2003 Season Outlook
Aug. 25, 2003
For the first time in 14 years the Arizona State Volleyball program has a change at the guard with new head coach Brad Saindon.
After head coach Patti Snyder-Park retired following her 14th and final season in 2002, the Sun Devils hired Saindon to take over the program. Saindon brings a wealth of college and international coaching experience to Tempe, having led the University of Colorado into national prominence and coaching at the highest national level with USA Volleyball and Team Australia.
Saindon promises to bring an exciting brand of volleyball into the Pac-10 in 2003, adding what he calls a touch of men's volleyball into the women's game.
'The brand of volleyball I bring to this program is unique and something that will be an experiment,' said Saindon. 'It is a quick brand of volleyball that is exciting to watch and is really fast.'
Saindon's unique techniques include all players using a jump serve, swing blocking at the net and a quick brand of volleyball that will feature a team flying all over the court.
'I think we're going to be one of the fastest teams in the Pac-10 if not the nation,' added Saindon. 'We may not be taller or more athletic, but we are going to try to beat that with speed and technique. Speed can be the antidote for size.'
While Saindon admits the change of style will create a sharp learning curve for a rather veteran team, he is satisfied with what he has seen so far.
'We had a good spring together and really got a lot done in terms of teaching the game all over,' said Saindon. 'It won't be an overnight process, but the progress is already noticeable.'
Saindon knows that the veteran laden team may take some time to buy into the new techniques and new system. The Sun Devils return eight total players and six starters from the 2002 squad that finished the season 15-12 overall and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the last four years.
'Like every team, we go into the season with goals of making the NCAA tournament,' said Saindon. 'It is going to be a challenging season for us with a tough schedule and new system, but I think this team has the talent to reach those goals.'
A group of six seniors leads the 2003 squad that hopes to improve upon its seventh place pick in the preseason Pac-10 poll. ASU also finished seventh in a highly competitive Pac-10 last year while posting an 8-10 record in league play. Earning a national ranking for the first time since 1995, the Sun Devils were one of a record eight Pac-10 schools that advanced to postseason play. ASU defeated Cincinnati in a five-game match in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and lost to Nebraska in the second round.
'The Pac-10 is without doubt one of the toughest volleyball conferences in the nation,' said Saindon. 'Every weekend will offer extremely challenging matchups and will push our players and our new system to the max.'
The addition of Saindon and new assistant coach Jami Coughlin also solidifies an all-Arizona State coaching staff. Saindon graduated from ASU in 1976 and returns to his alma mater with stops at almost every level of the volleyball community. Coughlin, who is one of ASU's best outside hitters in school history from 1998-2001, joins former Sun Devil All-Pac-10 standout Terri Cox to complete the coaching staff. Coughlin and Cox are ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in school history in career digs and are among only 11 players in school history to record 1,000 or more digs and kills in their careers.
'It is a great feature to have a coaching staff that has a link to the past of the program,' said Saindon. 'You always have a lot of pride in your school, but to come back and coach at your alma mater is really something special.'
While the 2002 season marked the end of the Snyder-Park era, a veteran team remained almost entirely intact with only one full-time starter departed to graduation. The core group of setter Cheryl Anglin, outside hitters Natalie Harris, Juliana Escobar and Kim Mehlhorn, middle blockers Jodi Proctor and Mandy Stephens and libero Courtney Blocher are all veterans of the program.
'We have a good group of experienced players, but adapting to the new style will be a challenge,' said Saindon. 'For some of them it will be like their first day as a freshman, but it will challenge them and hopefully make them better volleyball players.'
For Anglin, Blocher and Mehlhorn, an era will come to an end for three of the original four from Chandler Valley Christian High School. While Harris will remain for one more year due to redshirting with a shoulder injury, the heralded recruiting class that debuted in 2000 has given the Sun Devil faithful a number of memorable matches during their careers.
'It is hard to believe that four years is already here as it seems like yesterday that we were just freshman,' said Anglin.
