Big Ten Volleyball Media Day
Chicago, Illinois — Press Conference
COACH BARNES: Good morning. Glad to see everyone here. Toyosi — I always want to make sure I say it right, I call her Toy, but it’s Toyosi. And AJ, Amiya, we’re just really privileged to be here, grateful to be here. It’s incredible to be part of this game-changing event. What the Big Ten has done, the athletic directors, the SWAs put all this so we could have this day. And I really appreciate everyone’s work in the media here. Thanks for being here and promoting our sport.
I think you’re going to find out it’s a win-win situation for both volleyball and you because this sport is on the rise, as everybody knows.
As a coach, you make decisions every day off numbers off of evaluations, on observations. And so the numbers I look at, half of the population’s over 50 percent women. And so they drive a great big market. And their number one choice as a sport is volleyball. It is the number one choice for women.
And so you’re seeing young girls choosing volleyball, their mothers bringing them to these volleyball tournaments, and their fathers on the sidelines really getting into the sport. It’s something that’s growing dramatically quick and has a force that’s going.
And you add the Big Ten Network with all the TV improvements that are happening and media day, I think you’re seeing something very special grow here and you’re seeing I think a growth spurt for this sport that’s about to really take off. We’re grateful to be a part of Iowa and helping Iowa to get to the top of that.
Q. You’re not naive to the challenges that you took on. Can you talk about those as you head into the season?
COACH BARNES: There are challenges. When I look at Iowa, I see gold mine. There’s so much that Iowa has to offer, to offer these players and the incoming players that not many places can. Being in this conference and having the opportunity to work up into the biggest and best conference in the country is a big deal.
When you look at Iowa, the commitment, the people in that state love volleyball. They’re just yearning for it to be a great program. They’re not very much unlike Nebraska people as far as the state. So, there’s so much growth to me.
I just see gold mine, I see the black and gold. And that’s what gold reminds me of, when I look at it, the opportunities are all here. And I’ve been so impressed with the ladies on this team, the returners, how they jumped right on. And they really want to get this right.
So we had a great spring. They haven’t lost a game yet and we’re looking forward to what’s coming.
Q. Yesterday we heard from several coaches that expressed some frustration with some of the NCAA rules regarding when they’re allowed to be in the gym or work with their athletes over the summer, especially compared to what those schedules look like for other sports. I’m wondering if you and either of your athletes here had any thoughts about how that’s set up right now, whether you want it to look different?
COACH BARNES: I’ll start with mixed emotions because I want to be in there, as coaches want to help them get things rolling. But I also love that their voices are being developed during this time and their leadership. Our senior core really lead a lot of the practices and the returners. There’s value in that.
I see it changing. I think next summer it changes. I hope it does, so that we can mix this, where we can be in the gym some. But we’re still going to have our players in there developing over the summer as well. We’ll ask the ladies.
TOYOSI ONABANJO: I agree with him also. It was very tough at first not having our coaches in there. But I think our seniors definitely stepped up to the plate with just leading our new girls, leading the returners, leading everyone, making sure we’re all in on time, getting what we need to do and getting in and out on time.
AMIYA JONES: Going into my fifth year, I think it’s not bad that we don’t have coaches in the gym, but I just wish they could provide feedback for us. Like even if we could just record practices and discuss things with them because it’s like we can’t teach our new teammates certain techniques that they definitely can.
So if there was one change I would make, of course, we’re developing our voices, but if we could have some feedback from the coaches, that would be perfect.
Q. AJ and Toy, your coach has had success everywhere he’s gone — Tulane, Baylor, Wyoming. Of course you can buy into knowing Coach has that winning culture, but what has he specifically taught you to make you believe that both of you can be successful and Iowa can be a successful program?
AMIYA JONES: Just the way he carries himself. You just know. He walks into a room and he just commands attention. And he just makes us all feel like we can trust him and trust his path that he’s taking us on.
Love, trust, communication, sacrifice, like, that’s the four pillars we stand on as a team. And I just feel like you can feel that within the practice plan, you can feel it in everything we do as a team. That’s how it was easy to buy into him. He came in and he taught us to love each other first and that’s something that we really never had.
We all kind of just battled with different personalities and stuff. But the more that we’ve come together this spring, I definitely see where he’s taking us.
TOYOSI ONABANJO: I agree with Amiya, just showing that he cares for us every day in practice, every day out of practice.
There was one time I had a terrible accident. He was the first one who texted me, just making sure I was okay. So it’s not just in the gym, it’s always out of the gym, the way he carries himself.
COACH BARNES: Hopefully we avoid those terrible accidents. (Laughter). A motor scooter was involved.
Q. Amiya you’ve been there a long time. And all of a sudden going into this year you have a new coach, a bunch of new teammates, (indiscernible). What are the challenges bringing a whole new group together? It’s not just a couple.
AMIYA JONES: I feel at this point I’m an expert. This is my second new coach. Technically it’s my third coach, my second new coach. It’s, like, I’m very flexible as a person.
I’m really good at just trying to bring people together. I’m always my teammates’ number one fan. I’m just trying to get them used to the culture and the coach and our routine.
So it’s unique. It’s a very unique experience. I’m like the mom on the team. I’m very much make sure everyone is okay. Make sure everyone gets on the same page.
I would say it’s been really hard because I feel like a lot of the responsibility has fallen on the older players, but I kind of like it. It’s definitely helping me with my professional development. So I don’t know, it’s a unique one, for sure.
