Transfers affect upcoming roster for Tamas' Illinois volleyball team

Transfers affect upcoming roster for Tamas' Illinois volleyball team

CHAMPAIGN — Chris Tamas kept together a nine-deep freshman class after Illinois volleyball hired him away from Nebraska in February 2017 to replace the departed Kevin Hambly.

All nine freshmen were Hambly's recruits, and three — Megan Cooney, Morgan O'Brien and Tyanna Omazic — ended up playing important roles for the Illini's 23-11 Sweet 16 team this past season.

A third of that class has since transferred this offseason, and a fourth departure has left Illinois a bit thin on depth with its spring season set to conclude 7:30 p.m. Friday in a match against Iowa State in Davenport, Iowa.

"It's always kind of expected with the coaching changeover," Tamas said about the transfers. "Our message is always we just keep moving forward and we go with it."

Marijke Van Dyke was the first to transfer, departing for Louisville. The 6-foot-2 outside hitter appeared in just nine sets spread across six matches in 2017 for the Illini.

She'll play this fall for another former Nebraska assistant, Dani Busboom Kelly, with the Cardinals.

Illinois' other three transfers will still be teammates next season. Omazic, fellow freshman Kylie Kuyava-Deberg and sophomore Annika Gereau have all announced they'll transfer to Missouri.

That gives the Tigers some needed depth with just seven players currently listed on their 2018 roster.

In that group, Illinois lost a middle blocker (Omazic) that came on strong late in 2017 to finish fourth on the team in total blocks, an outside hitter (Deberg) that was ranked the No. 15 player in the 2017 class and a defensive specialist (Gereau) that averaged 1.53 digs per set.

This season's transfers outnumber the players to leave the program from the previous eight seasons combined. Kaylin Korte transferred to Clemson after last year's coaching change, Jessica Jendryk left as a graduate transfer to Saint Louis for the 2013 season and Jazmine Orozco transferred to Pepperdine after the Illini's 2011 national runner-up season.

Transfers are still relatively new for the current Illini, but rising senior setter Jordyn Poulter echoed Tamas' "moving forward" sentiment.

"I think everyone who's here wants to be here, and that's what we want," said Poulter, who will train in Anaheim, Calif., this summer with the U.S. Women's National Team. "We're moving forward with a strong mentality going into this summer and hopefully carrying that into the fall because we want to be better than we were last year."

This offseason's transfer open up three more scholarships for Illinois. Incoming freshmen Diana Brown and Taylor Kuper take the Illini to nine filled scholarships of the 12 available, meaning Tamas has some flexibility to fill out his roster.

"I'm very adamant about adding players that can add value, whether that's from them understanding the team culture we're building right now or being able to play at this level," Tamas said. "A combination of both, really. That's kind of the biggest thing. We're not going to add people just to add bodies. We're going to make sure they can add value to the program. Always on the lookout for any of those types of players."

Adding any players before the start of the 2018 season would lend more depth to the Illinois roster.

The Illini have just two middle blockers and four pin hitters, with help at those positions not coming until the 2019 and 2020 classes.

"We have some good classes lined up," Tamas said. "We've got to fill maybe a few holes, but we have everyone we need to go through a season right now and more than happy working with this group."