Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Look At The Week (Nov. 24-28)

By Jen Armson-Dyer

Arizona State Upsets No. 2 Cal
For the first time since 2002, Arizona State defeated No. 2 California, taking down the Golden Bears in five games (25-23, 14-25, 20-25, 26-24, 15-7) on Wednesday night in Berkeley, Calif. Three Sun Devil players reached double-digit kills, led by senior outside hitter Sarah Reaves with 16 and sophomore outside hitter Malia Marquardt and sophomore middle hitter Erica Wilson with 15 apiece. Junior setter Cat Highmark distributed 54 assists and senior libero Sarah Johnson led the defense with 24 digs. Arizona State outblocked Cal 16.0 to 11.0, led by Wilson and sophomore middle hitter Alexis Pinson with eight stuffs each.

Utah State Shocks No. 3 Hawaii To Win First-Ever WAC Title
Snapping a streak of 10 straight conference tournament title victories by Hawaii, Utah State swept the Wahine (25-15, 27-25, 26-24) Wednesday in Las Vegas to capture its first-ever WAC Tournament Championship. The third-seeded Aggies become only the third team to ever win the WAC tournament, joining Hawaii and BYU, and the loss was the first in its last 24 matches for the Wahine. Utah State sophomore opposite Shay Sorensen led the squad with 13 kills on an errorless 19 swings to hit .684 (13-0-19) while junior outside hitter and tournament MVP Liz McArthur posted 12 kills and sophomore outside hitter Josselyn White added in nine kills. Senior setter Chelsea Fowles dished out 35 assists while senior libero Christine Morrill picked up a team-high 11 digs. Senior middle hitter Shantell Durrant led the blocking front with eight total blocks as Utah State outblocked Hawaii 11.0 to 4.0. With the win, Utah State earned the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and will face No. 2 California in Berkeley, Calif. It is the fourth NCAA appearance for the Aggies.

Purdue, Indiana Take Down No. 10 Illinois
The Hoosier state combined for another sweep of a top-10 program after taking out Penn State earlier in the season, as this time Indiana and Purdue both beat No. 10 Illinois in four games. On Friday night the Hoosiers came away with the victory (25-20, 22-25, 25-20, 25-22) behind 18 kills on .469 hitting (18-3-32) from senior middle hitter Ashley Benson. Sophomore outside hitters Jordan Haverly and Ivie Obeime contributed 13 and 12 kills, respectively, as Indiana outhit Illinois .285 to .184. Junior setter Mary Chaudoin and sophomore setter Whitney Granado dished out 23 and 22 assists, respectively, as junior libero Caitlin Cox picked up a match-high 25 digs. Benson and senior middle hitter Taylor Wittmer led the blocking game with six stuffs each. With the win, Indiana once again proved its home-court advantage as the Hoosiers have now taken down the top four conference teams – Penn State, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan – within the not-so-friendly confines of University Gym in Bloomington, Ind.

Saturday night in West Lafayette, Ind., three Boilermakers reached double-digit kills in Purdue’s win over the Fighting Illini (25-19, 25-27, 25029, 28-26), led by sophomore middle hitter Anna Drewry with 17 kills, sophomore outside hitter Ariel Turner with 13 kills and redshirt freshman Catherine Rebarchak with 10 kills. Senior setter Jaclyn Hart dished out 52 assists and junior libero Blair Bashen led the way with 20 digs as junior middle hitter Tiffany Fisher topped the blocking chart with six stuffs. The win was the second over a top-10 foe this season for the Boilermakers. “To beat a top-10 ranked team is always exciting,” said Purdue head coach Dave Shondell. “Illinois is always well coached, they’ve got good talent and we’ve had a hard time with them the last couple of years, so to finally get over that hump was fun tonight. It was a great team effort, offensively we were nearly flawless and we had everyone hitting on all cylinders, but it was the defense that made the difference.”

Utah Upsets No. 14 Colorado State
Utah upset No. 14 Colorado State in four games (15-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-21) Wednesday in Fort Collins, Colo., for the program’s first win over a ranked opponent since Nov. 22, 2008, when it also defeated the Rams. Junior middle hitter Danielle Killpack pounded 16 kills on an errorless 25 swings to hit. 640 (16-0-25) for the match while senior Karolina Bartkowiak and freshman Erin Redd both chipped in 11 kills. Senior setter Stephanie Neeley contributed 46 assists as senior libero Keisha Fisher pulled up 21 digs to lead the Utes. Bartkowiak and Killpack led the Utah blocking front with seven and six blocks, respectively. "We've been working hard all season," said Utah head coach Beth Launiere. "We really put it together tonight and we played a good match against a good team. I'm proud of our team. We started playing with more confidence toward the end of the first set and that carried over for the rest of the match."

Boston College Captures Win Over Maryland
Boston College claimed its first ACC win of the season with a four-game win against Maryland (25-18, 18-25, 25-19, 25-23) on Wednesday in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Junior outside hitter Tsvetelina Dureva led the Eagles with 19 kills as senior middle hitter Melanie Cimino posted 13 kills on .571 hitting (13-1-21) and freshman middle hitter Melissa McTighe chipped in nine kills on .467 hitting (9-2-15). Senior setter Dani Moskitis dished out a season-high 54 assists and junior libero Brennan Clark picked up 22 digs to lead the defense, which outdug Maryland 62 to 50. McTighe also led the blocking front with five stuffs. "I'm really proud of the seniors to be ability to stay focused and concentrated throughout the season," BC head coach Chris Campbell said. "This win is a testament to their and the team's personal character, as well as their abilities as athletes. I'm happy we could finish on this note. We made a lot of strides this year, which wasn't always a smooth ride. Certainly this result shows that we are internalizing lessons as we go and is a good indication of where we'll go in the future and what we are capable of."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Volleyball and NCAA Division I Parity

By Kathy DeBoer

At 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, November 28, the NCAA DI Committee will announce the bracket for the DI Women’s Championship on ESPN News. It will be one of the most closely watched, and has been easily the most talked about, bracket in the history of the championship. Sixty-four (64) teams will be invited, thirty-two (32) conference winners, who receive automatic bids, and thirty-two (32) at-large selections. Sixteen (16) of the sixty-four, or 25% of the bracket, will be seeded.

