Jan. 8, 1998
1998 Season Outlook
STANFORD, Calif. - A magical year in Stanford men's volleyball history
ended with the Cardinal crowned as NCAA champion in 1997.
Last year's team was strong in so many ways. A dominat front line, strong
defense, experience and great team chemistry.
Seven players, including four starters have graduated. The team will definitely
look different. The team is much younger, but the goals are still the same;
winning another national title.
"The fact that we lost so many players, doesn't mean we can't be real good," said
Cardinal head coach Ruben Nieves, who was named the 1997 Volleyball Magazine and
AVCA Coach of the Year. "This team has set high goals. This team in fall training
gained a lot of confidence as they competed and trained together. Team chemistry
is good, and the guys are hungry. The players feel that although they played on
an NCAA championship team, they have a lot to prove. The team is looking to prove
themselves again. We will not be the pre-season favorites like we were last year.
But that doesn't mean we can't do it again."
UCLA, Brigham Young and Hawaii are three leading candidates to win the NCAA title
this year. The Bruins return five starters from their NCAA runnerup team. BYU
returns all six starters and added several key recruits. Hawaii has asembled
another great team. The midwest region is going to be strong. Ohio State, IPFW
and Lewis are contenders. In the east, Penn State is the favorite again.
Three solid players means tough competition for a starting
role. All three are excellent players. PK Diffenbaugh brings experience and poise
to the position. However, he will be challenged immediately by two freshmen.
Brad Griffith brings size (6-foot-5), a strong work ethic and a fierce
competitive attitude to the Cardinal volleyball program. Freshman Joshua Lukens
is as prepared to run a collegiate offense as a high school setter can be.
Griffith and Lukens were considered the top two high school setters in the
country last year. Both freshmen are great additions to the team and compliment
Keenan Whitehurst, an All-American candidate in 1998,
has been a solid starter the past three seasons. In the 1997 NCAA championship
match against UCLA, Whitehurst recorded 17 kills in 26 attempts (.617), nine
blocks and four digs. Whitehurst hit .417 for the season, #1 for the Cardinal and
#4 in the nation. Tad Hoffman has been a pleasant surprise for the Cardinal,
according to the Cardinal coaching staff. Hoffman was exepcted to start in 1998,
but he is more than ready to start, according to the Cardinal coaches. Hoffman is
ready to be a dominant force in the middle. Along with Whitehurst, Stanford will
have a dominant front wall. Jeremy Bart is being shifted from setter to middle
blocker and performed well in the Fall. Dan Zhang and Brett Youngberg are
excellent freshmen prospects. Their role will depend on how fast they develop.
Andy Witt, a first team freshman All-America, is ready
to be even more of an offensive force in 1998. Although a freshman in 1997, Witt
played like a veteran. For example, at the NCAA Final Four, Witt recorded 31
kills and 29 digs in wins over Ball State and UCLA. Witt can also serve and play
defense. Witt set a school record with 39 service aces, and tied with the
graduated Stewart Chong for the team lead in digs with 210.
Witt is highly respected as a competitor. Devin Poolman is a starter after being
a reserve last year. Devin is another player who brings great arm strength from
the outside. Patrick Klein had a great fall, according to the Cardinal coaching
staff. Like Poolman and Witt, Klein is a strong offensive player. He appears
ready to play a major role on the team. Joshua Palacios redshirted last yar after
undergoing shoulder surgery. Palacios is definitely in the hunt for a starting
position. He brings improved passing, serving and ball control to the court.
Chris Griffith plays a style similar to Palacios; passing and defense are his
strengths. Griffith also shines with his intensity on the court. Curtis Graham is
a freshman who shows a lot of potential, a good work ethic and a strong team
attitude. With improvement, he will help the team down the road. Robin Lamb is a
strong team player. The transfer from Vanderbilt is poised on the court. His rate
of development will determine his amount of time on the court. Gabe Gardner is as
talented a volleyball player as any in the country, according to the Cardinal
coaching staff. Gardner, who transferred from USC, will redshirt this year due to
Pac-10 and transfer regulations. His presence, however, in the gym elevates the
standard of play in practice..
Tyler Neal, who had doubled as a setter in previous years, is
the only player on the Cardinal varsity this year that will train exclusively at
the back row position. As a senior, he is proven at that position. Neal is a
great server and digger.