Visiting Vegas? Drop in on London and the MGM Grand

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

Visiting Las Vegas? Luxor and New York, New York are nice, but it’s London that makes the MGM Grand Las Vegas the place to be. And, as the Vice President of Casino Operations at the iconic Vegas hotel, it is London Swinney’s responsibility to ensure your stay is the best it can be.

Swinney, a 2009 graduate of Bellevue University with a Bachelor of Science in Management, is in charge of gaming operations at the resort, including table games, the race and sports book, and poker.


“I oversee about a thousand employees and really a lot of things from guest service to employee relations to analyzing profitability of customers,” Swinney said. “I spend a lot of time with guests and employees.”

In addition to those responsibilities, Swinney contributes to overall direction of the organization and offers input on the latest in casino and hotel trends.

A native Las Vegan, Swinney attended the University of Nevada-Las Vegas out of high school, but was itching to move out of the house. However, she recognized that paying rent on top of tuition would be a stretch.

“I knew I probably couldn’t get a nice apartment on what I was making,” she said. “I told my dad I wanted to learn how to deal cards just to make some extra money. He tried to get me not to do it. He said, ‘you’re going to make too much money and then you’re not going to finish your finance degree’.”

Father knows best.

Swinney did indeed take fewer and fewer classes. It was somewhere around 15 years later before she began thinking about school again.

“I was Director of Casino Operations at New York, New York,” she said. “It wasn’t about advancing my career; it was more about my own self-satisfaction. I had young children at the time and wanted to set a good example. I never wanted to give them a reason not to finish their education.”

Still, fitting in classes around her work schedule was going to be tough at a traditional school. Bellevue University, which Swinney had learned about through a colleague, offered an online Management program. The cohort format in which students take one class at a time with the same group of people, was also attractive to Swinney.

“I went online, started looking, and I was amazed,” she said. “They had a plan. You know you’re going to take this class, this class, and this class. I just methodically went through the program and was able to complete it. They just made it so organized and easy. Counselors were there that would answer any questions as well.”

Once enrolled, Swinney engaged with students from around the country and even around the world.

“We had students in the military in Afghanistan. There were students in Connecticut; there were students in Texas,” she said. “That’s what I found the most fascinating about it. I was organizing a chat room with students from all over the world.

“The program was so comprehensive. They really have it designed very well. Bellevue was one of the first ones to the market with a really good, comprehensive, online program.”

Alum Moore Scheduled for Creative Mornings Talk

Antonio_Headshot_resized16182-150x150_1_Antonio Moore, 2008 graduate of the University’s Master of Public Administration program, will be the featured speaker at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s Creative Mornings series event Friday, Nov. 10 at the Omaha Design Center. The event runs from 8-9:30 a.m. The event is free, but registration is required.

Each month, Creative Mornings hosts an event built around a theme. This month’s theme is death. Moore will share how sometimes death gives birth to wonderful new things.

Following a near fatal motor vehicle accident, Moore has championed youth services and community healthcare. With a deep desire to help area youth reach their full potential while helping local communities “heal,” he embarked on creating an environment in which youth would become an integral part of creating sustainable community change by the application of education through service learning. (very cool! – do we have any quotes from him?)

Moore is the CEO and founder of More Than Just A Village Academy , a non-profit organization that aims to be the most effective provider of quality on-site, after-school youth leadership development programs in Douglas County.

“I wanted to make a lasting impact on the community that I live in,” Moore said in a video interview with Bellevue University. “(At Mt. Java), we focus on civic responsibility, academic achievement, and personal accountability. Our students are getting that they have the power to change their communities, their outcomes and the lives of their neighbors and their families.”

Creative Mornings is a concept that began in 2008 with New York designer Tina Roth Eisenberg’s desire for an ongoing, accessible event for New York’s creative community. The idea has since spread with Creative Mornings events held monthly in 179 cities across the world.

Kim Sellmeyer, the Creative Director for the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and a Bellevue University alum, brought the event to Omaha last year and serves as the host of the free series which draws a diverse crowd of area business and creative professionals.

