Denver Volleyball Faces Massive Challenges

Denver volleyball just fell to 0-6, losing all their games on the road and won just one game while dropping 18 during that span.

How should fans view Denver Volleyball this season following coaching changes and a player exodus? Denver volleyball has always been one of the most successful fall programs at DU. With only five losing seasons, all in their first 13 years, after turning D1 in 1999, they have not experienced a losing season since 2011 while racking up three 27-win seasons and seven single-digit loss seasons along with numerous NCAA appearances and conference titles. DU’s 2002 volleyball team had the programs worst record at 7-20 but the other four losing record teams were able to scrape together 13-16 wins. This year’s team will be challenged not to have the worst record in program history – but time will tell.

Former head coach Tom Hogan left for health reasons but recently became the Sports Director for a League One Volleyball (LOVB), a start-up women’s professional volleyball league that starts following the Paris Olympics. Hogan had collegiate success at Denver (133-36 and 81-14 in the Summit League) and developed a talent pipeline leading USA Volleyball’s Olympic and National Teams, as well as international professional teams. Hogan was replaced by UCLA assistant coach Megan Pendergast.

Hogan’s departure in the spring and the late hire of Pendergast left DU disadvantaged well into the transfer portal as players left DU and Denver was absent from the recruiting trail. While Pendergast had playing and coaching experience, this is her first major head coaching role. Anyone who understands and follows volleyball, it is a complex, highly orchestrated sport. Denver is seriously short on talent, experience and depth this season and their 0-6 start with losses to North Florida (3-1), UC Santa Barbara (3-0), New Mexico State (3-0), Navy (3-0), San Diego State (3-0) and UC San Diego (3-0) is not a surprise – but certainly disappointing.

Volleyball is carried at nearly every DI school so dominating matches in volleyball is much different than hockey, lacrosse and even men’s soccer which has far fewer teams to compete against. Volleyball must be resourced and supported at a high level to ensure consistent success because other schools prioritize the sport. It is even a profit center for some schools – 92,003 fans watched the five-time NCAA champion Nebraska volleyball team beat Omaha 3-0 a few weeks ago. So, time will tell if DU can return to its past level of success. It will be a difficult challenge, especially if Pendergast and the program fall into an extended losing skid. The rebuild is likely to take several years – not a single season. However, the transfer portal could accelerate a turnaround.

Player losses have been deep and staggering. 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 went to Iowa. Future recruits de-committed as Canadian Olympian Lydia Johnson jumped to Michigan and Sydney Barrett switched to Dayton. Denver was left with no returning setters, a critical position, on the squad and only one middle, Cadi Boyer. Pendergast was left to fill the holes late in the recruiting cycle.

Denver still has some fine student-athletes who stayed with the program including Libero Ryen Wilkens and Gianna Bartalo, outside hitters Jada Hamer, Ava Reynolds and Genevieve Lewis along with middle blocker Cadi Boyer. The rest of the position players are new to the squad and likely under-recruited.

No doubt, collegiate volleyball is great entertainment value, win or lose. We will always support Denver’s student-athletes who don the crimson and gold. However, for the first time in recent history, Denver volleyball will have to battle against a culture that includes lots of losing. Hopefully, Denver can grow during this season and, over time, reload and reset to become a perennial winner again and a favorite to compete for a Summit League title. Unfortunately, this will require patience by coaches, players and fans as DU volleyball attempts to regain its footing in what is sure to be a challenging season ahead.

Top photo courtesy of Denver Athletics

6 thoughts on “Denver Volleyball Faces Massive Challenges”

  1. This is on Berlo. DU should have worked it out with Hogan and invested in the program. We’re seeing the results of DU’s neglect of the program.

  2. The reality is that this team has almost no one with college playing experience. Boyer, M. Mirabelli and Bartalo are the only ones on the team that have significant on-court minutes and the team only just MET each other ONE month ago. 99% of all other D1 teams have been playing and practicing together since spring and throughout the summer. They are at an incredible disadvantage. Even so, of the 18 sets they’ve lost, nearly half were within 3 or fewer points and of the six teams they’ve played only one has losing record. With experience they will continue to improve and the new coaching staff is already recruiting talented new players. This season might be tough in terms of wins and losses but the growth these players will gain through this year’s adversity will pay dividends for DU in the future.

  3. Dunker thinks 5bwest nailed every salient point. I hate the portals and the combo it brings with NIL money. However for a mid-major like us, the portal gives us a chance to reload quickly in volleyball. . NIL money probably not a big deal for schools like us in volleyball. DU has more to offer than most mid-majors, thus with added solid recruiting, we can get competitive again quickly.

  4. DU women’s soccer did not lose a single player to its own surprise summer coaching change, while DU Volleyball lost most of the good players on the team to its surprise summer coaching change.

    The result? One team is undefeated, the other is winless.

    What I can draw from this is that the soccer players love their school but not their old coach, while the volleyball players loved their old coach, but did not love their school.

  5. We’re seeing the result of an administration who did/does not value volleyball. The budget was cut significantly when Creech/Coutts came from Maine (a university that doesn’t sponsor volleyball). As such, coaches and players left. DU had the 20th ranked recruiting class in all of DI in 2022. How quickly things have changed.

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