High Hopes for Collegiate Women’s Volleyball
USC, Hawaii and Florida lead the race for the NCAA Division I National Championships
Published: Winter 2003
Then the best collegiate volleyball teams come to Dallas this December to compete in the NCAA Division I National Championship, the pressure will be on USC as it seeks to repeat history. “Collegiate volleyball is extremely competitive and every team is going to be looking to beat us. Our players have an opportunity to make their mark and I know they’re up to the challenge,” says University of Southern California women’s volleyball head coach Mick Haley. But the Women of Troy will have their hands full, as they must defend their title against strong challenges from Hawaii and Florida.
Holding the line for USC is senior April Ross (6’1”), who saw her 2003 team amass a 31-1 record that included a 3-1 victory over Stanford in the NCAA Championship. USC has ten returning players, including every starter. This summer Ross undertook special preparation for the upcoming season by training with the USA Women’s National Team.
Leading the charge for the Hawaii Rainbows, which last year was eliminated in the NCAA Tournament in the semifinals by Stanford, is Kim Willoughby (6’1”). Willoughby, the WAC Player of the Year for the second year, was also awarded the 2002-2003 Joe Kearney Award, given to the top male and female athlete in the Western Athletic Conference. She led the WAC and finished second in the country in kills per game (6.31), and led the WAC in services aces.
The irresistible force on the Florida Gators is senior Aury Cruz (5’11”), who led her team to a 34-3 record and a semifinals match last year against USC. A Southern Eastern Conference Player of the Year for the second straight year, Cruz finished fourth last year on the all-time school records for kills (1,296) and third for aces (158). Prior to coming to the University of Florida, Cruz was a member of the Puerto Rican National Team.
Capturing a preview of the NCAA Tournament for us is Tony Duffy, whose sharp eye for athletic talent freeze-framed each of these three volleyball superstars in action.
These Gators have some serious snap: the average player on the 2003 University of Florida women's volleyball team has an approach jump of 10 feet 2 inches, with five athletes reaching 10 feet 4 inches or higher.
Their edge? Using workouts that were designed by Marilyn Walker, a strength and conditioning coordinator for the Gators who worked with the US National Team at the Olympic Training Center, the Gators participate in an intense, year-round conditioning program. With its focus on power, the Walker approach helps develop a total athlete through plyometrics, static stretching with ropes, dynamic stretching, agility work, and conventional and explosive weight training exercises.
One of the key exercises for developing jumping ability for the Gators is box jumps, which are often performed twice a week. In addition to employing standard box jumps such as those in the BFS program, the Gators also perform these exercises with an approach jump and a jump preceded by a lateral step. The jumps are made even more sport specific by having the athletes land on the box with their arms raised as in a blocking position.
To develop what Walker refers to as "explosive power" for volleyball, she has the Gators perform power snatches and power cleans. Rounding out their program are conventional strength training exercises and specific exercises for the rotator cuff muscles.