VOLLEYBALL ... TURNING THE CORNER
Sept. 24, 2010
Written by: Eric Hollier, Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director
The noise at times was deafening from the concourse level of the Donald W. Reynolds Center, and much louder to the players on the court. The raucous fans at Tulsa's match against Lamar on Sept. 10, were part of a growing trend of large and spirited crowds at volleyball matches in the Reynolds Center.
"The atmosphere was huge," Head Coach Ed Allen said after that Friday evening match, a 3-0 TU win. "It was probably one of the most exciting matches we've played here in the Reynolds Center. I feel the support from (the students) is just continuing to grow, and I think we're going to find this to be a difficult place for people to come in to play."
Fan and student support is as large as ever now, and the Golden Hurricane has given the fans plenty to be excited about in recent years.
Tulsa won the Conference USA regular season championship in 2006 and the tournament title in 2007, reaching its first ever NCAA Tournament. In 2009, the Hurricane went 26-7 and 13-3, matching its best C-USA record, and reached the finals of the C-USA Championship.
This season, TU carries a 9-2 record and an eight-match win streak into league play, which it opens this weekend at Memphis. The Golden Hurricane has won 24 of its last 25 sets and ran a streak of 20 straight set wins, which included six consecutive sweeps. Tulsa's pre-conference schedule included six teams that reached the NCAA Tournament a year ago, and TU swept through the Powerade/Asics Challenge in San Francisco, which featured Washington State, USF and UC Santa Barbara, all of the notoriously volleyball-strong West Coast.
Since Allen's arrival in 2006, the Golden Hurricane has a 111-36 overall record and a 45-18 C-USA mark. In fact, more than one-fifth of the wins in program history have come in the four-plus seasons in which Allen has been at the helm. That is, 22 percent of the program's wins over 35 seasons have come in the last four-plus years.
The Hurricane averaged 25.5 wins over the first four full seasons of Allen's tenure, compared to the 12.9 wins averaged over the previous 30 seasons. The 102-win total is more than in any other four-year period in school history.
"There were a few pieces that allowed us to be competitive quickly," Allen said of the program when he arrived. "We had a few players - Julia Silva, Fabiola Nepomuceno, Germana Hilario - that helped us win early. But I don't think they were taught what it took to really be competitive. We were thin. We had 10 players, and two kids that had never played middle (blocker) and had to learn to play middle. But I think they were hungry to be competitive."
The program has had a lot of success in recent years, but that has not always been the case.
The TU volleyball program got off to a solid start in its first few years of existence under Dr. Tom Cairns. The Hurricane posted winning seasons in four of its first five years, including a 29-16 record during the inaugural 1976 campaign and a 30-11 record in 1980.
However, the program quickly fell on hard times after the 1980 season with 19 straight non-winning seasons, including winless records in 1992 and 1995. In 2000, Tulsa went 20-13 to break the long streak of losing records. In 2005 - the program's first season as a member of C-USA - the Hurricane went 23-8 with a 10-5 league record, marking the first winning conference season in school history.
Allen took over the following spring, and says the main difference between the team he inherited and his current squad has been a change in the attitude of the players.
"The biggest thing has been the culture change," said Allen. "We've recruited kids that all have the same priorities - academic success and volleyball success. They work hard and understand what it takes to be successful. At this point, five years in, it's the expectation that we're going to play for a championship."
Silva, a TU assistant coach whose number 14 jersey was retired after her playing career, was a three-time Honorable Mention All-American, and has played a huge role in the program's transformation.
Henderson earned All-America honors last season, and was selected as the C-USA Preseason Player of the Year. Senior Hannah Stout and sophomore Jessica Adams, both all-conference selections in 2009, were named to the Preseason All-Conference team. Henderson currently leads the nation in kills per set and points per set, and setter Jordan Clampitt leads the nation in assists per set.
"I think our recruiting classes have gotten progressively better over last the last four years," Allen said. "Particularly in the last two years, we've signed better athletes. We are more athletic, and we have kids that are more focused and work hard on and off the court."
With just two seniors and two juniors, combined with a total of 10 sophomores and freshmen, this is a young group bursting with talent and promise. For the remainder of the 2010 season and in the years to come, Tulsa will continue to turn the corner not only in its own conference, but also on a national stage. The Golden Hurricane will continue to challenge for a conference championship every year with the potential to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.
Fans old and new will continue to have a reason to be boisterous at volleyball matches.
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