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2012 Clemson Volleyball Outlook: Look Out

The Clemson Volleyball team has played two straight seasons with just one senior on the roster. This year, however, four of Clemson’s most decorated players will suit up for their final season in orange and white. Head Coach Jolene Jordan Hoover’s team is all grown up, and this team is poised to make big strides in the ACC, a year after finishing with 20 wins for the fifth time in the last six seasons. The group of Sandra Adeleye, Alexa Rand, Serenat Yaz, and Natalie Patzin are the only four players on the roster to have tasted an NCAA Tournament bid, which came in 2009 as freshmen. Since then, they’ve racked up individual hardware and have taken over many of the school’s all-time lists, but haven’t been able to get back, finishing just outside the bubble last season. Hoover’s leadership in the class is strong, and she welcomes back all of her starters from last season, including juniors Mo Simmons and Hannah Brenner, as well as sophomore Kristin Faust. The Tigers also have key 2011 reserves Karis Watson and Kamryn Sherman waiting in the wings, along with incoming freshman outside hitter, Kalah Jones. Last season, Clemson took great strides forward with some position changes. Patzin took over at libero midseason for the now graduated Cansu Ozdemir, which moved Faust into a more active role on both ends. Offensively, the Tigers switched back and forth between a six-two and a five-one, with Brenner holding setting duties primarily in that formation. The setters had several options with whom to work at the net. Yaz built upon her breakout sophomore season to earn All-ACC honors as a junior at outside hitter. Rand, already one of the school’s greatest blockers ever, earned her first All-ACC honor as well, rebounding from a challenging sophomore year offensively. Adeleye continued her excellence as the offensive anchor, warning her third straight All-ACC honor, and crossing the 1100 kill plateau for her career. Simmons upped her game playing six rotations, and responded with terrific improvement offensively and passing. The Tigers also defended the home court well, going 11-2 in 13 home matches, which included a win over No. 22 Miami and a three-set sweep over Duke, as they won five of the final six home matches. On Offense:Clemson’s recent success on the court has largely come from an ability to have one player carry the team. Last season, four players tallied at least 243 kills apiece and averaged more than 2.0 kills per set. The number of options are good from just about anywhere on the floor, and the setters have stuck with gameplans that the coaching staff believe will best give the Tigers a chance to win. Adeleye is clearly the top option, as she has established herself as one of the top middles in the league, if not the country. Her release is impossibly high and powerful from her perch above the net. She torched opponents to the tune of 404 kills on .353 hitting on her way to a third straight AVCA All-Region nod. Yaz was actually Clemson’s most frequent attacker with 934 attempts, and was second with 326 kills from the outside. She also led the team with 26 service aces on her way to her first All-Region honor. Yaz also improved her ability to finish out of the back row, adding to the potency of the offense, especially in breakdowns. Simmons had a breakout offensive season with 281 kills in 755 attempts as a sophomore, in which she was named a captain by her teammates. Simmons strong play at the net makes her a force on both ends, and her game continues to develop. Rand was another solid option offensively, hitting .334 with 243 kills on the season. Faust evolved into a solid offensive threat as well in her freshman season, totaling 176 kills and earning a Freshman-of-the-Week honor. She is a high-flyer, and appeared in 90 sets as a true freshman. Jones will also trying and step in as an outside hitter. The freshman from Sandy Creek High in Georgia is regarded as a top athlete, and at six-feet, is hoping the make her mark early on. As for the “quarterbacks” of the offense, both Hannah Brenner and Kam Sherman return. Brenner played in all 119 sets last season, tallying 982 assists, and a team-best 14 double-doubles on the season. She has quite a bit of experience going into her junior year, as she played heavily as a freshman. Sherman saw most of her action in the six-two, but appeared in 72 sets and had 358 assists. She also spent part of the summer competing in China with some of the top players in the game. As a unit, they led Clemson to a .252 hitting mark as a team, good for 28th nationally and third in the ACC. The options will continue to be there for the Tigers offensively, and as long as the setters can spread the ball around, look for another solid season on the attacking side. On Defense:Clemson has built a reputation built upon strong defensive net play, and good back-row passing as staples of their defense. Last season, their 2.68 blocks per set were good for 19th in the nation, and opponents hit just .196 against them for the year. They return their primary passers in Yaz, Faust, and Patzin. Patzin, the libero for more of last season, picked up things beautifully after moving from the outside, as the Tigers had a .951 service reception percentage. No one picked up gaudy dig numbers, because the front line sends so much back, and because the attacks are generally spread out among the back row players. At the net, Rand has controlled things for three years. She has put herself in position to become the school’s all-time blocking leader with a strong senior season, as she has 495 career rejections entering the year. Last season, she ranked 8th in the nation in blocking at 1.48 per set. She too traveled to China to continue to develop her game. Adeleye is no slouch either, as she has 349 career blocks, and average 0.91 per set last season. Simmons also had a good year at the net with 94 total blocks. Yaz, at 6-1, is a challenge outside when up front, and Karis Watson was a great change of pace in the middle, turning in 44 blocks in 77 sets played. Defense has been this team’s calling card for the past few seasons, finishing no worse than second in the ACC in blocking in the last five seasons. With Rand and Adeleye still anchoring the middle and Simmons and Yaz able to chip in, look for those numbers to rise, and for opponents’ hitting percentage to fall. In all, this is a group that is as seasoned as anyone in the league, and arguably just as hungry. They fought in every match in 2011, and the continuity of having the key parts in place should give them the edge, especially in the road matches. They’ll protect Jervey, and the early homestands should help build confidence. With the final five matches at home, the Tigers could have the ACC Championship in their grasp, with control of their own destiny. The conference is as strong as ever, but the Tigers look to take on anything or anyone headed their way with full force. This Tiger team is is setting a first NCAA bid since 2012 in their sights, and they’ll stop at nothing to reach that goal.