Washington State Volleyball 2005: Building A Team

June 28, 2005

Brian Heffernan, in his second season as Washington State's women's volleyball head coach, is modeling his program after highly successful collegiate programs of the past and present, even if it is another sport.

John Wooden, legendary former UCLA men's basketball coach, espoused a philosophy of never pointing out individual performances or stars but to compliment what the team accomplished. Heffernan has taken on that philosophy, spending last spring and summer utilizing programs to build a blanket of team concepts. He believes the improved group dynamics will be reflected on the floor this fall.

'We spent the spring building trust and relationships,' Heffernan said. 'I believe that developing more of a cohesive team concept will help us find more success on the court.'

And the team-building will continue as eight new players don the crimson and gray uniforms and join the five returning Cougar players for the 2005 season.

'We have many new faces that bring special gifts with them and will become great fan-favorites within our program,' Heffernan said. 'When I arrived I had an optimistic outlook and didn't expect to wave a magic wand and have all the things that you need for a championship level team. Through the recruiting process, we've gotten to know the players better. We made inroads with the returning athletes to start to build relationships and trust. We became more of a team. They know this staff is here to move forward.'

The returning Cougar coaching staff includes assistant Jody Garry and volunteer assistant coach Kevin Marts. New to the program this year is assistant coach Ken Ko, who joined the staff last spring from Cal State Fullerton.

Of the five returning Cougar players, two have seen substantial playing time. Juniors Jen Barcus and Kelly Rosin were starters for the past two seasons with Barcus having a additional redshirt season her first year at WSU.

Barcus, a 6-1 middle blocker, was selected the most improved player on the Cougars' 2004 team and will be a mainstay of the 2005 lineup. Her service and back row games were notable improvements through the spring drills.

'Jen Barcus really started to elevate her level of play and her presence within the team in the last third of last year,' Heffernan said. 'We're expecting her to continue that progress, that climb of establishing herself as a solid performer and as a leader as well. She's learning what it means to be a leader and to perform that role on a consistent basis.'

Rosin, a 6-1 outside hitter, contributed 3.60 kills per game and 4.19 points per game last year, both 10th-best in the Pacific-10 Conference. She also contributed 2.17 digs per game in 2004 and was the team MVP. With solid passing skills and a great physical presence at the net, Heffernan wants Rosin to become more performance goal-oriented, focusing more on the process and performance rather than the outcome.

'The best is yet to come for Kelly Rosin,' Heffernan said. 'She is an athlete who has the ability to become an All-Pac-10 level performer for us. We saw the highest of highs from her, like hitting .324 against USC at the end of the year. We are looking for her to realize she is very talented and have her level of play become more consistent without the ebbs and the flows that come when athletes focus on outcomes. She is not going to be able to play a perfect volleyball game. There are going to be mistakes and she must learn to move forward through adversity.'

With 1,228 attack attempts last year, Rosin took 342 more swings than anyone else on the WSU team. That should change this year as some of the newcomers will help share the offensive responsibilities.

'Everyone knew Kelly was one of two people that we would set the ball to on a consistent basis last year,' Heffernan said. 'This year's team should be more balanced and she will not feel the pressure of being the person who is getting every out-of-system set.'

Gwen Davis, a 5-11 junior from Walla Walla who spent her freshman year on the Colorado State volleyball team, is the heir apparent for the setter's job after sitting out last year, practicing daily with the team but not playing in fall or spring games. Davis is a gifted athlete and student. She can jump-touch 10-feet and she also led the team with a 3.79 grade point average last year.

'Gwen Davis has a special place in my heart after walking in here last year without any conditions, just looking for an opportunity to play volleyball again,' Heffernan said. 'She proceeded to establish herself as a leader by example through her efforts on the court, in the weight room and in the classroom and she has earned a scholarship for the 2005 season. We are looking forward to having her in our lineup to provide a physical presence at the net from our setter. It will be a new dynamic for our team. There are so many great left side hitters in the Pac-10 Conference that to have an athlete with the physicality to block on that right side is really important.'

