Gosnell said it starts with recruiting the correct type of players who want to put the work in and lead by example.

“There’s been a lot of emphasis on building a culture and making something of a program that it wasn’t before,” she said. “But I don’t think it was something that was forced. I think it was something that was expected. It was something that was required.”

Second-year Michigan State coach Leah Johnson said just because players or coaches are leaving a program doesn’t mean the culture is negative. The Spartans hired two new assistants during the offseason, adding Zheng Xiang and Maddie Beal.

“Athletics is likely the highest-turnover industry there is,” Johnson said. “So turnover isn’t always a negative thing. Change can be positive. Change adds new ideas. It adds new energy, new excitement.”


The league revealed its television schedule Tuesday morning, which includes a record 55 games shown on the Big Ten Network this season.

In addition, the Big Ten announced that volleyball matches will be shown on FOX. On Sunday, Oct. 29, two matches will be shown on the broadcast network. Fox has a single-game window that day and will package those games with

Markets with an NFL game starting at 1 p.m. will be shown Wisconsin and Minnesota. (The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers play in the early kickoff window). Michigan State and Ohio State play in the afternoon and lead into the late NFL games, which is when the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns play. Both matches will also be shown on FS2.

The BTN slate is headlined by Nebraska’s match against Omaha on Aug. 30, when the two teams are scheduled to play in front of more than 90,000 fans in Memorial Stadium.

Here are highlights from the seven teams that met with the press on Tuesday:


2022 record, finish: 18-14, 7-13, tied for 10th place

Coach Shane Davis (335-187 career record, 70-99 at Northwestern), junior setter Alexa Rousseau, sophomore libero Ellee Stinson

What they said:

“I feel like three coaches are not enough to take care of a season. There’s a lot going on with recruiting, and then during a season, there’s a lot going on at the college level, and it’s just important that we are adding that piece,” Mendes on adding a third assistant coach.

“I think Wisconsin is extremely lucky to be getting a player like Temi (Thomas-Ailara) on the court but also off the court as just being such a great and sweet human being. I couldn’t be happier for her,” Rousseau on her former teammate who transferred to play for the Badgers.

Michigan State

2022 record, finish: 13-18, 4-16, tied for 12th place

Coach Leah Johnson Smith (117-71, 13-18), junior setter Julia Bishop, junior outside hitter Aliyah Moore

What they said:

“Rosalind was the best surprise I’ve ever had. She snuck in there to be baby three, and now she’s my best recruiting tool. She is crushing it in the visits. She only smiles. I think the kid has only cried three times. I’m really lucky. But yes, she is their favorite. I am now, I think, fourth in the pecking order of favorites in the coaching ranks — okay, fifth probably, and out recruiting, she is loving it,” Johnson on her new baby, who was born in January.

“I was in the chess club for six years of my life, so it’s a little brag… They were teaching us how to play, and I was like, is this how you move it? And when we started playing, I was like, ‘Checkmate.’” Bishop on being the best player on the team after they started a chess club this offseason.


2022 record, finish: 21-11, 11-9, sixth place

Coach Dave Shondell (425-217, 425-217), sophomore outside hitter Eva Hudson, Graduate defensive specialist Maddie Schermerhorn

What they said:

“Well, I’m taking a lot harder classes this summer. Definitely, freshman year I kind of had blow-off classes, and that’s a big part of the busy schedule. But I would just say the leadership now. I’m getting used to that role now that I’m a year older and becoming more vocal because I feel like last year it was more action driven. Just working on my voice has definitely been a difficult but good challenge for this summer,” Hudson on what is different this year.

