2001 ASU Volleyball Outlook
Aug. 27, 2001
When you look at the 2001 Arizona State Volleyball team on paper, you are left thinking how this team is going to meet its expectations of advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the third year in a row.
How are they supposed to replace All-American outside hitter Amanda Burbridge and her 5.55 kills-per-game average?
How to you replace four seniors, three of which started?
How can you win with only one senior on a team that plays in a talent and superstar laden Pacific-10 Conference?
But the expectations and demands of taking the Sun Devil volleyball program to the postseason for the third straight year is a goal the team carries to practice every day and one 12-year head coach Patti Snyder-Park views as realistic.
Forget about losing four seniors and Burbridge. Forget about the lack of older players. To erase any doubts or disbeliefs on the 2001 squad, all you need to do is walk into one of their preseason practices to see the determination, the dedication, the hustle and the scrappy play. The 2001 team is one without superstars, but hey, if the Baltimore Ravens can win the Super Bowl with a no-name offense, then the ASU volleyball team in 2001 can surely play shocker to the rest of the Pac-10. Picked to finish sixth in the conference, the Sun Devils are prepared to leave everything on the court in 2001 and make a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
'This is a team that isn't full of superstars, but from top to bottom we are going to out-hustle teams, play great defense and make other teams make errors,' said Snyder-Park. 'We are going to be versatile with a lot of players able to play different positions and I think we are going to have outstanding ball control... and that is what wins volleyball rally's. If you win a lot of rally's you are going to win a lot of games.'
Added Snyder-Park on her 2001 squad, 'we are happy we have had progress over the last two years, first making it back to the NCAA tournament in 1999 and then advancing in the tournament last year. But, it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth and leaves you hungrier knowing you had a team that could have achieved more. Even though we lost four seniors, we have gained a lot of experience and consistency. Our team is going to play extremely hard and leave everything out on the court. There is no doubt we will be a different team, but in my mind, we are much more defensive, have great ball control and are going to sneak up on some teams. We are going to force teams to play their very best in order to beat us. I don't think we are going to beat ourselves this year, and at times I really thought we would beat ourselves in some matches.'
New for 2001 in women's volleyball is a rally scoring system that will match collegiate volleyball closer to the international rules. Games 1-4 will be to 30 with a team having to win by two, with a possible decisive game five going to 15.
'Rally scoring comes at just the right time for this team as we are good on defense, quick to the ball and will beat teams by being scrappy,' said Snyder-Park.
Leading the Sun Devils in 2001 will be lone senior Jami Coughlin. The senior outside hitter has been a mainstay on the court since her freshman year and will be ASU's go-to player this year. Coughlin is coming off a solid junior campaign in which she averaged 3.48 kills per game and finished second in the Pac-10 with 4.00 digs per game.
'Jami is the rock and the glue of this team. She is such an outstanding leader by example, both on the court and in the classroom,' said Snyder-Park on Coughlin. 'I have never known a more determined, disciplined and consistent, humble person in my life. I've coached a lot of great athletes in my 12 years at ASU and Jami is right on the top of that list as far as the complete package goes. She is the perfect compliment to have on this team and is a wonderful leader.'
Possessing what Snyder-Park labels as the complete package with outstanding ball control, tenacious defense and a powerful swing, Coughlin will be asked to carry the team on her shoulders. As impressive as Burbridge's career statistics were (3rd in school history with 1,597 kills), Coughlin is actually ahead of her pace with 1,011 career kills entering her senior season. Burbridge reached 1,000 career kills in her first match of her senior season. Coughlin became only the 11th player in school history to reach 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs and is currently the Pac-10 active leader with 1,138 career digs.
Joining Coughlin as the other returning upperclassman is junior middle blocker Julia Leddy. While Coughlin and Leddy are the extent of the veteran leadership, a group of six talented sophomores make up the core of the team. Tabbed as the 'Sensational Sophomores,' setter Cheryl Anglin, middle blockers Jodi Smith and Mandy Stephens, outside hitter Natalie Harris and utility player Kim Mehlhorn all have a valuable year of experience in the Pac-10 and NCAA Tournament under their belt.
'Our freshman proved that they can play at a high level last year. The gained some awards and really lived up to the hype that they came in with. They were a good collection of young talent when they came out of high school and the four that came together from Valley Christian have a unique bond that is not teachable on the court. They all played together for several years before last year. We have an outstanding sophomore class with six of them who all had valuable time playing in the Pac-10 and in the NCAA Tournament last year.'
New faces to the program in 2001 include transfers Crystal Bluth (OH, Auburn), Fernanda Habiger (S, Barton County CC) and Brittany Ahlstrom (OH/DS, Rick's College). Freshmen Alicia Akporiaye (OH/MB, Tucson, Ariz.) and Melissa Stapley (OH, Mesa, Ariz.) are highly-touted recruits who added a competitive fire and skill to the program.
'We are excited with our team this year and believe we have all the pieces of the puzzle to really put things together this season to win,' said Snyder-Park. 'Our newcomers are extremely talented and can each come right in and help this program out.'