Secondary Ed Program Gets Real, Real Fast

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

Class is now in session for Bellevue University’s first group of Secondary Teacher Education students.

The inaugural class consisting of four local students and two from out of state began their studies in late August. According to Professor Erin McDonnell Jones, all six are already receiving a dose of Bellevue University’s unique brand of real learning for real life. “In the very first class of the semester,” she said, “we were letting them see and observe and discuss and ask questions. It’s a method that’s really appealing to me, too, because that’s how you want to teach.”

SONY DSCThe exposure to a real classroom setting helps students determine early on if teaching is the right path for them.

“I do think that it is cool that we’re able to get out and do observations in the classroom,” said Jessica Lamkins, a Bellevue native. “I know other friends that I have that are juniors in college. They’re just now doing it.  I feel like that really helps to navigate if this is the direction you want to go. I think it is a really good opportunity.”

Morgan Sheard, who hails from Papillion, was already being recruited by women Head Soccer Coach Andy Nicolarsen when the Secondary Education program was added, and sealed the deal. “I always wanted to go into education. I took classes in high school,” she said.

Dana Peterson also counts teaching as a longtime professional goal. While Petersen hails from Wyoming, he did have some insight into what Bellevue University was all about. “I heard about Bellevue through my dad. He’s stationed here with the Air Force,” he said.

With their Introduction to Teaching course already completed, the students are now enrolled in Instructional Technology for Teachers and Foundations of Education.

McDonnell-Jones is pleased with the progress of the group.

“I think it’s going well. They’re a really nice group,” she said. “They’re bonding very well. They’re enjoying being together — getting out there and observing.”

The small group learning is working for Petersen, as well.

“I like a small group because it lends itself to better discussions. Not just with the professor, but with the class in general,” he said.

Bellevue University’s Secondary Education program is the first new program of its kind in the state in the last 17 years. Debbie Galusha, the director of the program, said the program will meet a need in the state and the country.

“There’s a shortage of teachers in almost every area,” she said. “This shortage applies particularly to secondary education and specialty areas.”

The Nebraska Department of Education will be on campus in March to check on the progress of the program.

“We have at least one and probably two more years of visits from the state,” Galusha said.  “They just want to make sure that the classes that we’re offering are meeting their requirements. The Nebraska Department of Education is very eager and supportive of this program because of the shortage of secondary ed teachers.”

One new thing those visitors might see is a synchronous classroom environment where online students can mix with their in-class contemporaries.

“Blackboard has a new function called Collaborate,” Galsusha said. “It allows a student to login and participate live. It’s something that we’re very interested in experimenting with the possibilities.”

Bellevue University Named 2017 Scholarship Provider of the Year

By Cris Hay-Merchant, Director of Strategic Communications

When Johnna Hargens-Brown headed to the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA) Annual Conference in Seattle in mid October, little did she know that she’d be coming home with an unexpected souvenir.

Instead of a Space Needle refrigerator magnet, though, Hargens-Brown returned with a much more valuable piece of hardware – an award honoring Bellevue University as the 2017 Scholarship Provider of the Year in the colleges and universities category. “I was beyond surprised when they announced my name and our institution,” she said. “I even had to give thank you remarks and I had no idea what to say because I truly did not know we’d get selected.” NSPA Scholarship Provider of the Year award winners are chosen by a committee of their peers and exemplify innovative and effective scholarship practices that impact the ability of students to access and be successful in higher education. The organization has a national membership of more than 400-plus public and private colleges, universities, foundations and businesses that administer scholarships.

JohnnasTeam2Although the award announcement caught her off guard at the conference, Hargens-Brown believes, strongly, that Bellevue University was the right choice. “Our application highlighted the work of Bellevue University as a whole, and it specifically pertained to the ways we support our students through scholarships,” she said. Some of the highlights of Bellevue University’s application included the University’s three-year cohort default rate of 7.3 percent (in 2014), which is far below the national average of 11.5 percent, and how the Scholarships & Grants team supports that by helping students maximize funding options versus taking on significant student loan debt.

