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HBCU volleyball

Howard is now home for top volleyball transfer Myca Mitchell

She joins the Bison, who have four MEAC titles and NCAA tournament appearances

When Myca Mitchell put her name in as a potential transfer in November 2018 while at Wake Forest University, she quickly felt overwhelmed by schools interested in her volleyball talents.

“Once I got put into the portal, I got over 100 emails from schools asking about my interest and my plans,” said Mitchell. “I decided to take my head away from volleyball for a month and get in the right headspace so that I could do my recruiting process the right way this time around.”

Mitchell, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter, was fresh off a stellar year for the Demon Deacons. As a sophomore in 2018, she ranked third on her team with 232 kills and 255 points on the season and led the Deacons with 2.70 kills per set.

While she appeared to be the rising star outside hitter at Wake Forest, Mitchell decided she needed to consider other college programs. “I ended up leaving Wake because … it was a toxic environment for me.”

Wake Forest volleyball coach Bill Ferguson resigned in August, months after Mitchell decided to leave. He is among 51 people indicted earlier this year on racketeering charges in connection with a national academic admissions scandal.

Leaving Wake Forest, Mitchell sought programs with strong coaching staffs where she could focus her energy on the court. As a psychology major, Mitchell also wanted an environment that would set her up for life beyond college. “I know that volleyball is not the end of the day for me,” said Mitchell. “I want to go to graduate school and eventually want to move away from athletics to help young children in occupational therapy. I want to be hands-on in helping kids and actually make a difference with them.”

With her criteria in mind, Mitchell began responding to colleges in January. A native of Clovis, California, Mitchell considered Fresno State, along with the University of South Florida and the University of Dayton, but ultimately chose the only historically black college or university (HBCU) on her radar, Howard University, to further pursue her athletic and academic career.

Although she did not know much about Howard growing up, she made her commitment upon visiting the campus and meeting the coaching staff.

“I wanted to find a place where I would fall in love with volleyball again. In the process of looking for a school, I also wanted to find a coaching staff that had my best interest at heart and put forth the effort to make me successful,” said Mitchell. “In finding that at Howard, I could also be on a team with a bunch of girls that look like me, which is something I have never experienced.”

A world of difference from Wake Forest

Transferring from a Power 5 conference school to an HBCU, Mitchell has the opportunity to play volleyball with a predominantly African American presence on her team, an experience that is not common at the collegiate level. According to NCAA.org, only 15% of Division I women’s volleyball players in 2018 were African American. Joining Howard in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), Mitchell enters a volleyball conference where nearly 70% of its players are African American.

“Howard has a unique social and cultural mission that you can’t find anywhere else in the country or the world, especially for young African American women to play at the highest athletically, get the best education and be around people that look like them,” said Howard’s head volleyball coach, Shaun Kupferberg.

Playing at a high level, Howard’s volleyball program has won each of the last four MEAC championships and has made appearances in four straight NCAA tournaments. “The Power 5 schools are pretty good, but they aren’t the end-all be-all. They aren’t that much different from us. We have beaten Virginia and Clemson in years past,” said Kupferberg.

Mitchell doubled down on the high level of play at Howard.

“There isn’t much of a difference in the level of play in the gym between Howard and ACC schools like Wake,” she said. While Howard’s roster features Mitchell, along with two other transfers, Nina Askew from Providence College in Rhode Island and Ana Williams from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, the program has not traditionally relied on many students to maintain its dominance in the MEAC. Their 2018 championship team did not feature any transfer students, and Mitchell is their only Power 5 recruit since their streak of MEAC championships began in 2015.

“It’s hard to transfer to Howard because a lot of credits don’t transfer and it’s difficult to get into academically,” said Kupferberg. “We had probably 20 Power 5 kids with interest to come to Howard, but the problem is the academic side.”

Transferring to Howard, Mitchell has felt an adjustment process both as a student and as an athlete. When Mitchell entered her freshman year at Wake Forest, she had her brother, Donovan, who played basketball there before transferring to Santa Clara in 2018. “Going to school with my brother, it helped because we are close and he’s only a year and a half older than me. If I ever got homesick and needed someone to talk to, I always had him,” said Mitchell.

Now, Donovan is a few thousand miles away from his sister, but he’s still confident in his sister’s decision to transfer. “I love it for her. She just needed the right fit, and Howard is a great school,” he said.

“Howard has a unique social and cultural mission that you can’t find anywhere else in the country or the world, especially for young African American women to play at the highest athletically, get the best education and be around people that look like them.” — Howard head volleyball coach Shaun Kupferberg

For Mitchell, the contrast in the environment from Wake Forest to Howard has been noticeable. At Wake Forest, fewer than 35% of undergraduates were students of color in fall 2018, and fewer than 10% identified as black. At Howard, students of color make up more than 90% of the student body.

Being surrounded by people that look like her, Mitchell has embraced the tightknit atmosphere of the HBCU. “I had never had a situation where I could walk into a room and feel comfortable with every single person.”

Now what’s ahead for the Bison

Much support thus far has come from her teammates, but Mitchell is still adjusting to a new set of players. She performed well for the Bison early in the season, including a double-double performance with 12 digs and 11 kills in her Howard debut.

“Her performance so far has been solid,” said Kupferberg. “She has only been with us for a couple of weeks, so it’s going to take some time to get comfortable, but she is on the right path.”

In Howard’s fourth game of the 2019 season, Mitchell suffered a concussion after a collision with a teammate during a match against Maryland. “It has been difficult trying to understand everyone’s personality and style of play. The girls have been open in communicating, which has been helpful, but we are all still learning each other,” said Mitchell.

While her concussion sidelined her for a few games, Mitchell returned to the court in Howard’s 3-2 loss to Loyola (Maryland) on Sept. 10. She contributed double-digit kills in her return and led the Bison, who are 2-9 so far this season, with three aces. Returning to the Bison lineup, Mitchell now has her eyes set on continuing the success of Howard volleyball. “For our success, I want to be able to lead by example. I want to be a team player and do everything it takes to make our team better.”

Said Kupferberg: “Her consistency and her balance to her game serves as a rock to our lineup, where we do not have to worry about the outside hitter position.”

The Bison begin the defense of their MEAC title on Sept. 27 against Bethune-Cookman after completing a grueling nonconference schedule that included No. 20 Southern California, Yale, American and Georgetown.

Arthur is a 2019 Rhoden Fellow and a junior journalism major from Los Angeles. He works with the Department of Athletics at Howard and served as the production manager with Spotlight Network.