Here are the reasons we know you are watching? 1.) Still the most viewed blog on the AVCA website and Facebook page is Jen Armson-Dyer's 2010 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Preview. Although written in the middle of August, readers keep going back to it to review her choices 2.) The most opened page on the AVCA website is the AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 Poll. On cue, hundreds of fans open the poll each week as soon as it is posted to see where their favorite team is positioned in the standings. 3.) In the last few weeks, we have heard extensive conversations on The Net Live, Kevin Barnett’s and Reid Priddy’s podcast about all things volleyball, about favorites, bubble teams, regional hosting advantages, and the potential number one seeds. 4.) She’s got Game, the Monday and Friday radio show, hosted by Brenda Van Lengen and Mechelle Voepel from Kansas City, the championship site, has had a steady stream of speculation and commentary about the bracket. 5.) Terry Gawlik, Wisconsin’s senior associate athletic director, who is in the unenviable position of serving as chair of the selection committee, has had more air time with different media outlets than any DI Volleyball Committee chair in the 30-year history of the championship.

The buzz word for the entire season in DI has been parity. Want a few examples: In the same week that #2 California completes a sweep of #4 Stanford for the first time in 31 years, they lose to Arizona State, an unranked team in 8th place team in their league. While Penn State is still, well, Penn State, this season they lost both matches on the Indiana-Purdue road swing, a dubious ‘first’ since they joined the Big 10 in 1991. Hawai'i, the indomitable WAC team, and the # 3 ranked team in the coaches poll, gets waxed, 3-0, the day before Thanksgiving by unranked Utah State in the conference tourney final.

So, who are your top four seeds? And, how sure are you they will end up in Kansas City? While there is no trademarked name, like March Madness, to describe the next three weeks, this year’s tournament could approximate December dementia and deliver a bevy of holiday surprises!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Look At The Weekend (Nov. 19-21)

By Jen Armson-Dyer

No. 19 Minnesota Rallies To Defeat No. 9 Illinois
The 19th-ranked Golden Gophers fought off four match points in the fourth game at Illinois and ultimately claimed the match in five games (25-22, 18-25, 23-25, 26-24, 15-9) Saturday in Champaign, Ill. The Minnesota win was its seventh in the last eight matches and the victory also snapped the 22-match home winning streak for the Fighting Illini. Freshman outside hitter Ashley Wittman and senior middle hitter Lauren Gibbemeyer each pounded 18 kills for the Gophers, with Gibbemeyer’s coming on .469 hitting. Freshman middle hitter Tori Dixon chipped in 14 kills on .414 hitting as sophomore outside hitter Tabi Love notched nine kills. Sophomore setter Mia Tabberson dished out 54 assists and four Minnesota players reached double-digit digs, led by junior Jessica Granquist with 18 and freshman Steffi Sooter with 17. Gibbemeyer also led the squad with five blocks. Minnesota attacked at a.455 clip in the fifth game (10-0-22) while Illinois hit .000 (5-5-22). “That was a sensational run there,” said Minnesota head coach Mike Hebert about his team’s performance at the end of the fourth game. “How can you not gain confidence from that and feel like you have momentum as a team? That’s a very unusual set of circumstances to come back from four points down in rally score, not just to tie the game, but to actually win the set. That was a real important moment for us and one that I think we’ll ride for awhile.”

Louisville Tops No. 18 Cincinnati For Big East Title
Louisville swept No. 18 Cincinnati (25-20, 25-20, 25-15) for its third consecutive Big East Championship and the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Freshman outside hitter and tournament MVP Emily Juhl led the Cardinals with 13 kills on .565 hitting (13-0-23) with three aces and three blocks while sophomore outside hitter Lola Arslanbekova added in 12 kills. Freshman setter Taylor Brauneis dished out 34 assists while junior Maci Wachtel picked up a match-high 10 digs. Junior middle hitter Gwen Rucker posted a match-high six blocks in the win for Louisville. The Cardinals outblocked the Bearcats 11.0 to 3.0 and hit .393 to Cincinnati’s .211. "We stayed in our game plan almost perfectly, with no mental break," said Louisville head coach Leonid Yelin. "I am very proud of this young team, I could not ask any more from them. It was just a great match."

No. 22 Arizona Knocks Off No. 11 Washington
No. 22 Arizona recorded its 20th win of the season with a four-game win against No. 11 Washington (25-22, 25-21, 18-25, 25-22) Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., on Senior Night. Senior outside hitter Tiffany Owens pounded 26 kills on .440 hitting for the Wildcats (26-4-50) while junior outside hitter Courtney Karst added in 20 kills and junior middle hitter Cursty Jackson and senior outside hitter Whitney Dosty both chipped in nine kills. Senior setter Paige Weber distributed 59 assists and Owens collected a match-high 26 digs as Jackson posted a team-high three blocks. "It's my last game at home, and in four years we've never beat Washington," said Weber. "Before we came in we were told that the last time we beat them was eight years ago. This was our last chance to play them, unless we see them again in the tournament. We played them here, on our home floor, and we finally won. You couldn't write a better story."

Cal State Northridge Downs Long Beach State
Behind a career-high 21 kills from freshman Natalie Allen, Cal State Northridge knocked off Long Beach State in four games (20-25, 25-22, 25-21, 25-17) on Friday in Northridge, Calif. The win was the third straight for the Matadors over the 49ers dating back to 2008. Senior outside hitter Janet Alvarado chipped in 10 kills on .364 hitting for the Matadors as junior setter Sam Orlandini posted 47 assists. Sophomore libero Cindy Ortiz picked up a match-high 21 digs as Allen and sophomore Monica McFarland both chipped in 12, good for Allen’s team-leading ninth double-double of the year. Cal State Northridge outblocked Long Beach State, 11.5 to 6.0, led by senior middle hitter Lynda Morales with seven. “We started blocking late in the match and making Long Beach’s offense a little more hesitant,” said Cal State Northridge head coach Jeff Stork. “They started making more and more errors and we started playing with more and more confidence. All in all it was just a real good night for Northridge.”

