From the big time to the Bears
“I’m sure when we start traveling and we aren’t flying on a private, chartered jet it will be a surprise,” said junior Lindsay Schuessler. “But it just makes you realize how lucky you were at the other schools.”
Schuessler, along with classmate Ellen Bruegge and sophomore Audra Janak gave up chartered planes and free shoes. They gave up scholarships and recognition.
“Everyone could tell who the athletes were at Oklahoma,” continued Schuessler.
These three students gave up Division I volleyball programs for Washington University and the Division III Bears.
Bruegge, a native of Illinois, was recruited in high school by University Coach Rich Luenemann and was familiar with the volleyball program at Wash. U. but chose Syracuse University.
“It was a D1 program with good academics and they were offering me a scholarship,” she said.
That scholarship and the ability to play on the D1 level is what thousands of high school seniors dream about and which only a precious few ever realize.
Janak was also recruited by Luenemann her senior year but chose the University of Georgia. As a Bulldog, she averaged 6.19 assists and 1.69 digs per game in only 21 contests.
Schuessler, a St. Louis native and Parkway South High School graduate, chose the University of Oklahoma. Halfway through her sophomore year there, Schuessler had to tell her teammates and coaches that she would be leaving the program for St. Louis.
“I was really attached to my other team and coaches so making the initial decision was really tough,” said Schuessler. “You get so much free stuff at a Division I program. You get treated like royalty. They baby you there. They feed you and tell you when to take classes. They talk to your teachers for you.”
All three stressed the time commitment that a Division I program demands.
“It’s your life. You have no time for anything else,” said Bruegge. “They know everything about you before you do.”
Having made a tough decision, Schuessler and Janak entered Wash. U. in the spring of 2006 with Bruegge entering this fall.
“As soon as I accepted, I was getting e-mails from Rich [Luenemann],” said Janak. “As a setter, if I hadn’t been here that early I don’t think I’d be playing.”
The extra semester paid off for Janak as she has played in every game so far and was named to the All-Tournament team last week at the Washington University National Invitational.
Not only did the extra semester help her play, but it also provided her with a chance to meet her new teammates and adjust to the academic rigors of Washington University.
“At Georgia I think I wrote two papers all semester,” said Janak. “I wrote that many in a week here.”
Often, the standards for transfers are tougher than those for incoming freshmen because the previous institution was not as demanding as Washington University. Thus, it is not uncommon for a transfer to lose significant credit hours.
The balance between athletics and academics was a welcome shift in perspective for Schuessler.
“At Oklahoma, if you spent one hour on work you spent five hours on volleyball,” she said. “Here, if you spend a half hour on volleyball you spend five hours on work. The focus completely shifted.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the easiest adjustment has come on the volleyball court. Knowing that Wash. U. was a perennial contender for the National Championship, the collective goal of the team was a welcome change for all three. The motivation of a title united the athletes with their new comrades.
“Everyone has a good attitude because you’re actually playing for something,” said Bruegge. “The girls don’t have to come here. It’s a choice. It reminds you why you play in the first place.”
Washington University does not offer athletic scholarships or loads of free apparel like Division 1 schools. But that has not weakened the Bears volleyball program.
“In many instances it’s likely that a player who transfers from Division I to Division III finds the level of play at DIII inferior,” said head coach Rich Luenemann. “But our roster is filled with athletes who were offered Division I opportunities that wanted the unparalleled combination of academic and athletic excellence Washington University offers.”
Their roads to the Danforth Campus all differed, but they all agreed that focusing on academics was a major reason for their decision. While at schools with enrollments in the tens of thousands, they desired a more rigorous education that provided more opportunities after graduation and also allowed time for participation on competitive athletics.
“I knew I couldn’t make a career out of volleyball,” said Schuessler. “I wanted to graduate from a good school and be closer to family.”
The NCAA describes Division III athletics as, “Colleges and universities that place highest priority on the overall quality of the educational experience and on the successful completion of all students’ academic programs.”
Bruegge agrees that the University has provided her with an opportunity to make off-court connections that could be useful in the future.
“You can do internships in the summer if you want to,” said Schuessler. “You aren’t stuck doing workouts. The summer was the same as the school year [at Oklahoma].”
With the decisions made and the adjustments near complete, Bruegge, Janak and Schuessler are happy with their decisions.
“I couldn’t believe I was here,” said Janak. “I was so happy that I was grinning ear-to-ear while I was walking to class the first day.”
“It stinks we don’t get free stuff and all the perks, but I’d take Wash. U. over that any day,” said Schuessler. “It puts things in perspective. It’s all in our hearts.” But underneath every student-athlete-no matter the division-there remains a fierce competitor.
“I’ll be a lot happier if we win a championship,” said Bruegge.
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