2006 Volleyball Season Outlook

Aug. 22, 2006

TEMPE, Ariz. - After a strong spring in which the young Sun Devils began to come together as a unit, the rebuilding of the ASU volleyball program is continuing in the right direction.With virtually the entire squad returning from last season, and the addition of two highly touted freshmen, the 2006 season is poised to be a great one for Brad Saindon and his Arizona State volleyball program.'We have a lot of returning talent this season, and I think we have improved a great deal over the summer,' said Head Coach Brad Saindon. 'We have to keep working hard and get better each and every time we step on the court. We want to achieve our ultimate goal of contending for the NCAA Tournament every season.'The 2006 Sun Devils will take the court with three freshmen, one sophomore, seven juniors and three seniors on the roster. Only setter Giovana Melo and outside hitter Sarah Watkins do not return from the 2005 roster.'We played a lot of young athletes last year, and I think the experienced they gained will begin to show,' said Saindon. 'I think we have the right mix of experience, young talent, and strong newcomers to help us get to where we want to be this season.' ASU is loaded with youthful talent, but will have their hands full heading into the 34th year in program history. The Sun Devils play in the toughest conference in the nation, as the Pac-10 has produced the last five National Champions. Despite the youth, Arizona State has its eyes locked on a goal to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament and finish in the top six of the Pac-10. 'We play in the toughest conference in the country, but that does not change our goals,' said Saindon. 'Our number one goal is to make it to the NCAA Tournament. We want to be in the field of 64. We believe in our team, and we want to aim high.'

The Coaching Staff: Entering Brad Saindon's fourth season, he has assembled a talented coaching staff for 2006 that knows how to win. Joining the Sun Devils for their first seasons are Mike Wall and Megan Jacobson.Wall was a collegiate volleyball star, winning two national championships at BYU, including 2001 where he was named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player. He has been a coach on conference champions and NCAA Tournament squads over the past three seasons. Wall was a member of the US Men's National Team in 2001-02, the same time Brad Saindon was an assistant coach for the squad. Saindon got to know Wall during their time with the US team. 'The addition of Mike Wall to our staff is a huge bonus for our program,' said Saindon. 'Mike is a proven winner both on the court and as a coach, and he can only help us get better. He instantly makes us a better team.'Jacobson enters the collegiate coaching ranks after a highly successful career as a high school coach in Arizona. She was named the State Coach of the Year in 2005. She also was an outstanding collegiate player, playing on three conference championship teams and a Final Four team.'I'm very excited to have Megan as a coach with us,' said Saindon. 'She has already shown that she knows how to be a winning coach at the high school level here in Arizona, and I think her winning attitude will carry over to Arizona State. She will work extremely well with our young team and can only make us stronger.'

The Outside Hitters: One position that is laden with talent and experience is the Outside Hitter spot. Returning for the Devils is senior Nicole Morton (Fallbrook, Calif.), who led ASU with 300 kills in 2005. She will once again be Arizona State's main offensive weapon on the outside as she has continued to improve over the past three seasons. Morton has seen her kills per game average rise each season she has been in the Maroon and Gold, including a team high 3.57 kills per game in 2005. She garnered an All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention in 2005. 'We have extremely high expectations for Nicole,' said Saindon. 'She established herself last season as one of our best players, and I think she will build on that. We will lean heavily on her senior leadership.'Sophomore Margie Giordano (Glendale, Ariz.) burst onto the scene last season, earning Pac-10 All-Freshman honors. Giordano was second on the team with 235 kills, averaging 2.53 per contest. She was also second in digs (236) and service aces (28) during her debut season in Tempe. After an eye-opening freshman campaign, the sky is the limit for the talented Giordano. 'Margie has all the makings to be a super star, and I am excited to watch her,' said Saindon. 'She showed everyone what she was capable of last year as a freshman, and her ceiling is very, very high. She is going to mature and grow into one of the top outside hitters in the Pac-10.' In addition to Morton and Giordano, the Sun Devils have a strong supporting cast that can step right in and contend for a starting spot. Senior Nina Reeves (Gilbert, Ariz.) will certainly contend for significant playing time after finishing up last season with 199 kills. Junior Kristen Trayser (Crystal Lake, Ill.) played well during limited action last season and will also contend for time as will junior Danielle Fernandes (Santa Monica, Calif.). Two highly touted freshmen will also make their case for considerable playing time, as Rachel Oligmueller (Scottsdale, Ariz.) and Paige Mittelstaedt (Phoenix, Ariz.) both arrive on campus after having led their respective high schools to state titles during their senior seasons. Oligmueller was an All-Arizona performer and a Region MVP at Cactus Shadows High School, where she won 4A state titles in 2003 and 2005. Mittelstaedt was named a High School All-American at Xavier College Prep, whom she led to the 2005 5A state title as a senior. 'To say we are excited about our incoming freshmen would be an understatement,' said Saindon. 'By bringing in Paige and Rachel, we have really set up our program nicely not only for this season, but well beyond. Being able to bring in two players with state titles and all-state selections in the same season, well, you couldn't ask for a better situation. We can't wait to see what the future holds, as well as the present.'