Miami (Ohio) Takes Out Western Michigan
Eleventh-seeded Miami (Ohio) fought off two match points to come back to claim a five-game victory over third-seeded Western Michigan (12-25, 25-21, 25-22, 21-25, 16-14) on Friday in the Mid-American Conference quarterfinals. Junior outside hitter Amy Raseman led the RedHawks with 16 kills as sophomore Lisa Treadway and senior Michele Metzler contributed 13 and 12 kills, respectively. Sophomore setter Amy Kendall led the squad with 35 assists and contributed 14 digs as Treadway posted a team-high 19 digs, Loftus added 17 and freshman outside hitter Madison Hardy tallied 14. Metzler and junior middle hitter Cassie Farrell led the squad with four blocks. “This has been quite a ride again, coming into the match with Western we just wanted to play the spoilers, and I’m happy to say that we actually were,” said Miami (Ohio) head coach Carolyn Condit. “What a great match it was. Western Michigan actually outhit us, outdug us and you look at it and think ‘how could you win?’ But we had some really timely kills and good serves and smart decisions by the blockers at the right time and that certainly helped us.”

Friday, November 19, 2010

Volleyball and Thanksgiving

By Kathy DeBoer

I traveled to West Plains, Mo. this week to be part of the National Junior College Athletics Association’s Division I Championship. The sponsoring school, Missouri State University-West Plains, brought out the mayor of the town and the president of the school to bring greetings at the tournament banquet. What struck me, however, is that both of them were visible at multiple matches the next day.

The hosts of the tournament, beside the solo athletics administrator at Missouri State, are business people from town who take four days away from their real jobs to MC the banquet, staff the hospitality room, post score updates, sell programs, collect admissions, pat athletes and coaches on the back, and generally make everyone feel welcome and uniquely valued for coming to town. Among the volunteers, I met an insurance salesman, a distributor of veterinary medicine supplies, a retail clerk, a car dealer, a nurse practitioner, and a caterer. All were genuinely thankful for the opportunity to be part of the championship.

Thursday evening I drove to St. Louis to attend the NCAA DIII Championship banquet and present the AVCA All-America Awards. I was surprised to reconnect with Terry Condon, the great player of the mid-1970’s UCLA teams who was convinced to take on the UMass-Boston program five years ago and, at almost 60, has coached them to their first appearance in the NCAA Elite Eight.

Also there was Terry Clemens, the legendary Washington University coach, whose health problems had put her at death’s door more times than she could count. She served as the keynote speaker and was able to brag about taking 12 minutes off of her most recent road race time.

Certainly all is not copacetic with the volleyball world. While on this same road trip I had a phone conversation with a veteran coach who felt she had been ambushed by an unhappy player and her father and forced from her job unfairly; I also corresponded with a coach who was contemplating suing his administration for what he considered wrongful discharge; I sat next to a parent, who, before asking who I was, spewed forth a litany of wrongs her daughters had suffered at the hands of various coaches.

No, all is not goodness and light within the volleyball community. Still, a pause for thanksgiving, even if taken between recruiting calls, film study, strapping an ice pack on an aching shoulder, calming a raging parent, mourning a lost job, or setting out on another road trip, is both appropriate and necessary.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Art of Volleyball

By Terry Pettit

Reprinted from “Talent and the Secret Life of Teams," which can be ordered at www.terrypettit.com

I like to imagine what Sun Tzu, the heroic Chinese general and author of The Art of War, would have written if his passion had been coaching volleyball instead of military strategy. It might have gone like this:

I. There are three ways to disarm the opponent with the serve:
1. Serve to the receiver whose eyes refuse to meet yours.
2. Serve to the receiver who has one arm longer than the other.
3. Serve to the receiver who looks for her mother to fill her water bottle.

II. Try to disrupt cooperation between the opponent’s setter and her quick attacker with one of the following tactics:
1. Have your team captain engage the opposing setter with an interesting story.
2. Have your blockers wear roman numerals.
3. Squint and pretend there is no danger.

III. If the opponent’s players march into the arena angrily and remain facing your team for a long time without serving or retreating, the situation demands a time-out with loud incomprehensible music.

IV. When the stress of the season starts to impact your mental health, realize this truth: the head coaches of Olympic sports are not fired until football has a winning season.

V. When the opponent sends out only small defensive players to hit in the warm-up, beware: it is a trick or you have scheduled a soccer team by mistake.

VI. If the campus you are visiting should harbor hilly country, large cardboard boxes, and hollow garbage cans filled with excessive paper, beware: the opponent has received a shipment from Nike.

VII. There are three dangerous flaws that may affect a coach and his team:
1. A lack of arm speed, which leads to an indifferent assault.
2. A senior who has fallen in love for the first time, which leads to aimless play.
3. Signaling on the wrong side of the clipboard, which leads to confusion for the server and great delight for the fans.

VIII. Fear the opponent who arrives by charter. Be suspicious of the opponent who arrives by motor coach. Schedule frequently the opponent who arrives in a Dodge Caravan.

IX. If over-matched with the opponent, do not invite the athletic director to watch your ineptitude.

X. In the recruitment process, beware the junior coach who has the logos of Final Four participants stitched to his warm-up.

XI. If the opposing setter tapes her fingers, she has spent countless hours in training. If the opposing coach tapes his fingers, he has spent countless hours in therapy.

XII. Regard your players as your children and they will follow you into the darkest valleys. Ask them to set aside their cell phones and they will consider you a stranger.

XIII. All volleyball is based on deception.
The setter hopes to deceive the middle blocker by moving her hips.
The outside hitter hopes to deceive the digger with a tip and an aggressive approach.
The coach hopes to deceive the fans by scheduling ghosts in the preconference season.

XIV. When the foolish assistant mistakes generosity for vulnerability in the countenance of the head coach, the assistant has begun the long, painful journey to another camp.

XV. When the head coach begins to believe that the system is the key to his success and stops recruiting great talent, he is on a path to becoming a barista.

XVI. When dust is rising on the horizon, it is a sign that the enemy is approaching or perhaps that we have once again been assigned to a building that revenue sports have abandoned.

