2nd-Ranked Volleyball Looks To Return To Final Four
Aug. 21, 2001
It takes a history lesson to put the 2001 USC women's volleyball team in perspective.
In its very first year as a scholarship sport, USC wasted no time establishing itself. With a 34-1 record, the Women of Troy were crowned 1976 AIAW National Champions.
USC repeated as national champions in 1977, this time winning the AIAW Championship with a 38-0 record - the first perfect season in collegiate women's volleyball.
On a team that featured no seniors but a strong freshman class, USC tallied its third AIAW title in 1980.
One year later, collegiate volleyball entered its first official season as an NCAA sanctioned sport. It was only appropriate that the Trojans went on to win the first-ever NCAA crown. That 1981 national championship also made USC the first-ever women's team to win four national titles.
Followed by two more trips to the NCAA finals (1982 and 1985), USC had established a strong tradition in the sport.
But, despite advancing to the NCAA Tournament nearly every year after that, it took 15 years for the Women of Troy to make it back to the national stage.
In 2000, the Trojans found themselves in familiar territory, with a Pac-10 Championship, a NCAA semifinal finish and a 29-3 overall mark, so it now safely can be said that...
USC IS BACK!
'It was a Cinderella kind of season and a great way to kick off the resurgence of this program,' said head coach Mick Haley, who enters his first official season at the helm of the USC women's volleyball program after guiding the U.S.A. Women's National Volleyball team to a fourth-place finish at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Last year, he joined the Trojans' staff midseason but assumed an observational role in order to allow interim head coach Jerritt Elliott to complete the season.
Equipped with the nation's No. 1 recruiting class (Volleyball magazine, Student Sports), USC began the 2000 season by setting a school and Pac-10 record with 38-consecutive game victories. Under Elliott, who left USC this spring to take a head coaching position at Texas, the Women of Troy spent five weeks ranked No. 1 by Volleyball and won a share of the Pac-10 Championship (with Arizona) with a 16-2 record.
USC was selected as the top seed of the NCAA Pacific Regional (also a program first) and swept through the first four tournament matches, including a 3-0 win over defending national champion Penn State, to earn its first Final Four appearance since 1985. But, the Trojans then fell to Wisconsin, 3-0, in the semifinals.
'Last year we had two seniors who felt that this was their last chance,' said Haley, who led Texas to two national championships in 17 years with the Longhorns. 'Antoinette Polk and Janae Henry came to play and they both contributed to the team's success tremendously. It was their dream. It's what seniors play for - the chance to play for a national title.
'Everyone played such a big role. Our only junior, Jennifer Pahl, matured into an outstanding player who just exploded on the court.
'Our sophomores gave us the ability to go to a 6-2 system, something that many times caught our opponents by surprise and allowed us to attack in multiple ways.
'Then we had our dynamic group of freshmen who all contributed significantly. They were all so pivotal.
'It is going to be difficult to duplicate the kind of chemistry that team was able to create last season. Everything just fell into place but we still have all the elements to do it again this season.'
The 2001 Trojans return 10 letterwinners and four starters. Among the veterans, the Women of Troy will feature the talent of All-Americans Jennifer Pahl (Murrieta, Calif.) and April Ross (Newport Beach, Calif.), in addition to two other all-conference players.
Gone are the talents and contributions made by Polk and Henry the last four years. The two outside hitters were tremendous contributors for USC on both offense and defense. Together they accounted for 5.73 kills and 6.17 digs per game in 2000. Among the Trojans' career leaders, Polk ranks fifth in digs (1164), seventh in digs per game (2.87), ninth in attacks (3162) and 10th in kills (1175), making her the 35th player in Pac-10 history and the sixth player at USC to surpass 1,000 career kills and digs. Last season's defensive leader, Henry also has her place in the record books. She ranks sixth in career digs per game (3.04) and eighth in digs (980).
'Our underclassmen are going to have to carry a much bigger burden this year with those two gone,' said Haley, who ranks ninth in NCAA career win percentage with a 522-137 (.792) record in 17 years as a Division I head coach. 'I don't know if everyone realized how much these seniors contributed to our success last year.
'We are a different team this year. We are obviously more athletic than we have been in previous years but everyone needs to assume new roles and learn how to play together again.
'Our setters will certainly be sharing time again and we're hoping that Pahl, Ross and Katie Olsovsky just continue to improve and really assume the positions of leadership on this team.
'This may be the toughest season for last year's freshmen because the expectation level has been set so high. They have to be leaders to the incoming freshmen, who will be just as good as they were their first year.'
For the second year in a row, USC will welcome the nation's No. 1 recruiting class (according to Volleyball, Student Sports). The incoming freshmen are led by Paul Mitchell All-Americans Alicia Robinson (Phoenix, Ariz.), Emily Adams (Phoenix, Ariz.) and Keao Burdine (La Habra, Calif.).