“Our application also highlighted the incredible support services we provide to students,” noted Hargens-Brown. After enrollment, every Bellevue University Student is assigned an Academic Student Coach and a Student Financial Counselor. Plus, students who receive renewable scholarship and financial support are required to participate in Bellevue University’s Personal Enrichment Program (PEP). PEP is a four-year, non-credit series of workshops that help students acquire the “Power Skills” they need to succeed in college and in life.

Hargens-Brown expressed thanks to the members of her Scholarships & Grants department, as well as others across the University, and specifically, to Bellevue University’s generous donors. “We’re proud to say we’ve increased the number of donors, “ she said, “as well the number of scholarship and grant dollars significantly the last six years. We simply could not help so many students without them.” An example that was highlighted in the University’s winning NSPA application was the American Dream scholarship fund, which includes donor-funded scholarships that have been used to support nearly 500 students in the last several years.

In addition to the award, Bellevue University received a $2,500 cash prize sponsored by Fast Web. Hargens-Brown plans to use it to do what she’s most passionate about – help even more Bellevue University students achieve their educational dreams.

BCBS VP Sets Course for Learning

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

As the Vice President of Enterprise Learning and Development at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Adri Maisonet Morales is charged with keeping over 5,000 employees and contingent laborers on the cutting edge in a rapidly changing business environment. Equipped with two degrees from Bellevue University, she is ready to do just that.

Blue Cross NC is a not-for-profit North Carolina company with major operations centers in Durham, Fayetteville, Winston-Salem, and an office in Charlotte. It employs more than 4,700 North Carolinians and serves more than 3.89 million customers.

Adri“In my role, I collaborate with senior leaders across the organization in order to set an enterprise learning strategy that ensures competitive skills, capabilities and knowledge across all levels of our workforce,” Maisonet Morales said. “The disruption in healthcare over the past seven years has increased the amount of complexity, change and variety in my job.”

Having completed an undergraduate program from Kansas State University years prior, Maisonet Morales earned her first degree from Bellevue University in 2011, a Bachelor of Science in Leadership, and followed with a Master of Science in Organizational Performance in 2013.

“I had a significant role change that required me to learn the nuts and bolts of leadership development in my search for a program that would apply to real world challenges, Bellevue University kept surfacing,” she said. “The program promised the rigor that I was looking for along with the flexibility that I needed to handle the coursework.”

Collecting the data and then interpreting the data, while taking into account the real human being behind those numbers was a key component of her Organizational Performance program.

“I think my biggest takeaway was that organizational performance is both an art and a science.” She said. “As a senior leader, I am trained to focus on the bottom line.  After completing the MSOP program, I developed a much deeper appreciation for the human capital side of that equation which has proven to be an invaluable skill.”

Maisonet Morales praised the efforts of Dr. Stephen Linenberger in particular.

“He is the one that actually made me feel like I made the right decision,” she said.  “Dr. Linenberger challenged my conventional thinking about leadership and pushed me to do my best work.”

Maisonet Morales gives about as strong a recommendation as possible when she promoted the school to her daughter, Tiffany Joyner. Much like her mother, Joyner had already completed a degree, a Bachelor of Arts in Biology at the University of North Carolina, and was already active in the workforce.  After deciding to complete her graduate studies she struggled to find the right fit for her busy life at a traditional school.

“She didn’t feel like the graduate school that she was attending accommodated working adults and was struggling to balance school, family and her budding career,” Maisonet Morales said. “After watching her struggle to find her rhythm, I sat her down and encouraged her to consider Bellevue. I assured her that online degree programs can be just as rewarding as a traditional brick and mortar program if you select the right school  and that she couldn’t go wrong with Bellevue.”

Maisonet Morales stated that her daughter took her advice and went on to earn her Masters of Health Administration Joyner earned her degree in Health Administration in 2011. A huge advocate for Bellevue, Maisonet Morales passes on the same advice she gave to her daughter to others seeking to continue their education.