While the senior class is well noted, the Sun Devils also have to look to the future and have taken a step towards success in future years with a deep incoming class. Four freshmen and two junior college transfers highlight Saindon's first recruiting class. The freshmen include middle blockers Tierra Burnley (Santa Clarita, Calif.) and Katie Wilson (Fullerton, Calif.) and outside hitters Nicole Morton (Bonsall, Calif.) and Lindsey Hirzel (Danville, Calif.). The two junior college transfers are libero/defensive specialist Stephanie Kohner (Anthem, Ariz.) from Glendale Community College and setter Giovana Melo (Ribeirao Preto, Brazil) from Western Nebraska Community College.
'I am very excited about our newcomers and am confident they can contribute right away,' said Saindon. 'We didn't have much time to put the first recruiting class together, but we have a good mix of talent in areas we were concerned about.'
The Outside Hitters:
The Devils have plenty of talent and athleticism at the outside hitter position. Kim Mehlhorn, Natalie Harris, Sarah Watkins and Juliana Escobar make up a deep rotation at ASU's most experienced position.
Escobar had a stellar rookie season in 2002, earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors while averaging 4.29 kills and 3.36 digs per game. She ranked in the top 10 in the Pac-10 in both categories and set several ASU records under the new rally scoring format. Her 0.51 service aces per game ranked second in the conference and her 50 aces were third most in ASU single-season history. Escobar came to ASU as a junior college transfer from Barton County CC after earning first-team AVCA All-American honors in 2001.
'Juliana is a very important part to our success this year,' said Saindon. 'She has all the tools to be a dominating player and showed last year that she can dominate a match. The depth at outside hitter will also allow Juliana to be better with everyone not focusing on her.'
'Like every team, we go into the season with goals of making the NCAA tournament.'
Coach Brad Saindon
Mehlhorn (Tempe, Ariz.) had a solid sophomore season in 2001 when she averaged 3.42 kills per game and recorded 13 double-doubles, but tapered off last year due to medical limitations. Mehlhorn battled a string of severe migraine headaches that sidelined her during several matches. Still, Mehlhorn showed that she is a key to the ASU offense as she made the all-tournament teams at both the Red Raider Classic and the season-ending UNLV/Hard Rock Volleyball Classic. Saindon said they are going to try a number of things with Mehlhorn this year to try to limit the onset of the migraines.
Harris (Tempe, Ariz.) is another key cog to the ASU offense as she continues to improve from shoulder surgery during the 2001 season. The redshirt junior came on strong at the end of the 2002 season when she averaged three of the best matches in her career in the last six matches of the season.
'Natalie (Harris) is one of the players that really stood out during spring practices and will be a big part of our team this season,' said Saindon. 'She appears to have put her injury behind her and is one of the strongest players on our team. We expect big things out of Natalie this year to shoulder a lot of the hitting load with Juliana (Escobar).'
The fourth outside hitter that Saindon says will surprise a lot of people is sophomore Sarah Watkins. The native of Mikawasha, Ind., played in only 10 matches as a freshman, averaging 1.09 kills and 1.52 digs per game. Her athletic frame and quickness will earn her time on the court this season.
Saindon is confident that all four players can interchange on the left and right sides, while also saying that Escobar (a left-hander) could be featured on right side.
In addition to the featured four, Saindon will also look to freshman Nicole Morton and Lindsay Hirzel for added depth. Morton, from Bonsall, Calif., has the ability to contribute right away.
In the Middle:
The only big concern facing Saindon is the middle blocker position. Departed senior Julia Leddy left the program as the one of the most distinguished middle blockers in school history, setting the career and single-season records for hitting percentage. Senior Jodi Proctor (formerly Smith) has starting experience at the position, but an offseason knee injury has her limited during preseason practice.
'We have some injuries going into the season that will really determine some of our early season success,' said Saindon. 'We have a veteran team, but we are going to have to depend a lot on our new players to contribute and take some of the pressure off the starters.'