With Snyder-Park entering her 13th season at the helm of the Sun Devils, she brings an added credential to the program when she became only the fourth coach in Pac-10 history to surpass 100 league wins. Snyder-Park possesses a career 191-153 (.555) record and has taken the Sun Devils to postseason play six times. Returning for his sixth season with the program and his first as associate head coach is Scott Swanson. Former Sun Devil All-American outside hitter Christine Garner enters her second year as an assistant coach.
The Outside Hitters:
The Devils have plenty of talent and athleticism at the outside hitter position. While Coughlin provides leadership, power and proven success, Natalie Harris has tremendous athletic ability and will provide a true talent on the outside to compliment Coughlin.
Said Snyder-Park on her outside hitters, 'we are going to play Natalie Harris and Jami Coughlin at the outside hitter position with Jami playing the L1 position. Natalie will be able to learn a lot from Jami and has grown a lot in one year. Jami brings the complete package to the outside hitter position and is healthy after off-season shoulder surgery. Natalie has a lot of athletic ability and will be a premier player in the Pac-10 before her career is over.'
Transfer Crystal Bluth (Auburn) brings a wealth of division I experience to the program and will be able to add depth behind Coughlin and Harris. Freshman Melissa Stapley is likely to spend a year in the program learning at the division I level, but has tons of athletic ability and a strong build that will prove valuable in the future. Freshman Alicia Akporiaye and sophomore Kim Mehlhorn are locked in a battle for the opposite hitter position, while defensive specialists Brittany Ahlstrom and Courtney Blocher have both played on the outside before and although small in size provide a powerful punch at the net.
In the Middle:
After having two middle blockers hit over .300 for the first time in school history (Julia Leddy and Michelle Mortensen) last year, things are promising in the middle for ASU in 2001. With Leddy returning after hitting .328 and adding 2.86 kills per game last year, there is a returning veteran presence in the middle for the Devils.
'Julia is out starting middle blocker and is coming off a tremendous sophomore year in which she led the team in hitting,' said Snyder-Park. 'She is smart about her attacking and has really improved her blocking skills. We expect big things out of Julia this year and is really coming into her own as a leader of this team.'
With Leddy slated to start at one of the middle blocker positions, redshirt sophomore Jodi Smith has quickly inched up the depth chart to fill in the other position. Labeled by the coaching staff as the strongest and most athletic player on the team, Smith, a ASU's only female two-sport athlete (also high jumps on the track team) has turned her raw ability on the court into a polished final product.
'Mark my words, Jodi Smith will be one of the best players on our team by the end of the year,' raved Snyder-Park. 'She is a tremendous athlete and a fast learner. She never had the experience and was pretty raw when she joined our program last year, but now, after a solid spring, will be one of our starting middle blockers.'
Redshirt sophomore Mandy Stephens, ASU's tallest player at 6-3, got stronger in the offseason and stepped in at times last year showing promising talents. Also in the mix at the middle blocker position will be utility player Mehlhorn and freshman Akporiaye.
On the Setter Position:
A year after setting the freshman and school record for assists in a season with 1,452, sophomore setter Cheryl Anglin is set to run the Sun Devil offense. Logging eight matches with over 60 assists last year, Anglin was named to the Pac-10 all-freshman team and has a top billing by her head coach heading into the 2001 season.
'Cheryl is coming off a great freshman season in which she was our most prolific setter in school history and she is coming in here in 2001 on a mission. She is our starting setter and really knows how to take control of this team out on the court,' said Snyder-Park. 'She knows how to run our offense from top to bottom and I have no doubt that she is one of the smartest setters in the nation.'
Providing added depth and size to the setter position is junior college transfer Fernanda Habiger. At 5-11, the transfer from Barton County CC has not found a defined role entering the season as she is still learning the fast-paced ASU offense, but after averaging 14.07 assists and 1.30 kills per game last year at the junior college level, brings a very versatile game to the court for the Devils.
Coming off a year in which ASU led the Pac-10 with 18.89 digs per game, defense will be the cornerstone of ASU's multi-dimensional attack in 2001. Sophomore Courtney Blocher is coming off a solid freshman campaign in which she averaged 2.58 digs per game and is ASU's returning leading servers with 0.24 aces per game. Junior Brittany Ahlstrom will also provide depth at the defensive specialist position, and Mehlhorn can also play DS in a utility role.
'In addition to playing in role as a defensive specialist, Courtney will also be used as an outside blocker. She was a great outside hitter in high school and has proved to us that she can do the job if called upon,' said Snyder-Park on Blocher. 'She is really quick to get above the net and has explosive leaping abilities. Courtney is mentally our toughest player out on the court and we expect big things out of her again.'
On the 2001 Schedule:
Once again, if the Sun Devils will make a run at their season goals of making a third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, they will have to get past a tough schedule. The Devils will face seven teams in the USA Today/AVCA Top 25 poll, including non-conference opponents Santa Clara (#22), South Carolina (#23) and Loyola Marymount (#24) who ASU plays in three of its first five matches to open the season. The tough non-conference slate will precede at tough Pac-10 schedule, with USC, Arizona, UCLA and Stanford all ranked in the top 10.
'Just like the old adage, if you want to play your best, you have to play the best,' said Snyder-Park on the 2001 schedule. 'Right from the start we play tough teams and that is the best thing we can do... hit the ground running and don't stop.'