“I find that fear is often the biggest barrier of people furthering their education,” she said. “I hear everything from I am too old, to I don’t have the time or the money, which I promptly dismiss. I tell them that the way that the world is evolving, investing in your education is the best thing that you can do for yourself and your family; it is critical to your future success.”

Maisonet Morales and Joyner can attest to the attributes that make Bellevue University a great fit for adult learners, Washington Monthly backs that up by rating the school at No. 5 among its Best Colleges for Adult Learners.

Dark Magic Provides Boost to Student’s CIS Studies

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

What’s the secret to successfully navigating your Master’s degree program? It’s simple — Dark Magic.

Matt Morris, a Developer Analyst III for Keurig Green Mountain, can attest to that. His company’s Dark Magic Extra Bold Coffee, described on the Keurig website as deep, dark, and intense with a spellbinding complexity, has provided the necessary boost to power through some weekend homework or to stay alert after a relatively sleepless night with a newborn.  That boost has Morris on track to graduate from Bellevue University in mid-2018 with his Master of Science in Computer Information Systems.

MattMorris_Cropped“I’ve been with the company for 10 years. I spent the first five as a non-coffee drinker, but converted as soon as my first child was born,” said Morris, who works out of the South Burlington, Vermont location. “As the sleepless nights added up, the average coffee intake also increased. These days, I usually keep it to just one cup a day.”

Morris might be able to slip in an extra sip or two this Friday, Sept. 29, to celebrate National Coffee Day.

A lifelong Vermonter, Morris discovered Bellevue University through some extensive research.

“I chose Bellevue University after evaluating many different programs. It seemed to offer the most rigorous and comprehensive technical training.  Most other IT M.S. programs were geared toward experienced IT employees that were looking to develop management skills,” Morris said. “I was in the opposite boat as my undergraduate degree was not extremely technical, but I was already in a management position.  While I was able to hone a lot of technical skills on the job and in self-directed study, I wanted to immerse myself in a technical program to fill in the remaining gaps.”

Morris is looking forward to graduation with only a few classes left to complete.

“I really appreciate the flexibility afforded by this program. Of course, there are strict deadlines and deliverables, but there is no need to show up to a class at a specific time. This has been critical to my success. With two small children, a wife, and a busy career, it would be hard to commit to a specific class schedule,” he said. “I’m able to learn and do the required work on my own schedule.”

In addition to the wonders of Dark Magic, Morris is grateful for the support he receives both at home and at the office.

“First and foremost, my wife and kids for putting up with many weeknights and weekend days of me doing homework instead of performing my other household and family duties,” Morris said. “Without their support, I could never have succeeded in this program. I’m also grateful for Keurig Green Mountain for paying for my degree and my manager for supporting me in this process.”

At Keurig Green Mountain, Morris’ duties include database development with a strong emphasis on marketing technology solution design and architecture.

“I support a marketing automation application suite that is used by Keurig Green Mountain to merge various sources of user data and provide a personalized user experience on site and in various marketing channels,” he said. “As you can imagine, specific tasks vary from day to day. Some days, I’m heads down writing code all day, other days I’m creating documentation or working with business team members to develop technical solutions to fit their business initiatives.”

An inquisitive mind has played well for Morris with both his academic and career endeavors.

“This position allows me to come up with creative solutions for technical puzzles all day long and requires that I develop a deep understanding of the underlying technology,” he said. “As a kid, I enjoyed disassembling electronics and then seeing if I could successfully put them back together, just to get some idea of how they worked. Radios, TVs, VCRs, Pocket Calculators, you name it, I probably took it apart and then put it back together, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.”

While Keurig Green Mountain keeps him challenged, an engaged corporate culture also contributes to his work-life balance.

“It truly is a great place to work. There is a palpable spirit of ownership and excitement in the employee base,” Morris said. “As an organization, we’ve got a rich history of corporate social responsibility and we’re pioneers in the fair trade movement. We truly do walk the talk and that’s evidenced by things like the organization paying employees 52 hours per year to perform community service, employee donation matching and various other programs aimed at improving our local communities and the communities from which we source coffee.”

