When it comes to NAIA volleyball, it’s been the Fresno Pacific Sunbirds’ world and everyone else is just part of the dig-counters. The Sunbirds are coming off a perfect 38-0 season which found the ladies winning a 3rd straight national championship. They also went undefeated at home for the 7th straight season and won their 10th straight Golden State Athletic Conference title. Needless to say they are starting this season ranked number 1.
Having won 110 of their last 112 matches, the Sunbirds volleyball team felt up to the challenge of seeing if I could conduct a lucid interview for once. When I offered to meet the ladies for a face-to-face interview to get the inside story on their team’s phenomenal run, Head Coach Dennis Janzen gave the okay, despite my ice-breaking joke in which I told him I really loved watching reruns of him in The Fugitive and Harry O. Janzen just rolled his eyes. (Maybe he was just peeved that I didn’t mention Richard Diamond episodes) (DISCLAIMER: THE FOLLOWING IS ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE BITS WHERE I PRETEND TO ACTUALLY BE INTERVIEWING THE PEOPLE COVERED IN THE ARTICLE…ALSO NO VOLLEYBALL PLAYERS WERE HARMED DURING THE WRITING OF THIS BLOG POST)
I asked senior All-American Lisa “Worth More Than A” Shilling how she and her teammates deal with the non-stop pressure of the streak they are on and she replied:
“It’s there in the back of your mind, but it ‘s only what you make of it.”
She also stated the common thread running through the last 3 national championship teams has been the close-knit team chemistry. Shilling, along with Libero Mariah Mandelbaum, is trying to complete her Fresno Pacific career without ever having experienced a season-ending loss. Volleyball newcomers can find out all they need to know about the Libero position by going here: http://www.strength-and-power-for-volleyball.com/volleyball-rules-libero.html
I told Mandelbaum I once wrote a libretto about a Libero who was a Libra and she asked Coach Janzen if she could go. For a quick round-up of the other Sunbirds volleyball players who, if there’s any justice, will soon have a major motion picture made about them, here you go:
Martina Gregusova, the NAIA Tournament MVP last year. She led the Sunbirds with 444 kills last season (And left nearly 500 opponents seriously wounded. I’m kidding!).
Keke Wang, an All-American at two positions. She will play middle blocker and opposite. (As opposed to playing Dan Blocker and similar)
Wang teams with the aforementioned Lisa Shilling to form one of the best middle blocker duos in the sport. Shilling was 2nd Team All American last year and is described by FPU as one of the driving forces behind the team’s success.
Mariah Mandelbaum, comfortable in her role as a “shortstop of volleyball” AKA Libero, led the Golden State Athletic Conference in digs last season.
Sophomores Erica Adachi and Emily Carroll return as the team’s primary setters. This Titanic Twosome combined for 1,482 assists in 2009.
Newcomers to the squad include Kathleen Anderson, Jessica Berg, Karah Mitchell and Brittany Sumpter.
The Sunbirds return the bulk of their 2009 title team but lose two players, including Tiffany Marinos, who has joined the team’s coaching staff. Coach Janzen, proving that for coaches the glass is always half-empty, said the team has a long way to go to get where they need to be and added this vintage example of coachspeak:
“We want to be better defensively. This program defensively has a higher standard than most. We have got to push defensive intensity.”
Do you get the feeling that a perfectionist coach like Dennis Janzen wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat over the 2 games his team has lost out of their last 112?
And the Sunbirds play in the GSAC, which may well be the best volleyball conference in the NAIA, boasting 4 of the nation’s Top 5 teams at the end of last season. Think about that as you absorb this next stat: FPU has won 52 straight against conference opponents.
The Sunbirds have got their eyes on history and if they can win their 4th straight NAIA volleyball title they will stand at the top of the sport along with the only 2 other teams to accomplish that task: the 1981-1984 Hawaii-Hilo Vulcans (Team motto: Live Long And Prosper) and the 1994-1997 BYU-Hawaii Seasiders (Team motto: Our Team’s Nickname Doesn’t Lend Itself Easily To Lame Jokes By Bloggers…That motto may sound a bit unwieldy but it looks great on a T-shirt.) There’s no doubt about it, Fresno Pacific University is to volleyball what UConn is to women’s hoops.
For streaming video of Coach Janzen and I singing the Fresno Pacific fight song click here: http://fpuathletics.com/
For another tongue-in-cheek yet informative NAIA volleyball story click here: https://glitternight.com/2010/07/23/multiple-choice-quiz-on-sioux-falls-volleyball-programs-recent-honor/
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