If it wasn’t for the tree in front of Bradley Hall, former volleyball player Abby Ihrke might not have come to Bradley in 2015. During her official visit, the pink petals that bloom every year began to grace the ground below it.
“When I came to visit, that pink tree outside of Bradley Hall was blooming, that thing blooms for like two days and I was here for one of them,” Ihrke said. “I thought ‘dang this place has beautiful flowers and I love the nature atmosphere.’”
Ihrke is not the average MBA student in Bradley’s Foster College of Business. She is also a traveling manager of the Division I volleyball team and the Graduate Assistant for Campus Recreation & Athletic Facilities.
During Ihrke’s undergraduate career, she was a defensive specialist and libero for the Bradley volleyball team. She finished her four-year playing career ranked eighth in school history with 1,201 digs, while also leading the team in serve percentage her senior season.
Ihrke was a tough competitor on the floor as well as in the classroom. She completed a double major in finance and Spanish with a cumulative 3.67 GPA and earned placement on the Missouri Valley Conference Honor Roll each academic year. Following her junior and senior academic seasons, thought of as the toughest of a collegiate career, Ihrke was rewarded with the MVC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award. In December 2018 Ihrke was recognized by the conference and presented with the Good Neighbor Award, an honor only presented to 30 student-athletes each year.
Ihrke appreciated the acknowledgement for her classroom achievements because her playing time was limited throughout her career.
“It was really cool to get those awards because my role was smaller on the team and to know that my efforts in the classroom were helping bring recognition to the team in some way is really cool,” Ihrke said.
As a volleyball manager she performs far from the stereotypical managerial tasks. Ihrke provides insight about the team’s mindset and playing style to head coach Carol Price-Torok.
“I take stats during the game about the our team and other team’s serve-receive which is my area of expertise and am able to take that information and relay it to [the coaches] to help make decisions,” Ihrke said. “The cool thing about my position right now is that I’m fresh out of [playing] so I have a different perspective than the coaches, but I can kind of be like a liaison if needed. I can see things from the girls’ perspective, so I can act as a voice of reason.”
Price-Torok echoed Ihrke’s statement about being able to bring a renewed perspective.
“We, [the coaches], all played volleyball, but it was a long time ago so we kinda forget stuff,” Price-Torok said. “She gives us a great sense of just a bridge between us and the players from that standpoint and it’s really fun to have her on the other side of things and in conversations with coaches with game plan adjustments.”
Ihrke said it’s been an odd transition from graduating senior to being a student-coach of sorts.
“It’s a really weird transition since [team members are] still some of my best friends,” Ihrke said. “Striking that balance between being a friend and having a little bit of an authoritative role over them [is strange]. When I was an actual player I don’t think I was the type of person who would be like ‘Hey I think you should consider changing this,’ now it’s finding that confidence in myself and trusting them to take my feedback.”
Sophomore outside hitter Rachel Pranger said Ihrke’s presence this season has been valuable.
“It’s really nice to have her on there because she’s been with us and we are really comfortable with her so we can go to her about stuff or she can give us pointers during the game,” Pranger said. “She was a great player, still is a great player, and she’s been dong really well.
She is also busy with her position in campus recreation. Ihrke’s main responsibilities are planning as well as executing Late Night BU and overseeing 45 student employees. Throughout her undergraduate career, Ihrke worked as an intramural supervisor.
She has only been in her current position since the school year began but is already grateful for all she’s learned.
“There’s a lot of managerial experience that I think I wouldn’t get right off an entry level position, it’s a lot of experiential learning,” Ihrke said.
Ihrke plans to work in the environmental sustainability field after her tenure at Bradley comes to a close. She said the data analysis skills she gained in the business college will help her in the long term.
Her effort continues with the dining halls’ composting plan implemented in the 2017-18 school year and she still volunteers her time with the BU Cleanup Crew.
Now, as a Bradley employee, Ihrke hopes to reach the Bradley administration and make the university more environmentally friendly.