Q. (Indiscernible) first-year transfers?
COACH BARNES: We have seven transfers, two freshmen coming in. More than half the team. But it’s the eight returning that really have set up the foundation of what we’ve done over the spring. So really proud of this group. They’ve turned into a team just in that little bit of time.
Q. (Indiscernible) do you see this catching up (inaudible)?
COACH BARNES: My phone is buzzing, coaches in other leagues watching this, rooting us on, honestly, because they want their leagues to mimic this and to grow the sport. Because we know the potential this sport has.
It’s so underdeveloped and it’s ready to really emerge. And the Big Ten is setting the standard. And they’re just waiting to be able to go in their meetings and say the Big Ten is, now we need to. And it’s going to happen.
Q. [Question off microphone]
COACH BARNES: Again, she’ll just be crawling off the floor. She wants the ball as well. And in our style, we really use our middle more than anybody. And I think Amiya really enjoyed that when we had that first conversation. I always watched the middles to see how scared they are to be some of the primary attackers. And she was just glowing, just waiting for the opportunity.
And this spring, she showed it. She played lights out and led our team in kills, which is tough for a middle to do. But she can do it.
AMIYA JONES: I have to agree. If you want to set me, I’m going to be there, you know what I’m saying? I’m really excited for this because in the spring, like, I was really the only middle. So I didn’t even want to leave. I didn’t want to get out of the game. I’m super excited for the option to be able to get the most kills of my career.
Just because I’m in my fifth year doesn’t mean I’m getting old, you know what I’m saying? I’m a spring chicken. This is the best shape I’ve ever been in. I’m super excited for this season. Like, watch out for my stats.
Q. We’ve written a lot about how women’s volleyball athletes in general have been able to have, across the country, multiple NIL opportunities. Clearly this market has changed a lot over the last year. I’d love to hear a little bit about your experiences about what changes you’ve seen, whether it’s been easier to find opportunities or if opportunities have changed between this summer and last summer?
TOYOSI ONABANJO: I think it’s definitely easier to find opportunities for NIL. You have people hitting you up all the time, sliding in your DMs — not in that way, but just reaching out to you, just wanting you to represent their company. So I think it’s a lot easier, for sure.
AMIYA JONES: I personally feel like it hasn’t been utilized the way it should have been just because only certain athletes are going to get certain deals and everyone knows that. That’s why they wanted this thing to pass.
But it’s for us who really do want to get into the market, I would love more guidance because I would love to represent so many different companies, especially like with my stance on social justice and things like that. I would love for more companies to reach out to me. I just don’t know how to socialize with them or who to contact or what they’re looking for.
I don’t know. I just feel like a little more guidance in that aspect would be really helpful because your football players, your basketball players, they’re going to get the most sponsorships. But for women sports it’s not the same.
Q. Not even in Iowa?
AMIYA JONES: Not really. For Caitlin Clark, yeah.
Q. You’re surrounded by powerhouse programs on boarder states. Where do you see — is there an area of the country you need to break into recruiting wise for the long term?
COACH BARNES: Iowa. We need to get the best players out of the state because the best players have gone elsewhere. So we start there. And then we go to the region. And now we can go coast to coast as the conference continues to grow as well.
But you’re going to find that core group within the region of Iowa. And we’re going to hit the state really hard as well. You see some Iowa kids on Nebraska, Wisconsin. They did pretty well. So it’s making sure Caitlin Clark picks Iowa, best basketball player in the country by far, in my opinion. And there’s just some great talent in the area, and we can start it there.
Q. You talked about social justice and your trip to Selma and Montgomery last month. Could you talk about your experience and what you learned from that trip?
AMIYA JONES: I’ve been super passionate about civil rights and social justice. It’s something that I think is a pillar of my personality and something I’ll always fight for.
So the trip to Selma was super fun. Super informational. I feel I learned so many things. I already knew so many things.
But it’s nice being reminded of my history, where my people have come from, what we’ve accomplished and how far we have left to go in this movement. So I think that it’s a trip that more people should take. I feel we should go back and do more community work, more community outreach, just help build that community back up to where it used to be as a pillar of like the civil rights movement, as a pillar for Black people. I think we have more to do to reaching out to people, getting them to where we know they can be. There’s a lot more work to be done.
COACH BARNES: And I’ll say some of the conversations I’ve had both these young ladies it’s been inspirational, some great conversations that, I think, we’re all growing.
My life mission is to love and serve those around me. And both — all our players, but especially these two, have opened my eyes to doing that even better for our team and people around us. They make our team a better place and hopefully that just continues to go throughout Iowa and the people around us.
Q. From your previous stops as head coach, what do you think is most similar to what you’re encountering at Iowa and what lessons can you draw upon those?
COACH BARNES: Good question. When I went to Baylor, they were at the bottom of the Big 12 and Big 12 was pretty good back then. We had Nebraska and A&M and Missouri and Colorado in that league with everybody.
So it was, at the time, one of the top two. So I learned a lot through that progress to move them up into a top 20 team. We made the Sweet 16. And we broke every record there. And I feel like all the lessons I learned are going to be a part of helping us do this at Iowa. What I learned is that you can’t do it by yourself at all. You’ve got to have a collaborative effort.
The team’s got to have a voice. They’ve got to help push this train. But I’ll draw a lot on that. I feel I’m 20 times the coach I was through that experience now and hopefully that helps me serve my players even better.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports