Aug. 24, 1997
1997 Season Outlook
You can measure the USC women's volleyball team in a lot ways in 1997: Just don't measure the volleyball team.
The Women of Troy feature an experienced returning cast of veterans that includes 3 All-Pac-10 selections. To go with that, ninth-year Coach Lisa Love has put together an athletic ensemble that will cause havoc in the back row and has recruited 7 talented freshmen who will push for playing time all over the court.
What Love won't be relying on in 1997 is dominance by height. With a couple of exceptions, the Women of Troy are a smaller team than in past years, but possibly the quickest unit Love has fielded in her tenure.
"This team will not be as tall as previous teams," Love said, "but it will be one of the quickest and most athletic teams we've had here. What we don't offer in height, we offer in speed. I foresee a team that is very tenacious on defense, that creates long rallies in order to score and an offense that is more equivalent to a run-and-gun type of attack."
The building blocks of the 1997 Women of Troy include junior returning starters Jasmina Marinkovic at middle blocker, Janice Mounts at setter and Jennifer Kessy at outside hitter. They also include senior outside hitter Jeanne Vetter, an oft-used starter who will vie for starting time.
"I think one of the things we'll benefit from is a core of upperclassmen who are very experienced competitors," said Love, who is 357-159 in her 15-year career and 158-81 in 8 years at USC. "Between Jeanne, Jennifer, Jasmina and Janice, we have a very nice core of players to build around. It's so exciting to approach the season because I think of how athletic we are, the style of defense that we will be playing and the type of rally-oriented, point-scoring volleyball that I envision this team playing. It's what volleyball, at its best, is all about."
USC is coming off of a 1996 season in which it went 21-9 overall and 12-6 in the Pac-10, finishing tied for third. The Women of Troy won twice in the postseason before bowing out in the NCAA Pacific Regional semifinals to eventual NCAA champion Stanford.
Among the components Love needs to replace are the All-Pac-10 exploits of outside hitter Vesna Dragicevic, the middle-blocking tandem of Kirsti Olson and Kilee Hughes and the veteran play of Bonny Brunst (outside hitter), Laurie Hill (setter) and Antoinette Lindemann (setter).
Love is confident she has the right mix to not only replenish the team's talent, but improve it.
"We have a terrific group of athletic freshmen to complement our returning players," Love said. "The mix in the gym is going to be outstanding. I think the practice environment, on many days, will be entertaining enough to sell tickets to because of the competitive nature of the group and the 7 freshmen."
Of the 3 positions, middle blocker is USC's thinnest, but it is still a strength, led by All-American candidate Marinkovic (6-0). Also back in the middle is junior Alaina Kipps (6-3) and converted sophomore opposite hitter Amber Oliver (6-6). New on the depth chart is walk-on freshman Sara Peterson (6-1). They are USC's only players taller than 6-0.
Marinkovic was an All-District 8 and All-Pac-10 first team performer in 1996, leading the Women of Troy in hitting percentage (.360), kills (433), kill average (4.16) and all blocking categories. On an athletic team, she may be the most gifted, able to perform at high levels offensively and defensively.
Said Love: "I will look for Jasmina to be one of the top 3 in the Pac-10 in blocking and hitting. She has a very quick armswing and is a very fast middle blocker -- a type of player you love to coach. She inevitably will take your breath away at least once every contest. She is an outstanding jumper who has great instincts. Now we have the opportunity to see her apply what she's learned in her first 2 years."
Love plans to use both Kipps and Oliver extensively, sort of a starting combo. Kipps has been a reserve her first 2 seasons, appearing in 6 matches last year. She has grown as a player and Love looks forward to seeing her progression on the court.
Said Love: "Alaina is one of the best competitors in the gym. She is very confident and has natural blocking instincts. She has gotten significantly stronger and does not shy away from any challenge. She had an excellent spring and I look forward to her stepping out and playing a key role on the court."
Oliver, USC's tallest player, saw time in 26 of USC's 30 matches last year as an opposite hitter. She hit .318 in 138 attempts, showing promise as an intimidating defensive force and as an effective offensive weapon.
Said Love: "She has the potential to be a dominating presence as a middle blocker. I think it is the natural position for her. She is a proficient quick attacker. She's agile and moves very smoothly, which makes her an efficient, available and aggressive quick hitter. It was difficult to stop her in the spring preseason matches."
Rounding out the middle blocking quartet is Peterson, who was an all-league performer at Redondo Union High in Redondo Beach, Calif., last year.
Love's only returning setter is Mounts (5-10), but she also welcomes into the competition freshman Heidi Munneke (5-10), a highly touted setter from Santa Ynez High in Solvang, Calif.
Mounts, an All-American candidate, earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors in 1996. She led USC with 1,318 assists and a 13.31 assist average, both good for third all-time on USC's season record lists.
