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2004 Volleyball Outlook

With four returning starters and a group of talented newcomers, Clemson volleyball hopes to return to the top of ACC play in 2004. Jolene Jordan Hoover, now in her 12th year as head coach of the Tigers, must replace five seniors and some key components from the 2003 squad that finished with an 18-16 record.

“I am really looking forward to the 2004 season,” Hoover said. “We haven’t had this many new players since the seniors on the 1999 team were freshmen. With that many new players comes a renewed enthusiasm, which I am looking forward to.

“We return many talented players, but, we haven’t been able to turn that talent into postseason play or a league championship. It is now time to focus on team results.”

The Tigers lost five seniors from 2003, including defensive specialist Lindsey Abbott. She ranks third all-time in Clemson history with 3.01 defensive saves per game. Replacing her at the libero position will be an area of emphasis this season. Also gone from the 2003 squad is Ryane Beasley, who led the team last season with 153 total blocks.

The Tigers have a solid group of returnees for 2004. The middle will be an area of strength for Clemson, as 2002 All-ACC performer Lori Ashton returns for her senior season. Ashton ranks in the top 10 in Clemson history in total kills, hitting percentage, block solos, block assists, and kills per game. Ashton was second on the team in 2003 with 447 kills, 3.41 kills per game, and 151 total blocks. She was selected to the AVCA All-Region team last year and is Clemson’s single-season record holder with a .383 hitting percentage in 2002.

Ashton continues to be one of the top middle blockers in the league. Last season, she set a career-high with 15 total blocks against East Tennessee State during the Clemson Invitational. She also achieved double digits in blocks with 10 against ACC foe Florida State.

“This is going to be a big year for Lori,” Hoover said. “She has improved every year as far as her skills are concerned; now she will focus on getting the team into the NCAA Tournament field. She is an offensive threat in the middle and is a very intimidating presence for the opponent’s offense. It will be fun to see what she can do this fall, and I’m looking forward to watching her take that next step.”

Kassie Staup, a red-shirt freshman from Omaha, NE, could see playing time in the middle this season. “Kassie improved a great deal during her red-shirt year and was able to gain some court time during the spring season,” Hoover commented. “Her size at the net can present problems for opponents.”

Competing with Staup for a spot in the middle will be a pair of first-year freshmen, Laura Boozer and Meghan Steiner. Boozer, a 6-2 native of Columbia, SC, is the brother of Thomas Boozer, who was an integral part of two College World Series baseball teams at Clemson.

“Laura really made huge improvement during her final year in high school,” Hoover said. “She has a strong work ethic and has dedicated herself to working hard at her position. It will be exciting to see her in another year after training in this environment and with the other middles on the team.”

Steiner was a first-team All-State selection at Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake, IL. Hoover says, “Meghan is an exciting player to watch. Hitting the slide is probably her greatest strength. She brings a lot of enthusiasm, works very hard at her position, and is extremely competitive.”

The Tigers return two veteran performers at outside hitter. The leader of the group is Leslie Finn, an All-ACC selection in 2003 and team captain this season. Finn led the Tigers with 568 kills, and led the conference with 4.40 kills per game. Both of those figures are top five single-season marks in Clemson history. She was also second on the team with 354 digs. Like Ashton, Finn was also an AVCA All-Region honoree last season. Finn ranks fifth in school history with 1,222 kills and 3.65 kills per game.

Finn had the four highest kill totals of all the Tigers last season, including a career-best 31 at Maryland in late October. She ended the 2003 season with 17 double-doubles.

“Leslie really made a move to be one of the top outside hitters in the league this past year,” Hoover said. “It will be exciting to see her play this fall. She is capable of more than she gives herself credit for. She is one of the most humble players I have ever worked with and she is a great teammate. She takes care of our team, , and will be our captain for the 2004 season. Her strength is her offense. She is a put-away player, with remarkable consistency.”

Meghan Stanton, a junior from Kildeer, IL, is another key outside hitter for the Tigers. Stanton, who started 20 matches in 2003, posted 154 digs last year. She played a key role in the Tigers’ win over South Carolina in 2003, as she led the team that match with a .385 hitting percentage.

“Meghan is a very committed and intelligent player,” Hoover noted. “Her offensive versatility allows us to use her in both outside hitting positions. She has experience and we’re anxious to see what the next two years of Meghan’s career have in store.”

Two newcomers with the ability to play outside are Leslie Mansfield and Brittany Ross. A St. Charles, IL native, Mansfield can also play on the right side. She was a two-time all-conference player in high school. “Leslie can help us on the right side with her ball control skills and her versatility as an attacker,” Hoover said. “She is a strong play-set hitter and she is very capable of setting the second ball in transition.”

Ross was a two-time all-state selection at Pine Crest Academy in Sunrise, FL. “Brittany is going to have a great career here at Clemson,” Hoover believes. “We have not had a player with her type of physical presence on our team since Alison Coday (1998 senior). She will help us immediately offensively and defensively on the outside, and will bring a competitive spirit to the team that we have missed for a while.”

