July 5, 2000
Youth will be the watchword for the 2000 Clemson Lady Tiger volleyball team. Coach Jolene Jordan Hoover must replace four starters from Clemson’s record setting 31-3 team that won the ACC regular season championship with a school best 15-1 mark, ranked ninth in the final NCAA RPI index and featured four players who were named first or second team All-ACC.
Certainly a stern test for Hoover, especially early in the season, will be to find a replacement for Cindy Stern, the ACC Player of the Year and second-team All-American. Stern was a five-time ACC player of the week selection from the middle hitter position, and a first-team All-ACC and All-ACC Tournament performer. She finished her career as the school’s all-time leader in block assists and ranked second in kills with 1744. She will return to complete her studies this year and serve as a student-assistant coach.
Hoover must also replace first-team All-ACC outside hitter Alison Coday, Academic All-American Heidi Cooper and reliable outside hitters Emily Gorla and Skye Frost. The group of seniors led Clemson to the school’s first ACC regular season title (1999), the first ACC Tournament Championship (1997), three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, and 96 victories.
Despite these significant losses, Hoover is optimistic Clemson can enhance its burgeoning volleyball tradition with another NCAA Tournament appearance. “We are going to be a young team this year, but we have a group of returning players who are used to winning,” said Hoover, who is already Clemson’s career leader in victories.
“The freshmen we have coming in are outstanding athletes. They are really ahead of where the 1999 seniors were when they were freshmen. The success of the 1999 senior class has allowed us to attract a higher caliber of players.
“On paper this is the best freshman class we have ever had. We have two “Fab 50” selections in the same class for the first time, in Ryane Beasley and Lindsey Fuller. That gives our program three “Fab 50” selections in the last two years, because Jessi Betcher received that honor in 1998. When you look at what Jessi accomplished as a freshman, we are excited about the prospects for these newcomers.
The cupboard is certainly not bare when it comes to returning players either. There are eight returning letterwinners, two players who started all of last year, plus three more with some degree of starting experience in 1998 or 1999. The group is led by each the last two ACC Rookie of the Year selections, Jodi Steffes and Jessi Betcher.
“Our strength will be on the right side with Jodi Steffes and Jessie Betcher,” continued Hoover. “I feel good about our offense with Jessi returning because she plays such an important role for our team. She is an outstanding leader of our offense.
“We did lose some excellent passers in Cooper, Stern and Gorla, so ball control and passing will be a focal point of our early practices. Jodi Steffes is an outstanding passer and defensive player. It will be a competitive environment and interesting to see who will step up and be a significant contributor in this area.”
Six other returning lettermen will step compete for the open positions in 2000. Mallory Benson and Jackie Dalleska played in 182 games between them last year, splitting time at the middle hitter position. Senior Melissa Kudelka, juniors Tami BySura and Meredith Kirtland, and sophomore Anne Berki will also be significant contributors for the Lady Tigers, as they seek a sixth NCAA Tournament bid in an eight-year period.
Steffes will be the leader of the rightside hitters and perhaps the entire team. The junior from Elwood, IL was a second-team All-ACC performer last year, but was a first-team selection when it came time for the conference tournament. The co-captain for 2000 was also named to the AVCA All-District III team for the second straight year.
“Jodi is our stabilizer, she is the glue that keeps everything together. She has been our second or third option offensively in the past, but this year she will have to step up to the challenge and be our leading offensive weapon. She can handle that role. I have the utmost confidence in Jodi because she has tremendous composure and great court demeanor.”
Meredith Kirtland and Kiki Dallao could also see action at rightside hitter and outside hitter this year. Kirtland is a junior from Miami, FL who is a veteran of 22 games in her career. “Meredith has been working hard in the weight room in the offseason and hopefully she can transfer her gains over to the court. Dallao is a strong athlete from Texas, who could help us at two positions.” Two freshmen, Ryane Beasley and Laura Jensen, figure to see a lot of action at the outside hitter position. Beasley is a “Fab 50” selection and an all-state player from the strong volleyball state of Illinois. “We are looking for Ryane to take Alison Coday’s spot in the lineup and I know she is capable of handling that position. She also played middle hitter for her club team this past spring and could see action there, depending on our middle situation.”
