Programs embrace adding staff; can any B1G teams elevate from middle of the pack?

Coach Chris Tamas and Illinois senior associate director of athletics Bre Robinson/Ryan Kuttler photo

CHICAGO — After the NCAA changed the rule allowing volleyball teams to hire a third paid assistant coach, Chris Tamas didn’t have to look far for his new staff member.

The Illinois coach’s wife, Jen (Joines) Tamas, has been a volunteer coach since 2017 and was a natural fit to be elevated to full-time status. She was a four-time All-American at Pacific, played professionally for eight years and was the captain of the USA national team for four years. She had also served as a volunteer coach during Chris’s stints as an assistant coach at Nebraska and Cal Poly.

However, it wasn’t a shoo-in. He made her work for it a bit.

“I actually made her go through the interview process, just so you know. She passed the test tremendously,” Chris Tamas said Wednesday during the Big Ten volleyball media days. “She’s a tremendous coach, and she was a tremendous player. It’s one of those things where if I blindfold interviewed her, it would be her.”

Schools around the Big Ten took several approaches to the third assistant coach. Some added former players starting their coaching careers, while others elevated volunteer coaches or other off-court staff members to help with the increased workload. Everyone agreed that it was much needed and would help the sport.

Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said he was encouraged to see every Big Ten member commit to support a larger staff. There might have been a little wait-and-see early on, but any apprehension was quickly removed.

“You make the decision that you’re either all the way in trying to compete at the highest level or you’re going to skimp. If you are not all the way in and you’re gonna get left in the dust in this league and in this sport,” he said. “Once a couple of schools made the decision, we are definitely going to do this. Every coach is banging on their boss’s door, saying we’ve got to do it. In most cases at most of these schools, the bosses are already wanting to run with it because they’re their competitors as well.”

Penn State and Nebraska added program legends who have just started their coaching journey. The Huskers added Jordan Larson, who is working part-time now as she wraps up her national team career, while the Nittany Lions tabbed Megan Hodge Easy, a three-time national champion.

PSU senior middle blocker Allie Holland said she’s counting the days until she can work with Hodge Easy. She visited the team in the spring and left a good impression.

“Just having another Penn State icon in our gym is going to be so helpful to us,” Holland said. “Having these female, strong athletes that have played at Penn State, one here with me (coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley) and also Megan, is going to be huge.”

Former Minnesota libero CC McGraw joined the Louisville staff fresh off wrapping up her playing career. Her former Golden Gopher teammates were excited about her new opportunity.

“She’s an amazing human, super easy to talk to. She’s great with other people,” Minnesota setter Melani Shaffmaster said. “She’s able to coach because she does understand how the players are understanding a lot of the information and what they actually need to be doing because she lived it very recently. So I think coaching is a great fit for CC.”

Rutgers added a recently retired men’s volleyball player as its third assistant. Ryan Mather finished his playing season this past weekend and officially started for the Scarlet Knights on August 1. He was an assistant at Lafayette College last season.

Meanwhile, several other programs are sliding over people already on staff from behind-the-scenes roles onto the bench.

Indiana’s Brett Agne was the director of operations and now has the title of assistant coach and technical coordinator. Maryland is adding Kyle Thompson to the coaching staff from his operations role. Thompson is currently with the USA U19 national team at the World Championships in Croatia and will also help with the Terrapins’ softball program.

Wisconsin is moving over Annemarie Hickey, director of scouting and player development, to a coaching role.

Dave Shondell has had one of the most stable coaching staffs in the league, as John Shondell and Kathy Jewell have been on the Purdue staff for 19 years. Michael Bouril was elevated from an off-court position as the technical coordinator & performance analyst.

While the staff makeup isn’t a significant change because of eliminating the volunteer coaching position, Shondell said it’s a good step forward for the sport.

“The difference is you have a volunteer coach for about one year, and they’re gone. They find a real paying job,” he said. “It’s nice to have some young people in your program that can bring a little more energy, a little bit different look … I think it’s great to have that guy that has an actual job, not a volunteer coach or not the analytics guy, but he’s on the staff now. I’m really happy that we got that coach. I think it will benefit a lot of programs.”

