Volleyball: Northwestern players, coach Shane Davis attend first-ever Big Ten Media Days


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Temi-Thomas Ailara. The senior outside hitter was one of Northwestern’s three attendees at Big Ten Volleyball Media Days.

Charlotte Varnes, Managing Editor

The Big Ten hosted the first annual Volleyball Media Days on Monday and Tuesday. 

Coach Shane Davis, senior outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara and graduate student libero Megan Miller attended on behalf of Northwestern on Monday, taking questions on topics ranging from name, image and likeness to their experiences with college volleyball. 

“This is a huge step,” Miller said. “This is going to bring women’s sports even more towards the top. It’s an incredible thing.”

The Big Ten is one of the nation’s preeminent volleyball conferences, and the Wildcats have struggled to gain traction in recent seasons. But after a 12-19 record in 2021, NU’s attendees said they feel the program is making the right moves. 

Here are three key takeaways from the Wildcats’ remarks at Media Days. 

Veteran strength and top recruiting class will power 2022 team

In his opening remarks, Davis noted that NU returns all but one player from the 2021 squad. The Cats also added the best recruiting class in program history. The players “worked their tails off” in the gym this summer and the freshmen have made an immediate impact, Davis said.

With this wealth of returning and incoming talent, Davis said he expects NU to beat its No. 9 ranking in the Big Ten preseason poll.

“Our team is hungry,” Davis said. “There’s a few things we’ve got to get better at … Since year one, we continued to (improve). Even when you look at the point differential, we continue to get better and better.”

Thomas-Ailara also spoke to the Cats’ growth, saying things have moved in the “right direction” over the past couple of years. NU has learned plenty in Big Ten matchups, she said, which has helped improve the program. 

Spotlight on Thomas-Ailara

Prior to the kickoff of Media Days, Thomas-Ailara was the sole Cat named to the preseason All-Big Ten team. One of the most prolific NU players in recent years, Thomas-Ailara was a focal point of some of Monday’s remarks.

Davis revealed that Thomas-Ailara suffered an injury in last year’s Big Ten opening match, leaving the program unsure whether she would finish out the season. He said he’s been impressed with her growth since.

“Temi has a new toughness that surprised me this year,” Davis said. “It was really cool to experience. And this offseason has been tremendous for her.”

Despite her injury, Thomas-Ailara finished with 2021 All-Big Ten honors. She credited her teammates and the coaching staff for supporting her throughout last season, saying they offered help on and off the court. 

Changes to the world of college sports

Beyond volleyball, Miller and Thomas-Ailara addressed changes to the broader college sports landscape. 

NIL has been a prominent topic in college sports over the past year, and NU has taken steps recently to support student athletes through its on-campus partnership with Altius Sports.

Miller said the NU athletic and Kabiller NU for Life Program staff have been supportive, helping student athletes get their names out there and secure deals. She cited Nike and Adidas making deals as examples of NIL’s growth and said sponsorships have only continued to increase.

“Everyone can get paid, whether you’re at the bottom, at the top,” Miller said. “That’s been huge.”

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Twitter: @charvarnes11

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