By Mary Kate Lau
For the Arizona State volleyball team, the summer isn’t about sitting by the pool with an ice cold lemonade or sleeping until noon every day. It’s about hard work and high honors.
When asked the proverbial, “What did you do over your Summer vacation?” these athletes had some pretty good answers among them.
Sophomore setter Allison Palmer was selected for the USA Volleyball Junior National Team and competed in the FIVB World Championships in the Czech Republic.
“I learned so much about the game and about different cultures and playing internationally,” Palmer said. “All the teams had different styles, like we played Thailand and they were a little smaller but really quick and then Brazil was in between with their speed and their offense and then Russia was high ball outside every time. It was cool to have to adjust and see what these other countries were going to do.”
In addition to Palmer, sophomore outside hitter Macey Gardner played on the Pac-12 All-Star Team in China and sophomore middle blocker Whitney Follette will be playing for Team Canada at the USA Volleyball High Performance Championships next week in Florida.
“I think it’s good for them to be active in the summer and I think it’s important that they’re in these pipelines and they get some representation for our volleyball program,” head coach Jason Watson said.
It isn’t just the players that are getting national and international attention this summer, though. It all started with the example set by assistant coach Linda Hampton-Keith, who just spent her fifteenth summer with Team USA Volleyball as an assistant with the A2 team.
“I think anytime you have the opportunity to wear your country on your back is absolutely amazing,” Hampton-Keith said. “I hope that our athletes and all the athletes I worked with over the summer appreciate the fact that they are in a pipeline that identifies future Olympians. You're talking about being not that far away from going to the Olympics and I think for any athlete, the Olympics are like the pinnacle of your athletic career and to be recognized and be a part of that is humongous.”
The USA Women’s National Volleyball Team A2 is open to college athletes with eligibility still remaining and is used as a tool to determine what athletes might be a good fit for the Women’s National Team. It is a 10-day camp where the 47 athletes that made the cut from the 240-person tryouts break up into four teams that compete against each other. Along with Hampton-Keith, a group of legendary coaches mentor the women, like UCLA’s Andy Banachowski, Washington head coach Bill Neville, along with Mike Hebert and Ruth Nelson.
Just getting to work alongside names like that is a huge part of what makes the experience special for Hampton-Keith.
“What a great opportunity as a coach to hear their perspective and learn about their experience is just absolutely invaluable,” she continued.
The experience was a whirlwind for Hampton-Keith, much different than the environment at ASU.
“You go from a training team environment to a competitive team environment all within 10 days and it became this shortened version of a tiny little season, trying to create a team, get some chemistry going and hope for the best,” she said. “Here we are obviously much more invested in our athletes, we spend a lot more time recruiting them and we invest in their development, we're invested in the time they’re putting in together and creating chemistry on the court and so I think the difference is here at ASU we have time to invest in them and the athletes have time to invest in what we're trying to do.”
Even though the A2 team and her Sun Devil team have that very different pace, Hampton-Keith puts a lot of importance on what it does for her as a coach and what she can bring back with her to Tempe for the upcoming season.
“I hope that what this experience will do for me is to create awareness and kind of create this bigger picture,” she said. I love coaching, I’m doing what I love and I’m passionate about it and I think it reignited the flame in me as a coach so I hope what the athletes see from me is just a renewed passion and a renewed confidence that I spent ten days working with the national team and that was an exciting opportunity.”
The biggest thing she hopes to bring back with her is the high value placed on pride and honor that you see with the National Team.
“Here at ASU we have athletes that are proud to wear the pitchfork. And if they’re proud to wear the pitchfork and they're emotionally invested in getting better and going further in the NCAA tournament and not just making it, that is a huge investment paid off.”
The team begins practice in early August and the season will officially start August 30, at Utah Valley.