In college volleyball, playing in the Big Ten Conference is the envy of many coaches, players and fans of the sport.
Many matches are on TV, and on several days of the week — Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. This year there will even be two matches on network TV on Fox.
Instead of playing in half-full gyms, there are often large crowds in the league. Last season, five of the top 10 teams for average attendance were from the Big Ten — Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State and Michigan State. And total combined attendance for Big Ten programs led all conferences in the country by more than 400,000 fans.
There were no teams from the league in the NCAA Final Four last season, but, before that, there was at least one team playing in the national semifinals for 16 straight years.
And the Big Ten is the only league in Division I to stage an in-person volleyball media days. In the Big Ten, sports with media days are football, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball.
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One part of the media days is an evening dinner reception. This year the reception was at the rooftop restaurant of theWit hotel in downtown Chicago. All 28 players at the event, the 14 coaches, Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti and Big Ten Conference and Big Ten Network staff attended the reception. Volleyball is the only media day event that has a dinner for coaches and student-athletes.
One of the people asked to give a short speech to the group was Wisconsin setter Izzy Ashburn. She was honored to be asked, and said part of her messages was reminding the group how fortunate they are to be part of Big Ten volleyball.
“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,” Ashburn said. “That was the main message, just the growth of our sport overall. It's been incredible, and it's still growing.”
Here are more notes from last week's Big Ten media days:
Former Nebraska assistant gets promotion at Illinois: An NCAA rule change that allows college volleyball programs to have three-full time assistant allowed Illinois coach Chris Tamas to promote his wife, Jen, from volunteer coach to full-time assistant.
Jen Tamas was also a volunteer assistant coach at Nebraska when Chris Tamas was Nebraska’s defensive coordinator from 2015 to ’16.
Jen Tamas was an All-American in college at Pacific and played for the U.S. Olympic team that got the silver medal in 2008.
Chris Tamas said the timing was right because their three children are each in school. And his parents previously moved to Champaign and can help out.
Chris Tamas is excited for Jen to have an expanded role.
“She's a tremendous person, obviously, but she's a tremendous coach, and she was a tremendous player,” Chris Tamas said.
Harbaugh was prepared to help volleyball team: New Michigan coach Erin Virtue – she was previously an assistant coach for the United States women’s national team – said she’s gotten a lot of support from the other coaches and staff at Michigan.
She’s part of a group chat with other female head coaches at the school. And in at least one instance Wolverines football coach Jim Harbaugh was willing to discuss helping out in recruiting.
“One of my first conversations with Jim Harbaugh was there was a pair of transfers,” Virtue said. “They were a volleyball player and a football player from a school that were dating, and they wanted to transfer to the same school. He came up to me and wanted to know what I thought of the girl. He's like, ‘The guy is okay, but if the girl can help you, I'll bring him in.’
“I think that was great to know that he would take one for the team and help me bring this girl in. She wasn't the level we needed. Actually, she had already committed to another school. But that just told me everything you need to know about Jim, just someone that he's like, ‘Just do it for Michigan,’ and wanted to support volleyball.”
Purdue coach excited to have Elkhorn North player: There are too many good high school players in Nebraska for the Huskers to take them all, so Purdue got an excellent player out of the Omaha area in freshman right-side hitter Grace Heaney from Elkhorn North.
“Most impressive thing I saw from Grace is she was a terrific three-sport athlete,” Purdue coach Dave Shondell said. “She played volleyball on teams that played for a state championship. At least the last couple of seasons her basketball teams were playing for state championships. And then I think they broke the school record in the 1,600-meter relay. So anybody that runs the 400 meters is a pretty tough kid.”
“I joke about how we feel more like we are GMs than coaches at times,” – Maryland coach Adam Hughes on transfers in the sport.
“All coaches in all sports have been dealing with (five years of eligibility for COVID-era players) now for a long time, and it's draining on both the players and the coaching staffs.” – Shondell.
“Thank you to the Big Ten because seriously I feel like a celebrity. This has been so much fun, and this facility (Big Ten Network headquarters) is, like, amazing. I'm super thankful to be here.” – Penn State middle blocker Allie Holland.
“The fact that we're going to be able to be seen everywhere is truly amazing for the sport.” – Penn State coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley on the NCAA championship match moving to an ABC broadcast this season.
“Well, I'm taking a lot harder classes this summer. Definitely freshman year I kind of had to blow-off classes.” – Purdue outside hitter Eva Hudson on her second college season.
“Well, (former Indiana basketball coach) Bobby Knight said it way back, winning the Big Ten is harder than winning a national championship, and I've said that many times, as well. It's 10 weeks against great competition -- home and away.” – Nebraska coach John Cook.
“Yeah, scheduling is a weird animal, frankly, because the teams you might want to play maybe don't want to play you just yet.” – Michigan State coach Leah Johnson.
“Yeah, scheduling right now is a nightmare.” – Hughes.
* Wisconsin may use a two-setter rotation, just as it did last year when it won the Big Ten title and reached the NCAA Elite Eight.
* USC sent a representative of its athletic department to media days as it makes preparations to join the league next season.
* Some of the staff from the Big Ten Conference are looking into attending Nebraska’s outdoor match at Memorial Stadium later this month.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or email@example.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.