Aug. 17, 2008
NEW ORLEANS - When the 2008 Tulane University volleyball team took the court for its first preseason practice on Aug. 8, it did what no Green Wave volleyball team had ever done in the 33-year history of the program.
After finishing the 2007 season 28-6 and finishing second in the regular-season Conference USA standings with a 14-2 league record, the 2008 team was selected as the preseason favorite to win the C-USA crown. In addition, senior outside hitter Sara Radosevic became the first Tulane volleyball student-athlete to be tabbed C-USA Preseason Player of the Year.
While expectations around the program are now at an all-time high, fourth-year head coach Liz Kritza and her team have tried to keep a level head on things as they approach the season opener against Missouri on Aug. 29 at the BYU Molten Classic in Provo, Utah.
"There is a reason why this program has improved every year for the last four years and we are continuing on that path as a program," Kritza said. "We train the same way and (assistant coach) Sinisa (Momic) does a great job of knowing when we need to advance our training and progress. We have not changed on any of that.
"We are focusing on all the right things, which are individual and team development. We are not focusing on any of the media hype, and that is the tone that has been set for this whole program. I tell them all the time that it is very hard to play volleyball with a big head. We try not to let the student-athletes focus on anything outside of this team or anything that does not directly relate to this team getting better and winning more games."
One of the reasons for those high expectations in 2008 is the return of all 13 letterwinners from a year ago as well as the addition of a pair of talented true freshmen. While Radosevic grabbed an early headline via her preseason distinction, she was joined on the Preseason All C-USA Team by senior right-side hitter Bridget Wells, junior outside/right-side hitter Ksenija Vlaskovic and junior libero Jenn Miller. Miller, Radsovic and Wells claimed honorable-mention All-America recognition from the American Volleyball Coaches Associatoin, and the preseason foursome claimed all-conference honors in 2007, as did rising senior middle blocker Jen Linder.
"(Having everyone back from last year) is huge for us," Kritza said. "For the 13 players who came back, especially the seven seniors, it is almost like them finishing a journey. It is not like we were ever building toward this season, but I think they all realized during the offseason that this could be a special year for us.
"It is our fourth year with virtually the same coaching staff, and we have a team that is entirely our recruits. Having them all back allows us to progress the team faster. They understand the expectations. They know how we train, they know what we think good volleyball is, they know what we frown upon, and not having to spend time on those things is a huge advantage. It allows us to spend more time training them on the court."
In spite of the bull's-eye being squarely affixed to the Green Wave in 2008, Kritza was quick to point out that it has not been hard to motivate her team to get better every day and prepare for every match with the attitude that each one is important. Even with last year's success, the Green Wave are still looking for their first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Despite setting school records in five offensive categories - kills, kills per game, assists, assists per game and attack percentage - winning all 12 home matches and posting a winning percentage over .820, the Tulane team was left out of last year's field of 64. That, Kritza said, will be the motivating factor for the team throughout the upcoming season.
"We had a great season in 2007 - a lot of wins, a lot of firsts and a lot of records - but that first NCAA Tournament appearance is still elusive," Kritza said. "Any time we need a gentle reminder of what we are working for, all I have to do is reference that night in the locker room when there was a feeling of utter disappointment.
"We were not selected to go somewhere that we really feel we should have been. We have something to prove. It is not something we focus on completely, but when we need that little extra kick or that little extra motivator, it works pretty well for us."
The Green Wave open the season on Aug. 29 against Missouri, and will play their first home match on Monday, Sept. 1, against Florida A&M. For season tickets information or tickets to any future Green Wave home athletic event, contact the Ticket Office at (504) 861-WAVE.