XVII. When the opposing coach greets you with the phrase, “Welcome to the enchanted valley,” brace yourself from showing enthusiasm for the opportunity to wage a battle with the entitled.

XVIII. When calling a time-out consider the following:
1. Do not ask a rhetorical question.
2. Ignore the player searching for her boyfriend in the stands.
3. Do not identify the person that you do not intend to serve.

XIX. Experience is only valuable with reflection. A wise coach begins every evaluation with the phrase, “How did we do this to ourselves?”

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Look At The Weekend (Nov. 12-14)

By Jen Armson-Dyer

No. 8 Penn State Takes Down No. 9 Illinois
Eighth-ranked Penn State swept No. 9 Illinois (25-18, 25-16, 25-18) to move into a tie for the Big Ten lead and also increase its home winning streak to 88 consecutive matches. The record ranks second all-time in NCAA history behind Nebraska’s 90-match home winning streak. Against the Fighting Illini, senior opposite Blair Brown led the way with 13 kills on .393 hitting as freshman outside hitter Deja McClendon posted 12 kills without an error to hit .600 (12-0-20) and freshman middle hitter Ariel Scott tallied 10 kills. Sophomore Kristin Carpenter dished out 37 assists and led the team to a .324 hitting percentage while freshman defensive specialist Ali Longo led the squad with a career-high 12 digs. Scott and senior middle hitter Fatima Balza both posted five blocks in the match, a personal-best mark for Scott. As always, however, the Nittany Lions aren’t focusing on the current home-court winning streak, just like they hadn’t been focusing on their NCAA-record overall winning streak that ended earlier this year. “The same thing with the other streaks we’ve been a part of, we’re not looking at the numbers, we’re looking at the next match,” senior libero Alyssa D’Errico told The Daily Collegian, the Penn State student newspaper. “The streak is not going to matter if we don’t win the next two games at home because then we’re not going to hang another banner.”

Oklahoma Bounces No. 14 Iowa State
Oklahoma used five players in double-digit digs to knock off No. 14 Iowa State in four games (24-26, 25-21, 25-20, 25-23) Saturday in Norman, Okla. Junior outside hitter Caitlin Higgins produced her seventh double-double of the year with 14 kills and a season-high 22 digs to lead the Sooners. Sophomore defensive specialist Maria Fernanda notched 20 digs while freshman defensive specialist Eden Williams posted 16, junior setter Brianne Barker recorded 11 and freshman defensive specialist Mindy Gowen picked up 10. Higgins and junior outside hitter Suzy Boulavsky both recorded 14 kills as sophomore outside hitter Morgan Reynolds pitched in 11. Senior middle hitter Sarah Freudenrich and freshman middle hitter Sallie McLaurin both produced five blocks to lead the squad. "A lot of our losses are to teams ranked higher than us in the RPI, and I kept telling the team that if you play well things will eventually bounce your way," said Oklahoma head coach Santiago Restrepo. "It's a great confidence builder and great for us going into our match at Nebraska. This is a great win for our program."

Kentucky Outlasts No. 15 LSU
Kentucky used 13 kills on an errorless 26 swings to hit .500 in the fifth game to outlast No. 15 LSU (25-23, 21-25, 25-23, 18-25, 15-11) Sunday on Senior Day to capture its first win over a ranked opponent this season. Four Wildcats reached double-digit kills, led by redshirt freshman outside hitter Whitney Billings with 18, senior middle hitter Lauren Rapp with 17, senior outside hitter Blaire Hiler with 11 and junior middle hitter Gretchen Giesler with 10. Sophomore setter Christine Hartmann picked up a double-double with 53 assists and 16 digs while sophomore libero Stephanie Klefot recorded a match-high 29 digs. Billings and Rapp also posted double-doubles in the match with 14 and 10 digs. Giesler led the blocking front with six blocks. "I'm really proud of them (Rapp and Hiler) because they played with a lot of emotion," Kentucky coach Craig Skinner said. "They've been major factors for this program throughout their four years here and they've given everything they've had. This program is forever indebted to them, and we know they're always going to be Kentucky Wildcats."

Iowa Upsets No. 16 Michigan
Picking up only its second conference win of the season, Iowa knocked off No. 16 Michigan in four games (20-25, 25-23, 25-22, 25-23) Saturday night in Iowa City, Iowa. Senior middle hitter Becky Walters and freshman outside hitter Rachael Bedell both contributed 11 kills on .375 hitting for the Hawkeyes as junior middle hitter Mallory Husz posted nine on .583 hitting. Junior setter Paige Stevens and freshman setter Nikki Dailey dished out 24 and 14 assists, respectively, as freshman libero Bethany Yaeger picked up 15 digs. The blocking front was the game-changer for Iowa, who outblocked Michigan 15.5 to 4.0 for the match. Walters led the way with eight stuffs as Bedell posted a career-high-tying five. "I'm really proud of how we played and I'm really happy for the Hawkeyes," said Iowa head coach Sharon Dingman. "We've had our problems executing, but tonight I thought we executed really well and I'm really happy for these players. Everyone played well, but I thought our blocking was tremendous. Everybody contributed at the net. Winning over losing feels great. I feel like this could be the first night where everyone contributed to the win. Everyone played well."

Maryland Beats Duke On Senior Day
For the first time in their careers, the seniors at Maryland beat Duke as the Terps took down the Blue Devils in four games (21-25, 25-16, 27-25, 25-20) on Sunday in College Park, Md. Sophomore outside hitter Kara Bates led Maryland with 17 kills on .371 hitting as senior middle hitter Brittney Grove posted 16 kills on .394 hitting and freshman outside hitter Mary Cushman delivered 11 kills without an error to hit .500 (11-0-22). Sophomore setter Remy McBain dished out 54 assists as senior libero Bethany Springer led the way with a match-high 24 digs. Junior middle hitter Lisa Scott led the blocking front with five stuffs as McBain and Grove each posted four. "We wanted to beat Duke so much, "said Grove. " For the seniors it was the perfect ending to go out here at Comcast. This is huge for us and our program in general."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Volleyball & Season Endings

By Kathy DeBoer

A week ago Ron Kordes of Assumption High School in Louisville, Ky. won his 16th, yes, you read it right, his sixteenth state championship. The same week, Al Givens resigned his head coaching position after 18 years at Weber State and 25 years in the profession. As this fall season comes to a close, we will experience many more bittersweet endings.

