The Big Ten Volleyball Media Days event on Monday, August 1, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois at the Big Ten Network was attended by interviewees Northwestern head coach Shane Davis and top players Temi Thomas Ailara and Megan Miller who discussed the Northwestern volleyball schedule, the upcoming season, the NIL, the recruiting success for the team and a preview on the NCAA tournament.
COACH DAVIS: Good afternoon, everybody. It's great to be here. It's great to be a part of the inaugural Big Ten media day for volleyball. Excited to be here.
Thank you to our Big Ten office for hosting us. Thank you to the athletic directors and our administration and especially our senior women's administrators that continue to support throughout our conference, but to be able to throw this thing together we're truly grateful for that. Based off their support and your coverage from the media standpoint allows us to do cool things like this. Greatly appreciate all of that.
I brought two outstanding student-athletes with me today.
First one is Megan Miller. She's our libero for the last couple of seasons. And she's entering her fifth year of eligibility. She's been an outstanding staple for us. Great competitor. But probably the biggest honor I think in the last few months offseason was she was elected captain by her peers. She's one of two players to lead us into this next upcoming season.
On my left is Temi Thomas-Ailara, Big Ten left side, high-flying highlight reel. She's been an exciting person to coach for me and she continues to get better and better. And one thing that probably a lot of us don't know here is Temi went through an injury in the fall, first opening Big Ten match of the year.
We didn't know she was going to be able to play throughout the rest of the season, what that would look like. And I would say Temi has a new toughness that surprised me this year, and it was really cool to experience. And this offseason has been tremendous for her. She's worked her tail off. Megan has worked her tail off, the whole team is, and excited with these individuals leading our group.
This upcoming season is going to be exciting for us. We are returning everybody except for one player from last year's roster. We have four incoming first-years who are making an immediate impact. Been with us all summer. They've been working their tails off as well throughout the offseason, summer and whatnot as well.
Q. There's been so much recent success at Northwestern from the wrestling program to the field hockey team, lacrosse, softball, the women's college World Series. What do you take from those sports to bring to your squad this fall?
COACH DAVIS: Obviously successful programs and having a great relationship with those coaches, being able to talk to them on a daily basis is really important. I know our student-athletes hang out with their student-athletes, have close relationships as well. I know the dialogue is always there.
I think for me it's the persistence and the daily grind that we all go through. But it's continuing to understand what your values are and principles and sticking to those things and trying not to get caught up in the big world of college athletics that's evolving and changing, but you need to change on the same side in order to keep up.
I would say the persistence piece and just understanding what Northwestern is, the academic piece of it as well. There's the whole student-athlete experience. And just making sure you're in tune with each one of your players as well.
Q. Your recruiting class is highly regarded, by far the best one you've had there. Also preseason No. 9, which somebody could be looking from the outside in, going, ninth, that's a big step. (Indiscernible) between those two.
COACH DAVIS: As far as the recruiting piece, I mean, it's many years of going through and building those relationships and continuing to get better every single year and telling our story.
And Northwestern's been through a lot of changes in the last few years, ever since really I've been there just in terms of facility-wise and support and we have an athletic director change. And there's a lot of moving pieces to that. But our story has always been the same in terms of what we're trying to build as a program.
With those recruits we obviously understood our needs, understood those recruits and what their wants are and there would be a perfect fit. But we take our time through that recruiting process as well.
And we allowed them to make the decision on their own and they chose Northwestern. We chose them. And it was a perfect marriage with those four individuals with our program.
We're excited. They've made immediate impact in the gym this summer with the strengths and conditioning coach as well as open gyms. And these two can talk a little bit about that. That's been big.
Q. Temi, you've been there for the building process. Your thoughts about building?
TEMI THOMAS-AILARA: I feel in the past couple of years we've definitely moved in the right direction. Every game we play against these other teams in the Big Ten we're one step closer, we're taking steps.
We're just learning from them, learning new things about ourselves that have helped us move forward.
Q. Coach, so Big Ten is always a brutal conference. With the mix of a great recruiting class and then a mix of some strong seniors, what are your expectations for the season really looking like to try to keep real competitive with the top squads and knock them off?
COACH DAVIS: Definitely. To Lee's point, too, better than ninth, definitely better than ninth. I think our team is hungry. I think there's a few areas we've got to get better at. But to Temi's point, since year one we continued to do this, every single year. Even when you look at the point differential of things we continue to get better and better.
And I think with the returning piece coming in, incoming class, those couple of components, we're not young anymore, which is exciting. We were really young this past season.
