Two members of the 2018 Northwest College volleyball team will take their talents to the next level, signing letters of intent to play at four-year programs.
Setter Jess Ruffing and middle blocker Tammy Maddock signed their letters of intent Wednesday on the NWC campus, following visits earlier this month to their respective schools.
Ruffing, a Mountain Home, Idaho, native, has signed with Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, while Maddock, who grew up in Shoshoni, will take the court for Montana State University-Northern in the fall.
Ruffing is coming off a season in which she was named to the 2018 Region IX North All-Tournament and the WCCAC All-Conference teams.
Signing with Lewis-Clark will reunite her with former NWC head coach Shaun Pohlman, who recruited her out of high school and coached her during her freshman season. The relationship between the two became strained somewhat when Pohlman left for Lewis-Clark following the 2017 season, but Ruffing said she and her former coach were able to reconnect.
“Coach Pohlman had left, and I guess there was this kind of awkward silence, where I didn’t really reach out to him and he didn’t really reach out to me,” she said. “But then I had heard through other coaches that he was looking for a setter, so I ended up reaching out to him, and we were able to talk things out.”
Pohlman agreed with his player’s assessment.
“We had a bit of a falling out, just in the transition, but we were able to come to a better understanding with an eye toward finishing what we started,” he said. “She really wasn’t even on my radar until we reconnected, simply because we didn’t offer her major. But she had changed her field of study, so that was pretty easy to do for us.”
Pohlman brought Ruffing to Lewiston for a visit, a trip she said she “really enjoyed.” Her decision came down to Lewis-Clark and University of Mary.
“I had to go with which one felt better personally, because both programs were a good fit,” she explained. “Being back there with coach Pohlman just felt really good; that connection is strong. He knows me and I know him, and all of his girls are awesome. I fit well with the team; it didn’t even feel like I was on a visit.”
Pohlman said Ruffing will bring a positivity and energy to the Warriors.
“The team just absolutely loved her,” he said. “There’s an amount of energy to her, and anyone that’s ever talked to her knows what I’m talking about. Plus, she values connection, which is what we’re trying to build here — not just a great team, but a great program. And obviously on top of that, she’s a darn good setter. She’ll raise the level of play in our gym.”
Ruffing said she thinks the transition to a new team will be a smooth one.
“I know what’s expected, and he knows me too,” she said. “I feel like we both have a common understanding, and that’s really nice. ... I feel like I will really be able to help him rebuild.”
Ruffing’s two seasons at NWC were not without its share of challenges, many stemming from Pohlman’s exit and the college’s struggles to find a permanent replacement. That said, Ruffing said she will always love the program for the opportunities it gave her, and for her teammates that quickly became family.
“My teammates, the community, all the community support, I’ll really miss that,” she said. “I really enjoyed the town as well. I definitely don’t regret my time there; I think Northwest was where I was supposed to be. I’m really going to miss it.”
A 2018 All Region IX North selection for her talents as a middle blocker, Maddock initially wasn’t sold on MSU-Northern, which went 1-24 last season. But what the Skylights did offer was the chance to work with new head coach Jerry Wagner. Wagner’s resume includes years of Division I experience, most notably nine seasons as head coach at the University of Montana.
“Northern’s record threw me a bit, but I saw that they got a new coach [Wagner], who’s coached at so many places and DI schools,” she said. “I contacted him to see if he would want me to come on a visit, and I did, and I loved it.”
For his part, Wagner said he arrived at MSU-Northern in January and hit the ground running. One of the team’s needs was a strong presence in the middle, and Maddock fit the bill; she became Wagner’s first signed recruit.
“... What I was looking for in this class was somebody who was a great teammate and a hard worker,” Wagner said. “I asked a player who’s played against her, and she told me Tammy [Maddock] was exactly that.”
Like her teammate Ruffing, Maddock said she enjoyed her experience at NWC, despite the adversity she and the team faced following the departure of Pohlman. The coaching transition brought the already tight team even closer, and Maddock said she’ll miss that camaraderie the most.
“One of the big things about Northwest was all of us were just super close,” she explained. “I just really loved that and I’m going to miss having that connection. With me and Jess [Ruffing], there was just a passion for the game and the program. I’m going to miss that passion for the game that we had together. It’s nice to have people to be able to share that with.”
Maddock said she’s looking forward to getting to know her new community in Havre, Montana, and was able to pick the brain of NWC athletic director Brian Erickson, who played his college ball for the Skylights.
“I’m excited for the community support, and coach Wagner just seems awesome,” she said. “He has some great things planned for the program, and I’m excited just for something new. Working with my new team, it felt like a good, quick connection, and they were all super-welcoming. It felt really good.”
Wagner said the feeling is mutual.
“I think we hit a home run with Tammy [Maddock],” he said. “She’s a strong athlete, and she has the number one thing I need, which is experience. The comment from the setters on the team after practice were that it felt like they had been playing with Tammy for two years. That’s what I need. She brings experience, ability and she’s an outstanding student.”
Lewis-Clark and MSU-Northern are rivals and the two former teammates and best friends are looking forward to squaring off against each other twice next season.
“I’m super-excited about that,” Maddock said, laughing. “I get to see her [Ruffing] and Pohlman again, so that will be fun.”