The final serve of a season brings both exuberant body piles at mid-court and melancholy farewell handshakes. Endings produce new plaques to hang on office walls and walls that must be stripped of a career’s worth of memories. After final matches we cry tears of joy, pride, and relief, or tears of regret, disappointment, and shock.

Next week I will travel to the land of body piles, back slaps and bonuses. The 16 most successful teams in National Junior College Athletics Association (NJCAA) Division I will meet in West Plains, Mo. to determine their national championship. I’ll also join the NCAA Division III elite eight in St. Louis where their national champions will be crowned at Washington University.

All the teams playing in these two events will be finishing remarkable seasons. All will give credit, in their public statements, to the dual volleyball gods of hard work and team chemistry. All will vow to leave the floor with no regrets.

That same week we will say goodbye to Alabama’s Judy Green, who after 24 years of coaching and over 600 wins, will be looking for work.

This is our life, our profession, where we cycle through our own episodes of ‘survivor.’ We chose it. We say we love it. If we are lucky, we leave it with no regrets.

There is no smarmy message or hidden warning in this column. I do not write it to second-guess any administrator. The pragmatic truth of a coaching life is that the performance review is seasonal, public and usually, heartlessly obvious.

At best, it keeps us humble, whether we are ending a Palin-esque or a Pelosi-esque season.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Media Relations – The Personal Touch Is Key!

By Phil Bush

One of the most frustrating things to many coaches I speak with is the lack of coverage their programs receive. For many, they have just about given up on ever having any consistent coverage, particularly in medium to large cities. And perhaps, in some cases, they are right. Depending on the medium, it is hard to get coverage. No question about it. However, before you totally give up, once again, let’s look at the different vehicles that you should/can use in order to get your program “out there.”

In any event, as I have said repeatedly throughout these blog listings, do you have a plan? If not, then I don’t think you will have much success. Much as with the plans for:

Using Social Media to drive off-line awareness (9/27 blog entry)
Attendance Ideas to Pack the House (10/10 blog entry)
Creating the Unfair home court advantage (10/27 blog entry)

…everything requires a plan. So, if you are not willing to put a plan together, don’t be surprised if nothing changes!

One of the first things to do is to list out the media outlets you want to target and someone from the volleyball staff make personal – and that means person-to-person contact- with them. The recoil from all of the online work that we do is the “art of the phone call” has gone away! So, surprise each of the media outlets with a phone call, and offer to stop by on the key ones for a visit. THEN you can use e-mail to keep in touch. The problem is that most people assume that the e-mail just “does it.” Well, think about how many e-mails you get each day. Don’t you think it is likely that media outlets get more than you do?

The next thing is to understand that one of the most important things you can with your players- and I’m not kidding here- is to “create heroes.” This is something that I learned working with the FIVB. A major focus for the International Federation is the development and creation of heroes. Players need to be “built up” not for the sake of a player’s ego, but so that people will want to come and see that player play and grow “attached” to that particular player. One small but VERY important thing I encourage you to do: For all warm-up/practice shirts, the media would really, really appreciate it if the players’ name or number were on that shirt. When I am covering a match for TV, I have to spend lots of time figuring out who is who- because the shots in the media guide rarely look much like what the athletes look like when I see them in person!!!

So, consider once you have developed your list of media outlets, here are some things you can do with them:

1. Have a special “Media Day.” A special practice where you walk through the drills you are running and impress upon the media people the level of athlete that a volleyball player is. I don’t think many people really understand how outstanding volleyball players are as “Pure” athletes! Serve lunch or dinner and have the media folks sit down and talk with the players. One on one connections are vastly more important in this day and age when we do have all the electronic interaction!
2. Make their job easy: SID departments have known that in order to get good coverage, you pretty much have to write stories for the media- nothing different here- so plan on giving them some ideas all the time.
3. Put together features on players and send them out to all media outlets
4. Do creative pieces on the website. Short videos showing clips of practices, matches, etc. all help tell the on-going story of your team.
5. For radio stations, see if you can find a station that will “adopt” your program. It’s usually a person-to-person type scenario, where a person at the radio station just decides that they “like” you and/or your program. Go on the station every week or so, just for a 2 minute piece, if you can find a DJ that will let you do so. Not saying it is perfect, but it’s something to consider!
6. If you are just getting started, there is nothing wrong with focusing on just a couple of matches. You don’t need to promote everything equally. Focus on those 2-4 matches where you can really “tell a story” and go from there.
7. At the end of the season, make the effort to go around/and or make phone calls to media outlets for their coverage. Tell them about the spring season and what you will be doing, so they know they have something to look forward to.

And of course, while I am talking a lot about personal touches, the website, Facebook, and Twitter Do provide great mechanisms to keep the information flowing. My point is that I think it will work a LOT better if you get “personal” first THEN use the on-line techniques to reinforce.

Hope these have been helpful; see you next month in Kansas City, where I hope to bring this ALL together for you!

(Phil Bush will be Blogging from time to time over the fall on Promotion/Production of Volleyball. Follow his thoughts at www.mavren.com as well.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sand in the Smoke

By David Carstenson

What happens when you take a group of American teenagers to Russia to play beach volleyball? A lot—and it’s all good. That was my experience this August despite the record heat, lack of visibility and fires. USA Volleyball flew 20 teens from all over the U.S. into Moscow. The boys and girls participating were chosen through USAV High Performance Beach tryouts and written essays.

While the city was still covered in smoke, our guest Master Instructor arrived -- Misty May Treanor. All the kids (both Russians and Americans) were thrilled. Playing outdoors was not an option due to the smoke, so we moved the beach indoors. Misty coached the kids, tutored the Russian coaches and gave interviews, and we played a lot of games, although it never was the U.S. vs. Russia. This trip was a Bilateral Presidential Commission's Youth Beach Volleyball Exchange supported by the U.S. State Department through SportsUnited. The idea was to have kids get to know one another in a non-tournament atmosphere. It was fun to watch the kids team up and try to learn the Russian or English words for "hit line" or simply "yours."

