Denver Volleyball Headed for a Hard Landing

DU’s head volleyball coach Tom Hogan stepped down on April 6th. As of this writing, the open head coaching position has not been filled and all the team assistant coaching positions remain open. While DU is expected to announce a hire this week, Denver has missed the transfer portal window and lost talent in the interim. Starting middle blocker Brianna Green transferred to TCU while setter Lauren Carter left for Northwestern along with setter Emma Ziegler to Creighton. Setter Lorrin Poulter is using her 5th year at Purdue. Maddie Hensen is going to Iowa. Future recruits de-committed as Canadian Olympian Lydia Johnson jumped to Michigan and Sydney Barrett switched to Dayton. Denver is left with no setters, a critical position, on the squad and only one middle, Cadi Boyer. The team has not finalized its non-conference schedule for 2023-24 and play begins in only eleven weeks.

In comparison, the University of South Dakota, a primary conference rival to Denver and defending Summit League champion,  just extended their head coach, Leanne Williamson. They also hired their fourth full-time assistant coach to help with recruiting, game day analysis, and training. Once again, the issue is not Denver doing more than their conference rivals.  Rather, it is failing to simply match Summit League teams’ resource levels – then, let the chips fall where they may. The Denver team could likely compete effectively in the Summit League with a head coach, two assistants, and an operations manager but time will tell how positions are filled going forward.

At last count, there were 334 DI volleyball teams in one of the fastest-growing collegiate sports. Competing effectively in this sport, not even dominating, requires a high-level commitment and commensurate staffing. If Denver hires a first-time head coach, it should have been done earlier to allow time to get their feet wet. It would appear most veteran coaches would prefer an earlier start date as well to use the player portal to plug holes, retain key players, and hire staff.

Due to a late start on building the 2023-24 schedule, expect DU to cobble together a non-conference schedule of 10 or so matches, most on the road. The team will have to rely on prior matches scheduled before Hogan’s departure and most open dates for other teams will require road matches for Denver volleyball this upcoming season.

The hard landing applies, literally and figuratively, to DU’s deluxe padded surface manufactured by Taraflex. Taraflex is a padded, durable court designed to protect players as they fall/dive to the floor during a volleyball match. This playing surface has been employed at Denver since a major donor purchased the mat several years ago. There have been rumblings that DU will retire the floor and have the team play on the wood surface this season. The claim is that Taraflex is difficult to store, set up for matches and stow (i.e. expensive, space). A DU volleyball player told LetsGoDU, “The Taraflex court is one of the best parts about our home matches. It’s great on athlete’s joints and diving and is something visiting teams remember about the caliber of DU facilities.

In order to save time, space and money, if DU does not employ this surface this upcoming season, it will be yet another canary in the coal mine showing Denver’s reeling commitment to volleyball now and in the immediate future.

DU’s signature volleyball floor could be a thing of the past, replaced by the basketball court underneath due to cost considerations.

As always, we fully support Denver coaches and players, regardless of the outcome and hope this team can overcome the numerous obstacles in front of them. While it is fair to say that DU has a number of other athletic priorities, fans should hold low expectations for on-court success this fall and beyond for Denver women’s volleyball.

12 thoughts on “Denver Volleyball Headed for a Hard Landing”

  1. Taraflex is the floor used in Olympic competition and FIVB (Federal International volleyball/world championships) as well as by the NCAA in its volleyball regionals and finals. That pretty much shows it is the best playing surface and signals a school/tournament is serious about volleyball. Not the only option but the best option, especially if you already have the valuable floor.

  2. As DU fans, it can be crushing to see good coaches leave, recruiting drop, facilities wane and losses mount in certain sports. We are clearly entering an era where DU no longer has the resources to really fund/chase championships in every sport that it sponsors.

    Right now, hockey, women’s gymnastics, men’s soccer, men’s lacrosse, and women’s lacrosse appear to be the ‘golden’ five DU sports where the resources (and expectations) are highest for championships.

    DU had recent excellence in volleyball, women’s soccer, m/w swimming, m/w skiing, m/w tennis, and m/w golf and but it looks like the institutional commitment to fund those teams at highly-competitive levels no longer seems to be there.

    DU has struggled with men’s and women’s basketball in the last decade, and the appetite for funding these programs to compete at the top of the Summit League has also clearly waned.

    I think DU fans are going to need to get used to this new funding philosophy. It’s been this way before – in the early 2000s, DU had different funding levels for sports, based on national ambition and regional ambition.

    As DU improved financially, standards and funding were raised so that DU could improve across the board, but until that happens, I think we’re stuck with this new reality. DU is picking the sports where they want to compete nationally, and those that don’t make the cut deal with the consequences.

  3. Heartbreaking to see what this administration has done to the program. There were years when volleyball received votes in the Top-25.

    How pissed are you if you’re the donor of the Taraflex floor? I doubt they will ever donate to DU again…

  4. Would it be an excuse not to change over from another event to hockey because it is too much work. Why is that an excuse with volleyball?

  5. Isn’t Beth Kuwata still in the athletic department? I’m surprised they didn’t ask her to put her coaching hat on temporarily to be the face of the program for a little while while they conduct a search.

  6. If you’re going to have a program you either need to be “all in” or just cut the program. Especially when you’ve recruited players with an expectation that you’re “all in” – to just suddenly stop investing in a program is only prolonging the pain for everyone involved and diverting funds to the sports the admins really care about. How will you ever recruit top talent (coaches or players) if word on the street (and articles like this) suggests lack of support from the university, inadequate staff, budget cuts, and an admin willing to throw away the best volleyball floor in the world – and yes, it DOES make a difference!! – because it’s “inconvenient” and makes it harder for (out of season) basketball teams to practice there even though there are other facilities they could use. Fundraising and marketing at DU seems hugely lacking. Maybe actually try promoting your sports programs and building a community of students, fans and alumni that want to financially support these teams? I’ve seen way better sports marketing and fundraising from D3 schools. Other schools can figure it out – why not DU? The ones that lose are the student-athletes who were led to believe this was a school that was committed to its volleyball program when administration actions seem to suggest they are not. I’ll also point out that Denver Volleyball hasn’t had a losing season since 2011, has won the summit league 5 times since then and volleyball is the fastest growing sport in the country! Who wouldn’t want to actually jump on that lucrative bandwagon vs reducing support of it?

  7. There are three elite D2 coaches in Denver at Metro State, Regis, and Colorado Mines who have each built perennial top-25 programs. DU couldn’t pry any of them away for a shot at heading a D1 program?

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