Here’s a roundup of what the seven teams who were in the Big Ten Network studios had to say Wednesday:

Alissa Kinkela of Rutgers, left, and Taylor Humphrey take a Chicago selfie/Ryan Kuttler photo


2022 record, finish: 8-24, 2-18 Big Ten, 14th place

Coach Caitlin Schweihofer (79-121 career record, 22-53 at Rutgers), sophomore outside hitter Taylor Humphrey, sophomore outside hitter Alissa Kinkela

What they said:

“It was amazing being able to travel out to the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs and just compete every day with some of the best of the best. It wasn’t uncommon if we were doing a passing drill to have an All-American next to me, and that was just really eye-opening and a really exciting opportunity to be able to see the level in the gym and try to bring that back to the Rutgers gym and just elevate our team aggression and how we played. So it was a really amazing experience.”
— Humphrey on being part of the first group of Rutgers players selected to part of the USA Volleyball training program

“When I took this position, I had a very clear vision for the process that it was going to take in order to build this program into something that’s sustainably successful. I fortunately had the opportunity to do that with another institution, so I was comfortable in that process. We’re headed into our fourth season, and I think we’re right in line with where my expectations were. The major hump that I want to get over is we need to be above .500. That’s something that is really, really important for this program.”
— Schweihofer on building the culture at Rutgers


2022 record, finish: 16-16, 7-13, tied for 10th place

Coach Adam Hughes (71-77 career record, 71-77 at Maryland), senior setter Sydney Dowler, junior outside Sam Csire

What they said:

“Scheduling right now is a nightmare. I’ll put it at that. The nice thing is there’s more flexibility with the number of days you can play. So you start seeing people breaking out and playing maybe only twice a weekend or trying to do some midweeks. For us, we know we need to do as much damage as we can in the non-conference slate. So we really wanted to try to get to 12 matches and see what wins we can put together.”
— Hughes on Maryland’s season that includes two trips to Florida

“It was awesome just sightseeing and seeing everything — it was my first time to Europe in general, so it was quite the experience. Then just seeing the way that they play volleyball over there, it’s a lot different. They have a higher IQ … Then just the experience. We went cliff-jumping off of like a 60-foot cliff. I’m not going to forget that. There’s video, too, so I always can re-watch it.”
— Csire on the most memorable parts of their team trip to Europe this summer

Penn State

2022 record, finish: 26-8, 13-7, fifth place

Coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley (151-154 career record, 26-8 at Penn State) senior middle blocker Allie Holland, fifth-year senior Zoe Weatherington

What they said:

“The fact that it’s on national TV is — if we can’t be happy about that, pushing it a day and messing up some travel plans, then I don’t know what we’re doing. I think it’s great. I think it’s going to be a great place in Tampa, and the fact that we’re going to be able to be seen everywhere is truly amazing for the sport.”
— Schumacher-Cawley on the NCAA/ESPN decision to move the championship match to Sunday and show it on ABC

“The coaches fill us in with their recruiting and stuff. We’re one big happy family, so we always talk about who might be the next addition. A lot of us are friends with each other off the court, and we all know each other, so there might be talk, and if we see someone that we might — hey, send a little text, hey, saw you’re in the portal. The day we found out that we got all these new transfers was a day of celebration. Our team just keeps getting more and more talent, and I’m really excited for the season.”
— Zoe Weatherington on how she learned about all of Penn State’s new additions


2022 record, finish: 28-4, 19-1, fourth straight title

Coach Kelly Sheffield 537-169 overall, 264-57 at Wisconsin), graduate setter Izzy Ashburn, senior setter MJ Hammill

What they said:

“Will we be running a 6-2? I don’t sit there and think one is better than the other, or I’m not married to a system. It’s how do we utilize our talents. I think for this collection of players this upcoming year, a 6-2 probably accentuates that talent a little bit more. We’ll go in thinking 6-2 but with the ability to go to a 5-1 if we need to.”
— Sheffield on how many setters will play for Wisconsin this season

“It was such an honor. Kelly called me last week and let me know. Right away I was just thinking about the growth that I’ve seen even going into my fifth year here at Wisconsin, the growth of TV viewership, the growth of followers in volleyball, in-person attendance of fans. That was the main message, just the growth of our sport overall, it’s been incredible, and it’s still growing.

