Aug. 19, 2005
It may have only been a one-win improvement, but for a young team in the middle of a rebuilding process, one win was a solid step in the right direction.
With eight newcomers, the 2004 Arizona State volleyball program finished 10-17 and tied for seventh in the Pac-10.
Under third-year head coach Brad Saindon, the goals for 2005 remain much the same. Keep improving, be competitive and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
With all but one returning player from last season and the return of senior setter Giovana Melo from knee injury, Saindon believes he has all the pieces of the puzzle to turn ASU back into an annual tournament contender.
"We have a good group of returning players and it seems as if we improve every time we step on the court," said Saindon. "There is a lot of work to be done and the success isn't going to come overnight, but we are confident we can continue to work towards our ultimate goal of contending for the NCAA Tournament every season."
Saindon and his all-ASU coaching staff of Terri Spann (4th year) and Jami Coughlin (3rd year) are looking to build off a strong spring practice and are encouraged by the improvement of seven freshmen that are now sophomores.
"Last year they were freshmen and sometimes they played like freshmen," said Saindon in regards to the recruiting class that was ranked in the top 12. "Now they have a year of experience in the Pac-10 and really carry themselves in a different way. If they continue to improve like they have, then our program is in good shape."
The 2005 Sun Devils will take the court with two freshmen, seven sophomores, three juniors and two seniors on the roster. Only defensive specialist Stephanie Kohner does not return from the 2004 squad.
Saindon continues to advertise his exciting brand of volleyball that brings a lot more speed and quickness.
"The brand we bring to this program is unique and something that remains to be an experiment," said Saindon. "We will continue to be quick, but I also think you will see us be a lot bigger and stronger."
With a team laden with youthful talent, the Sun Devils will have their hands full heading into the 33rd year in program history. Despite the youth, ASU has its eyes locked on a goal to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament and finish in the top six of the Pac-10.
"Like every program, we go into the season with goals of making the NCAA tournament," said Saindon. "That is our number one goal, to make it to the Field of 64. They are pretty lofty goals, but you have to aim high."
After adding seven freshmen and one transfer last season, the Sun Devils add two more new players for 2005. Outside hitter Margie Giordano (Glendale, Ariz.) and setter Marina Mercer (Chandler, Ariz.) are both freshmen standouts who were two of the top prep players in Arizona.
"You always want to get the best talent in your own backyard and that is what we believe we got in Margie and Marina," said Saindon.
The Outside Hitters:
A year ago the Devils were scrambling to find a replacement for injured outside hitter Natalie Harris. While several stepped in for the one-time All-Pac-10 player, the season provided more of a stepping stone in terms of development.
Junior Nicole Morton (Fallbrook, Calif.) is coming off a strong season in which she led the team averaging 3.53 kills and recorded 18 matches with double-digits in kills. Morton is slated to be ASU's main offensive weapon on the outside and has improved drastically in each of her two seasons in the Maroon and Gold.
"I think Nicole is really ready to take off and be a star," said Saindon. "She had a great spring and has really gotten stronger. I have high expectations for her and really think she is going to be the cornerstone of our team."
Senior Sarah Watkins (Mishawaka, Ind.) is ASU's most veteran player and is also vying for a starting spot on the outside. Averaging a career-high 2.97 kills and 2.14 digs per game last season, Watkins has played in 63 career matches and has shown steady progress in Saindon's system.
"Sarah is our team leader, both on and off the court," said Saindon. "She is a model student-athlete and has turned into a really solid player."
In addition to Morton and Watkins, the Sun Devils have a strong supporting cast that will contend for starting spots. Junior Nina Reeves (Gilbert, Ariz.) came on strong at the end of the season and finished averaging 1.91 kpg and 2.12 dpg. Reeves is a dynamic player with great leaping ability and bring an enormous amount of energy to the court.
Also in the mix is freshman Margie Giordano (Glendale, Ariz.), and sophomores Kristin Trayser (Crystal Lake, Ill.) and Danielle Fernandes (Santa Monica, Calif.). Giordano was the Arizona/Gatorade State Player of the Year out of Glendale's Mountain Ridge High School in 2004 and has the ability to be an impact player right away.
