For Jolene Jordan Hoover and the Tiger volleyball team, patience is a virtue – but only up to a point.
The patience to ride out the inevitable highs and lows of a particularly youthful team will be essential to Clemson’s hopes of competing for the ACC title and earning a program-record fourth consecutive NCAA tournament bid.
At the same time, the ACC’s round-robin/no-tournament championship format will create a sense of urgency every time the Tigers step on the court against a conference opponent.
“We always want to compete for the ACC championship and get into the NCAA tournament, and that hasn’t changed,” Hoover said. “But the tough part with having so much youth is that I know we’re going to have some really good nights, but then we might not be so consistent during some stretches of the season.
“Hopefully our youth won’t cost us too much. Without an ACC tournament, there’s no margin for error during the regular season. Every match is crucial. If we have a bad night and then we let that hang on us, it can roll into a couple more and you can easily play yourself out of it. Our task is going to be to let it go and move on, and to understand that we’re going to have some of those nights and be patient with ourselves.”
Hoover is accustomed to recruiting ready-to-play replacements for key personnel, but she says this year’s task of breaking in both a new setter and a new defensive libero is particularly challenging.
“Our setter (Kelsey Murphy) and our libero (Didem Ege) were both four-year starters, and the setter and libero are so important and vital as far as your system work and your ball-handling,” she explained. “That’s going to be the biggest piece for us – getting the kind of consistency out of those two positions that we’re used to having. Any way we go, we’re pretty young, and that’s just going to be part of the process.
“When you look at us on paper, we’ve got one senior, one junior and the rest are freshmen and sophomores.”
Among the Tigers’ top returning players is a pair of All-ACC sophomores in Sandra Adeleye and Alexa Rand.
“We couldn’t asked for better freshman years from our two middles, but a lot of their success has to be attributed to Kelsey, as well, because of her tempo and timing and knowing where to put the ball,” Hoover said. “We hope to have the same production out of them this year, but that involves working with the new setters on their timing and connections. Hopefully over time, we’ll be there again.”
Hoover said that Lacy Hayes, a redshirt sophomore, and freshman Hannah Brenner are competing for the job of running the attack.
“I think those are two really strong options,” she said. “But again, what they don’t have is the experience of running the team. Lacy hasn’t had much of an opportunity because she was playing behind Kelsey, but the nice thing is that she’s been in our program for two years.
“Hannah has been working really hard and she has a good role model in Lacy for our tempo and the different sets we want to run, and she adds another dynamic in that she’s left-handed. She can be pretty active as a setter in attacking the second ball – sort of like back in our Michelle Thieke days.”
On the back line, freshman Cami Rosado was recruited as a replacement for Ege, the 2009 ACC defensive player of the year who finished her career as the conference’s all-time leader in defensive digs. Tanya Mirutenko and Morgann Mitchell are also competing at the position.
Hoover says that as the season progresses, she’ll try to balance patience with a sense of urgency that is inherent in a successful program.
“The patience is going to be the toughest part, because we still do have a very high expectation level,” she said. “We need to be patient, but not too patient. We have to keep things in perspective. When things go well, we’re going to get greedy and want more success.
“The key will handling the lows the best that we can. That’s what will make a difference for this team in the long run.”