Proctor (St. Johns, Ariz.) has been ASU's leading blocker each of the past two seasons with 0.86 per game in both 2001 and 2002. She was also third on the team last year averaging 2.41 kpg and is ASU's leading returning hitter with a .246 hitting percentage last year. She had knee surgery after last season and is doubtful to return to the lineup for the season opener.
With the injury to Proctor, redshirt senior Mandy Stephens (Napa, Calif.) will have to step up at middle blocker. In her fifth year in the program, Stephens has shown signs during her career that she can be a force on the court. ASU's tallest player at 6-3, Stephens averaged 2.51 kills per game during her sophomore season in 2001, but fell off last year with only 1.32 kpg last year.
Freshmen Tierra Burnley (Santa Clarita, Calif.) and Katie Wilson (Fullerton, Calif.) will also be asked to step up at middle blocker. Burnley and Wilson both come from a high level of club experience where they both grew up playing in Southern California.
On the Setter Position:
ASU's most experienced position may be the most important. Senior Cheryl Anglin will join with junior college All-American Giovana Melo at the setter position.
Anglin (Queen Creek, Ariz.) is second in the ASU record books with 3,560 career assists and has recorded 16 matches with 60 or more assists. She set the single-season record with 1,452 assists as a freshman and in 83 career matches has recorded three of the top six assist performances in school history. While inching closer to the school record of 5,180, Anglin will likely team with Melo for a two-setter system. Anglin averaged 9.94 assists per game last year while starting 26 of ASU's 27 matches.
'Cheryl (Anglin) is one of the team leaders and is very unselfish,' said Saindon. 'We are asking her to do a lot of different things and she has stepped up. She is a smart setter and will combine with Giovana to make a really good setter combination.'
Melo, a junior college transfer from Western Nebraska Community College, is described by the coaching staff as a dynamic and energetic setter. With her Brazilian descent (Ribeirao Preto), Melo will also work well with fellow Brazilian Juliana Escobar. Melo was a two-time, second-team AVCA All-American at WNCC in Scottsbulff, Nebraska.
The Libero/Defensive Specialist
New to the NCAA women's game in 2002, the libero position added a dynamic defensive player that is on the court during almost every rotation. Senior Courtney Blocher (Scottsdale, Ariz.) took on the role last year and proved to be one of the best in the Pac-10. An energetic force on the floor, Blocher was second on the team averaging 2.89 digs per game and recorded double digits in digs in 14 matches. An athletic player who was Arizona's high school player of the year as an outside hitter, Blocher is a key to ASU's trademark defense. She has played in 312 games during her career and has averaged 2.84 digs per game.
'We are a very defensive team,' said Saindon. 'We will be diving all over the court and be very quick.'
Providing depth and support as a defensive specialist will be junior Stephanie Kohner (Anthem, Ariz.). The junior college transfer from Glendale Community College will be a solid backup to Blocher. She was coached by former Sun Devil All-American Lisa Stuck at GCC and helped lead her team to a third place finish at the junior college nationals in 2002. She averaged 5.27 digs per game last year to finish second in the Arizona junior college ranks.
On 2003 Schedule:
Just as in any year that the Devils have competed in the Pac-10, the road to the NCAA Tournament will have to go through the toughest conference in the nation. ASU is scheduled to play 12 matches against top 25 opponents, including two each against league foes USC (No. 1), Stanford (No. 4), Arizona (No. 10), UCLA (No. 13), Washington State (No. 19) and California (No. 24). The Devils will also face several other perennial national powers, including 2002 NCAA Tournament participants Utah, Nevada and San Diego. ASU earned 13 votes in the preseason AVCA poll to rank No. 41.
The Devils will be tested right out of the gates with a tough opening tournament hosting the Sun Devil Volleyball Classic. The Devils will host San Diego, Ohio and Utah during the two-day, six-match tournament. ASU, San Diego and Utah all made the NCAA Tournament last year.
'We have a tough schedule and we will find out right away where we stand and how good we are with that opening tournament. After our tough non-conference schedule, we will go right into our Pac-10 season with matches on the road at Washington and Washington State. We have our work cut out for us, but when you have a tough schedule you just have to step up to the challenge,' said Saindon.
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