USC Volleyball's Star Strategist
By Brian Price
USC women's volleyball captain Kendall Bateman is entering her senior season with 3,115 assists in her career as a Trojan and is the odds-on next record holder.
The all-time assist mark is held by Janice Mounts with 4,258.
Having recorded 1,567 assists last year on her way to being named an All-American, Bateman is well within reach to record over 1,143 this season and become the all-time leader.
The only person who doesn't seem to know this is Bateman.
"That's cool. I didn't even know that. That's good to know though," laughs the Manhattan Beach, Calif., native. "It's an honor to be in that position, but I couldn't do it without the players I have on my team getting kills for me."
For Bateman, strategy is key.
Head coach Mick Haley notes that it's Bateman's job as setter for the #2 ranked Trojans, night in and night out, to accurately distribute the ball to her teammates.
"A setter is like the quarterback and point guard - everything runs through them," says Haley. "The setter is getting the ball every time it comes across the net. It's then her job to [deliver] the best set in the world every time."
Bateman, a business major, uses a mix of physical skills and strategic thinking. "It's about finding who's open and who's hot that night and getting them the ball," she says. "Decisions have to be made on the fly."
Haley, in his 11th year at the helm at USC, has incorporated unique training programs during each preseason to sharpen physical and tactical skills.
"We try to challenge our team with something new every year, that they have to work together to figure out," he says. "It's a way to put everybody in a neutral situation where they have to learn something in front of everybody else, not as upper- and lower-classmen, but as equals."
In previous years the team took part in kayaking and a ropes course to spice up practice and build team unity. This year boxing was the activity of choice.
"How often can these girls haul off and hit something other than a volleyball?" asks Haley.
Bateman agrees that working up a sweat doing something other than volleyball was a beneficial way to bring an already tight-knit team even closer together.
"It was a very empowering experience that also had practical applications. A lot of the three-hour boxing clinic [incorporated] footwork, timing and core strengthening so it was all very applicable to volleyball."
And when discussing the ultimate goals for the season, both coach and captain are firmly on the same page: anything less than a national championship is unacceptable.
"We come into every season expecting to win a national championship," says Haley. "That's what I'm in this for and I've been fortunate to have a team that feels the exact same way. They're chomping at the bit to get this season started."
Haley has guided the Trojans to the NCAA tournament during each year of his tenure at USC. The ultimate highlight were back-to-back national championship wins in 2002 and 2003.
Bateman is eager to end the championship drought by "ending the coming season with a win" and putting the Trojans back on top.
Standing in their way is the top volleyball playing conference in the land. Last season, seven of the top twenty-five programs in the nation were from the Pac-12. After defeating Stanford in the elite eight, USC lost a tight match to Cal in the Final Four.
"The only thing on my mind, other than class, is winning a national championship," says Bateman.
This year, five of the top-ten teams in the nation are from the Pac-12 and Haley anticipates that at least nine Pac-12 programs will make the NCAA tournament come December.
"We've got core of freshman who are either very athletic, or will be able to contribute right away, and we're returning three All-American seniors," notes Haley. "In this conference it's a nice combination to have."
Who better to lead the charge than Bateman?
Having made the NCAA tournament every year of her career, as well as reaching the final four last year, she is confident that those experiences will greatly benefit this year's team, especially newcomers to the program.
With injuries to middle blocker Natasa Siljkovic, freshman Hannah Schraer, who would normally be playing fourth-string middle, will have to step into a starting role to begin the season.
"I'm proud of how much Hannah has improved these last three weeks," says Bateman. "The game gets much faster from high school to college and she's managed to adapt really well to it."
The transition for a freshman to go from bench player to starter is daunting, but realistic with Bateman as captain. Haley describes Bateman as the "mother hen" of the team. "When you have three All-American seniors leading the way, my job is a lot easier."
The other impressive senior All-Americans are Alex Jupiter and Lauren Williams.
"As seniors we look to help the underclassmen understand the importance of figuring out their schedule, balancing a social life with volleyball practices and class. [As seniors] it's our job to always offer reassurance and help the underclassmen get through anything."
Bateman understands that it's natural for an underclassman to be overwhelmed with the pressures of finding balance and both performing in the class and on the court.
"As freshman you have no idea what you're in for particularly how competitive the Pac-12 will be. There are no easy matches and maintaining focus [from week to week] is crucial."
Bateman cited her business statistics class as her favorite (and toughest) since being at USC: "It's taught by one of the coolest professors who has made everything applicable to real life. When we'd watch [game] tape in practice it was easier to see that the trends were based on what I had learned in that class."
And the trends are definitely looking up for Bateman.
First up: back-to-back matches against #12 ranked Minnesota and reigning national champion Penn State.