In the Middle:
Considered one of the most important positions in Saindon's offensive system, the middle blocker position promises to be one of ASU's strong points.
Sophomores Colette Meek (Sherwood Park, Alberta) and Staci Smith (Gresham, Ore.) will battle junior Tierra Burnley (Santa Clarita, Calif.) for the majority of playing time. Meek is coming off a solid campaign in which she was named to the All-Pac-10 Freshman team after setting the ASU freshman record with 1.20 blocks per game. She also averaged 2.26 kills per game and led ASU with a .296 hitting percentage.
"Colette had a phenomenal freshman season and really showed how good she can be," said Saindon. "She has the ability at times to completely take over a match and she is going to be a big part of our success."
Smith, who is ASU's tallest player at 6-2, had a strong finish to her freshman season and is looking to build offer her late-season improvement. She averaged 2.19 kpg over her last seven matches and finished the year ranked fourth on the team with 0.65 blocks per game.
Burnley has seen her playing time increase in each of her two seasons at ASU and will push for a starting spot. She is coming off a solid season in which she averaged 1.74 kills per game and ranked second on the team in both hitting percentage (.284) and blocks per game (0.87) as a sophomore.
On the Setter Position:
You won't win many football games if you don't have a strong quarterback, and the same can be said in volleyball if you don't have a good setter. The Sun Devils have a pair of good setters heading into 2005 and the competition for the starting spot between sophomore Rachel Mittelstaedt (Phoenix, Ariz.) and redshirt senior Giovana Melo (Ribeirao Preto, Brazil) will most likely continue throughout the season.
Mittelstaedt started 25 of ASU's 27 matches after Melo went down with a season-ending knee injury. She was named honorable mention All-Pac-10 Freshman after averaging 10.59 assists per game. After a solid freshman campaign and a summer training with the USA Volleyball Junior National Team, Mittelstaedt is likely the leading candidate for the starting spot.
"Rachel had her ups and downs as a freshman, but that is expected, and she held her own against a very tough schedule," said Saindon.
Melo looked to have a lock on the starting position last season, averaging 10.60 assists per game and leading ASU to a pair of victories in the in the season-opening tournament. But, Melo tore her ACL the next week during practice and was lost for the season.
"Giovana is back, she is healthy and she is the lifeblood of our team," said Saindon. "We lost a lot more than a solid setter last season when she went down. We lost a team leader and a competitive fire that you can't create in players."
Also adding depth and likely sitting out the season as a redshirt candidate will be freshman Marina Mercer.
The Libero/Defensive Specialist:
A hallmark of Saindon's system is defense. The defensive duo of sophomores Sydney Donahue and Alison Lund will combine to make the libero position one of ASU's strongest.
"I think we have two of the best liberos in the country in Sydney and Alison," added Saindon.
Donahue rewrote the ASU freshman record books averaging 4.36 digs per game and was named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman team. She also set the freshman record with 30 digs in a match and recorded 14 matches with 10 or more digs.
"Sydney proved last year she was one of the best defensive players in the Pac-10," added Saindon. "She will anchor our defense and provides a lot of energy."
Lund saw action in 24 matches last season and averaged 1.14 digs per game.
On 2005 Schedule:
The Devils will be tested with a rigorous schedule in 2005. ASU's tough slate includes 14 of its 30 matches against teams that advanced to the 2004 NCAA Tournament. In addition to a tough non-conference schedule that includes four preseason tournaments, ASU will have to battle through the toughest volleyball conference in the nation.
"The Pac-10 is the best conference in the nation with USC and Stanford having won each of the last three national championships," noted Saindon. "It is our goal to start climbing the ladder in the conference and finish in the upper half of the league."
While reaching the NCAA Tournament is a goal of any team competing in collegiate athletics, Saindon emphasizes how important it is for his program to return to national prominence.
"The barometer of success of any team is going to the NCAA Tournament and that is our goal," stressed Saindon. "I am confident that this group of players has the ability to put ASU Volleyball back in the hunt."