In between the matches, we saw Lenin’s Tomb and the Red Square, had a good old-fashioned BBQ at the U.S. Embassy, and attended the Moscow circus. The highlight was our private tour of the Kremlin. I’d never seen so much gold in my life; even our tour guide had never been inside.

Next we traveled to Anapa and stayed at The Hotel Volleygrad on the Black Sea. The Russian players were mostly older than our group, so were a bit more experienced. The USA players, on the other hand, were stronger physically and our coaching was stronger. Being a personal trainer, I worked their butts off with core conditioning. The American kids asked, “Can we do this tomorrow?” The Russians? Well, put it this way: they were a lot less enthusiastic.

My time as a volunteer was rewarded over and over again by watching the kids interact with each other and the tears that were shed when it was time to come home. For most, this was their first overseas trip ever. It’s not so much the training or the learning that I remember, but realizing that this made a huge difference in a lot of kids’ lives. One parent emailed me: “Just so you know, my kid is home, but her heart is still in Russia.”

David Carstenson is a long-time beach volleyball organizer based in Tampa, Florida. David runs collegiate and junior beach volleyball tournaments; coaches beach volleyball; and referees college, club, and high school indoor and beach volleyball. He is also a certified personal trainer. David can be reached at dcars@verizon.net.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Look At The Weekend (Nov. 5-7)

By Jen Armson-Dyer

Battle of the Californias
No. 7 Southern California handed No. 2 California its second loss of the season – with the first also coming at the hands of the Women of Troy – with a four-game victory (25-21, 20-25, 25-20, 25-18). Freshman outside hitter Falyn Fonoimoana led the squad with 20 kills on .359 hitting and also picked up a double-double with a team-high-tying and career-high 13 digs. Junior outside hitter Alex Jupiter notched 17 kills and junior middle hitter Lauren Williams posted 11 on .429 hitting as USC attacked at a .303 clip for the match. Junior setter Kendall Bateman dished out 58 assists and along with Fonoimoana, freshman libero Natalie Hagglund also picked up 13 digs as Jupiter posted 11 digs for her 12th double-double of the year. Jupiter and Williams also notched five blocks apiece in the win as Southern California outblocked Cal 12.0 to 7.0. With her 21.5 points in the match, Jupiter moved into fourth on USC’s career list for points with 1,439.0, passing April Ross (2001-2003). "It was our next step to be able to win on the road in the conference because we have always been splitting on the road,” said USC head coach Mick Haley. “To come up here and win the first night is very difficult against a Cal team that has lost only once this year before tonight. I was pretty impressed. We played well in the first set. We faded a bit and let them off the hook in the second set. We really brought it in the third and fourth sets after the intermission. I had a talk with Falyn (Fonoimoana) last week about needing to improve to play at this level. She had a bad start tonight, but she really took charge of the match. She did a whale of a job. Each week she gets better and stronger. It's pretty exciting to watch."

Big Ten, Big Mess
The teams in the Big Ten continue to beat up on each other week in and week out, and this week was no exception.

Friday night, No. 24 Northwestern swept No. 6 Illinois (25-22, 25-23, 25-20) behind .375 hitting. Senior middle hitter Naomi Johnson posted 14 kills on .667 hitting (14-0-21) while senior middle hitter Sabel Moffett pounded 12 kills on .545 hitting (12-0-22) and freshman outside hitter Stephanie Holthus notched 10 kills on .296 hitting. Senior setter Elyse Glab dished out 36 assists while junior outside hitter Alex Ayers notched a team-high 14 digs and sophomore outside hitter Madalyn Shalter chipped in 11. Johnson also led the Wildcat blocking effort with five stuffs. The victory over the Fighting Illini marked the highest-ranked opponent that the Wildcats had defeated since a 3-2 victory over third-ranked Penn State in 2000, and it was Northwestern’s first three-game sweep of Illinois since 1984. "What an unbelievable match from start to finish," said NU head coach Keylor Chan. "Our girls executed all night long and you could tell from before the match started this was one that was really important to them. We played (Illinois) well in the first meeting of the year, and I think that loss made these girls even hungrier to get this victory tonight. It was just an all-around great effort and was a lot of fun to be a part of."

However, the next night, the Wildcats dropped a five-game thriller to Wisconsin (25-16, 22-25, 17-25, 25-21, 19-21). Eight players reached double-digit kills in the match, as Moffett led Northwestern with a career-high 27 coming on .524 hitting. Freshman Julie Mikaelsen led Wisconsin with a career-high 19 kills as senior outside hitter Allison Wack posted 16 – including eight in the fifth game alone – sophomore middle hitter Alexis Mitchell posted 14 and sophomore Bailey Reshel added in 11. Junior setter Janelle Gabrielsen dished out 58 assists for the Badgers while the teams combined for a total of 164 digs in the match. Senior libero Kim Kuzma led Wisconsin with 28 while Shalter posted 21 for Northwestern. It was the first win over a top-25 team this season for Wisconsin. "Tonight was the type of match that if you're a fan of volleyball, you want to see," said Chan. "I thought both teams really wanted this win tonight, and it showed out on the court.”

Also on Friday night, Indiana topped No. 19 Minnesota in four games (25-22, 26-24, 21-25, 25-22) for its third victory over a top-20 opponent. Sophomore outside hitter Jordan Haverly posted her sixth double-double of the year with 24 kills and 15 digs as senior middle hitter Ashley Benson tallied 15 kills and added in a match-high nine blocks. Junior libero Caitlin Cox also posted 15 digs for the Hoosiers in the win.

Missouri Upsets Iowa State
Missouri recorded its first win over a ranked opponent with a four-game win over No. 12 Iowa State (19-25, 26-24, 25-22, 26-24) in Ames, Iowa. Senior Paola Ampudia led the Tigers with 22 kills on .254 hitting while senior Julianna Klein posted 16 kills and senior Catie Wilson recorded 11 kills without an error to hit .367 (11-0-30). Freshman setter Molly Kreklow dished out 47 assists as Caitlyn Vann picked up a team-high 24 digs. Brittney Brimmage led the blocking front with three stuffs. The win for Missouri is its fourth straight victory and its sixth in its last seven matches. The Tigers have also won 10 road matches this season.

