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Transfers invites discussion among Big Ten volleyball coaches, athletes

With nine intraconference transfers, volleyball coaches and athletes will see familiar faces across the net during conference play.
Image by Alex Karwowski
Minnesota gained a new head coach, but lost two players, to intraconference transfers.

CHICAGO – Big Ten volleyball coaches and athletes voiced their opinions on transfers and how athletes from the transfer portal fit in with an established culture at the conference’s second annual volleyball media days on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Big Ten had nine intraconference transfers this offseason across six different teams (Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Wisconsin), a 28% increase from the previous season. 

Head coach for the Wisconsin Badgers Kelly Sheffield said one of the most important parts of being active in the transfer portal is making sure recruits feel welcome and fit in with the culture of the program.

“When you’re going to take in transfers, that is more important than just chasing talent,” Sheffield said. “It is somebody that is going to fit into the culture that you’ve established and want to be a part of that.”

The Badgers picked up former Gopher Carter Booth and former Wildcat Temi Thomas-Ailara. Both were named to the Preseason All-Big Ten team. 

Penn State picked up two intraconference transfers: 2022 Big Ten Setter of the Year Mac Podraza from Ohio State and a transfer from Michigan, outside hitter Jess Mruzik. Head coach for the Nittany Lions, Katie Schumar-Cawley, said this was because they had the scholarship money.

“We want to be the best and waited to see who was available and got some really great players,” Schumar-Cawley said.

Nebraska head coach John Cook said this trend of transferring intraconference “bothers [him].”

“You invest all that time and energy and then they turn around and go to another team and you’re going to play against them,” Cook said. “As an old-school coach, that part bothers me. I don’t like it.”

Athletes across the conference transfer for various reasons. One of the more notable transfer situations was due to the COVID-19 pandemic leading Ohio State head coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg to let go of five senior players, two of which stayed in the Big Ten.

“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.” Flynn Oldenburg said. “At the end of the day, you have to go out and compete regardless of who’s on the other side of the net.”

Minnesota, on the other hand, gained a new head coach and lost two of their players who transferred intraconference.

Fourth-year setter for the Gophers Melani Shaffmaster played under former head coach Hugh McCutcheon the past three years. When asked if transferring ever crossed her mind, she responded with a resounding “no.”

“I’ve been here for three years and, [to] the people I’ve grown close to, there was never a thought in my mind of leaving Minnesota,” Shaffmaster said.

Culture is an aspect many programs pride themselves on and one which veteran athletes must work to integrate transfers into. Senior setter for the Badgers MJ Hammill said the Wisconsin transfers fit in well due to the program’s ability to always be authentic.

“They knew coming in this is who we are,” Hammill said. “We are who we are and we’re proud of the culture.”

Both representatives for the Badgers spoke highly of the work they have seen from Northwestern transfer Thomas-Ailara.

“She raises the level of play of everybody around her,” Hammill said. “The way she goes about things just increases the level of play of everybody.”

Taylor Landfair, a redshirt junior for the Gophers, said Ohio State transfer Kylie Murr has had no problem finding her niche in the Gophers program.

“I think she’s very fiery and gives a lot of energy to us, which I really appreciate because I feel like we really need that on our team,” Landfair said. “I think she’s really, really good for our team, and I’m really excited that she came here.”

Head coach for the Gophers Keegan Cook said he feels a responsibility to take care of his athletes. While a coach at Washington, he never had a player enter the transfer portal.

“It’s a privilege to coach them, and I don’t ever want to forget that,” Cook said. “The transfer portal probably lets coaches not forget that more than ever.”

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