Wednesday, December 24, 2014

NCAA | Vansant, Nelson, Sybeldon, Mussie and scenes from volleyball's Final Four

Notes from Oklahoma City 

Happy holidays. As usual, we spent the third week of December in the company of volleyball coaches, players, officials, fans and fellow reporters, this year in Oklahoma City. We were on assignment for Volleyball Magazine; look for links to our reports as the New Year approaches. 

Washington's Krista Vansant, honored for the second time as an AVCA First Team All-American,
with Washington Coach Jim McLaughlin and Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Krista Vansant, Kaleigh Nelson and Lianna Sybeldon were all in Oklahoma City to pick up their trophies at the annual All-American banquet.  

Vansant, the 2013 AVCA Player of the Year, sat next to Penn State setter Micha Hancock, the 2014 Player of the Year. Both athletes were coached as youngsters by their moms; Vansant also had dad as a coach. Both told Volleyblog Seattle that having parents on the bench had more advantages than disadvantages. But both said that their parents still offered volleyball suggestions once they headed off to college. Hancock told us she eventually had to ask her mom to let Penn State head coach Russ Rose call the shots. And Vansant? 

"They've almost stopped giving me advice," she smiled. "I've kind of asked them to back off a bit, let Jim do his job." 

Both Vansant and Hancock plan to play professionally, and each will be invited to join the USA National Team's training sessions in 2015. 

Nelson, a senior, and Sybeldon, a junior, were both named to the AVCA All-American Third Team. This was the second consecutive year Nelson won the honor, all the more impressive since she came to Washington a relatively unheralded--and presumably undersized--outside hitter from Oregon. After redshirting her freshman year, there were those who wondered whether the Huskies had squandered a scholarship with Nelson seemingly stuck near the bottom of the depth chart. 

"Everyone has different roles on the team," she says. "And even players who are not starting have a role. I wasn't playing, but maybe I was pushing someone who was out there to be a little bit better. You make the team better. Always. It's not just the starters and the non-starters. You're a unit. I still felt like I was part of it and I was doing something good. If you work hard enough, then you can get out there." 

Sybeldon, making her first All-American banquet appearance, said she was excited--and not at all nervous--to be in the company of the nation's elite players.  

"More than anything," she said, "it motivates me to be first team next year, and be here with my team playing." 

Sybeldon says she and other UW juniors, including Melanie Wade, Cassie Strickland and Katy Beals, are ready to become team leaders. "After this season, I've thought so many times how thankful I am to have another shot. If this were the end, I would feel, like, so--like unfinished business. I'm not ready to be done." 

Penn State Assistant Coach Stevie Mussie offers instructions from the bench as Head Coach Russ Rose looks on. Setter Micha Hancock (12) is in the foreground.
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Stevie Mussie, one of the stars of Washington's 2005 national championship team, is now in her second year as Penn State Assistant Coach. 

Almost a decade after playing her final collegiate match, Mussie seems well on her way to making her own mark in the coaching world. Among the challenges of being an assistant, she says, is adjusting to the differences in philosophies and systems of coaches like Washington's Jim McLaughlin and Penn State's Russ Rose. 

"Working for Russ has been a challenge, but the best kind of challenge," she told Volleyblog Seattle. "I've had to learn a different way of doing things, but I can't argue, because he clearly knows what he's doing." 

Mussie went to Final Fours as a player, and now twice as a coach. She's impressed with how Rose keeps his calm amid all the championship week chaos. "The light atmosphere he creates in tense situations makes it controllable for the players. He practices what he preaches." 

After a season being seen mostly in spandex and sweatshirts, athletes at the All-American banquet tend dress their best, from their favorite hairstyles to stylish dresses right down to stilettos that add inches to women already proud to be tall. 

Miami Second Team All-American
Savanah Leaf. The back of her shirt
reads "I Can't Breathe"
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
So, when Miami's Savanah Leaf, the ACC Player of the Year, stepped to the podium to accept her Second Team All-American trophy, it was hard not to notice.  On the front of her simple white t-shirt was a dramatic stenciled image of a woman's face, eyes shut, with a hand covering her mouth. 

