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Women’s Volleyball Squad’s Strength Lies in Depth

June 8, 1999

As the Clemson volleyball team enters the 1999 season, the team’s strength will lie in its depth. The Tigers return 12 veterans that are looking to earn Clemson’s fifth NCAA Tournament bid in the last seven years and the program’s sixth 20-win season overall.

“This group of seniors was an integral part of winning Clemson’s first ACC title two years ago,” said seventh-year head coach Jolene Jordan Hoover. “In talking with the seniors collectively and individually, they all feel so positive about this team. They’re very proud of their accomplishments so far, and they really would like to win the ACC Championship their senior year. They know it’s going to be tough, because they know the league is strong, but they are welcoming that challenge.”

The Tigers lost just one senior from last year’s team, middle blocker Stephanie Schulz. Schulz set the Clemson career block assist record with 432 blocks last season.

“Stephanie played a key role for this team over the past four seasons,” said Hoover. “She was named ACC Rookie-of-the-Year her freshman year and finished her career with the most block assists of any Clemson player. We will definitely miss her both on and off the court.”

Clemson returns senior Cindy Stern, an all-ACC second team selection at the other middle blocker position. Stern, who ranked second in the ACC with 1.37 blocks per game in 1998, is looking to rewrite the Tiger record book this season. She ranks third on the career block assists list with 364 block assists and is in fifth place on the career block solos list with 120.

“Cindy is probably one of the most respected middles in the ACC,” said Hoover. “With her experience at Clemson over the last three seasons and with her national team experience in 1998, she is definitely looking to have a great senior year.

“Cindy has really developed into a well-respected leader for us,” stated Hoover. “She has worked hard in developing her leadership skills and I’m looking forward to watching her lead this team. Cindy’s enthusiastic style of play will be a huge factor in this team’s success. Cindy plays hard and enjoys competing. She’s very expressive and fun to watch.”

Junior Jackie Dalleska, redshirt-freshman Anne Berki and freshman Mallory Benson will look to fill the spot vacated by Schulz. Dalleska played in 11 matches last season. “Jackie has worked really hard over the off-season and is one of our best blockers on the team. She’s definitely competing for that open position,” said Hoover.

Berki redshirted last season and looks to provide depth for the Tigers at the middle blocker position. “Anne improved tremendously during the spring and will compete for playing time as well,” said Hoover.

Benson was one of the top recruits in the Midwest. She averaged 4.75 kills and 1.54 blocks per game at Angola (IN) High and earned all-state and high school All-American honors as a senior. “We are very excited about Mallory choosing Clemson,” said Hoover. “Her immediate playing time will be determined by how quickly she makes the transition to the collegiate game. She will definitely make herself known.”

Hoover sees the outside hitter position as one of the team’s strongest positions. Clemson returns three senior starters, including Alison Coday, who was named to the all-ACC second team, the ACC all-Tournament team and the AVCA all-District team last season. She led the team with 475 kills and ranked third in the league with 4.13 kills per game.

“Alison is one of the top outside hitters in the league,” said Hoover. “Her strong net play can be very intimidating to other teams. Alison just keeps getting better. Every season she works harder than the season before. I am extremely proud of her and am going to enjoy watching her compete this year.”

Hoover will also look to Coday for leadership during her senior season. “Alison’s got the total package,” Hoover believes. “She is a great athlete, a fantastic student and has developed into one of our most respected leaders.”

Senior Skye Frost started every match at outside hitter last season. She led the ACC with 0.45 service aces per game and was third in the conference with 3.60 digs per game.

“Skye is such a steady player for us,” said Hoover. “She is so consistent and just a stabilizer for this team.”

Senior Emily Gorla played mainly as a defensive specialist for Coday last season, but will see more time in the front row as well this season. She started 24 matches in 1998 and ranked third on the team with 278 digs.

“Emily plays hard all the time,” said Hoover. “She is the kind of player every coach wants to have on her team. With her energy, her enthusiasm and her leadership, she is a spark plug for the team, a gamer.”

Sophomore Meredith Kirtland also returns in the outside position. She played in 11 matches last season and recorded nine kills and 12 digs at home against North Carolina.

“Meredith had a really productive spring season and is making strong progress,” said Hoover. “She is playing behind some very good outside hitters. With those three going into their senior year, Meredith will see even more playing time in the spring. Next spring she will have a huge opportunity to solidify a spot for herself.”

Right side hitter Jodi Steffes, the 1998 ACC Rookie-of-the-Year, is coming off a tremendous freshman season. She was a member of the ACC all-Freshman team and the AVCA all-District team after finishing the season with 272 kills and 83 blocks. Steffes led Clemson with 14 kills, no errors and 26 attempts for a .538 hitting percentage against second-ranked Penn State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“Jodi has been a wonderful addition to our team,” said Hoover. “She is so humble and genuine. She competes hard and has a fantastic work ethic. Jodi came in and immediately fit into the team and made an impact, and that is a tribute to her. Jodi’s style of play is very even tempered. She played more like a senior last season than a freshman.”

Junior Missy Kudelka and senior Mary Trull return at the setter position. Kudelka started every match last season and tallied 1,469 assists, the third-best season total ever by a Clemson setter. She ranked fifth in the league with 12.14 assists per game.

“Missy directed the offense well for her first year handling the quarterback position,” said Hoover. “She has grown a great deal over the past year. Missy has a talented team to surround her. With last season’s experience, it should help her to make good, solid choices this year.”

