BREAKING: Vanderbilt athletics to add women’s volleyball as varsity sport

Vanderbilt athletics announced that it will add women’s volleyball to its portfolio of varsity sports.

Candice+Storey+Lee

Vanderbilt Athletics

Candice Storey Lee assumed the athletic director position on Feb. 4, 2020. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Justin Hershey and Matthew Shipley

On Tuesday morning, Vanderbilt Athletic Director Candice Storey Lee announced that the university will be adding women’s volleyball as a varsity sport in Fall 2025. By doing so, Vanderbilt will bring its varsity sports total to 17.

Currently, Vanderbilt is the only SEC program and one of only two schools in the Power Five conferences to lack volleyball as a varsity sport.

“Volleyball and Vanderbilt are a perfect fit, and we are excited to welcome a new group of student-athletes, fans and supporters to Commodore Nation,” Lee said in the press release. “Adding one of the most popular participation sports for girls and one of the NCAA’s fastest-growing women’s championship experiences is in line with our ongoing effort to reimagine the future of Vanderbilt Athletics and provide the best student-athlete experience in college athletics.”

Vanderbilt added its first women’s varsity sports in the 1977-78 academic year following the implementation of Title IX. Volleyball was among those first varsity sports, alongside basketball, tennis, swimming, cross country and track. However, the team was discontinued just one year later, after the 1979-80 season.

“Today’s announcement has been a long time coming,” Lee told the media on Tuesday. “For some, it’s one that people have been waiting to hear for more than four decades. I’ve said from the beginning that Vandy United is about transforming and reimagining our athletics department. That includes sports sponsorship. So, it is with great excitement, pride and optimism that I say, volleyball is back.”

Building a program

Lee explained that Vanderbilt will embark on a coaching search this Fall 2022 to gear up for an inaugural season in Fall 2025—although she didn’t rule out the possibility of the team competing in Fall 2024.

In regards to recruiting team members, Lee referenced the three-year preparation period that will allow for many, if not all, of the 12 allocated volleyball scholarships to be filled by recruited student-athletes.

Currently, Vanderbilt has a women’s club volleyball team that, according to its AnchorLink page, hosts a 12-team tournament each semester and travels to regional tournaments. When Vanderbilt launched its women’s bowling team in 2004, the roster was rounded out by current students at the time. While Lee didn’t rule out the possibility of club-team members competing for the new varsity team, she feels as though the 36-month lead-up to volleyball’s first season will be ample recruiting time for other prospective players as well.

“Part of the 36-month runway that we’re talking about with volleyball is that you may not have to solely rely on just club participants,” Lee said. “I’ve been in conversation with some of our club participants, and there may be young women there that our new coach, coach TBD, may want to take a look at. That’s certainly possible. I would never assume that we don’t have great talent right here on our campus. We have the best of the best and everything.”

Club volleyball President and senior Katie Cella told The Hustler that around 70 women showed up to club volleyball tryouts this year, making her confident that the sport would quickly catch on if added at the varsity level.

“I think there is desire on campus to watch volleyball,” Cella said. “I also think that it is one of the main sports where the women’s version is more enjoyable to watch and that the women’s iteration of the sport is more dominant and heavily watched than the men, which seems like a good thing to add to our athletic’s program to encourage involvement with women’s athletics.”

Why volleyball?

Lee explained to the media that reinstating volleyball has long been on Vanderbilt’s radar. That is evidenced by former Athletic Directors Malcolm Turner and the late David Williams both commenting about trying to expand Vanderbilt’s pool of varsity sports in their tenures. Williams was able to do so with women’s bowling in 2004-05 and reinstated women’s swimming in 2007 after it was cut in 1990.

“David Williams is not here today. But I’m happy for him because he wanted to add volleyball,” Lee said of her former boss. “Now we have the ability to do it. So I’m happy for all of us. It’s been a long time coming.”

Turner discussed the possibility of adding more varsity sports during his first week at Vanderbilt in February 2019 but resigned his post one year later before he was able to make this potential a reality.

“I’d certainly like to look at it,” Turner said in 2019 when asked about adding a sport. “I know there’s been some work to date in some of those areas, whether it be volleyball or softball or men’s track… I think that’s part of an eventual plan for growth.”

But Lee stressed the fact that Vanderbilt was adequately set up to add volleyball over sports like softball, gymnastics and men’s track and field because of its facilities. On April 18, Vanderbilt released additional information about the new basketball operations center that will move men’s and women’s basketball’s offices and practice spaces out of Memorial Gymnasium. Those spaces will now be occupied by women’s volleyball.

“[Vanderbilt’s] footprint does not have room for a softball field,” Lee said. “We are always looking at different sports, and we’re always evaluating our portfolio. We’re here to talk about volleyball, but I think that hopefully you were able to see what we put out yesterday, you’ll see why volleyball makes so much sense for us.”

Vanderbilt will build a volleyball-specific locker room in Memorial Gymnasium, according to the press release, and the new Commodores will join Vanderbilt’s men’s and women’s basketball teams in calling Memorial Gymnasium their game-day home.

Lee did not offer any details about how the additional 12 scholarships will impact Vanderbilt’s adherence to Title IX and did not provide any plans of adding any additional men’s sports at this time.