Signing up for the red and white: Ball State Women’s Volleyball transfer players describe experiences in the transfer portal and journey to Ball State.

5th year outside hitter Emily Hollowell (left), junior middle blocker Marie Plitt (right), and freshman setter Megan Wielonski celebrate a block by Wielonski. Ball State will take on Ohio in Worthen Arena Sept. 30. Jacy Bradley, DN
5th year outside hitter Emily Hollowell (left), junior middle blocker Marie Plitt (right), and freshman setter Megan Wielonski celebrate a block by Wielonski. Ball State will take on Ohio in Worthen Arena Sept. 30. Jacy Bradley, DN

Ball State Women’s Volleyball graduate student outside hitter Jaclyn Bulmahn spent four years playing volleyball at Valparaiso University. There, Bulmahn and her teammates wouldn’t normally tuck in their jerseys when they played. At Ball State, tucking in jerseys on the court is a normal occurrence Bulmahn has adjusted to this season since transferring.

“One example would just be to always tuck in my shirt,” Bulmahn said. “I never, never used to do that.”

While tucking in a shirt may not seem like a significant change, it’s the little things that usually stand out the most to the outside hitter and other transfer volleyball players. 

Bulmahn, graduate student outside hitter Emily Hollowell, junior defensive specialist Havyn Gates and graduate student setter Mamie Keith Garard are all new to Ball State Women’s Volleyball —  but not volleyball at the collegiate level. They transferred to Ball State after spending portions of their college careers elsewhere. 

Hollowell spent four years at the University of Illinois, Gates played two years for the Wildcats at Indiana Wesleyan University and Garard played her last three years in California for San José State University. 

Bulmahn entered the NCAA transfer portal in fall 2020. She was nearing the end of her time at Valparaiso and was looking for an interior design program for her master’s degree. Bulmahn initially was looking to be a graduate assistant for a volleyball team but only started looking for player positions after she was granted an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I sent out some emails about being a graduate assistant at places and they responded, 'We don't have any available because of COVID,'” Bulmahn said. “Then, I would send another email three months later: 'Hi —  I know you heard about me asking about a graduate assistant position, but now, with my COVID year, do you have any [player] openings?'”

Hollowell found the Cardinals while looking toward her future career. She looked into playing another year for the Fighting Illini while beginning to study philanthropy and nonprofit business work. However, she said she felt destined to go somewhere else. 

“[Ball State] reached out to me,” Hollowell said. “I was talking to a few schools at the time, but Ball State was super diligent about talking to me, and you could tell that they really wanted me. That really stood out compared to everyone else I was talking to at the time.” 

Ball State head coach Kelli Miller Phillips explained each program is different when it comes to the transfer portal. The 2021 season is the first season any player on the Cardinals’ current roster has experienced transfer players entering the program.

“Since COVID happened, [the transfer portal] really just completely changed a lot of things,” Phillips said. “It also just really depends on your current roster. We had had some openings, scholarship-wise, due to other things happening. Therefore, we had positions open to pursue and look [at] other people. It's really a year-to-year specific and very team-specific based on your current roster of that year.”

When considering transfer options, Phillips said she believes the experience and confidence of a player who has played at the Division I level before is crucial for the Cardinals. Since transferring to Ball State, Bulmahn has totaled 196 kills and 18 blocks in 69 sets while Hollowell has recorded 111 kills and 15 blocks in 46 sets. 

“Jaclyn, she brings a very experienced arm to the left side,” Phillips said.  “I mean, she was a four-year starter [at] Valpo. She hits the ball hard — she hits the ball with control. I just feel confident every time she's going up there that she's going to hit a smart, effective shot. Emily brings a very big physical presence. Obviously her size, but as well as playing in the Big Ten  [Conference], she's just used to competing versus big, physical players. I think she brings that physicality and net presence from [a] blocking and hitting standpoint to our front row.”

5th year outside hitter Jaclyn Bulmahn digs the ball to get the play going against Northern Kentucky in Worthen Arena Sept. 17. The Cardinals are 9-2 for the season after beating Northern Kentucky in three sets. Jacy Bradley, DN

Hollowell said she initially expected to fill the position of a veteran leader for the Cardinals, but she quickly learned that a player’s leadership quality is based on age at Ball State. When Hollowell and her teammates are on the court, she said, their age is not a defining factor of their game.

“It's just kind of whoever fits that position best,” Hollowell said. “For me, at least, I think that I kind of just fit in with what they kind of have going already and just try to be kind of an accountability leader on the court —  trying to push myself as hard as they try to push themselves.” 

Bulmahn said her nickname around the locker room sometimes is “Grandma” because of her age, and her moniker doesn’t hold her back. 

“I don't sit back and not say anything,” Bulmahn said. “When it comes to games or practice, [I] try to take a little bit more of [a] leadership role — not so much in chaotic leadership. One thing I always say is, ‘Control what we can control’, which is our energy and our effort. Then, from there, good things will happen. I try to bring a little bit of a calming leadership presence.”

Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Gilliland said the Cardinals’ transfer players have been  “a perfect fit” so far. 

“I think we saw that right away — it’s just their work ethic fit right into ours,” Gilliland said. “They had the same standards as us, and I think they came in with the same goal and mindset that really matched our team.” 

Gilliland said the Cardinals work to create an inviting environment for anyone new to the organization. 

“I would say we're welcoming [of] anyone, and we love the new insight and all the different personalities that come to the team,” Gilliland said. “We cherish every single one of them and everyone's different, but we all have a role on this team.”

Bulmahn and Hollowell echoed Gilliland’s sentiments and said they immediately felt at home during their first days in the program.

“I think that the welcoming presence made me feel like I was a Cardinal and really made me sign up even quicker with wearing red and white and black,” Hollowell said.

Because the Cardinals were able to establish their comfort level with her so quickly, it made Bulmahn feel like her teammates immediately wanted to connect with her, she said. 

“They were asking me tough questions from the beginning and really trying to get to know me,” Bulmahn said.  “I think one of the first days I met one of the girls, they were like, ‘Why did you transfer?’ Tougher questions that some teams may not have felt comfortable asking.” 

Phillips said no matter their contributions to the Cardinals on the court, every player who has transferred to Ball State has made a huge impact. 

“All four of our transfers have been huge additions to the team — I can’t emphasize that enough,” Phillips said. “Each one of them plays a very important, specific role in our team, and we would not be where we're at without each and every one of them. I know some of them have had bigger court roles than others, but they all play a critical role ... Our practice gym is just elevated because of those four, which then makes our on-court game experience that much better.” 

Contact Daniel Kehn with comments at or on Twitter @kehn_daniel.


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