Trull played in 14 games as the team’s setter in 1998, but may see more time as a defensive specialist this season. “Mary is a strong defensive player and server,” said Hoover. “We moved her to left back a little this past spring and may look to use her in that position this fall.

“She has played a difficult role as the back up setter and has handled that position well. I would like to utilize her strengths more this season, and that has prompted us to experiment with the left back position.”

Freshman Jessi Betcher, Clemson’s first Volleyball Magazine “Fab 50” selection, will challenge Kudelka this season. She was named to the all-state and all-league first teams three consecutive seasons at Boulder (CO) High. Betcher trained with the Boulder Volleyball Club in the off-season, and helped the team to an 11th-place finish at Junior Nationals in 1998.

“We may be able to do some different things offensively in utilizing the strengths of both Missy and Jessi,” Hoover feels. “Jessi is a very solid player, but in addition she brings some intangibles that you like to see in a setter. Her heart and desire, her enthusiasm and leadership abilities are all qualities that make her a great player.”

The Clemson roster also includes three defensive specialists that can contribute to this team. Junior Heidi Cooper played in 20 matches last season and averaged 1.25 digs per game.

“Heidi had a strong post-season last year,” said Hoover. “She played well in our first-round win against Fairfield and came in and contributed a couple of aces against Penn State in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament.”

Sophomore Tami BySura joined the team last season and played in 18 matches as a defensive specialist for the Tigers. “Tami is a crowd pleaser,” said Hoover. “The crowd just loves her. She comes in and jump-serves, digs a few balls and gets the crowd excited. She’s been a great addition to our program.”

Freshman Jill Wilken will round out the defensive specialists. Wilken was a two-time all-state selection and was honored as a two-time conference player of the year at Riverside High in Greer, SC.

“Jill played on our Clemson Juniors club team over the past few years and has improved every year,” said Hoover. “She will fit in well with the team. She’s got a great personality and a strong work ethic, and I’m excited that she’s joining our program.”

The Tigers’ schedule ranked 21st nationally last season in the RPI rating released by the NCAA, and this season’s schedule looks to be just as tough. Clemson opens the season September 3-4 at the Michigan State Volleyball Classic, where the Tigers will face Texas A&M, who finished last season ranked 18th nationally, and host Michigan State, who completed the 1998 season ranked 22nd nationally.

Clemson then returns home to the Big Orange Bash September 10-12, where the Tigers will play host to Kentucky and Notre Dame. Also prior to the ACC season, Clemson will face rival South Carolina and nationally prominent Illinois State in Jervey Gym.

“I’m looking forward to this fall,” said Hoover. “This is a good schedule for this team, playing so many nationally ranked opponents. It is a tremendous opportunity to face several of these opponents at home. Jervey is a tough environment for visiting teams, and our increased attendances has helped in giving us such a home court advantage.”

Clemson’s home attendance ranked 26th nationally last season, as the Tigers averaged 789 fans per match in Jervey Gym.

The ACC ranked third among all conferences in the 1998 RPI rating. Only the Big Ten and Big 12 were ranked higher. “The ACC will be very competitive again this season,” said Hoover. “I believe the RPI rating definitely reflects the strength of this league. It is very solid.”

The Tigers open the ACC season with road matches at Wake Forest, Duke and Georgia Tech, before returning home to face Arkansas, who ranked 13th nationally in the final 1998 poll.

Clemson will open the ACC home season with a match against North Carolina State, then play host to Florida State and North Carolina – the top two teams in the league last season.

The conference season will conclude with the ACC Tournament November 17-21 at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, FL. “The tournament is going to be a new experience for us this year. It will be the first time since I’ve been in the league that the tournament will be held at a neutral site,” said Hoover. “It will be a first-class event, and the tournament is always competitive. Success during tournament time depends upon which teams are playing well at the end of the season and who is healthy. With returning 12 players from last year’s team, including five seniors, we will definitely be in the hunt for that title.”

Clemson has one new addition to the coaching staff. Assistant coach Karrie Downey Larsen joins Hoover and fourth-year assistant coach Heather Kahl.

“I really enjoy my staff,” said Hoover. “Heather has been with me my entire time at Clemson. I had the opportunity to coach her for two years when I first arrived at Clemson. Then, Heather was a student assistant her fifth year while finishing her degree and has been in an assistant coaching position ever since. Heather has been a huge part of the program’s growth and success.

“Karrie just keeps surprising me,” admits Hoover. “I knew when she joined us that her playing credentials were extensive, and that she really wanted to coach. She has been working with the outside hitters and the players have responded well to her.

“Karrie has all the tools to help her to be successful in this profession. Her experience internationally and with USA Volleyball will be invaluable to our program. Her work ethic, competitive spirit and personality are the keys to her success. Karrie is going to be a phenomenal head coach in the future.

“Over the six seasons that I have been at Clemson there have been some very exciting accomplishments for this program. We captured the 1997 ACC Championship, we have been to the NCAA Tournament four times in the last six years, had three Rookie-of-the-Year award winners and had an ACC Tournament MVP. With these highlights and Cindy Stern being able to train at the Olympic Training Center with the National Team in 1998, I see our program getting even more national exposure. I think Clemson is the total package with its commitment to academics and athletics and with the outstanding surrounding community. Clemson is really a great place to be a student-athlete.”