But I think we get more consistent at the pin. We stay healthy in the middle and we control the ball a little bit better. And I think we can be a really dangerous team overall.
Q. I'd like to hear from Megan and Temi. This has been a tumultuous time in college athletics with a lot of changes happening, some happening in Big Ten Conference things changing with NIL, with your travel, with obligations placed upon you academically. A lot of those conversations centered around football and basketball players. I'm wondering, based on your experience and what you talk about with your teammates, where do you think things are going right now in college athletics and what do you think the world should know about what this means for volleyball players?
MEGAN MILLER: I mean, I think that just having this day says enough. I mean, this is a huge step. This is going to bring women's sports even more towards the top. It's an incredible thing.
And I think volleyball, especially, is getting more and more, like, being noticed more and obviously the Big Ten is huge in volleyball. So I think that's just like the first step.
And with NIL, that's just changed athletics completely, right? I mean, everyone can get paid whether you're at the bottom, at the top. That's been huge. And going through COVID -- I wouldn't be here without COVID because I'm in my fifth year now, thanks to COVID. So I think that it's just continuing to grow every single year.
TEMI THOMAS-AILARA: I completely agree with Megan. I think fall sports have it tough just coming in and having to play. But I think having the opportunity to come in over the summer and meet the girls, getting a feel for college has been helpful for all of the classes that have been able to do it at Northwestern. It just helps you build relationships before the season starts and kind of get a feel for everything before the stress of school and volleyball kicks in. So really exciting.
Q. Temi, when you came to Northwestern, there was that sort of hyper -- we got a great new recruit, dynamic attacker. Take me through the process of coming to Northwestern and what really drew you in initially to the school and why you ultimately chose Northwestern?
TEMI THOMAS-AILARA: So Coach Davis had started coaching there in January. He kind of recruited me to be a player here, and I built a relationship with him. And he was just different from other coaches I had talked to.
He wanted to know me as a person off the court, as a student off the court, and I feel like that drew me in. And then he just said that I should have faith in him that the program would continue to grow and get better. And I continued to see that as I was a junior and senior in high school and even as I became a freshman, and even until now.
And then we also had players back then Nia, Taylor Tashima, all of those people who I could look up to and see what they were doing and how the dynamic of the team was then, and it just drew me in.
Q. Megan, your journey has taken you, like you said, the COVID year gave you that extra year. You've seen your journey bring you to being the captain of this team. Can you share a little bit about just what this journey has meant to you and what you're looking forward to most of all this coming season?
MEGAN MILLER: Coming into Northwestern, talking with Shane, he told me that I have the opportunity to help rebuild this program. I mean, he's been with it, Temi's been here since the beginning. I came in the middle of it. But just like seeing it change has been absolutely amazing and, like, breathtaking underneath my eyes.
And this year, being nominated as captain, it's a true honor just because it's a big deal for any college volleyball team, for any college team in general. And I think it just says something, like, thank you to my teammates, right, that they have the respect in me.
And I've been through a lot. So I think it's something really special and it's amazing to be able to see how this team has just grown and how I've been able to be a part of it and it's been so much fun.
Q. You've been around and you played (indiscernible) position. Who are your favorite liberos in the Big Ten other than yourself?
MEGAN MILLER: Current players? Okay. I might be a little biased, best friends, Kenzie Knuckles from Nebraska, one of my absolute best friends since middle school. Kylie Murr, we grew up playing together. I would say those two for sure.
Q. Can you talk about your personal maybe growth as a women's coach and how different it might have been from the get-go. You had such great success on the men's side. And along with the program growing, I think there might have been coinciding of your own personal trajectory?
COACH DAVIS: Yeah, absolutely. On the men's side, I had only known men's volleyball for a long time, student-athlete to coach. And I had, like you said, some great success there. It's thrown into the women's volleyball, a different animal.
Relationship-wise, it's different. I think sometimes in the men's volleyball side you have to tell the guys they are not as good as they think they are a little bit at times. And the relationship piece is there.
But what I love about the women's side is Temi or Megan can stop by the office and we can sit there for two hours and talk about their day, talk about last week, talk about upcoming stuff with no agenda.
That didn't happen on the men's side as much. And I thought that was kind of a cool moment to understanding the relationship piece is so important on the women's volleyball, on the women's side of things.
And, again, I think just my experience at Northwestern, on the women's side.
I think the volleyball in general is a lot of the same. We're doing the swing blocking, minus the men's side of the D ball back row attack. But other than that we're doing a lot of the same stuff on the women's side as the men's side, the fast offenses, the back row, six (indiscernible) rotation players. All of those are really important as far as the development.