In The Middle: One of the most important positions in Saindon's offensive system, the middle blocker position is another point of strength for the Sun Devils. Junior Staci Smith (Gresham, Ore.) hopes to build on a solid sophomore season that saw her tally 199 kills and a team-leading 32 service aces and 83 blocks. One of the tallest Devils at 6-1, Smith continues to improve on a daily basis.'Staci played very strong for us last season, and we fully expect her to do it again this year,' said Saindon. 'She has improved every year she has been at ASU and just continues to get better and better.'Senior Tierra Burnley (Santa Clarita, Calif.) led the 2005 team with a .284 hitting percentage, while junior Collette Meek (Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada) was fifth on the team with 147 kills.'Tierra has a chance to really make an impact during her senior season, and Collette continues to make her case for more playing time' said Saindon. 'Both of them are big parts of our team, and we want them to get on the court and be difference makers as much as possible.'On the Setter Position: It's difficult to replace experience and senior leadership at an important position like setter, but that is the task that lays in front of junior Rachel Mittelstaedt (Phoenix, Ariz.) and redshirt freshman Marina Mercer (Chandler, Ariz.). Those two will have to step in for the departed Giovana Melo, who led the 2005 Sun Devils with 850 assists. Mittelstaedt gained valuable experience last season, finishing second on the squad with 306 helpers, and she will need to draw on that experience for the 2006 Sun Devils. Marina Mercer will be eager to prove herself this year after sitting out the 2005 season as a redshirt. 'The one position where we really lack a lot of experience is setter, but we certainly don't lack for talent there,' said Saindon. 'Rachel got some good experience last season, but she has yet to be the go-to setter. We think she is fully capable of handling that position. Marina is ready to go after redshirting last season. She wants to get out there and show us what she can do, and we can't wait to see it.'The Libero/Defensive Specialist: Saindon's teams have always been known for their defense, and junior Sydney Donahue will see to it that the libero position is one of ASU's strongest. Donahue (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) continues her assault on the ASU record books after rewriting several sections following her freshman and sophomore seasons. Last year, Donahue shattered the school digs record with 628, 27 better than the previous high and good for second in the conference. After averaging an ASU freshman record 4.36 digs per game in 2004, Donahue followed up with a 6.41 digs per game average in 2005. She earned All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention honors thanks in part to the top six single game digs performances in ASU history, including a 43 dig game at Notre Dame. 'You can't say enough about what Sydney has done here over her first two seasons,' said Saindon. 'She has established herself as one of the premiere defensive players in not only the Pac-10, but in the entire country. She has re-written the record books here and has shown no signs of slowing down. She is a special player, and I am glad she is a Sun Devil.' Lund saw action in 25 matches, averaging 2.14 digs per game. She is a great passer and a great defender, and will contribute to the Devils this season. 'Allison showed us a lot last year and really has a chance to have a breakout season in 2006,' said Saindon. 'When she is on the floor, she makes the people around her better. She helps push Sydney, and in turn Sydney helps push her. It's a great situation to be in, having two athletes who can really make each other and everyone around them better.'