For the Big Ten, a conference that has six teams in the Sweet 16 of this year’s NCAA Tournament, boasts the No. 1 team in the country and is considered the strongest conference in volleyball across the country, adding two more schools is the last thing the rest of the country wants to see.
With the future addition of Maryland and Rutgers announced in November, the Big Ten welcomes two rising teams.
Prior to hiring current head coach C.J. Werneke from Fairfield University, the Scarlet Knights had struggled to post a winning season, let alone post double-digit wins. Werneke has transformed the program, though, in his five seasons as head coach. Rutgers posted an 18-12 record to close out the 2012 season — its best since 2000 and the first winning season since 2004. But the Scarlet Knights finished 4-11 in the Big East — a traditionally weak conference for volleyball.
Though they will face stiff competition upon arrival, Rutgers and Werneke are eager to face new challenges.
“I am very excited about becoming the newest member of the Big Ten Conference,” Werneke said. “Our program will be joining the best academic and athletic conference in the country. This move to the Big Ten will allow us the resources to compete at the highest level while giving us access to national exposure.”
Michigan coach Mark Rosen, in the midst of a Sweet-16 trip, has had less time to look at the Scarlet Knights program. He has instead focused on current Big Ten member Michigan State — who the Wolverines will play Friday.
“I don’t know as much about Rutgers, but I took a look yesterday and it looks like they have really advanced their program,” Rosen said. “The addition of both Rutgers and Maryland is a great thing for our conference. Expanding into that region of the country is really good. It certainly helps widen our recruiting base and the scope of our conference.”
Maryland ended its season with a 17-15 record this fall and an 8-12 record in the ACC. The Terrapins also have a fifth-year head coach in Tim Horsmon. Horsmon previously coached at Dayton, where he won the 2007 AVCA Northeast Region Coach of the Year.
In 2010, Maryland narrowly missed a berth to the NCAA Tournament, but struggled the following year, finishing with just 10 wins. Horsmon could not be reached for a comment regarding the transition to the Big Ten, but Rosen spoke highly of the Terrapins.
“Maryland is a program that has really stepped up in the last two or three years,” Rosen said. “They’ve really put a lot more resources in the program. I think they will be able to make a bigger move when they get into a conference like the Big Ten.
“What I like about it is there are two more teams that diversify our conference. We will welcome them with open arms and at the same time, it makes it that much more competitive.”