SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- College athletes transfer all the time. It’s most notable in football and basketball, of course, where the students have to sit a year before competing for their new schools. But in other sports, including volleyball, athletes given a waiver by their old schools can begin competing for their new ones the next year.

So, it seems, a lot of women transfer.

“Unfortunately, it’s just the nature of the beast now,” second-year UCLA coach Michael Sealy said. “It’s almost like it’s free agency in the college realm.”

Semifinals feature new participants

The winner of the last four national championships, Penn State, will not be joining the party this season. Fourtunately, there are four teams remaining that are more than worthy of being crowned champions.
Complete story
Interactive Bracket
Championship Info

In the case of the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championships, you could certainly make the argument that three of the four teams here would not have made it had it not been for transfers.

We asked the four coaches about the impact of the transfers not only on these semifinals but in volleyball in general. The coach of the only team with all players who came directly from high school, USC veteran Mick Haley, had some pointed comments, including, “what the message is out there now is if you don’t like what you first run into or you don’t get what you want, go someplace else. And we’re not developing leaders that way, we’re not developing good citizens that way, we’re not developing good community leaders.”

More from Haley later.

In the meantime, consider that UCLA got a huge boost this season from Tabi Love, a 6-foot-5 junior from Dauphin, Manitoba, who transferred from Minnesota. As a freshman, Love was the regional MVP when Minnesota advanced to the national semifinals, and last season led the Gophers in kills and aces before leaving for Los Angeles. This season, she was UCLA’s leader in solo blocks and second in kills.

“Everything’s free and easy,” Sealy said, “and even if conferences do have policies about transfer rules most universities are going to side with the student-athletes and make sure that they have a great experience and make sure they’re not put in adverse situations.”

Most college coaches will tell you that the recruiting process is flawed. For example, most major volleyball programs are now targeting girls who will graduate from high school in 2014 and 2015, since their slots for this school year and next are already committed. Accordingly, what seems right to a sophomore or junior in high school might change radically by the time they’re in college, especially if there is a coaching change.

“Being a Division I athlete is not easy,” Sealy continued. “There hasn’t been a ton of adversity that some people have faced and everyone’s been a big fish in a small pond and they get to a school and the ideology of competing for a spot for a title sounds really fantastic until you have to compete for a spot for a championship. No one really likes that. You find yourself on the bench and people tend to run away than fight these days.”

Florida State has more transfers than most, but coach Chris Poole understandably admitted that was more by necessity when he took over a beleaguered program in 2008. However, it didn’t hurt any when two Serbia natives playing for Tulane were unhappy and transferred to FSU two seasons ago. One of them, 6-1 senior outside hitter outside hitter Visnja Djurdjevic, was second on FSU in 2011 in kills and digs and tops in aces.

“We ended up getting some transfers. People make a big deal about the international players,” Poole said, who has seven foreigners on his roster, “but four of those we got within in the country, two from Louisiana and two from Missouri. It wasn’t like we were leaving the country.”

There are players that for whatever reason can be somewhere and be looking to transfer. Some of it can be the early commitments. It’s kind of a runaway train right now with kids committing too early. If you don’t jump in [as recruiters] you can find yourself on the sidelines and not getting the best kids.
-- Florida State head coach Chris Poole

Poole, who coached at Arkansas from 1994-2007, said it’s only realistic for programs to be open to transfers.

“There are players that for whatever reason can be somewhere and be looking to transfer,” Poole said. “Some of it can be the early commitments. You’ve got girls who might commit as early as ninth and 10th graders and they get [to college] and there’s a coaching change or it’s not exactly what they thought it would be. It’s kind of a runaway train right now with kids committing too early. If you don’t jump in [as recruiters] you can find yourself on the sidelines and not getting the best kids.”

No transfer was probably more impactful than Colleen Ward, who left Florida after two seasons for Illinois, closer to her home in Naperville. Last year, the 6-2 outside hitter was a second-team All-American; this season the senior was second on the team in kills and digs and first in aces. But she capped it with a remarkable performance on her old homecourt against the Gators in Gainesville last Saturday, netting 23 kills in 42 attempts while hitting .500.

Illini third-year coach Kevin Hambly certainly understands the value of someone like Ward.

“But there are dangers in transfers,” he said. “When me and Colleen first talked, I said, ‘I don’t like transfers.’ I like to have a player on the team for four years because I didn’t like that it looks like -- and we haven’t treated her this way -- but it looks like we got a hired gun. She’s an All-American, she’s a stud player, but we didn’t treat her like a hired gun. I wanted to help with her career development and things like that. Sometimes putting someone in the middle of a culture when they’re a junior or a senior and they don’t get it or understand what it’s about, but she fit perfectly.

“You’re lucky when you get a transfer who helps that much and certainly we wouldn’t have been had we not gotten Colleen.”

Both of the setters in Saturday's championship match are transfers. UCLA senior Lauren Van Orden left San Diego State after two years, while Illinois junior Annie Luhrsen left Connecticut after her freshman year. Luhrsen sat a season  before playing for Illinois the past two years.

Haley, the former coach at Texas and of the U.S. Olympic team, said he hasn’t had good luck with transfers.

“Usually when you’re unhappy someplace you get unhappy at other places,” Haley said. “We spend a lot of time in the recruiting process and we find athletes who are fits for our university and the program and who have similar desires for what we offer. And we’ve been very pleased with the kids we’ve recruited and try to stay with them.”

Haley said he’s not against taking transfers and cited an example of filling a hole on the roster because of an injury.

“But we as coaches don’t like the transfer thing,” Haley declared. “We think that comes from basketball and we think that comes from juniors [age-group volleyball] where parents don’t get what they want and they take their kid and shop them to the next club and the next club. And we think the wrong message is going out across the country, that instead of staying and fighting through things and learning how to deal with a boss who maybe you don’t communicate with well to start with and that sort of thing, what the message is there now is if you don’t like what you first run into or don’t like it, go someplace else.”

Which prompted Haley’s previous comments about not developing leaders or citizens.

“We want our athletes to learn how to fight through things, how to communicate, basically be leaders when they leave the university, whether it’s in their community, or nationally or just be good parents,” Haley said.

“I think it’s a problem. The only we can help it is not buy into it. Just sitting on the bench is somehow perceived as negative in our culture right now. And you can learn so much about being a team player just sitting on the bench. I’ve been there. I know and it made more that much more hungry to be successful in life. And for my parents to have taken me out of that or not made me fight through that would have been a tremendous mistake.”

Haley smiled.

“If you give me a soapbox, I’ll get up on this one because I really think there’s a point to be made here and I think more people should pay attention to this particular thing.”