Alabama Takes Down Kentucky
Alabama fought back from being down two games to outlast Kentucky in five games (16-25, 20-25, 25-21, 25-23, 15-13) Sunday afternoon. The win is the first for the Crimson Tide over the Wildcats since Oct. 19, 2007. Sophomore Kayla Fitterer finished with a career-high 35 kills (on .325 hitting) and 24 digs as senior Ashley Meuth posted 11 kills and freshman Brianne Vande Griend notched 10. Sophomore Leigh Moyer led the blocking front with five stuffs. "I thought we let Kentucky stay in system the first two sets," Alabama head coach Judy Green said. "We finally stepped up and served the ball better later in the match. We also got our feet in the right spots to make better passes. Our team played wonderfully today and never stopped fighting. We had the confidence to win today."

Arkansas Defeats Ole Miss
Behind three players with double-digit kills, Arkansas downed Ole Miss in four games (25-23, 19-25, 25-20, 25-20). Sophomore Jasmine Norton led the Razorbacks with 17 kills as sophomore Janeliss Torres-Lopez posted a career-high 15 kills on .429 hitting and junior Kelli Stipanovich tallied 14 kills. Freshman setter Raymariely Santos collected a double-double with 34 assists and a team- and career-high 22 digs as freshman Charmaine Whitmore posted five blocks in the win. “Offensively, we had balance all night," Arkansas head coach Robert Pulliza said. "We knew our middles had to be huge for us and set the tone for us to be successful. They did a good job and everything else just opened up. But the stat I'm looking at is the 78 digs. Everyone is going to look at the offense but I'm really proud of our kids for what they did defensively.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Volleyball and the FIVB Women’s World Championship

By Kathy DeBoer

I don’t know how many of you are following our women’s national team in the FIVB World Championships, but if you are not, you need to start. The team currently sits at 5-0 after the first round of pool play and is riding a remarkable wave of success in major international competitions.

As you may or may not know, the transition from college to international play is a much bigger jump than the move from high school/club to college. The game is much faster and, with only six substitutions, there is no front court/back court platooning available to mitigate a player’s weaknesses in particular skills. Most collegians take 3-5 years to become effective players internationally, no matter how good they were in college. Further, all the important international competitions are played overseas, relegating our national teams to an ‘out-of-sight/out-of-mind’ space in our volleyball consciousness, and adding the transition from collegiate stardom to stateside obscurity to the challenges of national team life.

Given all those facts, this team is winning anyway. In August, they won, yes, won the FIVB World Grand Prix - a four-week, four-country marathon where the jetlag alone will cripple the uninitiated. This feat has only been accomplished twice before by a US team, but both the 1995 and 2001 teams were full of players with enough frequent flyer miles to never pay for a ticket again.

Stat this on the current roster: Four starters have been out of college less than two years: Setter Alisha Glass and Opposite Destinee Hooker competed against each other for the NCAA DI National Championship less than a year ago in Tampa, Florida; Middle 1, Foluke Akinradewo and Outside 2, Jordan Larson both represented their college teams in the NCAA National Championship in Omaha, Nebraska in December of 2008. To say that their rise to prominence on the international scene has been meteoric is a colossal understatement. Add that the primary subs at outside hitter - you know, the toughest-on-the-planet job of entering a match when the team is in trouble and providing a lift – are Cynthia Barboza and Megan Hodge, another pair of international fledglings, and you have an accomplishment that defies hyperbole.

Certainly, there have been other players who have transitioned quickly from college to national team contributors – Logan Tom’s jump, as an underclassman, from Stanford to a starter in the 2000 Sydney Olympics comes to mind. And clearly, credit for this team’s success extends beyond the rookies; that same Logan Tom, today a seasoned veteran, is performing superbly at O1; Libero, Stacy Sykora and Middle 2 Heather Bown is clocking in consistent, workmanlike, matches. And who can ignore that Gold Medal-carrying, head coach, Hugh McCutcheon, as much as promised international success for our women when he took the job in December of 2008. He has moved at warp speed in fulfilling the high expectations he set for himself.

Yet, having said all that, ‘experience’ is not an ascribed trait, but an achieved one; you cannot give it to your players, they must experience it, and this team is winning without much of it on the floor.

So, let me end where I began: if you are not watching this team, you need to start. Their next match is Saturday, November 6. You can set up RSS feed to get match notes and results or you can subscribe to their free e-mail subscription.

You know the names; you won’t believe the stats; and you don’t want to miss this remarkable debutante ball!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Volleyball Bids Duke Adieu

By Terry Pettit

On September 18, Horace “Smitty Duke”, age 68, a setter-hitter for the United States Olympic team that upset the Russians in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, the setter the Mexicans called “el hombre de las manos de oro,” the man from Texas who was a four time All-American baseball pitcher for the University of Dallas, who could play every position on a baseball field better than any of his teammates, the man who was selected to the All-World Volleyball team at the World Cup in Czechoslovakia 1966, the man who was the only non-West Coast male on the U.S. '68 Olympic team, the man who dyed his hair red along with teammate Mary Jo Peppler when they played professional volleyball for the El Paso – Juarez Sol in 1975, the man who was a legend in Texas because he chose volleyball over a career in professional baseball, the man who made the single greatest attack I ever saw in volleyball, died from prostate cancer in his home in Unicoi, Tennessee.

The play: It was 1971 at a USVBA tournament at an event center St. Louis, Missouri. Smitty Duke was playing for the Dallas YMCA, his home club, when he was not playing internationally. He was stationed at right front in a 6-2 offense, attacking from the right side in the front row, while setting when he was in the back row.

A free ball came over the net and was passed to the back row setter. With the middle attacker up in the air for what the volleyball world called a Jap (a quick set in the middle), the setter back-set the ball to Duke. Smitty had several options. Because the block was split, he could spike the ball cross-court for a kill. Because the ball was set to the pin he could have easily wiped the ball off the outside blocker with a simple wrist -away shot down the line. Even a tip would have scored easily.

