Cougar Volleyball Enters Heffernan Era
Aug. 9, 2004
Brian Heffernan became the 10th volleyball coach in Washington State University history June 3, 2004. Heffernan joins the Cougars after a successful four-year stint at the University of Minnesota as an associate head coach and an assistant coach. The Golden Gophers were the Big Ten Conference 2002 champions and reached the national semi-final match in 2003 after NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances in both 2000 and 2002 and a second round contest in 2001.'Brian's knowledge and experience make him a great selection to lead the Cougar volleyball program,' Cougar Director of Athletics Jim Sterk said. 'He was an integral part of Minnesota's Sweet Sixteen and Final Four finishes the past two seasons and he understands the great volleyball tradition we have at Washington State.'Joining Heffernan on the coaching staff are assistants Jody Garry and Kevin Wray, formerly with the Idaho State and Baylor University volleyball programs, respectively. The new coaching staff is excited to take on the opportunity to build on the work and success of the past for Cougar volleyball.Heffernan sees a Cougar roster with many players without a lot of collegiate playing experience. Returning starters from last year's 9-20 squad include three sophomores and a senior libero. Newcomers include two freshmen who are expected to see playing time immediately.'I look at our preseason schedule and see several games that we can win and I'm very comfortable with that. I want to give our team the best opportunity to do that early in the season.' Cougar Head Coach Brian HeffernanEight sophomores are back for the 2004 season including starters Jennifer Todd, Jen Barcus and Kelly Rosin. Todd is a 6-3 middle blocker who averaged 1.21 blocks per game last season, fourth best in the conference, and was named to the 2003 Pac-10 All-Freshman First Team. Barcus, a 6-1 redshirt sophomore, averaged 1.16 blocks per game in the middle, sixth-best in the Pac-10. Rosin, a 6-1 outside hitter, averaged 0.75 blocks per game. As freshmen, the three players totaled nearly 75 percent of the team's total blocks, which averaged out to 2.61 blocks per game, third highest in the league. This trio also brings back nearly 40 percent of the kills from the 2003 Cougar squad.'Our returning middle blockers are very physical and very capable,' Heffernan said. 'We want to help them improve their range and their ability to hit different shots so they become more efficient hitters. Kelly Rosin is a tremendous athlete. We want to see what she can do on the left side where she would be more involved in the offense.'Senior Alison Billingsley, libero/defensive specialist, returns with a 2.54 digs per game average. She shared time on the court last season with now junior Megan Camp, who had 2.10 digs per game. The new rule permitting the libero to serve will be good news to these Cougs as it will allow the team to keep the best ball-control players on the court in every rotation.Freshmen Nicole Martin and Kristin Kelley bring valuable high-caliber club experience to the Cougar team. Martin is a 6-0 setter from Carmel, Ind., and played with the Circle City Volleyball Club, one of the top teams in the Midwest. During the summer she also spent two weeks at the Sports Performance Volleyball Academy in Chicago, in an intensive setter training program. Kelley, a 6-3 middle blocker/outside hitter from Pasadena, Calif., played on the Southern California Volleyball Club and attended the prestigious Toshi Yoshida Elite Volleyball Camp.'Any time you have a young and inexperienced team and you are relying on an even younger and more inexperienced player at a critical position, there are going to be challenges,' Heffernan said. 'Nicole has a very strong personality and work ethic. We are excited about what Nicole will learn at the Sports Performance Academy and bring back to the program. I watched Kristin play during the summer and she is a great athlete who is going to fit into our lineup somewhere. We'll try her at a couple of positions early in our training and see where she best compliments our team needs.'At the same time, I want to create the situation for both Nicole and Kristin where the weight of the world is not on their shoulders to carry this program,' Heffernan said. 'They have played at a high level through the junior ranks and I am really looking forward to them coming in and making immediate contributions to the future of our program.'Jessie Camp, a 6-1 outside hitter who saw action in half the games last season returns after sitting out the spring drills following knee surgery. She is expected to be ready to participate fully this fall and will compete for playing time on the left side.Sophomore walk-on setter Kali Richards has rejoined the Cougar team after posting 260 assists in 48 games last year.'Having Kali back with the team is a great boost,' Heffernan said. 'Kali has proven to be a very capable setter who will add both experience and leadership to the setter position. We are looking forward to watching Kali and Nicole develop as setters.'Other returning letterwinners include senior libero/defensive specialist Stacey Holbrook and sophomore middle blockers McKenzie Burgess, April Lott and Liz Spear.The 6-3 Spear saw action in 31 games and tallied 19 blocks and 11 service aces. Burgess, a 6-0 middle blocker/outside hitter, saw action in 13 games and had an extremely productive spring. Although bothered by a sore back, Heffernan is anxious to get Burgess on the floor when she is healthy. Holbrook and Lott were key practice players for the Cougs last season.'Both Stacey and April are critical members of the team and will be counted on to play several roles,' Heffernan said. 'Stacey will compete for playing time at libero and add her crafty style of play to the mix of athletes who play left side during practice. April is a mature young woman and a great teammate who will be counted on to contribute at all three positions in the front row.'Additional newcomers to WSU include January 2004 transfer Carly Hayashikawa and fall 2004 transfer Gwen Davis. Hayashikawa, a 5-4 libero/defensive specialist, is a redshirt freshman after spending a semester as a redshirt freshman at the University of Hawaii.'We have heard very good things about Carly and we are looking forward to watching her push the upperclassmen for playing time at libero.'Davis is a 6-0 junior setter who will be redshirting the 2004 season. Davis played high school volleyball at Walla Walla High with Cougar senior Alison Billingsley and then had a redshirt season at Colorado State before transferring to Community Colleges of Spokane.'We have seen a video tape of Gwen from high school and she is a terrific athlete who will be able to play several positions including setter, left and right side hitter,' Heffernan said.Having only seen the team play on tape from last season, Heffernan is looking forward to the preseason practice sessions when everyone will be in the gym together.'We have to put pieces of the puzzle together and decide where the players are going to be the most comfortable on the court,' Heffernan said. 'Our biggest challenge is to improve our ball control including our serve receive and our team defense. If we are able to improve on those things throughout the course of the year, that will allow us to compete with a lot of teams. A team commitment to defense and ball control will become the critical building blocks for our program future.'Heffernan believes in building through progression; having the team build a solid fundamental base and then giving them opportunities to respond to game and game-like situations through six versus six competitions.'Each year you start out training athletes and you give them easy serves and they can work on techniques and not worry about dealing with a difficult ball. But then you work progressively and get to the point where they are comfortable playing in difficult situations. We have to be able to progress to the point where we walk into a Pac-10 match, step onto the court and after a brief warm up period get right into receiving difficult serves.''The staff and team know what we're facing right now. I'm not going into this with any visions of immediate grandeur,' Heffernan said. 'But we are, at the same time, looking to make progress and make improvements. Pat Riley calls it the `Innocent Climb' in his book (The Winner Within) and I think our program is primed within the next two seasons to start this process. If we can put a team on the floor during the preseason that is competitive, this will at least arm us for the start of the Pac-10 season, which is going to be very challenging.'Heffernan also plans to build and establish trusting relationships with a high level of respect and understanding among the team.'We want to build a strong sense of team chemistry,' Heffernan said. 'The goal will be to win every time we step on the court but right now our most important task is to move in a common direction together. Our staff understands there will be many challenges along the way and we are prepared to walk with the team through these challenges to build trust and respect. One immediate goal is to create a situation where the athletes are enjoying their experience to the extent that they will make the sacrifices necessary to become a consistent elite level program.'