Aug. 25, 2003
By Dave Siegal
CARBONDALE, Ill. - After garnering a 23-10 mark in 2002, head coach Sonya Locke's 2003 squad will have to depend on a record thirteen newcomers (eleven freshmen) to extend the Salukis' success. These newcomers join their returning teammates with success not only on the court, but in the classroom as well. Half of the newcomers were honor roll students, with four of them making the National Honor Society.
While three Salukis earned academic scholarships, nine of the freshmen are on athletic scholarships, so plenty is expected of the newcomers off and on the court.
"It's always going to be that I give it my all. I'm not going to hold back anything, just go all out," said freshman outside hitter Jene' Pulliam (Rockford, Ill.), who expects to contribute as a leader as well. "I'm more of a silent-leader type, but I definitely plan to hold a leadership role and keep up with the rest of my teammates. With all these freshman here, I'm just excited to get out there; nobody really knows what you're going to do or how good you're going to perform."
According to Locke, fellow freshman outside hitter Ashley Saverine (Brookfield, Wisc.) possesses great court savvy and can be one of the better outside hitters on the team when she understands her roll and ability to her terminate the ball.
Saverine knows success for her and the team will come as long as they work together. "I depend on everyone equally, but I need my freshmen teammates around me to help me out and all work together. The older people will work to help us and I need everyone equally for us to be successful."
There is also the desire to make an immediate impact. "I hope that I can (contribute). I don't know what my role is yet, but I'm doing the best that I can, I think that's what everyone's doing, and I hope I can contribute right away. I think I can if I try my hardest and give it 110 percent," added Saverine. "I think it (the 110%) just comes from within, that's how it's always been and I don't know any other way other than working hard."
Chester, Ill. native Jessica Roth will bring some local expertise to the team after a stellar career for John A. Logan College, where she was named all-conference in 2002 for the Lady Vols, who were ranked seventh nationally at one point. Yet Roth is learning Locke's system the same way the majority of her teammates are. "Everybody says I have more experience coming in, but honestly, I don't know what kind of experience the other girls had. Maybe I had more experience at a college level, but our junior college level could be just as good as their high school level."
The only returning senior is outside hitter Kelly Harman (Quincy, Ill.), who is eager to lend a hand in helping her incoming teammates adjust. Her experience improves her chances of garnering a starting spot, but like the newcomers, Harman still has much to prove to Locke. "I feel like they (the freshmen) look to me for guidance, but they're probably pretty close to the sophomores (two) as well. They look to each of us for different things."
On the crop of freshmen, Harman wondered what it would be like to be the elder statesman and have so many young teammates. "I was really worried about it actually. I have a sister who is the same age as all these guys and we get along on certain things. Despite the four year gap (Harman redshirted her freshman year), I think we all get along pretty well. It's not really as bad as I thought."
Harman feels she'll really be able to help as far as the competition in the MVC and other annual opponents, and hopes to end her career with a memorable senior year. "One thing that I do know is the players that are still around don't change their styles much. We haven't talked about other teams yet, but when that comes around, I think I'll be able to help everybody then. Of course, I want to make it (senior year) memorable, this being my last year. I guess what would make it memorable is all of us coming together to do the best that we can. I know it's asking a lot for such a young team to go real far, but I think we'll be able to tell how well we mesh and sometimes the win-lose stuff isn't what's really important now. It's still process learning for these guys, but of course we're going to expect the most of them."
Locke herself is looking forward to her crop of smart newcomers gelling together to be competitive. "I think gelling quickly is a possibility, but volleyball is a real fast-paced game. What tends to happen is that you can have really intelligent people, but if they don't process information fast enough, sometimes they play behind the game. I think these girls are capable of bringing that kind of intelligence to the volleyball court, it's just a matter of them displaying it."
After opening the season at home in the 24th Saluki Invitational, the Salukis will travel to Durham, N.C. the following week to play in the Duke Invitational. Locke doesn't expect the long road trip to faze the freshmen on or off the court.
"The one thing about all these freshmen is that they all played on club teams. Those club teams traveled all over the country to play club matches and they missed high school days as well, so they're experienced about doing this kind of thing. This is going to be a matter of managing themselves properly on the road, bringing their books and studying when we have dead time in the day. They're going to be fine."
Locke is impressed with these newcomers, noting that "they have been extremely coachable, putting what they hear into action quickly." Despite a slew of newcomers, the Salukis look to continue, and enhance, their success on and off the court.