The 6-2 Robinson, Arizona's 2000 Gatorade Player of the Year, and 6-1 Burdine, named the Orange County Player of the Year by numerous publications, will both compete for playing time on the left side. At 6-5, Adams brings strength and height at middle blocker. She is one of the three tallest players to ever play for the Women of Troy.
'Alicia Robinson and Keao Burdine are certainly capable of filling in on the left side in spots left behind by Janae Henry and Antoinette Polk,' said Haley. 'Robinson brings initial power while Burdine has the same movement potential as April Ross. Then, with the addition of Emily Adams, we have a tremendous height advantage this season.
'We're just excited to get them in the gym and see where they all fit.'
The Trojans will endure many changes this season, starting with a revised coaching staff. Paula Weishoff (fifth season) remains as the first assistant, while Haley named former volunteer assistant Rob Machan as the second full-time assistant coach. The coaching staff is determined to maintain the same style of play that was utilized the last two seasons in order for the Trojans to remain an aggressive, defensive team that is quick on the attack.
'I want everyone to come back in better shape this season because we are going to have tough practices,' said Haley. 'For the first time in a couple of years we actually have enough players on both sides of the net so our time spent in the gym will be more effective. I want every day to be a battle. I want them to push each other with the idea that we want to get back to the Final Four and have another shot at the title this year.'
The 2001 schedule will be, as usual, difficult. It is no secret that the Pac-10 remains the most dominant conference in collegiate volleyball. Last season, six Pac-10 teams earned NCAA tournament berths and three reached the regional finals. USC was the sole conference representative in the Final Four, marking the 26th time a Pac-10 team has reached the tournament finals.
The final 2000 USA Today/AVCA Coaches poll featured USC at No. 4, No. 5 Arizona, No. 7 UCLA and No. 19 Stanford. The Pac-10 returns eight of the conference's top 10 setters and seven of the top players in each of the following categories - kills per game, hitting percentage and blocks per game.
'The competition will be much tougher this year because opponents will be much more aware of our strategies,' said Haley. 'Our schedule will definitely be challenging. We may not win every match and there will be plenty of five-game battles, but I guarantee that we are going to be a well-prepared team by November.'
The Women of Troy will not have to wait until the start of the conference season to face tough opposition. The challenge begins the very first weekend of the regular season. USC opens 2001 at the Irvine Invitational against UC Irvine on Sept. 1 and NCAA runner-up Wisconsin on Sept. 2. After being eliminated by the Badgers last season in the semifinals, this early season match will certainly have USC's attention
Aside from its conference opponents, USC will also face No. 3 Hawai'i (Sept. 7/Nov. 23), No. 9 UC Santa Barbara (Sept. 18), No. 18 Pepperdine (Oct. 16) and No. 8 Pacific (Nov. 24) in 2001.
'But this is why you come to SC - to play the best teams in the country,' said Haley.
Here is a look at the 2001 USC women's volleyball team by position:
Sophomore Toni Anderson (Yorba Linda, Calif.) and junior Tracy Lindquist (Fountain Valley, Calif.) may have been USC's most underrated players last season. Uncommon for most teams, the 2000 squad found great success by splitting time at setter. Both Anderson and Lindquist saw equal time on the court and were kept in constant rotation. Though their individual stats may not resemble that of a primary setter, combined the two averaged 14.7 assists per game - a mark that would have led the Pac-10.
'No matter what, we need to have both players out there,' said Haley. 'Toni is pretty cool out there. She's a heady player and a great leader on the court. Tracy is just one of those players who gives you 110% at all times. She is a great passer and setter, and I love having her out there because she just wants to win so badly.'
With impressive performances of her own, Anderson was named to the All-Pac-10 honorable mention team and the Pac-10 All-Freshman team.
'The two of them together have great rapport,' said Haley, who in his 16 seasons as head coach at Texas produced seven All-American setters. 'They have different personalities which allows us to change tempo and never allows our opponents to get too comfortable.'
For the first time in the last few years, the Trojans can claim to be deep at the middle blocker position.
Resuming her starting role in the middle is the 6-1 Pahl - the team's only senior. Named second team AVCA All-American in 2000, she led the squad and finished second in the Pac-10 with 1.27 blocks per game. In addition to the strength of her defense, Pahl also provides a valuable offensive threat at the net. In 2000 she led the team with a .405 attack percentage (334-66-662) and managed to hit above .500 in 11 outings for the Women of Troy.
Standing beside Pahl will be 6-3 sophomore Katie Olsovsky (Torrance, Calif.) who finished last season just steps behind her teammate at the net. Named an honorable mention Asics/Volleyball All-American, Olsovsky averaged 1.18 blocks and 2.74 kills per game in her first season. She finished third in the conference in blocks and sixth in attack percentage (.359). En route, she added two marks to USC's Top 10 list with a .688 hitting performance against Oregon (Sept. 30) and .750 attack percentage against Penn State (Dec. 8).
