Aug. 12, 2003
Entering her 11th year as the head coach of the Clemson volleyball team, Jolene Jordan Hoover looks for the 2003-04 volleyball team to raise her team’s success level from last season. The Tigers finished fifth in the ACC and posted a 17-15 overall record, an improvement over the previous season, but still below the high standards she has established for her program that has averaged 22 wins a season since 1993. A roster of five returning starters, four freshmen and 12 letterwinners, gives Hoover the talent and experience needed to get the Tigers back in the NCAA tournament.
Hoover has an enthusiastic attitude about the upcoming season. “We’ve been young and these players have had court time now,” said Hoover. “We have the potential and we have the talent. I think we should be turning the corner as far as translating the talent into results. I think this is going to be a really big year for Clemson volleyball.”
The Tigers lost just one senior from last year’s team, All-ACC setter Jessi Betcher, who finished her Clemson career as the Tigers’ all-time leader in assists and assists per game. The loss of the All-Region setter will be felt, but Hoover expects the Tigers to return to the upper echelon of the ACC, and return to the NCAA tournament.
“We will really miss Jessi. She has been a huge part of the program for the past four years. I think our team this season will have a different personality because the setter dictates a lot of that.”
Leading the returnees will be red-shirt junior Ryane Beasley and junior Lori Ashton. Hoover will look to both of these players to lead the Tigers on the court. This will be Beasley’s second consecutive year as a captain, and Hoover believes that the leadership will help guide the team back to the NCAA tournament.
“Ryane is a very intense competitor,” said Hoover. “Her expectation level is high and she demands a lot from her teammates, which makes her a great leader. She raises the bar for the team and leads by example.”
This year’s team returns four starters who each have two years of starting experience under their belt. The strong bond that is evident on the court is as strong off the court. Hoover said, “This has been one of the tightest groups that we have ever had at Clemson. We have four incoming freshmen, so we will have a rather large squad with 16 on the roster. It will be interesting to see how the new players add to the team chemistry. The core group that has been here has a great chemistry together on and off the court.”
The Tigers return two solid middles to the lineup, in junior Ashton and senior Marija Zoric. The duo tallied 799 kills last season as well as 251 total blocks. Senior Kiki Dallao could also see some time in the middle, as well as freshman Kassie Staup.
Ashton, Clemson’s all-time leader in hitting percentage (.343), led the Tigers as a sophomore with 497 kills. In 2002, she owned an ACC and team-best .383 hitting percentage. The Waldorf, MD, native was named to the 2002 AVCA All-District III team, and was also tabbed first-team All-ACC. Hoover commented, “Lori is the most athletic player that we have had at Clemson. We need to make sure she gets the ball more this season. The challenge for her this year is to handle a greater load, and she is definitely capable of doing just that.”
Zoric, from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, returns after leading Clemson in total blocks with 147. The Verizon Academic All-District III team member posted a 1.20 blocks per game average as a junior placing her second in the league. She ranks third on Clemson’s all-time leader list in blocks per game with a 1.13 average. Zoric was selected by the President’s Commission on the Status of Women at Clemson University as the 2003 outstanding woman in the undergraduate category, and was also honored with the Susan Delony Academic Achievement Award.
“Marija is one of the hardest working players on the team. She has the biggest heart and she leaves everything out on the floor. I have a great amount of respect for her with everything she does. She is an outstanding student handling a difficult class load in a foreign (to her) country,” said Hoover.
Dallao is one of the most versatile players on the team with experience at middle, left and right. She tallied 23 kills in 32 games for the Tigers last season. The senior from Texas is the only current Tiger who has recorded 20 or more kills with 20 or more digs in the same match. “We are very fortunate to have a player like Kiki,” said Hoover. “She did a great job at the ACC Tournament last year, as well as during the spring. We are going to keep working with her in the middle, but she could also go left or right.”
Freshman Staup will add to the depth of the middle position. Staup, a native of Omaha, NE, helped lead her 2002 high school volleyball team to the state playoffs. Hoover said, “Kassie is a dedicated player who has the potential to be a very physical player. She will be fun to watch develop over her career.”