With cooler temperatures around the corner, not to mention National Coffee Day, it might just be a good time to make Dark Magic a part of your study routine as well.

Marketing Degree Adds Value For AIG Sales Trainer

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

“My goal is to add value every day in my current role,” said Chris Owsley, Sales Trainer for AIG Financial Distributors. “It is extremely important to me that what I am doing has a positive impact for the people I work with and the organization I work for.”

AIG is the worldwide property-casualty, life and retirement, and general insurance operations of American International Group, Inc.

OwsleyOwsley earned his Bachelor of Science in Marketing Management in August 2016 and was recently promoted to his current position, something that might not have happened had he not had that degree in hand.

“Not only from the practical standpoint of a job requirement, but from a self-development perspective; studying at Bellevue University for my bachelor’s while working full-time definitely helped me develop another level of confidence, dedication and time management skill sets that I carry over into my current role,” Owsley said. “I know I have those additional gears now that I can shift into when needed.”

Owsley, who came into Bellevue University with an Associate’s degree from Nossi College of Art in Nashville, enjoyed the collaborative nature of the program.

“Everyone was always very helpful and professional. Professor (Kristin) Lynch in the Marketing program was fantastic,” he said. “I enjoyed learning with a cohort of students from many backgrounds from all over the country.”

But how did the lifelong Tennessean choose Bellevue University to pursue his bachelor’s degree?

“I had an associate’s degree and when researching flexible programs that I could apply those earned credits towards, Bellevue kept coming up in my research as one of the top online programs for working adults,” he said. “I did a lot of research.”

Owsley’s began his new role at AIG in June of this year. He’s enjoyed the multi-faceted nature of the job.

“I have been tasked with building a comprehensive sales training program for our internal sales teams which are located in Houston, Nashville and San Diego. This includes training new team members, as well as current team members, with a focus on career progression and development. Our goal is to build a sales training program that empowers our team members to succeed in their chosen career with AIG,” he said.

Owsley’s day is spent largely on one-to-one sales training sessions, group sales training sessions, remote webinar training sessions, designing applicable sales training content or building out learning tracks in AIG’s  learning management system.

“We want to be the best place to work in the industry,” Owsley said. “Working with so many great colleagues definitely helps keep the ball rolling in the right direction.”

Hopwood Continues Rebound As Georgetown Professor

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is just a little more than a block away from his office. It serves as a reminder for Shon Hopwood of a distant, past life, but Hopwood has other things on his mind these days. Rather than occupying a cell in the prison system, Hopwood is just getting comfortable in his new office at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Hopwood, after serving 11 years in prison for a series of bank robberies in Nebraska, earned his bachelor’s degree in Pre-Law Studies from Bellevue University in 2011. He earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Washington in 2014, his Master of Laws from Georgetown in 2017 and is now an Associate Professor of Law at Georgetown. He started teaching his first classes this fall.

Hopwood, from David City, Nebraska, was first profiled by Bill Wax on the Bellevue University Alumni Blog back in September of 2012. His continuing journey was documented in the Washington Post in April of this year.

“I can’t believe this is really happening. It’s real,” Hopwood said. “I wake up most days thinking how blessed I am that I have been given all these second chances from various people.”

HopwoodAn early stop on Hopwood’s journey back from prison was Bellevue University. His wife, Ann Marie, had earned her Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling from the University in 2009 and raved about the school. A liberal credit transfer policy helped seal the deal.

“I had credits that I had accumulated while in prison from five or six different universities. Bellevue was one of the schools that were willing to take on those credits. They worked with me on that, transferring those credits over,” Hopwood explained.

Once on campus, Professor emeritus Dr. Judd Patton helped guide him.

“He had a big impact on my time at Bellevue and I really enjoyed getting to know him,” Hopwood said, “He’s one of the other reasons that I chose Bellevue.”

Patton recalled a Hopwood as an engaged student eager to learn.

