Pac-10 Women's Volleyball Enters Conference Play with Vigor
Stanford's Dunning and Oregon's Moore offer strategies for a winning season
With Conference play underway this weekend, the Pac-10 talked with Stanford head coach John Dunning and Oregon head coach Jim Moore about their teams, the elite competition in the league and the status of collegiate volleyball.
As teams across the country continue to improve and a larger crop of talent is available, the Pac-10 continues to set the bar high in women's volleyball. Pac-10 teams finished nonconference play with a 90-21 record. Six squads are ranked in the top 15, with Stanford leading the way at No. 1.
Stanford's win over No. 1 Penn State on Sept. 11 in the Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic was a highlight in the 25th Anniversary of Women's Sports in the Pac-10.
The Cardinal victory snapped the Nittany Lions' streak of 109 consecutive wins. Stanford head coach John Dunning was psyched.
"Our three seniors have been a big part of our program for a long time," said Dunning. "They're doing a great job as role models leading our team, which also consists of 10 freshman and sophomores. It's a nice mix of veterans and people who are new and extremely excited to be a part of things."
The senior trio of Cassidy Lichtman, Gabi Ailes and Alix Klineman had not beaten Penn State since their freshman year in 2007. Since then, the Cardinal also lost to the Nittany Lions in the Final Four in 2007 and 2008.
"It was a unique storybook moment," Dunning said. "My players remember winning that game against Penn State as freshmen, but remember losing to Penn State twice in the Final Four even more. Those were motivating moments for their careers and they wanted to stand up to Penn State. We were ready for the moment and played very tough that day."
Dunning says maintaining that toughness will be key if the Cardinal want to remain atop the national rankings and the Pac-10.
"Winning the Pac-10 last year was tremendous as we were able to persevere through multiple injuries," said Dunning. "Using what we learned from last year's challenges will be key to our success this season. In talking about the 2010 Pac-10 season, we're talking about five teams that haven't lost a match yet and seven teams that haven't lost more than twice. The Pac-10, once again, has been very successful preparing in the pre-season for conference play and I think any team in the Pac-10 can beat any other team in the conference."
Across the board, Pac-10 programs are thriving. Stanford's victory over Penn State and the overall impressive strength of the Pac-10 has drawn attention to the growing popularity and overall quality of women's volleyball.
"The sport is just exploding," stated Dunning. "You figure the economy might slow it down because it costs money to build and maintain a program, but volleyball is constantly receiving positive attention."
In short, Stanford, despite graduating several seniors from a 2008 Final Four team, has found success through the combination of new veteran leadership and eager underclassmen. Look for an exciting season finale.
Oregon, ranked No. 15, has compiled a 12-0 record with 11 of 13 players being underclassmen. Head coach Jim Moore knows the streak cannot go on forever.
"Let me make this statement right now: we are not going undefeated. That's not going to happen," says Moore with a laugh. "Not that we're not going to try, but to expect that would be unrealistic and unfair. I just want us to get better and be more disciplined and work hard for every point. We do those two things I'll be happy at the end of the year and I think we'll have a great chance to get into the tournament, which, coming out of the Pac-10, would be a tremendous accomplishment."
It sure would. Moore believes that as the competition increases in conference play, patience and humor will be key when dealing with young players.
"When mistakes are made I sometimes get mad, but more often I laugh about it," said Moore. "We continue to rise to the occasion and pull out solid wins."
Eager to get into conference play as a barometer of where his Ducks stack up, Moore said, "We're still untested in many ways. There are so many people [on this squad] who don't know what it's like in this conference, and until you go through a Pac-10 season, you just have no idea what's about to hit you. We're going to find out what we're made of pretty quick."
In anticipation, Oregon knows they still have aspects of their game that need improvement. When asked if he was pleased with his team's defense, Moore answered with a quick and stern "No." He elaborated, "I don't know that I'll ever be happy, but we still need to get better. It's not where it needs to be."
Much of the burden will fall on freshman setter and team leader Lauren Plum. "Lauren needs to keep us in rhythm to side-out so we don't have to dig every ball or block every ball," Moore said. "When we can dig or block a ball we need to be able to take advantage of that."