Leading Through Transition

Former Bison standout and second-year assistant Jennifer Lopez was named interim head coach and her attention turned to the team’s student-athletes.

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Photos by Carrie Snyder/NDSU Athletics

Volleyball Head Coach Jennifer Lopez was in a tough spot last spring. Former Head Coach Kari Thompson left for another job and all who remained to lead the volleyball program was Assistant Coach Lopez and Volleyball Director of Operations.


When a college athletic program goes through a transition in the coaching staff, it can leave many to wonder what will happen to the student-athletes who committed their college careers to a specific university. For the NDSU volleyball program, that moment came last spring. Former Bison standout and second-year assistant Jennifer Lopez was named interim head coach and her attention immediately turned to the student-athletes who were already on the team.

Lopez got to work and entered the 2017 season by retaining all but two student-athletes eligible to return from the 2016 roster and six of the incoming freshmen who committed before the coaching change took place.

“One of the first things I did was reach out to those kids who had already committed to us to make sure that they knew our situation,” Lopez said. “They were here during my time (as an assistant) and I was in the process of recruiting them, so I was making sure they wanted to be a part of what we were doing. I got really good feedback from them, and they were excited and saw the direction we wanted to go.”

Incoming freshman Allie Mauch said she couldn’t have been more excited. She grew up watching Lopez on the court for the Bison and was looking forward to playing for one of her volleyball idols.


As college coaches know, the recruiting cycle never stops, so Lopez had to keep potential 2018 signings in the loop, too. She reconnected with potential members of the 2018 Class to gauge their interest in NDSU, and told them she was still interested in bringing them aboard.

Before the October 23 announcement that Lopez would become the permanent head coach, she stayed in contact with the recruits. Volleyball’s early signing period was about to begin on November 8.

“I was pretty up front with where we were at but they still wanted to be a part of what we were doing,” recalls Lopez. “They were willing to, I wouldn’t necessarily say, ‘Take that risk,’ but they were willing to commit to this program because they were bought into that.”

Lopez said she hasn’t found evidence that shows recruits come for a specific coach or they select NDSU because of its rich history. She said it depends on the individual. They could come for her, the academics, the lifestyle or the culture that’s been built. Her incoming 2018 signing class is proof of that.

“They’ve been invested in our program and our school and culture…they understand the direction we were trying to go,” Lopez said. “So for them, it wasn’t like a waiting game for them to see, ‘Are they going to go through with it or are they not?’ At that time, they were pretty comfortable with what we were doing and they were excited.”

It’s been a year since Lopez was announced as the interim head coach. This April, her first signing class was announced with the additions of Kaylee Hanger and Maggie Steffen, who join Kalli Hegerle, Ally Murphy and Kirstin Tidd as freshmen on the 2018 squad.

“We’re happy with our decision,” Lopez said. “They’re going to tremendously add to our program through development and experience.”

Thirty Under 30

Head coach Jennifer Lopez was named one of the American Volleyball Coaches Associations’ 2018 “Thirty under 30” award recipients this April.

NDSU Legend

Lopez was the 2011 Summit League Setter of the Year, Player of the Year and Tournament MVP. She led the Bison to three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament and was a three-time All-Summit League Selection.

Player’s Take

“She’s still her competitive self and pushes us everyday in practice. She’s really stepped up to the plate by getting us in and learning the game, working on our volleyball IQ, coming in for film and really pushing us. She texts us motivational things – she’s not only there for you as a coach, but someone to look up to.” – Allie Mauch, Sophomore

First Year Success

Lopez led NDSU to a 19-9 record in 2017. The volleyball program has a 43.5 winning percentage in the five years after her senior year. She improved that by more than 20 percent last season. The Bison made it to the semifinals of the Summit League tournament before losing to Denver.

2018 Incoming Freshman

Kalli Hegerle, setter
West Fargo, North Dakota
Two-time all-state performer

Ally Murphy, outside hitter
Eagan, Minnesota
2017 Class AAA Minnesota State Champion

Kirstin Tidd, middle hitter
Verona, Wisconsin
Two-time all-conference first team selection

Kaylee Hanger, libero
Millstadt, Illinois
Two-time all-area and all-Southwestern Conference outside hitter

Maggie Steffen, outside hitter
Grand Forks, North Dakota
Two-time North Dakota all-state

Leading Through Transition
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