Instead, he chose to wipe the ball off the inside hand of the blocker which would require the ball to travel a minimum of thirty feet for the shot to score. The shot was hit harder than any attack I had ever seen. After deflecting off the opponent’s inside hand, the ball traveled laterally for three courts, and while still rising, hit the wall thirty feet above the floor. Play stopped on all five courts while everyone but Smitty Duke thought about what just happened.

Why did he do it? He did it for the same reason that he chose a relatively minor sport over a much more lucrative option. In a state where football and baseball received all of the coverage and notoriety, Smitty Duke was famous for choosing volleyball. He didn’t do it because it was what the situation called for. He didn’t do it to draw attention to himself. He did it (both the choice and the shot) because he could.

Terry Pettit – Author of Talent and the Secret Life of Teams, available at www.terrypettit.com

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pink and Passionate

By Jen Armson-Dyer

The Side-Out Foundation and Dig Pink are waging a different war on cancer through volleyball

Passion is a common trait in many athletes. The dedication to the end goal is what drives players during the early morning workouts, the long road trips, the tough matches. For Rick Dunetz, his love for the game of volleyball and his love for his mother have sparked another passion: fighting cancer.

In 2004, Dunetz suddenly found himself at the helm of the struggling West Springfield High School (Va.) girl’s volleyball team after the head coach resigned unexpectedly. By day, Dunetz was a data miner, a person who analyzes data from different perspectives and summarizes it into useful information. He took this approach with volleyball as well, throwing himself into reading, researching and studying the game. His players saw his passion for the sport and rallied together under the coach who had saved their program. But at the same time his team was taking a turn for the better, something else in his life was taking a turn for the worse. His mother Gloria, already a breast cancer survivor, had been diagnosed with the disease for a second time, and was heading into depression.

One day at practice, Dunetz shared his mother’s story with the team and they were inspired, deciding they not only wanted to win for themselves and their coach, they wanted to win for Gloria as well. The young athletes and their spirit and determination to fight through tough challenges on the court, in turn, inspired Gloria. That first season, the team won the district championship title, a feat never achieved before at their high school.

Dunetz realized the power that volleyball could have in the lives of his players, teaching them life lessons through the sport, and also teaching his mother that perseverance and spirit could work hand in hand with the doctors and treatment. He formed the Side-Out Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to making a significant difference in the lives of breast cancer patients and their families by supporting clinical trials, increasing compassionate support services and educating communities.

Named for the situation in volleyball where one team wins a point and regains control of play, the Side-Out Foundation wants to do the same in the lives of cancer patients: to provide them with the support, education and best available treatments to regain control of their lives.

It’s that last part that differentiates the Side-Out Foundation from other breast cancer fund-raising organizations. Instead of donating money to fund research, the Side-Out Foundation actually started its own clinical trial of late-stage metastatic breast cancer called the “Side-Out Protocol.” Together with the National Cancer Institute and an internationally-recognized scientific advisory team, they basically reversed the breast cancer treatment philosophy and made it an individual process.

“The idea of the protocol is that we believe that you can treat each breast cancer patient and their disease as an individual disease,” said Dunetz, whose passion for the treatment procedure is evident in his voice. “Right now we don’t treat it that way, we treat it as ‘breast cancer.’ Oncologists throw drugs at a wall until something works. In our clinical trial, we actually take biopsies of the existing disease, we look at it and we test hundreds and hundreds of cancer drugs and inhibiters on the biopsies to determine what should work on your disease, based on the research. With metastatic breast cancer, its crucial, you can’t miss, you can’t keep trying things. Because every day that goes by, every miss, the cancer just grows. That’s the problem. We need to find the right drug for the right patient at the right time.”

The Side-Out Foundation, through its Dig Pink events, has raised nearly $2.5 million since 2005, with most of that coming in the last two years. More than 1,000 high school and college teams are participating around the nation by hosting “Dig Pink” matches where they raise funds through auctions and raffles and encourage fans to wear pink to raise awareness of the disease. The Side-Out Foundation is also developing a program where junior club volleyball programs can get involved, called the “Dig Pink Tour,” along with several other initiatives to raise funds and awareness, some of which include giving back to the coaching community in the form of AVCA memberships or CAP certification courses through USA Volleyball.

But while getting the word out about the fight against cancer is a positive, the numerous organizations battling the disease can also hamper efforts to raise money for specific causes. According to Dunetz, there are several events every year that bill themselves as “Dig Pink” events and then donate their money to other national or local organizations. Some don’t realize that through the Dig Pink events, the Side-Out Foundation is an actual organization that is making headway in the cancer world. Dunetz estimates that the Side-Out Foundation has lost nearly $250,000 in the last couple of months by teams donating Dig Pink-fundraised money to other organizations from their Dig Pink events, which he is quick to point out isn’t being done intentionally.

“We’ve taken a different route,” said Dunetz. “Do we need to fund free mammograms across the country? No, Komen (the Susan G. Komen For The Cure organization) is doing a great job with that. We don’t need to do that. They are the largest charity in the world and they donate most of their money to education, prevention and early detection. They’ve got that covered, we don’t need to work on that. We’re trying to fund something different so that we can add on to what Komen is doing to fight the later stages of the disease.”

This fight has become even larger for Dunetz after his mother Gloria lost her battle with the disease on August 20, 2010.

“Everyone handles grief in a different way,” said Dunetz, after a pause, in a quieter voice. “Mine was intense anger. My mother did everything the doctors say you need to do, and she didn’t make it. Absolutely it makes me want to fight harder.”

Much like rival teams joining forces and forgoing their traditional uniforms for pink-hued ones, working together to raise money and encouraging fans to wear pink, Dunetz has one hope for the cancer community.

“I wish everyone would work together and come together instead of trying to be the one to take the credit for finding a cure. This isn’t a competition, we’re trying to make a difference here. I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. I want this to end. I want cancer to be over.”

For more information on the Side-Out Foundation and Dig Pink events, please visit http://side-out.org/