At the setter position, Stephanie Haskell returns after a breakout junior season. Named team MVP by her teammates for 2003, Haskell easily led the Tigers with 1,340 assists. She averaged 11.26 assists per game last season. One of her best performances came against Maryland, when she posted a career-high 71 assists in the match. Haskell also chipped in with 281 digs in 2003, equating to 2.35 defensive saves per game. Haskell led the Tigers in assists in all but three matches in 2003. She also contributed with 12 double-doubles, third-most on the team.

“Stephanie has great leadership qualities and really gives to her teammates,” Hoover said. “She is enthusiastic and really enjoys playing and competing. For the majority of the season last fall, she ran our offense. She knows who needs to receive the ball, and that distribution will be by far the most important aspect for our team’s success this season.”

Another returnee vying for time at setter is 2003 letterwinner Dawn Robertson. A sophomore from San Diego, CA, Robertson tallied 247 assists last season, a 5.37 per game figure. Both marks were second on the team to Haskell last season. Robertson also had 48 digs in 46 games last year.

Her best performance came against Illinois-Chicago during the Clemson Invitational, where she totaled 57 assists while filling in for Haskell.

“Dawn is a very solid all-around skilled player,” Hoover said. “She has the capability to help us at the setting position or defensively. She really worked hard this spring to help the team.” The Tiger coaching staff is excited about the addition of freshman Courtney Lawrence at setter. Lawrence, a Redondo Beach, CA native, competed for one of the top club teams in the country, Mizuno Club Long Beach.

“The addition of Courtney is particularly exciting because she brings so much of what we’re looking for in a setter,” Hoover said. “Her size, her control of the ball, her athleticism, her ability to play defense, and being left-handed make her a strong addition to our program.”

The libero/defensive specialist position will be up for grabs this fall. Returning letterwinners at the position include senior Sarah Gardner and sophomore Lindsey Meleski. A Waldorf, MD native and high school teammate of Lori Ashton, Gardner competed in six games a year ago for the Tigers.

“Sarah made the most improvement of any player last spring season,” Hoover said. “She is a solid defender, and it is tough to keep your confidence when contributing in a smaller role. I believe that she learned the value of that role this past spring and feel she is ready to support her team in any way this fall.”

Meleski tallied 11 digs in 10 games, and is expected to make more of a contribution this fall. “Lindsey has improved her defensive range and platform skills during this past year,” Hoover said. “She will provide depth at the defensive specialist position. Lindsey is a very responsible, accountable teammate, and every program needs teammates like her.”

Two newcomers will have a chance to make an early impact at the defensive specialist position. Sue Eckman brings impressive credentials to the Tiger program from St. Charles, IL. Eckman led Sports Performance Volleyball Club to a pair of AAU titles, while also lettering three times for Benet Academy. Eckman led Benet to three consecutive regional championships.

“Sue is an excellent passer,” Hoover said. “She is very disciplined and also competitive and played for one of the top junior clubs in the country for the past nine years. She will help us in the backcourt.”

Anna Vallinch is a transfer from the University of Nebraska-Kearney, where she tallied 361 digs as a freshman. She averaged 3.31 digs per game in 109 games played, while leading the school to a 31-7 record. Vallinch also played four years on the Nebraska Juniors club team.

“Anna has excellent platform skills,” Hoover said. “She is a great playmaker in the backcourt and we expect her to compete for the libero position. She will bring a gutsy presence to the court, which will help our team.”

The Tigers face a difficult schedule in 2004. Northern Iowa and Winthrop, NCAA Tournament participants in 2003, visit for the Clemson Invitational held September 3-4. The Tigers travel to Gainesville for the Florida Classic in September. Florida and Santa Barbara were NCAA Tournament teams a year ago, and both will be participating in that event as well. The Tigers also host Georgia Southern on October 26, a team that finished 27-9 in 2003. Miami and Virginia Tech, the ACC’s newest members, have been added to the 2004 schedule. Among conference schools, both Georgia Tech and Maryland went to the NCAA Tournament in 2003.

“We have a very competitive schedule, one that will help us on our quest to return to the NCAA Tournament,” Hoover said. “The league expansion is exciting. The ACC is one of the top five conferences in the country. The expansion will only make us stronger.”

For the second consecutive year, the Tiger coaching staff remains intact. Hoover has compiled a 233-129 record while at Clemson. Assisting her again for 2004 will be Gregg Whitis, who works with middle hitters, and former Tiger All-American Jodi Steffes, who helps with outside hitters and defensive specialists.

“We are very fortunate to have Gregg and Jodi as a part of our program,” Hoover said. “Both are extremely hard working and conscientious. I am very spoiled and lucky because they handle their respective areas of responsibility so well.”

Clemson has a healthy mix of talent with both youth and experience, leading Hoover to believe that the 2004 Tigers can help return the school to the NCAA Tournament. Although the Tigers are young, she feels the team is more than ready to step up to the next level because of the competitive nature the 2004 newcomers bring to this year’s squad.

“The greatest attribute, I believe, that this incoming class will bring is competitiveness and knowing how to win,” Hoover stated. “We have some veterans that are competitive and want to do well, and the combination of the veterans and our freshmen should be able to get us over the hurdle and turn that competitiveness into winning.

“As the season progresses, we should keep getting better and better as we work together. We will need this new class to help us to achieve these goals, and how we mentor them and help them with the transition, will determine our results. I hope that the merger of the two groups will produce that, and I definitely think that we have the talent and are capable of competing for the league title.”