Aug. 27, 2014
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Last season was the most successful in Head Coach Ed Allen's short tenure at the helm of the Crimson Tide. Alabama posted 24 wins, the most since 1995, and made its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007. It was a turning point in the building process of this program, but Allen, who enters his fourth season in 2014, sees it as the payoff for a turning point three years ago.
"The real turning point was our first year here, when we started to establish the culture that we wanted, make demands and set up expectations," said Allen. "What we have done since then is increase the level of athleticism to where we're now back on track with the timetable for what recruiting is these days. We were rewarded for all that hard work last year."
The reward was a trip to the NCAA Tournament, but a first-round exit only gave the team more motivation to come back even stronger.
"The team has now seen all the hard work materialize into a reward and that has created a lot of incentive," said Allen. "We realize how young we are but we also see how close we are. The biggest thing is that we've recruited competitive kids. Because we have those competitive kids, falling short of our goals inherently leaves them a little unsatisfied and wanting more.
"We have a team that's full of these kind of kids that realize that just making the NCAA Tournament is not the goal anymore. The goal now is advancing deep into the tournament and competing for an SEC Championship. We've painted a picture that is much brighter than what we've already achieved."
Nine of the 17 players on Alabama's roster are returning players, while Alabama adds seven freshman and one transfer to the mix. There's a level of competitive depth to this program that Allen hasn't seen in his first three years in Tuscaloosa, thanks in large part to smart and consistent recruiting.
"The time schedule for Division I recruiting these days is that you are building about three years in advance, so when you take a job over you're about three years behind. We're now entering year number four, which puts us in a place that we're on a level playing field with all future classes. We've been very fortunate that the classes that we've brought in, even though we were behind schedule, have turned out to be very gifted kids. They are even better people than they are athletes, which is very important to us now."
Last season, Alabama finished fourth in the SEC with an 11-7 conference record and they are picked fifth in the 2014 preseason coaches' poll. Fighting alongside the perennial contenders such as Missouri, Florida and Kentucky is now a realistic goal for the Tide, and with an increased talent level and increased exposure generated by the SEC Network, the league as a whole is catching up fast with the traditional powerhouse conferences.
"Just in the last four years since I've been here, the SEC has gotten so much stronger," said Allen. "For a long time, only one or two teams made it to the NCAA Tournament. Last year, we took eight teams. We project to be a league that takes six to eight teams regularly. That's terrific for our league and the sport. The SEC Network is going to be great for exposure as well."
We asked Coach Allen to break down the 2014 Alabama Volleyball team by position:
"We're probably most deep in the outside position, though we're also pretty banged up there. Brittany Thomas will be a key cornerstone there as a six-rotation player. She has a successful year of experience under her belt and she's continuing to develop as a player. She's understanding things much better and developing fundamentally. We have two returning upperclassmen in Mattie Weldy and Laura Steiner who each bring two years of experience. They're battling nagging injuries but they're doing a great job of providing depth and experience. We expect both to play and we expect Kat Hutson to see time out there as well. She's a solid banger who brings tremendous size and competitiveness. We think they give us some great options and Bria Green or Emily Stebbins could even slide in as a utility player and play the outside."
"We return Katherine White as a three-year starter. She has more experience, focus and is much more competitive. The three years that she has been here has helped with that so she'll do a great job of being a blocker for us in the middle. Bruna Evangelista will be a good blocker but she will really bring some offense to us at that position. She played at a very high level in Brazil and at Blinn College. She'll be able to figure it out in competitive situations so she will provide depth and an incredible amount of experience. We believe Leah Lawrence will blossom into one of the best middle blockers in the SEC over the next couple years. She will be a tremendous blocker for us and will be able to generate some offense."
"We're moving a very gifted player in Krystal Rivers out there so that hopefully we can generate more swings for her and give her legs a little rest to help with the wear-and-tear of the season. It will give her some opportunities to come out of the back row and add some versatility to her game. The longer she plays there and gets experience, I believe she is going to be one of the best right-side players in the country. In general, the size that we've added all along the front row is going to make us a better team. Others like Bria Green or Haley Little will also be able to spell Krystal when needed."
"Sierra Wilson is very gifted and has the keys to a sports car with this offense. She has a very talented team to work with and will need to process those options and realize, at times, that there really isn't a bad option with this team. That will make things a lot more simplistic and she won't have to worry about trying to be deceptive and can just focus on delivering a ball that's extremely hittable."
"We return Kryssi Daniels, who has been our starting libero over the last two years. She'll be a lot more relaxed and will have a lot more savvy. We bring Caitlin Bernardin back as well and she'll come off the bench and spell some of the defensive players. She was a starter for most of last year so she brings great depth and experience at that position. Natalie Murison will play for us and she gives us a great pair of hands on the court. She's a great passer, defender and is very disciplined with her movement. Reagan Petty and Brooke Feld will also add great depth as freshmen and should be able to step in and give any of our players a break when needed. Bria Green will also potentially find some time in the back row like she did last season."