“Shon was in my Biblical Economics class. He was excited about the material, devoured it–so to speak–and participated in the online discussions with vigor.  Given his prison experience, he quickly grasped one of the organic precepts of the course: the moral realm and economic realm are inexorably tied together,” Patton said. “It’s always a joy for professors to have students who are enthusiastic, hard workers who read and study the material as assigned, participate in lively class discussions, and share their questions and insights with their classmates. Shon had and has those qualities.  No wonder he became a college professor! It was an honor to have him in class.”

Hopwood also praised his academic advisors who helped set him up for success not only at Bellevue University, but for his next step into law school as well.

“They were instrumental in figuring out what I needed to do to be successful and finish my undergrad degree,” he said. “Then they gave me a plan that allowed me to pull it all off, right before I went to law school. I graduated in July in the summer of 2011. Then I moved to Seattle in August and started law school in September 2011. Bellevue really worked with me to design a plan that would get me into law school as quickly as possible.”

Hopwood felt well prepared for law school by his Bellevue University education as well as the hard work he had put in while behind bars.

“Many of the things that we covered the first year at law school were things that we had covered at Bellevue,” he said. “My experience with law school is so different from anybody else. I mean I had ten years of being a practicing lawyer in prison that prepared me for law school and so I knew a lot more coming in.”

Shon HopwoodHopwood is on the other side of the table this fall teaching students the ins and outs of law. In addition to his teaching duties, Hopwood will be working on criminal justice reform issues.

“I’ve been on Capitol Hill a few times to talk to lawmakers up there about the criminal justice system, he said. “Part of the problem is the punishment never really ends even when someone walks out of prison. In fact, sometimes, the punishment can be worse once people are out. No one will rent them a place to live and no one will hire them. I’m working on papers specifically about people with serious misdemeanor convictions, felony convictions, or sobriety issues that have gone to law school and having to go through the various character and fitness tests.”

It was actually a historic day when Hopwood was hired at Georgetown. He came on board the same day as the new basketball coach, Patrick Ewing. One could get into a healthy debate about who is the better rebounder between Ewing and Hopwood.

Going forward, Hopwood hopes to be the best teacher he can be.

“I want to be a good a good scholar and a good teacher and to have an impact on criminal justice reform,” he said. “The best thing about working at Georgetown is if I have an issue either in litigation or my policy work there is an expert in just about every legal specialty you can think of here. I work with some incredibly talented people.”

Olushola’s Texas Hometown Hit by Hurricane Harvey

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

Images coming out of Houston have been frightening in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Even more so for those who have friends and family in the area. Tola Olushola, a Student Financial Counselor at the University as well as a former member of the men’s basketball squad, hails from Missouri City, Texas, a suburb of Houston.

OlusholaOlutola_1415Olushola’s parents, siblings, and many members of his extended family and friends still live in Missouri City, Houston, and surrounding communities. Fortunately, Olushola’s old neighborhood has escaped the most severe damage from the storm although flooding has closed a number of streets in the area.

“My immediate family was stuck in the neighborhood for a little over a day due to certain roads flooding in the neighborhood,” Olushola said. “The water has now receded to where cars can pass back and forward. There was also a reported tornado early Friday (Aug. 25) morning that passed through the area only a couple of minutes from our neighborhood that caused a great deal of damage to the businesses and properties. For the most part, most of my family is fine and safe which great to hear. Everyone is in good graces and I am thankful to God for that.”

Neighborhood streetOlushola said that Houston and the surrounding communities have a long road ahead in recovering from the storm.

“Long term outlook for the Missouri City and the surrounding Houston communities will be a long rebuilding process. Homes will need to be repaired, buildings will need construction work, and so many other improvements will need to be made to the water system in the city to help prevent flooding like this to happen in the future,” he said. “A lot of people lost everything during this hurricane. One thing I know for sure is that we will rebuild and Houston and the surrounding communities will be better than ever. I have always taken pride in the city I grew up in and by looking at the news and through social media anyone can see the exemplary character of the people of the city. It’s amazing!”