“Chloe Chicoine is a difference maker. I think even these two right here would recognize when she came into our gym, our culture improved, just like it did when these guys came in the gym. But she’s a workhorse and she’s got a cannon of an arm, and it’s going to take a lot of pressure of people like Eva Hudson and Raven Colvin to have another player out there that can create her own points for us. So she’s nice to have.” Shondell on freshman outside Chloe Chicoine


2022 record, finish: 26-6, 16-4, second place

Coach John Cook (817-171, 656-98), junior libero Lexi Rodriguez, junior opposite Merritt Beason

What they said:

“It’s a really hard thing to grasp that that many people are going to be there watching us, but at the end of the day we’re very grateful that Husker Nation is as strong as it is and that we even have the ability to play in the football stadium. I think that’s really cool. Like Lexi said, it’s huge for volleyball but women’s sports in general, so for us to be a part of it is really special. It’ll be history in the making, and for us to be a part of it and to play in it is really cool. Not many people get to say that they did,” Beason on playing in front of 90,000 fans at Memorial Stadium.

“She reminds me of Bud Crawford. She’s got the look. She’s an assassin,” John Cook on freshman setter Bergen Reilly, comparing her to the undefeated and undisputed welterweight boxer.

Ohio State

2022 record, finish: 22-10, 15-5, tied for third place

Coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg (65-20, 65-20), senior opposite Emily Londot, senior middle blocker Rylee Rader

What they said:

“It was definitely different than being on the right, but I’m just here to do whatever my team needs, and wherever Coach decides to put me, I’ll do my best. The end goal is to win games, and if winning games comes with me being on the left pin, I think that’s what we’ll do,” Londot on playing some at outside hitter this spring.

“It’s weird. Let’s be honest. Call it what it is. The COVID thing really changed the world, and in the scheme of athletics, it makes it a little bit different and a little bit weird. At the end of the day, you have to go out and compete regardless of who’s on the other side of the net, and we’re really going to focus on who’s on our side of the net,” Olberding on seeing former OSU players across the net playing for other teams.


2022 record, finish: 17-13, 7-13, ninth place

Coach Erin Virtue (0-0, 0-0), senior libero Hannah Grant, senior outside hitter Allison Jacobs

What they said:

“I think it’s a really special thing that only we can speak to, walking into an office and looking to your left and seeing a gold medal on the wall. That’s not something that no one else in the Big Ten or in NCAA volleyball, other than one school now, can say.” Jacobs on how valuable Virtue’s experience with the US national team has been.

“I would never want to be hired for a job because I’m a female. I hope Michigan didn’t hire me because I’m a female and they want a female as their head coach. I’ve worked really hard to build up a career, to hopefully do a great job for Michigan, and I’d be really proud to do that. You’re right, we see tons of male counterparts, and I have so much respect for those that coach the game at a high level regardless.

Internationally that’s even worse. I think at the Olympic Games of twelve teams, I think total there were three women of every staff on any bench. So it’s across the world. I think the USA is leading in women leaders in this sport, which is exciting, and we still have a pretty skewed amount. Not that that’s bad or good, but we’re growing. What I’ll tell you is just in the world, I think this is a place where the USA can lead of just having women leaders in volleyball. It does make me proud to be able to hopefully show our women on our team if they do want to carve a path in coaching that it can be done at whichever level that they want.” Virtue on the significance of being one of five female coaches in the Big Ten.

Michigan’s Allison Jacobs, left, and Hannah Grant/Ryan Kuttler photo


2022 record, finish: 16-16, 9-11 eighth place

Coach Steve Aird Smith (116-161, 61-87), senior outside hitter Grae Gosnell, junior setter Camryn Haworth

What they said:

“As we were saying at dinner and in the car, none of us have really celebrated being eighth at anything in our life. It’s really not the Super Bowl. It’s about trying to keep getting better and keep improving and having a ton of respect for the conference,” Aird on building on last year’s conference finish.

“We’ve gotten to the point with our program where we only support each other. Your success is my success. Like your hard work is our hard work, and it just feeds. I think the reciprocated energy of just that unconditional support of somebody getting back there to the end line and just letting it rip, there’s nothing better than the feeling of — whether you’re serving or it’s your teammate serving and getting the ace or whatever it is, it’s just unmatched,” Gosnell on Indiana’s success from the service line.

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