Be Grateful for the Experience You're Given
A lot has changed in Renata Dargan's four-year career, and she couldn't be happier about it.
On Sept. 7, Dargan recorded her 4,585th career assist, which broke Purdue's all-time record. For her efforts, she earned her second Big Ten Player of the Week honor of the 2005 season, which are just two of the latest accolades for the preseason All-Big Ten selection. The New Lenox, Ill. native was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team in 2002, and for the past two seasons has been named as an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection.
Things haven't always been this good for Dargan and the Purdue volleyball team. The Boilermakers finished the 2002 campaign, which was Dargan's freshman year, with a record of 12-21 overall, and 2-18 in the Big Ten.
"It was definitely a learning experience," she said. "It really makes me appreciate where we've come in the past three or four years."
The team, which now sits undefeated at the start of conference play, has earned its highest national ranking since the 1990 season, and a large part of the turnaround has been Dargan's leadership and success on the court. Now ranked No. 19 in nation, the team has turned around in three short years under the guidance of coach Dave Shondell, who is currently in his third season.
The senior has been playing volleyball competitively since was in fourth grade on Chicago's South Side. The high school All-American from Providence Catholic was heavily recruited by major colleges, and at first wasn't interested in attending Purdue.
"I wasn't interested in being in Indiana and being this close to home, but I went on an unofficial visit just by chance because I wanted to see a friend play. (Former head coach) Jeff (Hulsmeyer) sold me on the school."
"It was just an awesome visit," she continued. "The atmosphere, academics, and the campus is beautiful. Everything just pretty much fell into place for me school-wise. As far as volleyball, it was appealing that I had the chance to make an impact on the team right away and being able to play in the Big Ten."
Her first year wasn't quite what she had hoped for. "My freshman year was a lot different than it is now," she said, "but the team had a lot of talent and unfortunately we just weren't able to put it together and be successful."
Things began to turn around for the team with the hiring of Dave Shondell during the spring of Dargan's freshman year. "The attitude that Dave brought in on the first day he came in he had this attitude that he could make this team into something that we thought we couldn't be," said Dargan about her coach. "He came in at probably one of the lowest points of our program, but he had faith in us and really believed that we could become something special, and its really shown."
Three years later, she and her teammates have set higher goals for themselves this season. "I believe that we can finish in the top three in the Big Ten," said Dargan. "We play in one of the best conferences in the country so this is definitely a time when we can prove that we deserve to be in the rankings and be recognized as one of those teams. Looking back on my freshman year makes me realize how lucky I am to be where I am now."
Dargan has found a home at Purdue, and success where she least expected it. With one year of classes left, she will have to adjust to being a student rather than a student-athlete.
"I'm going to miss just having that special friendship with 15 girls who automatically you're going through the same things with, and relying on one another. And I know I'm going to miss the competition and being able to play on our home court," she said. "The atmosphere in the gym is amazing. Every single weekend when we play a home match is unbelievable, and I think that's something that every athlete wants to be a apart of."
Though she isn't exactly sure what life will hold for her after her days at Purdue, Dargan hopes to continue to be involved with the sport that has been such a big part of her life.
"Hopefully I'll be able to play, maybe in Europe. I'm definitely going to give it a chance. I don't want to sit there 10 years from now wondering what it would have been like if I didn't give up volleyball. I want to be able to experience as much as I can before I decide it's time to settle down. If it doesn't work out, I'll definitely try to be involved with volleyball in some way or another."
Just as important as the legacy Dargan will be leaving on the court is the leadership she brings to the team, as well as an appreciation for the variety of opportunities she has had through her four years. If there is one thing she wants to be sure to instill in her underclassmen teammates, it is that "this is something that not every person has the opportunity to experience. Just be grateful for the experience you're given."
Dargan hopes that continued success through conference play and into the NCAA Tournament will make that experience even more special.