Olushola’s family is volunteering at his alma mater, Thurgood Marshall High School, which was opened as a shelter on August 28. Olushola will be traveling back to Houston on Thursday, Sept. 14. The trip was originally designed as celebration of his birthday the following day, but he’ll be logging some volunteer hours instead.

“I will be looking to spend the few days of my vacation lending a helping hand to the communities affected by Hurricane Harvey,” Olushola said. “I love my city and I love the people and it was really heartbreaking watching the events unfold. I am looking forward to getting back seeing my family and friends, in addition to helping rebuild the community I grew up in for 18+ years.”


Squiers Lives Up To Bruin Setter Standards

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

Trish Siedlik, Bellevue University’s Head Volleyball Coach, doesn’t ask much of her freshman setters. Just replace the All-American that came before you.

Maddie Squiers was up to the task last season, earning second-team NAIA All-American honors from the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) in addition to being named the AVCA NAIA National Freshman of the Year. Squiers stepped into the setting role vacated by the graduation of thee-year starter Beth Walker, a third-team All-American herself.

“I was pretty nervous. I knew I had big shoes to fill,” Squiers said. “The first few weeks of practice were pretty rough, but then I got into the rhythm and I knew that they chose me for a reason.”

SquiersSquiers came into the Bruin program with a pedigree. She is the daughter of Rick Squiers, the head volleyball coach at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, a highly accomplished program at the NCAA Division II level.

Squiers may have been under-recruited with many coaches assuming she would go to UNK.

“I think some coaches did believe she would come to UNK, but she was also a bit of a late bloomer as a setter,” Rick Squiers said. “By the spring of her club season she was starting to play at a pretty high level.  We had a freshman setter in our program, so the timing wasn’t ideal for Maddie to come here. It did feel strange seeing her go elsewhere.”

Siedlik was among the coaches assuming Maddie Squiers was out of reach, but the younger Squiers reached out to her to open up the recruiting process.

“I thought there’s no way. There’s no way we’re gonna get this kid,” Siedlik said. “So we just happen to get an email one day and I wrote (Assistant Coach Steve Field) and I’m like ‘Oh, my gosh! Maddie Squiers wrote us.’ ”

Papa Squiers was able to keep tabs on his daughter’s progress throughout last season while leading his own squad to a 35-2 record.

20160902 - VB Bellevue v Rocky“I was able to see one match live and several others online.  Bellevue does a great job with the livestream and radio broadcast.  I watch as many as I can – including some of the road matches.  Very nerve wracking!” he said. “I don’t think her first year could have gone much better.  It’s very hard to play any position as a freshman, let alone set for a program like Bellevue and follow in the shoes of an All-American like Beth.  I think the coaching staff did a great job of bringing her along and allowing her to gain some confidence.  It was fun to watch her progress.”

After Squiers’ standout freshman season, Siedlik is receiving calls and emails from other potential recruits who want to play with a setter who can get them the ball.

“When we have recruits, we always mention her,” Siedlik said. “She’s our ambassador right now. Who would not want to play with a setter that’s already all-American, that’s already one of the best in the country?”

The Bruins posted a 32-12 record in 2016 including a 13-3 mark in the North Star Athletic Conference.  The team also advanced to the NAIA National Tournament last year. This year’s team is ranked 20th in the preseason poll, but behind NSAA rivals Viterbo (No. 6) and Jamestown (No. 17).

After opening the season on the road at the Big Sky Challenge in Butte, Montana, the Bruins will host the Premier Labor Day Classic, Sept. 1 and 2, at the Lied Center in Bellevue. With 22 teams competing, the tournament is the largest gathering of teams in the NAIA outside of the national tournament.

Siedlik said the squad will be looking to make it back to the national tournament this season.

“We got a taste of going back to the national tournament last year,” Siedlik said.  “Our goal is to return to the tournament this season and advance out of pool play. We have 10 returning players which helps. Our conference is very competitive, which should set us up well.”