Juniors Beasley and Leslie Finn return to lead Clemson’s roster of outside hitters. Beasley, a native of Channahon, IL, finished the 2002 season with 401 kills and a 3.13 kills per game average. She posted double-digit kills in 23 of 32 matches, as well as seven double-doubles. The 6-1 outside hitter was named MVP of the 2002 Big Orange Bash after posting 33 kills, eight blocks and 15 digs over the course of the tournament. This season, Beasley could also see action in the middle or on the right side. “Ryane has done a great job on the outside for us. She is another one of the most versatile players on the team. We have the flexibility to move her around if necessary and give our offense a different look.”
Finn, a junior from San Diego, CA, posted 418 kills last season with 32 service aces and 251 digs. She ranks seventh in Clemson’s record book with a 3.21 kills per game average. Hoover commented, “Leslie’s confidence level took a big boost this past spring. She has always been extremely talented and now she realizes how capable she is.”
Also returning this season at the outside hitter position are sophomores Carly Hill and Meghan Stanton. Both players contributed last season on the outside, as well as on the right side. Hill has already broken into Clemson’s record books as she is tied for second in career service aces per game with a 0.40 average. As a freshman, the White Heath, IL native served up a team high 44 aces. ‘”Carly has one of the toughest serves in the league. She is aggressive and very confident with it. She has really helped us to go after teams more aggressively, especially with rally scoring. Rally puts such a higher premium on a tough server even if it is not an ace.”
Stanton, from Kildeer, IL, could see time at outside, right or as a defensive specialist. In 64 games for the Tigers she tallied 46 kills, 93 digs and 19 blocks. “Meghan is one of our most competitive players, and to have that kind of competitiveness from a freshman pushes everyone else to raise their game. We need her out on the court and we have to find a place for her.”
Rookie Liz Beckham of Charleston, SC will vie for playing time at the outside hitter position, but could also see time as a defensive specialist for the Tigers. Beckham, a two-time Post & Courier Volleyball Player of the Year, was a member of the Sports Report All-Star Volleyball team and helped her high school team to five consecutive region championships. Hoover is excited about the competitiveness that Beckham brings to this year’s team. ‘”She has a great platform with very solid ball control skills. She is an intense player and a competitor.”
Kristin Swanson of Lake Forest, IL, returns at the right side position. The 6-0 sophomore was named to the ACC All-Freshmen team after recording 96 kills and 51 blocks last season. On Sept. 21 against Wofford in Jervey Gym, Swanson hit .923 placing her among NCAA and Clemson all-time leaders. “Kristin had a really nice freshman year,” said Hoover. “She has improved her all-around game quite a bit this spring. We are trying to work with her as far as handling a greater load. The more we can get her to handle, the better she will be.”
Three players, two lettermen and one rookie will battle for the setter position, the position occupied by Clemson volleyball record holder Betcher the last four years. Stephanie Haskell, from Simpsonville, SC, was second on the team in digs and digs per game last season with 272 and a 2.57 average, respectively. “Stephanie did a wonderful job of running the offense during the spring,” commented Hoover. “She improved a great deal, more so than I had envisioned. It will definitely be an option for her to run the team.”
Laura Jensen could see playing time at the setter position and in a defensive specialist role. The California native played in 40 games last season with 20 digs and 10 assists. “Laura worked really hard this spring at a new position and embraced it with open arms,” said Hoover. “She is very strong and aggressive and does a great job blocking on the right side.”
Newcomer Dawn Robertson, from San Diego, CA, will vie for the starting position at setter as well. The second-team All League and second-team All-CIF member helped her club volleyball team win the SoCal Junior Olympic qualifier in 2002. Hoover said, “Dawn had a really good spring with her club team. She comes from a great program and sets for Mary Jo Peppler, one of the most highly regarded setter trainers in the country. Dawn has high goals for herself, and is working hard to achieve them. She really wants to step on the court and contribute immediately.”
Senior Lindsey Abbott returns to lead Clemson’s roster of defensive specialists. Abbott, a native of Florida, handled the libero role last year, as well as during the spring. She ranked third on the team in digs with 264, averaging 2.38 digs per game. She recorded a season-best 32 digs against Wake Forest on Nov. 16 placing her in a tie for fifth in match records for defensive saves. “Lindsey is one of our most consistent passers. She has done a great job embracing the libero position. She improved on her range defensively during the spring and is playing with confidence.”
Junior Sarah Gardner and freshman Lindsey Meleski complete the depth chart at the defensive specialist position. Gardner of Waldorf, MD, tallied 10 digs in 15 games for the Tigers. Hoover said, “Sarah does a really nice job as a defensive specialist, but needs to believe in herself and improve her aggres-siveness. She is a very capable player.”
