Bateman 'Sets' USC Toward Championship

By Ryan Reiswig

Growing up, children usually take after their parents in the majority of their decisions. For USC's women's volleyball program, they're very glad their current setter, Kendall Bateman, did the opposite when it came to sports.

Coming from an athletic family—her mom played basketball and her dad played baseball, both at Loyola Marymount University—one would think softball or basketball would have been her sport of choice. Luckily for USC, Bateman is a copycat.

"I have a sister who is two years older than me, so I was just the little sister who wanted to copy her and do everything she was doing," explains the junior from Torrance, Calif. "She started playing volleyball when she was in the fifth grade, I started when I was in the third or fourth, so I was just following her footsteps."

One thing separating Bateman from her sister is that she will be playing in the NCAA Final Four in Kansas City Thursday evening against California, in what will be the biggest match she's ever played. Her Trojans didn't make it this far, however, without breaking a sweat.

Last weekend the Trojans cleared what was the biggest hurdle of the season, beating the Stanford Cardinal in the regional finals, a match that lasted five sets and saw Bateman lead the Trojans with 64 assists and 15 digs. The Trojans lost two matches in the regular season to the Cardinal.

"Going up against Stanford I think we went in with nothing to lose, it helped us," says Bateman. "We just had to play with heart, our team gave it their all instead of thinking about the two losses we had previously. I think it was just something that helped us rather than make us scared."

The big win was not only a necessity to move on in the tournament, but also helped the team become a tighter unit.

"It was really good for our team," says Bateman. "It got really tight at the end and I think instead of separating, our team came together, especially our freshman. They didn't blink, they just kept going. There was no hesitation in any of their faces, which was incredible to see."

With well over half the team's roster being underclassman, Bateman has taken the reigns of the team and led them to success.

"No question that Kendall is the glue that keeps the team together," says USC head coach Mick Haley, in his 10th year as head coach. "She basically is very easy to get along with, very competitive. She is the only setter on the team so she carries a tremendous responsibility, and she played a third of this season injured without anyone knowing."

Just as Haley attributes much of USC's success this season to Bateman's play and leadership, Bateman credits Haley as well.

"He's helped me grow so much since even before I got here," says Bateman, whose sister played with Haley's daughter on several teams which enabled her to know him from an early age. "You grow as a person with him, you have to be on task all the time, you have to be responsible with both school and volleyball. He just prepares you."

As the team's setter, Bateman is not the one spiking the ball down on someone making it on ESPN's SportsCenter. She's just as happy putting her teammates in position to have success.

"It's kind of like the quarterback role. You get to run the plays. It's a huge leadership role, too," says Bateman, second on USC's single-season assists list with 1,539 this year. "I think people who want fame shouldn't be the setter. I get a lot of satisfaction out of my own teammates getting kills and setting things up for them."

The American Volleyball Coaches Association acknowledged her solid play, naming her to the 2010 All-Pacific Region team. After leading the nation in assists last year, she's followed it up by ranking third in assists this season.

"This is the best she has ever played and has become more aggressive," says Haley. "She has seen how to run an offense. It normally takes four to six years, but she has it down. She is doing quite well and keeps doing better."

Bateman is a two-time member of the U.S. Girls' National Team and many of her former teammates will lead their team into this week's Final Four including Sydney Yogi and Rachael Adams of Texas, and Katie Kabbes of Penn State. One other, Tarah Murrey of California, will face Bateman and the Trojans Thursday night.

With Bateman and her former teammates about to face off in the biggest match of their careers, has there been any trash-talking?

"We keep [the trash-talking] civil," laughs Bateman.

So who is going to win?

"We will do our best, I think we have a great chance at winning," says Bateman. "Cal is a great team; it's been close every match we've played. It'll be a great match."

Quiet confidence. Bateman's led them this far with it, and if that's any indication of what's to come Thursday, Cal has something to worry about.

USC and California face off Thursday at 6:00 p.m. PT.

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