At 6-foot-4, Ellen Chapman’s teammates have looked up at her throughout her career. But this year, her teammates will look up to the outside hitter in a different way.
“There’s a little bit more urgency that’s coming out of her this preseason,” the Badgers’ head volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield said. “She’ll get on people, when she never would have done that in the past.”
Chapman’s transition into a leadership role on the team has been an adjustment, and she describes her on-court mentality as “stoic” and rarely shows emotion.
“I just want to make my teammates better,” Chapman said. “I think just improving everyone around you … just looking at your teammates and making them better more than yourself is something I hope to be remembered by.”
Courtney Thomas, another outside hitter, said although Chapman “is not a super energetic person,” she brings passion to the team and helps improve communication on the court, making her a “key player for us.”
“Key player” is a bit of an understatement to describe Chapman. She has played in every single game since she arrived on campus in 2011, a testament to her durability and toughness.
Since she stepped on the Field House court three years ago, the Glenview, Illinois, native and highly touted recruit has been an offensive force for the Badgers. Chapman started all 32 games as a freshman and recorded double figure kills in 16 matches while being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team.
The next season, Chapman played in all 33 matches, starting 20 of them. She led the team in kills both seasons, averaging 2.83 kills per set her freshman year and 2.86 kills per set the following season.
Chapman and the Badgers saw mediocre results her first two years on campus. Wisconsin finished with a 16-16 overall record in 2011 and 17-16 in 2012, failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament both years.
But then the 2013 season came along, and so did new head coach Sheffield and his coaching staff.
“[The coaching staff], and Kelly in particular, did a really good job of finding ways to motivate each and every player,” Chapman said. “It was more mental for me, not so much physical changes. My mind just changed on how I want to approach the season, how I want to change. Setting goals was a big thing. I never really did that before.”
These minor tweaks allowed Chapman to have her best season in 2013. She played in all 146 sets and tallied 512 kills, averaging 3.51 kills per set, which were both team-highs. She increased her hitting percentage by 25 points, elevating it from .234 to .259, which also minimized her errors. She racked up 579 points throughout the course of the season, averaging nearly four points per set.
Sheffield noted her height and lack of errors as key factors in her increased playing ability last season.
“[Chapman]‘s got a really high reach. She hits with a lot of range, and she can hit every shot,” Sheffield said. “She doesn’t make a lot of errors. She makes a lot of contact and has really good control of the ball and her body.”
Chapman reached the 1,000 kill mark last season Nov. 22 against Michigan State, becoming just the 19th Badger ever to achieve that number. She currently ranks 15th on the all-time Badger kills list with 1,113. Her teammates also voted her the most improved player after the 2013 season.
“[Chapman] kept getting better, and that was a key for her last season,” Sheffield said. “She was playing with more confidence and putting the work in, and I think those two things go hand in hand.”
Along with Chapman’s drastic improvements, the team as a whole excelled. The Badgers tied for fourth in the Big Ten with a 12-8 record. Wisconsin went on to clinch a postseason NCAA berth and advanced through the tournament, where they found themselves pitted against Penn State in the National Championship Game. The Badgers fell short 3-1, ending their season, but still finished the campaign with a 28-10 overall record.
“The first two seasons, our season ended at the end of November, so we had a month off of volleyball at the end of the year, and you’re just a regular student,” Chapman said. “It’s so much better continuing the season, traveling more. Making it to the tournament was so much more fun.”
Chapman’s play was an integral reason why UW reached the NCAA championship game. Her efforts in that tournament did not go unnoticed, as she was named an honorable mention All-American at the end of the season.
“It was such an honor,” Chapman said. “Going into the tournament I just had so much motivation. … I think the team playing so well helped me play better too.”
Chapman now enters her final year playing volleyball for the Badgers. Individually, she said it would be a tremendous honor if she made it to the First-Team All-American list. However, she and her teammates have one goal: a national championship.
When asked to describe her mentality for this year, she replied “motivated.”
“We need her playing with a lot of confidence, having a fearless mentality,” Sheffield said. “Previously I think she played it safe, and [now] I see somebody willing to risk it a little more.”
With that new attitude and intensity out of Chapman, opponents should be wary of the Badgers’ attack.
“I want to play even better than I did last year,” Chapman said. “I want to take this team farther and I want to win a national championship this year and I think that’s everybody’s goal in mind.”