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The Perfect BalanceDevan Gallagher Named All-American and All-Academic

When Devan Gallagher ’19 reported for her first volleyball practice at Vassar, Coach Jonathan Penn already knew she was one of the more talented players on the team. But Penn says he could not have guessed three years ago that Gallagher would become one of the most celebrated women’s volleyball players in Vassar history, both on the court and in the classroom.

Junior hitter Devan Gallagher ’19, All-American and Academic All-American

Gallagher, a political science and French double major from San Francisco, CA, was named Liberty League Rookie of the Year in 2015 and was a Liberty League First Team All-Star and a member of the league’s All-Academic Team in her sophomore year. Following the 2017 season, she was named Liberty League Player of the Year. Then, Penn recalls, “The awards just kept piling up.” Gallagher was named a New York Region First Team All-Star and New York Region Player of the Year, and she became the first Vassar women’s volleyball player to earn a spot on the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American Second Team.

Gallagher capped her season by winning one of the most coveted awards a student-athlete can attain: She became just the sixth athlete from Vassar to win one of 23 spots on the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-American Team. Penn says this is the award he’s happiest about, and he has a hunch it was Gallagher’s too. “A couple of weeks before the Academic All-American selections were made,” the coach recalls, “I asked Devan if she knew when they’d be announced. She knew the exact date.”

This semester, Gallagher is in France in the Vassar-Wesleyan in Paris Program.

Currently spending a semester in France in the Vassar-Wesleyan in Paris Program, Gallagher says she has found the perfect blend of athletics and academics at Vassar. “I was looking for a small liberal arts college that offered an elite education,” she says in a recent conversation via Skype. “I was looking at several schools like Vassar, but my visit to the campus clinched it for me. The girls on the team were the kind I wanted to spend the next four years with.”

Gallagher’s first year of collegiate competition was “definitely an adjustment,” she says, but there was good chemistry from the start: “There was good communication and trust among all of us on the team,” Gallagher says, adding that this camaraderie carried over to academics.

“Coach Penn is adamant that your school work comes first – if you have to miss a practice for a class or professors’ office hours, that’s what you do,” she says. “The culture of the team is all about academics. We study on the bus to and from games and even during breaks in practice.”

Gallagher says some of the most influential mentors she has had at Vassar, Political Science Prof. Katherine Hite and History Prof. Robert Brigham, have nothing to do with volleyball. “Katherine Hite is my advisor, and I’ve taken some great courses from her,” she says. “And Prof. Brigham changed the way I think about politics. He made me look at it in a more personal way, to understand that participating in your democracy is what you do in your role as a citizen. And he instilled confidence in me to be able to do in-depth research and analysis.”

Spending a semester in Paris—she is living with a host family about two blocks from the Eiffel Tower—has also broadened Gallagher’s academic horizons. “I’m taking political science and French courses at La Sorbonne Nouvelle, and being in classes with French students and talking about similar issues that arise in a Vassar classroom has given me a new perspective and understanding of these issues,” she says. “I have wanted to study abroad in college since high school, and the fact that I am able to do that and still be a varsity athlete was another reason why I chose Vassar.”

When she returns to Vassar in the fall, Gallagher says she’ll also continue to take advantage of other opportunities to enrich her college experience. “I like to stay active out of season, so I have done a lot of hikes around the Hudson Valley and love exploring the area,” she says. “The team tries hard to maintain an out-of-season relationship, so I still spend time with my team at non-volleyball events, such as going to dance and a cappella shows. And as a political science major, I attend talks given by speakers that Vassar hosts throughout the year. I also really enjoy supporting the athletic department and have a lot of friends on other teams, so I try and go to other games.”

As she prepares for her final season on the volleyball court, Gallagher says she’s looking forward to being one of the team’s leaders. Last year, the Brewers reached the semifinals of the Liberty League playoffs but lost a first-round game in the NCAA tournament. She says she knows she and her teammates can do better. “We beat Ithaca College last year, and they went to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament,” she notes. “We know how good we can be, and I’m looking forward to taking it to the next level.” 

Penn says he’s certain that Gallagher would trade all of her individual accolades for team success. And he says his All-American is attaining the goals he sets for every player on the team. “I want all my players to have a satisfying athletic experience, and I want them all to have a satisfying and challenging academic experience,” the coach says. “But beyond that, I want them to have a rich and deep college experience, to join clubs, to break out of the Vassar bubble and study abroad. Devan embodies all of that.”