In the grand scheme of things, Alabama volleyball wasn’t on the top of my time-of-coronavirus stories list.
And then the other day we got a news release that the Crimson Tide had added three transfers to go with the one they added in January.
Abby Marjama from UC Irvine, an outside hitter from Granite Bay, California, who led the Anteaters in kills and was the 2018 Big West freshman of the year.
Madelyn St. Germain from UT-Arlington, a libero from League City, Texas, who was the 2019 Sun Belt Conference defensive player of the year.
More hmmm …
And Texas graduate-student setter Riley Fisbeck, a product of La Grange, Texas, who never could crack the Longhorns lineup in her four years in Austin but was a strong prospect coming out of high school.
In January, Alabama added Florida Atlantic right side Kennedy Muckelroy, the product of Houston who had a limited role as a freshman at FAU.
So when you look at the Alabama roster, you see players from nine different states.
It was enough to make you take notice and say eh, which is a double entendre, because second-year Alabama coach Lindsey Devine is Canadian.
Devine had a great run at East Tennessee State, 16 years in all, before taking over at Alabama in 2019. The Crimson Tide finished 12-17, 4-14 in the Southeastern Conference. Alabama had a decent start in 2019, but limped into the finish line, losing its last eight matches and 12 of 13, all in the league.
That in itself was reason enough to keep an eye on the NCAA transfer portal, where players add their names and basically declare free agency.
“We knew that we needed some depth and we knew that we needed some variety,” said Devine, who got the Alabama job in December 2018 after ETSU finished 28-7 in 2018, winning the Southern Conference regular-season at 15-1. The Bucs lost in the SoCon tournament final to Samford, but got an at-large bid — the first in league history — to the NCAA Tournament. ETSU lost to Purdue in the first round. Devine also took ETSU to the NCAA tourney in 2012 and 2017.
Muckleroy was originally committed to Oklahoma before going to FAU, Devine said.
“She just needed to grow up a little bit and we were pretty excited when she was our first transfer,” Devine said.
Fisbeck was next and there’s a connection there. The younger sister of another Texas setter, Ashley Shook, sophomore Katie Shook, is an Alabama DS from Plainfield, Illinois. Devine also coached Ashley Shook on the USA youth national team.
“Riley may not have the on-court experience she’s wanted, but here’s a kid who’s so hungry and has been on the B side running that B side for Texas,” Devine said. “Think about some of those players who are on the B side.”
Indeed, the second team at Texas would probably win quite a few conferences on its own.
St. Germain’s older sister, Morgan, played at Samford, located about an hour away in Birmingham, Alabama, so there was the SoCon connection.
There was none with Marjama, who had 277 kills last season (2.72/set) but hit .080 after taking 914 swings, almost 400 more than her closest teammate. She led UCI with 28 aces, was second in digs with 248 (2.43) and had 30 blocks, five solo.
Marjama went into the transfer portal and Alabama made contact.
“She took a lot of swings at Irvine,” Devine said. “We believe with some pieces around her she’s going to continue to excel.”
She joins a couple of strong returning players in outside Doris Carter and middle Alyiah Wells. Carter, a senior from Lexington, Kentucky, led Alabama in kills last season with 260 (2.68/set) and had 27 blocks, 17 solo. Wells, a sophomore from Memphis named to the All-SEC freshman team, had 223 kills (2.17/set), hit .316, and led Alabama with 109 blocks, 11 solo.
Libero Kaylee Thomas also returns. The senior from Ocala, Florida, averaged 4.04 digs, but St. Germain is certainly poised to take that job. Alabama signed four players in December, Chaise Campbell, Kendyl Reaugh, Victoria Schmer, and Alexandria Trame. Reaugh, a 6-3 product of Highland Park, Texas, is likely to get in the mix from the start.
Devine grew up outside of Toronto and went to York University in Toronto, where she was an outside hitter. Her husband, Carl, who is British, was working for an American company in Canada. He got a job in Tennessee, which led her to getting the job at ETSU.
And to add the geography mix on the Alabama roster, note that assistant coach Ladislav Lelkes, who came with Devine from ETSU, is Slovakian.
Volleyball aside, Devine is loving her time at Alabama, a school with a storied history in athletics with most teams in the program playing at a national-championship level (full disclosure: My daughter, Stacey, played soccer at Alabama and graduated from there)
“It’s amazing. The opportunity to work with some of the best coaches, the greatest coaches, in college sports … They’ve created so much success and it’s a collaboration and it really is a family,” Devine said. “We’re going through this now and we have many text threads with all of us going on and it’s so comforting.”
Volleyball will return one day, but in the meantime, “It’s a different normal,” said Devine, who actually was on her way to the park with her husband to let their three labs run and chase balls.
“As I told our student-athletes, it’s the same for us. We just have to work through this and we have to come up with a routine. We all live by schedules and routines. That’s how we operate the most effectively. So figure out your routine and don’t be frustrated when things don’t comply with it and be positive about what we’re able to still do.
“We’re still able to do a lot of things.”