Biggest takeaways from Big Ten volleyball media days

Setter+Diana+Brown+focuses+on+setting+the+ball+during+a+game+against+Purdue+on+Oct.+6.+Brown+recently+made+an+appearance+at+the+Big+Ten+Network+studio+in+Chicago+representing+the+Illini.

The Daily Illini photo file

Setter Diana Brown focuses on setting the ball during a game against Purdue on Oct. 6. Brown recently made an appearance at the Big Ten Network studio in Chicago representing the Illini.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

This week, the Big Ten hosted the inaugural Big Ten Volleyball Media Days, inviting all 14 current Big Ten coaches, with two players from each school, to speak to the media ahead of the 2022 Fall season. Head coach Chris Tamas, along with senior middle blocker Kennedy Collins and redshirt senior setter Diana Brown represented the Illini at the Big Ten Network studio in Chicago. After placing seventh in conference last season and being joint-sixth place in 2022 according to preseason Big Ten polls, Tamas and his squad have many interesting storylines entering the season.

Loyalty is a priority

After an offseason that saw Illinois sign four players from across the country, only one ended up being a transfer. Sophomore outside hitter Kayla Burbage signed with Tamas’ program after just one season at Mizzou, where she led the Tigers in blocks with 87. This signing looks like one that will prove to be a straight swap for Illinois alum Megan Cooney, who was an All-Big Ten and All-Region player in 2021. 

Despite this transfer being a big pickup for Tamas in the offseason, giving the team more experienced depth in the outside hitter position, he stated that he doesn’t expect to use the transfer portal much, if at all in the future, as he values loyalty over anything in his players.

Overall I’m pretty big on loyalty,” Tamas said. “I’m not looking to make the transfer portal a big priority moving forward, but for those players that are out there maybe didn’t find a great fit the first time around, we feel like we’ve created a good culture and we’ve had a good thing going and we’re happy to accept anyone that wants to be with us.”

This culture that the Illini have created during Tamas’ tenure has also helped the Illini lineup remain intact, letting no more than one player per season leave since the creation of the portal. 

“I think that’s also a reason people aren’t leaving us either,” Tamas said. “Because we’ve created that culture and it’s something we continue to do and we commit to these players for four, five years however long it takes to get through their career, I want to make sure we fulfill that commitment because I think that’s important.”

Recruiting the best players, no matter where they are from

One of the announcements that kicked off the Big Ten Volleyball Media Days was the distribution plan for B1G volleyball matches worldwide, through Volleyball World. Within the realm of collegiate volleyball, this is the first time a deal like this has been struck. Big Ten volleyball will now be broadcast internationally, extending the viewer market to new countries.

Along with extending the viewer market, this deal opens up more international options for the recruitment of players, as the opportunity to play college volleyball in the United States is now fresh in international players’ minds. 

Tamas’ 2022 roster is overwhelmingly Midwestern, but freshman outside hitter Sophie Stevenson signing from Seattle, Wash., along with sophomore defensive specialist Becca Sakoda from Honolulu, Hawaii give promise that Tamas is committed to finding the best talent, whether it be within the Midwest, or across the world.

“You’re always looking to bring in the best no matter where they come from,” Tamas said. “And I’m proud that we have great players from the region, but it’s also about trying to be the best conference. We’re trying to be one of the best teams in the best conference. You can have a look anywhere and everywhere and try to promote that, and to get players from all over who want to be here and want to be part of something special.”

In the past, Tamas hasn’t shied away from international recruitment, most recently with outside hitter Bruna Vrankovic of Split, Croatia signing for the program in 2019. With Volleyball World’s distribution of the Illini’s matches this season, the team culture will be on full display for internationals to watch, making Tamas’ future worldwide recruitment even easier. 

NIL is huge for women’s volleyball

Just a year and some change on from the Supreme Court’s ruling to allow student athletes to profit off of Name, Image and Likeness, athletes are given more opportunities for building a brand than ever before. 

Among these opportunities that are sweeping campuses across the nation is the NIL Store. The NIL store collaborates with Campus Ink to bring exclusive merchandise to college students who want to help support their school’s athletes. On Illinois’ campus, athletes like freshman guard Skyy Clark and sophomore QB Artur Sitkowski are big names among those represented by Campus Ink.

Brown and Collins have also been able to take advantage of this opportunity in the past year, as both have signed with Campus Ink to distribute exclusive merch to fans.

This is a big step forward for women’s athletics in particular, as the two are some of the first to be mentioned alongside the likes of the more popular men’s basketball and football players.

“The NIL stuff is really cool. I’m personally not the best at branding myself but I think it gives me a little bit of insight into the real world,” Brown said. “If I want opportunities, I have to go get them.”

 

@DrewFriberg9

[email protected]