Davis is working with Barcus this summer to establish the important and intricate relationship between middle blocker and setter.

'We didn't have a setter this spring so offensively we are definitely going to be a work in progress,' Heffernan said. 'Gwen's understanding of what our middles need and our middles understanding of what Gwen needs to see from them are some of the keys to our success. Our staff is looking forward to helping them improve over the next two years. As Gwen improves as a setter she will be able to find our middles and the other hitters more and more.'

Jesse Camp, a 6-0 junior is another returning outside hitter. During her first two years at WSU, Camp has had an unfortunate cycle of injuries that forced her to spend as much time rehabilitating as practicing and playing. Heffernan was happy with her production level last spring and the fact she has progressed to weight room workouts side-by-side with her teammates.

'We have not seen the best of Jesse Camp,' Heffernan said. 'In terms of her role with our team, she is one of our better defenders and ball-control players. Jesse is one of our higher volleyball IQ players so she understands the game and doesn't make a lot of errors, which is really important to be competitive at the Pac-10 level. I'm sure Jesse will be competing for time at the outside hitter position and we may use her to fill some our needs as a middle blocker. She played middle and setter this spring and did a nice job for us offensively.'

Junior outside hitter April Lott saw action in half the WSU games in 2004. Heffernan considers Lott the consummate die-hard Cougar with her greatest contributions to the program coming from her being a great role model, a great student, a hard worker and someone not afraid to speak up to share her passion for the program and challenge others around her.

'April is a strong leader for us who will be counted on the next two years to become more of a leader for our program,' Heffernan said. 'Her skills are improving everyday. She will have the opportunity to contribute to our team on the floor because she works so hard. I am confident that she will be ready for the challenges ahead.'

Carly Hayashikawa is a 5-4 sophomore who will be competing for time at the libero and defensive specialist position. A great teammate, Hayashikawa must work to become much more aggressive on the court.

'We have to use this preseason and season to get Carly to move beyond her comfort zones,' Heffernan said. 'More assertiveness and aggressiveness on the court will help her to compete for time at the libero and defense specialist positions. I really believe there's a great player in there.'

Three of the 2005 Cougar newcomers are transfers with two coming from community college programs and one a senior from a four-year college.

Te'ara (tee-air-ah) Epps, is a 6-1 senior middle blocker transfer from Division II Cal State Los Angeles. An honorable mention All-American last fall, Epps averaged 4.18 kills per game with an outstanding .387 hitting percentage.

'We really look for Te'ara to step into our lineup early in the season and establish herself as a very reliable presence for our offense,' Heffernan said. 'We want to get the ball to our middles and Jen Barcus and Te'ara are our two leading candidates. Te'ara provides a big physical presence at the net and that is important at the Pac-10 level to have big bodies in the middle to get over the net and block and help us on defense.'

Epps will have to adjust to the speed of the game at the Division I level but because of her playing experience should still have success from an offensive standpoint.

'She is now in the nation's best conference playing against some of the nation's best athletes,' Heffernan said. 'Her ability to learn our systems, connect with her team and coaches and focus on continual improvement will be key as she pursues success at this level.'

Natalia Owens is a 6-1 transfer from Shoreline Community College who is originally from Peru. Owens played the left, middle and right side at Shoreline. Her skill and versatility will allow her to make immediate contributions for the Cougars. Described as a charismatic player, Owens brings a high volleyball IQ and a high level of international playing experience to the team as well as a solid ball-control and defense game.

'Natalia will provide competitive maturity and will be a confidence-building presence for other athletes on the court who are not as experienced,' Heffernan said. 'She will be a great role model for everyone in the program. There is nothing she will face playing volleyball at the Pac-10 level that she hasn't already seen on her national team in Peru.'