Said Love: "Janice is ready to really push the offensive pace. She made some great strides in the spring and enjoyed running a different style of offense. It is a player-friendly offense. They like to play at this full-throttle speed and Janice, at the heart of the offense, did a good job running it. She's developing into one of the finest setters in the country. She's a very reliable, solid setter and that's a wonderful trait for someone in that position."
Though Mounts is the returning starter, Munneke will push her throughout the year.
Said Love: "Heidi is smooth and has an excellent delivery of the ball. She is a hitter's setter. She can put the ball in a location with the timing and rhythm that is perfect for a hitter. It is just a matter of her adjusting to the collegiate game. She has a lot of natural rhythm and great touch on the ball. She will provide solid depth behind Janice."
USC also adds 2 freshmen walk-ons who could set in a pinch, though they primarily will be relied on in other roles. Cynthia Corpuz (5-2) is a defensive specialist who was a setter at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High and Shannon Redfern (6-0) will compete at outside hitter though she also played setter at Santa Margarita High in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
Said Love: "It will not take much time for Cynthia to frustrate our attackers in the gym because she potentially is a digger extraordinaire. She doesn't strike me as being intimidated by anything. Shannon is also a very fine defensive player who adds great versatility to the roster. She's played every position on the court and has excellent court savvy"
Then there is the large cast of outside hitters that will vie for time in Love's new, aggressive offense. In addition to Kessy (6-0) and Vetter (5-11), Love has a host of other capable players to choose from: junior Sara Stephen (5-8), redshirt freshman Antoinette Polk (5-10) and freshmen Janae Henry (6-0), Kashi Cormier (6-0), Christine Bohle (5-10) and Redfern.
Kessy is a 2-year starter and an All-American candidate who will resume her role as one of USC's prime go-to players. A powerful hitter, Kessy is also solid on defense, leading the Women of Troy in digs with 313 and finishing second in block solos (24) in 1996. She was third on the team with 408 kills and a 3.96 kill average
Said Love: "Jennifer is a prime-time outside hitter. She is a very focused competitor who I think is really comfortable in a highly competitive environment. She started off with a bang as a freshman and her personal game has continued to climb. She certainly will prove to be one of the more exciting players on our roster."
Vetter, who will compete for starting time, has played in more matches (60) than any current player on the team, including 20 last year. She is a versatile player whose competitive fire will no doubt rub off on the freshmen.
Said Love: "Jeanne provides us with the most experience. Although she's been riddled with nagging injuries, she appears to be healthy now. She has experienced just about everything there is to offer in college volleyball so I will definitely look to her to provide leadership. She has excellent ball control and has raised the level of her hitting. She's an invaluable asset to the team."
Stephen, used chiefly as a defensive specialist in 1996, has improved to the point where she is a strong candidate for starting time at outside hitter. An outstanding jumper, Stephen played in 28 matches last year and was sixth on the team with 134 digs.
Said Love: "I would have told you that at 5-8, the rule of thumb is that you're not supposed to be competing at outside hitter. But she's defying gravity right now. She proved to be very effective as an attacker in the preseason. She's a very solid passer and defensive player and could bring a good jump serve into the mix."
Yet another excellent athlete is Polk, who spent her 1996 freshman season as a redshirt after suffering a preseason hand injury. A 2-sport athlete who also plays basketball, Polk's potential is as enormous as her vertical leap and she, too, will vie for a starting spot.
"If Jasmina is the most athletic player on the team, Antoinette is right behind her. She is extremely quick and is an outstanding jumper. She is benefiting from the redshirt year and now realizes her ability to contribute at a very high level. Right now, it's a matter of fine-tuning her athletic gifts and giving her more know-how."
Maybe the most anticipated recruit of the 1997 freshman class is Henry, Volleyball Magazine's 1996 Player of the Year from Centennial High in Bakersfield, Calif. She has a very balanced game in both attacking and passing and is another strong candidate for an outside hitter spot.
Said Love: "Janae brings a tremendous amount of ball control as a hitter, a passer and as a defensive player. She's really talented, especially in hand-eye coordination. She responds quickly and has played on extremely strong prep and club teams. She's an excellent competitor and is very used to winning."
Cormier, from Bullard High in Fresno, Calif., may be the most athletic freshman recruit. With 2 years on the USA Youth National team under her belt, she is experienced despite her youth.
Said Love: "I have really watched her grow in the game. She can hit, serve, pass and has a genuine enthusiasm for playing. She will make her individual mark with style and has a great team personality as well. She will contend for court time as an outside hitter."
Bohle comes to USC as a walk-on from Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles, Calif. She and Redfern will both provide depth at outside hitter.
Said Love: "Christine and Shannon will both will compete for outside hitter time. They will add a lot to the team's competitive chemistry. No one will train harder than those 2."