Jensen is a freshman from California who was named the MVP of her high school league as a senior, and an all-conference selection as a junior and senior. Her Albany High school team won the league championship every year she was on the team. “Laura is an excellent defensive and ball control player. We will work her at the outside hitter position, and she could also play a defensive specialist role. She is an enthusiastic athlete that you want on the court.”
Sophomore Jessi Betcher returns to lead Clemson’s roster of setters. The sophomore from Boulder, CO was probably the most highly recruited player in history to sign with Clemson and she lived up to that billing in 1999. The ACC Rookie of the year, she also made second-team all-conference and was chosen to the AVCA All-District III team. The Freshman of the Year in District III ranked first in the nation in assists per game most of the year, and led the ACC in that category with 14.17 per game. She also ranked fourth in the league in digs per game and service aces per game.
“Jessi is one of our co-captains as a sophomore, an honor voted on by our tam, and that should say something about her leadership, her work ethic and enthusiasm. She will be a key to how well the freshmen make the transition to the collegiate game.”
Returning letterman Missy Kudelka and freshman Lindsey Abbott will complete the depth chart at the setter position. Kudelka is a senior from Temperance, MI who played in 19 matches a year ago. She was a starter in all 33 of Clemson’s matches in 1998, recording 1469 assists, third best total in Clemson history. “Missy gives us outstanding depth at the setter position. She was a starter on a 26-win team in 1998 and continues to be an outstanding player for us.”
Abbott was a first-team all-state selection in Florida in 1999. She led Choctawhatchee High to a 25-7 record in 1999, and is the school’s all-time assist leader. “Lindsey was one of the top athletes in Florida last year. She played with a smaller program and did not receive a lot of exposure, but she is a terrific athlete with a positive attitude.”
Abbott could also see some time at the defensive specialist position.
Tami BySura is the only returning letterman at the defensive specialist position. The junior from Chagrin Falls, OH played in 13 games last year. She was also a letter winner in 1998 when she played in 31 games. “Tami is a candidate to take over the position held by Heidi Cooper. She is a player who trains hard and her experience in the program gives her the edge on filling that role on the 2000 Clemson team.”
Five players, three returning lettermen and two rookies, will battle for the middle hitter position, the position occupied by All-American Cindy Stern the last four years. Jackie Dalleska and Mallory Benson are two experience players who figure to see a lot of action, while Anne Berki is a third returning letterman on the middle hitter depth chart. The rookies are led by Lindsey Fuller.
Dalleska had a .254 hitting percentage in 79 games last year. She started 79 games for the year. The native of Union, IL played a big part in Clemson’s win over #21 Arkansas when she recorded six kills. “Jackie is one of our co-captains and one of our two seniors. She continues to develop on the court and in terms of leadership and does a wonderful job of mentoring our young student-athletes. We hope she can step into the middle hitter position this year.
Benson was fifth in the ACC in hitting percentage (.326) in limited role last year, but that playing time should significantly increase this year. She ranked second on the Clemson team in attack percentage and blocks. “Benson is coming off an ACL injury, but her rehabilitation has gone well. She did a great job as a freshman in a limited role and we look for that to expand this year.” Berki played in 11 games last year after red-shirting the 1998 season. “We are looking for her to contribute this season on the court and in developing more strength in the weight room. She did a great job this past spring.”
Zoric and Fuller are a pair of newcomers to the Clemson program. The former is a native of Yugoslavia and was a member of that country’s junior national team. Fuller was a “Fab 50” selection last year and comes from an outstanding club team in Nebraska.
“Lindsey needs to develop strength in the weight room when she arrives in August, but she has all the tools to become an outstanding player. Marija has international experience, which will be much needed due to our team’s youth. She is a very mature individual who hopefully will make an easy transition to life in this country. Clemson has such a family atmosphere. This is a type of environment that she should feel very comfortable and conducive to a successful career.”
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