Another transfer to the Cougar program is 5-10 outside hitter Adetokunbo Faleti (fa-lay-tee), who goes by Tokunbo or 'T.' Faleti led the perennially-strong Barton County College in every statistical category last year. Blessed with incredible athletic ability - Faleti won the NJCAA Indoor and Outdoor triple jump titles this year with a personal-best leap of 41-feet - she will use this year to hone her skills and footwork as she transitions to Pac-10 level volleyball.

'Tokunbo is a tremendous athlete with a contagious personality. She likes to compete and has fun on the court,' Heffernan said. 'She will become a fan favorite at WSU as well as have a great positive impact on her teammates. We look forward to having that kind of leadership and presence in our program.'

Outside hitter Brittany Johnson, a 5-9 freshman who enrolled at WSU in January 2005, has similar qualities to Faleti in terms of athleticism and love of competition. Johnson's approach jump was measured at 32 1/2 inches and she earned a 3.76 GPA last semester as an early arrival. Heffernan refers to her as, 'Magic,' comparing her court demeanor and passion for playing to former great basketball player Ervin 'Magic' Johnson.

'I think Brittany is one of our athletes who will have a transformational impact on the future of the program but will also be a great role model for the returning athletes,' Heffernan said. 'Brittany has very high academic standards and a work ethic second to none.'

Although Johnson has played middle blocker her whole career, Heffernan feels in time she will become equally effective as an outside hitter.

'Over the next couple of years we're going to see Brittany mature into a really strong all-around player for us,' Heffernan said.

Another incoming freshman who enrolled at WSU a semester early is 5-8 libero Jalen Pendon. Heffernan describes Pendon as the Cougars' best defender and passer, already exceeding the best performance from last year. Pendon had a knee scope done shortly after she arrived in January as a follow-up to surgery to repair and meniscus tear her junior year in high school. She was cleared to play halfway through spring without restrictions. This summer she is working with the athletic training and strength staff to strengthen the musculature around the knee.

'Jalen is a very strong candidate for the libero position,' Heffernan said. 'Her ability to contribute will depend on the doctor's evaluation of her knee, her commitment to taking care of her knee and realizing her limitations over the next four years.'

Maureen Perez is a 5-9 sophomore transfer from the University of Central Florida who made an unofficial visit to WSU as a high school senior from Vancouver, Washington. Heffernan feels Perez has the ability to contribute as a setter and as a libero and will be able to provide on and off the court leadership making good decisions and helping the team get through challenging times.

Kelly Russell is a 6-0 freshman walk-on from Grangeville, Idaho. Russell will begin as a middle blocker but in the future will transition to the outside hitter role according to Heffernan. Described as a good jumper with great agility and quickness, Heffernan said Russell is also a hustler and a great teammate who over time will become a really special player.

WSU's 2005 non-conference schedule will allow for blending the newcomers with the returning players. The Cougars will go on the road to play Portland, Idaho State, Toledo, UC Davis, Middle Tennessee State, Oakland, Saint Louis, Gonzaga and Eastern Washington. The Baden Cougar Challenge tournament at Bohler Gym finds Oral Roberts, Buffalo and Idaho across the net from WSU.

'Throughout our preseason we are facing teams that we will have the ability to compete with,' Heffernan said. 'As we improve over that four-week block of time, our competition will help us to answer many positional questions and give us time to establish a competitive group on the floor.

'By the time we enter the Pac-10 schedule we will have logged 11 matches. These matches will give our athletes some time to grow and learn more about how to help and support each other. Our conference opponents are all strong teams and we will have to play hard and together to compete with their level of play. I believe that with consistency we can be very competitive with every opponent we play in 2005.'

Coach Heffernan and the coaching staff are challenging the athletes to take greater 'ownership' of the Cougar volleyball program with the belief that their hard work in the classroom, in the weight room and on the court will lead to 'earning' the right to be successful.

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