I think one thing that I'm learning is the development on the women's side and the college game is maybe a little bit behind in terms of the all-around players because in the club world right now I think we've got so many players that are just being coached to do one or two things. And that's all they want to teach them versus trying to teach them all the around.
I think it's getting better. But it definitely makes our job a little bit tougher in the collegiate game, the style of game and especially the Big Ten right now. I think if you're a club player you can play the game all around at an early age you'll set yourself up for success down the road.
Ideally, on the men's side, it's let's make our Olympic team great. How can we make our Olympic team great? And it was kind of a top-down approach. And here I feel it's a little bit bottom-up approach with the club piece and then we're trying to get them caught up into college a little bit. And we're trying to get them to go play pro.
We're the only country that essentially runs a system like that, and so they're a little bit behind when they go play pro.
So for me there's a little bit of a learning curve just from the development standpoint. And I mean if you remember Symone Abbott at Northwestern, she was told to hit balls and block balls and that's it. I said Symone, you're going to pass, you're going to play all the way around. Ends up being all-American and goes and signs a pro contract.
I want to make sure we're not only developing people all around but we're developing great volleyball players as well.
And I think the development piece was a little bit of a learning curve, just understanding what it is to coach young women as well what's important to young women.
What's that coach relationship? How great are the assistants? What their rules are. The team dynamic -- you gotta be really in tune with what's going on within the team, too.
And you've got to have conversations and not just head coach to player, but your assistant coaches have to be really involved, administration has to be really involved and just be in tune with what's going on because things can go really good and then turn a corner and if you're not ahead of it you can kind of really hurt your culture along the way, too.
Q. Megan, you had mentioned earlier that NIL had been a substantial change. Now, athletes are able to earn money, whether they're at a high-end level or lower level. You've been around as a college athlete for a little a while, and NIL changed quite a bit from the last year. I'd love to hear from you, perhaps others, how things have changed over that last year, whether it's conversations within the locker room, your ability to find these opportunities. How has that been different from last summer?
MEGAN MILLER: So we have, through Northwestern, they've helped us a ton and just we can go straight to our admin and our NU for Life people and help us get those deals, they get our names out there.
I think a lot of schools have come up with things like that which has been absolutely awesome. And it's also changed because now bigger brands are able to do it. Like, we just saw I think it was adidas did the first female. And that was just groundbreaking. Like, maybe we can see Under Armour doing it soon. Nike has been into it.
I think that just is growing. It's getting bigger. Not necessarily changing. I think that's just the main thing, it's getting bigger and a lot more sponsorships and deals. And it's awesome.
Q. Temi, you've acknowledged before that you're sort of a quieter player on the court when you're playing. I'm wondering if you could go into how that played into playing through injury last year and still ending up being First Team All-Big Ten, just kind of keeping quiet on the court, doing your thing and going out there.
TEMI THOMAS-AILARA: I really give it to up to my team. Throughout that season they were so supportive of me through the injury, asking if I needed anything on and off the court. And they were just really good people, really good teammates, really good friends during that time.
And just having that type of support can push you to do things you didn't think you could. And I'm really grateful to them. And the coaching staff as well, really supportive throughout the injury, asking what I needed, like, throughout practice, if I needed to take fewer jumps or not jump at all, just being really supportive throughout the injury, making sure I was okay physically, mentally, emotionally.
Q. Coach, you've been extended, of course. Going to coach longer at Northwestern. I know a lot of your team and faculty are excited about that. With that being said, what's it like to have that support from the university to not only take these players but the program into the future?
COACH DAVIS: It's been great. And one thing I feel like, what's really unique at Northwestern -- maybe not, I don't know -- but I have an outstanding relationship with my administration. And so we're in tune to what's going on on a daily basis. And the multiyear contract extension was great, but it shows they believe in me but I also believe in myself and the team. The contracts are great. But as long as we can continue to do what we're doing on a daily basis, those conversations are always easy as they go down the road as well.
But the support continues to get better and better throughout every year that I've been there. And just excited about the vision that our department and our athletic director has for our program, and obviously what Big Ten volleyball is doing in general.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
123342-2-1001 2022-08-01 19:17:00 GMT
Follow me on Instagram @coach_apchap to improve your game even faster!
I share alot of individual, partner and easy-to-do volleyball serving drills we do in class with my followers.
Many of these volleyball practice drills you can do at home by yourself or try at your next practice with your teammates.
If you're a B team or JV player trying to make varsity next year...your goal should be to complete 1000 reps a day of at least three of the basic skills on your own...volleyball passing, serving and setting should be at the top of the list.
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