Meleski, from Florida, is another competitive freshman who will vie for playing time as a rookie. The 5-4 defensive specialist was a two-sport athlete in high school, playing volleyball and tennis. She was a two-time first-team all-county selection in volleyball and won the individual state title in tennis as junior. “Lindsey is a feisty competitor,” said Hoover. “She is a successful two-sport athlete and is extremely demanding of herself.”
Clemson will face stiff competition during the 2003 regular season, as the Tigers take on seven teams that participated in post season play last year. Couple that with two home tournaments and competitive league foes, and Clemson looks to have a challenging season.
The Tigers open the season at the Illinois State Classic in Normal, IL, as Hoover returns to her alma mater. The Tigers will face 2002 NCAA Tournament participant Nebraska, as well as Illinois and Illinois State. Nebraska finished the 2002 season ranked fifth in the USA Today/AVCA Division I Coaches Poll.
“The Illinois State Classic will be a great tournament. It will be the first time that I have brought a team back there. Illinois State is usually in the top 10 in attendance every year, so it should be a well attended tournament and I also anticipate there will be a lot of people in orange at the tournament with so many of our players from Illinois.”
The Tigers’ first home match is on Sept. 3 against Furman in Jervey Gym. The Tigers will then look to defend their home tournament title as they play host to the Big Orange Bash on Sept. 5-6. The tournament will feature Clemson, Winthrop, College of Charleston and Texas Tech. On Sept. 9, Clemson will take on instate rival South Carolina at Jervey Gym.
The Tigers will travel to Conway, SC on Sept. 12-13 to take on Coastal Carolina, Wofford and Georgetown in the Coastal Carolina Tournament. On Sept. 19-20, the team will return home to play host to the Clemson Invitational. East Tennessee State, Charleston Southern and the University of Illinois-Chicago will compete in this year’s tournament.
“Some strong programs are coming to Clemson this season, and it will help to face them on our home court. We have a lot of challenging matches before ACC play that will help prepare us for the league.”
Clemson will open its 2003 ACC season on the road against North Carolina and NC State on Sept. 23 and 27, respectively. The Tigers will return home for their first ACC matches in Jervey Gym on Oct. 3 and 4 against Virginia and Maryland. After traveling to Duke and Wake Forest on Oct. 10-11, Clemson will return home to face Georgia Tech on Oct. 14. The Tigers will hit the road again on Oct. 17 as they travel to Tallahassee to face Florida State. Clemson will play host to Appalachian State, NC State and North Carolina before traveling to Maryland on Oct. 31 and Virginia on Nov. 1. The Tigers return home on Nov. 4 as they play host to Wake Forest, Florida State and Duke before traveling to Georgia Tech on Nov. 15. The 2003 ACC Championships will be held on Nov. 20-23, in Orlando, FL at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.
The Tigers have two new faces on the coaching staff who both have a strong connection to the game, as well as an understanding of the Clemson program and its history. Assistant coach Gregg Whitis joins Hoover after coaching at Southern Methodist University. While at SMU, he coached three All-WAC players, including the first All-WAC middle blocker in SMU history and the first back-to-back All-WAC selection in SMU history.
“Gregg fits in well at Clemson. The neat part about him is that he understands a lot about our history because we are from the same hometown. He contributes a wealth of knowledge and is very much a go-getter.”
Jodi Steffes, a member of the Tiger volleyball team from 1998-2001, joins the coaching staff after an accomplished collegiate volleyball career. Steffes, a four-time All-ACC member, was Clemson’s first four-time All-Region honoree. She finished her career with 1,389 kills and 1,286 digs. Steffes graduated from Clemson in 2002 with a degree in elementary education. While completing her student teaching, Steffes served as the head coach of the Walhalla High School volleyball team.
“I have been very impressed with Jodi’s transition from player to coach. In addition to her being an accomplished player at Clemson, she is invested in our program and understands our system. She has been a great addition and is an excellent role model for the team.”
The Tigers enter this season with a hunger for success. Hoover is enthusiastic about the future of Clemson volleyball, as well as the possibilities that lay ahead for this upcoming season. The 2003 team’s strength lies in using the returning experience and turning it into success, which will guide the Tigers to the forefront of collegiate volleyball.
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