On the back, the words: "I Can't Breathe." 

"I wanted to make a point in a place where most people wear formal outfits," Leaf told Volleyblog Seattle. "I think this will turn some heads and get some people to start thinking twice about what they're promoting."   

What they're promoting, she said, are All-Americans. As a role model to countless girls in Miami, Leaf said she wanted those girls to see that expressing her dismay about the death of Eric Garner was part of being an American. 

"When I watched that video (of Garner dying at the hands of New York City police,) I was brought to shock. I was crying. I don't even know the person, but I was crying. Because I don't want that sort of police brutality in this country. Or anywhere, for that matter.   

"I have a young sister," she continued. "She's told me she's afraid of the police. That's scary. I've heard her kindergarten friends talk about it too. That's scary at that age. I don't want anything like that to happen to them." 

Leaf, who just graduated and hopes some day to be a filmmaker, designed and made the shirt herself. She wore it in the airplane from Miami to Oklahoma City, unsure about the reaction it might provoke. To her surprise, no one--including strangers--said anything negative. Even so, the decision to wear the shirt at the banquet was made at the very last moment, without, she said, telling her coaches in advance. 

"I've been hoping that more and more people--especially in volleyball--will speak up about their opinions about issues going on in the world." 

While in Oklahoma City, we conducted video interviews for Volleyball Magazine with a wide range of folks, including Karch Kiraly, Amanda Gil, Micha Hancock, Krista Dietzen, Mick Haley and several more. We'll post more on the blog soon, but feel free to take an advance peek on Volleyball Magazine's Team VBM website. 


  1. Stevie Mussie did not play on the 2005 Husky NCAA volleyball championship team. She played for
    the Huskies in 2006 and 2007.

    1. I wouldn't say she was a star of the 2005 NCAA championship team when she didn't step on the court for even one set. Yes, she was a star for the 2006 team that made the final 4.

    2. Your article states she was a star on the 2005 championship team. She was a star in 2006.

  2. Your article says she was a star on the 2005 championship team. She did not play in 2005 but was a star in 2006.

    1. Nice, informative article. It drives home the point that the pleasure of learning more about volleyball by watching Krista's all-around game is something I will miss but will not forget.

      However, moving forward, I know that UW has received a commitment, if not a signed LOI), from Destiny Julye from Tehachipi, CA - a 5'10" OH who can elevate a bit like Chrissy Jones. Two questions/points:
      1. Are you aware of any other recruiting developments? My understanding is that there will be three openings on the UW VB roster, by graduation (2) and attrition (1).
      2. I don't like to post as Anonymous but I'm not into facebook, twitter and the like; and don't want to put out my private email address. Am I simply missing something here? Could I simply post using a moniker like "Dodo"?
      This is a good site for fine team-oriented discussions and I have posted a couple of times earlier, and believe I would enjoy fostering additional participation and discussion, even if I am a bit too frank at times (usually discovered the day after :). Thanks.

    2. For the past several years, Washington has been very low-key in announcing or confirming its recruiting class. We wrote about Destiny Julye a few weeks ago, but UW has declined to release any information about other potential recruits.
      If you'd like to use a made-up moniker, that's fine with us ... and it would help others identify conversation strings.
      Happy New Year.

  3. "I've been hoping that more and more people--especially in volleyball--will speak up about their opinions about issues going on in the world."

    Good luck in the fringe community known as NCAA Collegiate WVB fans; the centrist views usually revolve exclusively around the game and are forever, it seems, a battle of living the competitive vicarious dream(s).

    "My team is better than your team", let us fall into 'group think' when agreed on matters, we'll perpetuate strongly opinionated biases (i.e. VT), indicating much more going on within without anyone saying so.

    Shucks!! ;-)

  4. Jack/Leslie: Several forums are rife with speculation that McLaughlin is going to take the vacant coaching position at Notre Dame. I'm sure you're already trying to track this down. But hoping you'll be able to post an update (false rumor, I hope) soon.


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