When speaking to prospective students about the university, they will often ask what the best part my Illinois college experience has been. For me, the most rewarding and exciting aspect of attending UIUC has been becoming a student-manager for the Fighting Illini Women’s Volleyball team. I have never put in as much time, had such a deep passion for, and made such long-lasting connections with my peers than I have as a student-manager.
The first question that usually comes up is “How on Earth did you get that job?”. Simply put, an email. I decided to reach out to Head Coach Chris Tamas during my senior year of high school. I asked if there was any way I could work for the volleyball program I loved so much growing up. He brought me in for an interview, and I started helping out almost immediately.
More often then not, people will then ask me what a student-manager’s responsibilities are. I began my managing career the summer before my freshman year with “coaching” summer volleyball camps. “Coaching” in quotes because I had no idea what I was doing. One time, I was placed on a court by myself, and I even remember inventing fake drills for the campers because I didn’t understand the drill I was assigned to run. Call me creative?
In addition to camp, I was tasked with “coding” on our volleyball-specific statistical program, DataVolley. Once again, I use quotes for “coding” because I truly did not understand how to code until about five months after I began practicing. I vividly remember the horror I felt when Chris asked me where the stats were for one of the players after the first day of practice. We looked around on the program and they just would not show up on the screen. I still tell myself that the DataVolley Fairy erased them when I wasn’t looking.
As my time with the program progressed, so did my competency and responsibilities. At the end of my sophomore year, Chris asked me if I would like to take over pre-match speeches, or “Chalk-Talks,” to our booster club called the “Networkers.” I would be giving scouting reports to the Networkers and discuss some of the key statistics that we would be looking at on DataVolley that night during the match.
Instantly, thoughts came rushing back to when I was a Networker during my middle and high school years. Thoughts of how much I loved attending Chalk-Talks before home matches. Then, just as quickly as they came, those happy memories faded. They turned into negative questions of self-doubt like, “How could Chris trust a nineteen-year-old kid with this job?,” and, “What if all the Networkers hate me and cancel their memberships?”.
Chris ended up joining me for my first “Stat-Chat” presentation (we renamed it from Chalk-Talk to match the content I would be presenting). I remember almost being sick as I stepped into the room. Though I could barely see or speak during that first Stat-Chat, I grew more and more comfortable as time went on. I actually received a few emails from Networkers at the end of the season thanking me for doing a great job.
All of these different tasks have helped shape who I am over the last three years. However, it is the people of Illinois Volleyball that make being a manager the best part of my college experience. This program has given me my best friends, my most insightful mentors and my biggest role models.
I will always cherish the moments where I wasn’t able to breathe because I was laughing too hard with the players and other managers. I will always cherish the times when I made a mistake and the coaching staff was not afraid to turn it into a life-lesson. I will always cherish having representation for the first time when our former assistant coach was hired as an out-gay man, the first I had ever known in such an esteemed position. For all of this and more, I will always cherish Illinois Volleyball.