'It will be interesting to see how our middle blockers evolve,' said Haley. 'I expect that Jennifer Pahl will be unstoppable this year and that Katie Olsovsky, who was a great blocker and hitter last year, should be a dominant blocker and hitter this year.'
Coming off the bench in 2000, 6-3 sophomore Kelli Lantz (Bakersfield, Calif.) quietly pieced together a terrific freshman campaign. Though only appearing in 36 games, she emerged as a key performer when needed on the court. In matches where she saw playing time in more than one game, Lantz hit above .400 six-of-eight times. With a .733 attack percentage against Cal on Oct. 19, she too made her mark in the Trojans' Top 10 chart.
Entering her first year, the 6-5 Adams completes the group of middle blockers.
'Now we have the ability to play with big teams and still maintain our quickness with Pahl in the middle,' said Haley. 'We have some great options and it will make it very difficult for opponents to prepare for us.'
How powerful the Women of Troy can be at outside hitter still remains to be decided. USC returns one of the most heralded players of the 2000 season in Ross, but must fill the positions vacated by Polk and Henry.
'Early in the season I'm going to have to utilize as many players as possible,' said Haley. 'We have a lot of talent and we need to get everybody out there to figure out the right combinations, but by November we should feel pretty comfortable about who our starters are.'
Ross, a 6-1 sophomore, is a lock as one of the team's starting outside hitters. She had an outstanding freshman campaign which earned her multiple accolades, including Asics/Volleyball Freshman of the Year, AVCA second team All-America, Asics/Volleyball third team All-America, AVCA Pacific Region Freshman of the Year, Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and All-Pac-10 first team.
Ross was the only Trojan to start in all 32 matches in 2000. She led the team with 3.7 kills per game and finished second with 3.06 digs and 0.36 service aces per outing. She ranked sixth in the conference in aces and eighth in kills and digs.
'Even after such an outstanding freshman season where we tried to use her on the right, April Ross went out and really established herself on the left side while playing with the U.S.A. national team this summer,' said Haley. 'This is what makes her such a great player. She has great range and an excellent ability to run combinations, and now she has the ability to be dominating on the left, too.
'You add in Keao Burdine, who also has great range to play on the right or left, and Alicia Robinson, who is a great left-side power hitter, and our attacking will remain intact. All three of these players will be used on both sides.
'Then you have Lauren Killian who is an outstanding player on the right side. She has long arms, she can go to the net and as a left-hander on the right side, she possesses a great advantage.'
Six-foot-one junior Lauren Killian (Los Angeles, Calif.) is an explosive hitter who has been rotated on and off the bench since her freshman year. In 2000, she averaged 1.5 kills, 0.75 blocks and a .342 attack percentage while playing in all 32 matches.
'Lauren Killian is one of the players who I'm excited about this year because she had an exceptional spring,' said Haley. 'Her hitting has improved tremendously and she's going to provide a lot of points for us this season. She also has become a very physical player so I'm hoping she will help Pahl at the net on that side.
'I think we have a pretty quick group of attackers this year and, no matter what, we will be deep at that position.'
The defensive specialist is the least recognized player in volleyball, yet these athletes will play an integral role this year as women's collegiate volleyball makes the transition to an international format that includes rally scoring and the let serve. Every reception error will count as a point and serves that hit the net are playable so the Trojans have compiled a deep and solid core of backrow players.
The returners include junior Julie Mariani (Los Altos, Calif.) and sophomores Nicole Davis (Stockton, Calif.) and Jaime Carroll (Palos Verdes, Calif.), daughter of USC football head coach Pete Carroll. Among the three, Davis led with an average of 1.30 digs in 44 games last year. Mariani saw playing time in 50 games in 2000 following a stellar freshman season when she led the team in service aces, but she endured various injuries last season, which limited her time on the court. Carroll made eight appearances in 2000.
The 2001 lineup is complete with the addition of two walk-on freshmen defensive specialists - Kristen Anderson (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) and Tatiana Kalache (Fullerton, Calif.), daughter of former USC men's volleyball All-American Celso Kalache (1973-75).
'We have some nice options in the backrow this year,' said Haley. 'Nicole Davis improved her position on the team in the offseason by coming up with a good jump serve. She is really a player who can pass and serve well.
'Julie Mariani is an outstanding defensive player, a real vacuum cleaner in the back row, and we look forward to having her back at 100 percent this season.
'Having Julie for her passing and Nicole for her serving is a great advantage, in addition to Jaime Carroll, Kristen Anderson and Tatiana Kalache, who will each have the opportunity to work their way into the lineup in certain game situations.'