“Obviously, coming back here and having our second media day is such a big step in the right direction. Having more games on TV this year than last year. It was just announced that it’s 64 now. Being on FOX Sports for the first time. It is so incredible to be a part of volleyball and experience that growth. But we just appreciate all of it so much, and we appreciate the people that put it on and the media outlets that are helping us out and the players voicing how much we need this. It’s just been so incredible to be a part of, and I can’t wait to see where this goes in the next few years.”
— Izzy Ashburn on being asked to speak at the B1G media-days dinner on Tuesday night


2022 record, finish: 22-9, 15-5, tied for third place

Coach Keegan Cook (198–56 overall, 0-0 at Minnesota), junior outside hitter Taylor Landfair, senior setter Melani Shaffmaster

What they said:

“We just found out yesterday that that was us, so I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Every time we see the channel, we’re like, wow, we’re going to be on this. But it’s going to be really cool. I think for us, the main thing to focus on is we’re just going to be playing Wisconsin at Wisconsin and not really worry about how many viewers are going to be watching at the same time because we do have a job to do. So I think maybe a little bit before we’ll be really, really excited when we see all the stuff getting set up or whatever. I think after we’ll be like, wow, that was awesome, and then we’ll get to go and re-watch it.”
— Shaffmaster on having a match broadcast on Fox following a Vikings-Packers game

“We talk a lot about aspirations versus expectations. It’s something that we’re trying to get in place culturally, that aspirations are within you and they’re things you dream about, expectations are about other people. The other analogy I’ve been giving people lately is it’s kind of like scuba diving. You’re down at 100 meters, and there’s thousands of pounds of pressure around you, but you feel it on all sides; and for some reason, when you’re down there, it just feels normal. For all of us, it’s gotten to that point where it feels normal. It’s been a long descent down to this deep end here of volleyball, and the trouble is if you come up too fast, which we don’t plan to do.”
— Cook on the expectations during his first year at Minnesota

Iowa’s Jim Barnes gets in some ping-pong with Delaney McSweeney during a break in Big Ten media days interviews/Ryan Kuttler photo


2022 record, finish: 10-21, 4-16, tie for 12th place

Coach Jim Barnes (465-366, 10-21 at Iowa), senior middle blocker Delaney McSweeney, senior setter Bailey Ortega

What they said:

“The Iowa fans are incredible. They love the school like no other. I love their support. Even when we lost matches, they came back and more fans were in the stadium the next day just because they loved how hard we played. The league is the best. It’s the top of the mountain. If you’re coaching, this is where you want to be, and you want to be the best players around us.”
— Barnes on what he learned during his first year at Iowa

“I really, really love our women’s basketball team for the people they are, aside from how amazing they are… I’ve gotten the opportunity to sit in on a couple of their practices. Since I want to be a coach, I’ve kind of sat in with (head coach Lisa) Bluder, Jan (Jensen), Raina (Harmon), all of the amazing staff they have. I love the way they play for each other. They’re all best friends, and they all really enjoy being around each other. So I think that’s something we can continue to implement and that I think we do have in our gym.”
— Ortega on what she learned from watching Iowa’s women’s basketball team’s run to the national title game


2022 record, finish: 15-15, 10-10, seventh place

Coach Chris Tamas (115-67 overall, 115-67 at Illinois), sophomore Brooke Mosher, senior outside hitter Raina Terry

What they said:

“I tell the team all the time, you can be one of those teams that’s in that boat and still do really well, and we have. We’ve made it to several tournaments and have done much better than seventh place in the conference. At the end of the year, I think that’s what you’re aiming for. You’re trying to make the tournament and trying to get in. With that said, obviously, we’re not happy finishing seventh place. I told the team this spring. I said I didn’t sign up to try to come here and hope to finish seventh place and then do damage in the tournament. We want to know that we can come in and place well in the conference.”
— Tamas on finishing seventh in the Big Ten for the fourth straight year and trying to get over the hump

“I’m working on my shots, my shots game. I look up to Michelle Bartsch a lot, and I’m trying to encompass a lot more of her game and trying to learn how to score in more ways than just relying on my heavy arm.”
— Terry on what areas she could improve

“She needs to be nicer to her opponents. No, she doesn’t. Just kidding.”
— Tamas

“No, that’s not going to happen.”
— Terry

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