Feb. 18, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. -
Stanford junior middle blocker Gus Ellis has been a vital part of the Cardinal lineup and a returning starter from last season's national championship team. The native of Corona del Mar, Calif., has overcome Type 1 diabetes to excel in the sport, setting Stanford's rally-scoring era record for blocks in a match (11). The following is the conversation with Ellis:
Q: What are the adjustments you have had to make this season alongside new players such as freshmen Eric Mochalski and Brian Cook in the middle?
A: Since Eric goes in the second I go out, we don't interact that much, but as far as practice is concerned, Eric is constantly trying to improve. Because he holds himself to such a high standard, he ends up pushing the rest of us middles that have been here for a while, to improve even more. So, he's had a tremendous effect on both our offense and defensive efforts in practice, which has been great.
As far as playing with Brian, since I'm with him on the court, I love his attitude. He just absolutely loves playing every point. He has this positive energy that feeds the rest of the team in the middle of the competition. Even though he's just a freshman, I already feel very comfortable relying on him and trusting on him to make big plays, and he's already come through many times.
Q: What did you pick up from veterans Brandon Williams or Garrett Werner when you were a freshman?
Q: You're not getting the number attacks you've had in the past. Is that something that should be changed? A:
A: Brandon and Garrett both helped me transition into the college game by letting me know that, `Even if you don't have the best game, it's not the end of the world because you're just a freshman and you shouldn't have to feel as if you're under too much pressure. The rest of us guys have been here a long time before you came here and we're very comfortable. As soon as you assume that role, you'll gain confidence and make contributions.'
We've proved this season that whatever offensive scheme we're using is working good enough. There might be different points where we're going to need to focus in the middle to face various opponents. It really just depends on who we're playing and how well Evan and I are connecting on our attacks.
Q: What is the difference in the way Evan Barry and Kawika Shoji set matches?
A: It's difficult to focus on the differences between them, but it's a lot easier to focus on what they have in common. Both are tenacious defenders and are two of the most competitive guys that I've ever played with. And they both have a really good understanding of the game and a lot of experience and understanding in what the situation calls for.
Q: There are other teams that seem bigger and more powerful than Stanford. How do you offset those physical differences?
A: People say that volleyball's a non-contact sport. In a lot of ways that's not true, because it's a very physical game up at the net. But in a lot of ways it is true, because weight and strength doesn't really come into play as much as skill. What we may lack in musculature, we might make up for in skill and years and experience. We have some of the most natural volleyball players in the league, it's safe to say.
Q: That's one thing about Stanford, you're not trying to be something that you're not.
A: We rely heavily on our experience.
Q: Now, about your serve, have you ever jumpserved in your life?
A: My freshman year, Kosty had me jumpserving and about halfway through the season, he made the decision to put me as a floatserver. I've never gone back since.
Q: Are you trying to just get it over the net, or send a knuckleball or something?
A: No, that whole concept behind my serve is that it's a tactical serve. That implies, first of all, that it's in. Second of all, it hopefully puts their offense in an awkward position where maybe they're not as likely to run certain attackers. And third of all, it just gives our defense a chance to shine, while a service error obviously never does, especially because I feel we've proven to have one of the best defenses in the league and it never hurts to make sure the ball's in play.
Q: Do you work with Erik Shoji at all in terms of giving him a little bit of a window to see the ball, or do you just try to snuff everything at the net?
A: Erik doesn't ask too much of us as blockers. He just asks us to get over early and try to close the seam, and he'll do the rest most of the time. He's very good at adapting to split-second new circumstances. He might not know if the blocker's going to be there, but at the last second he'll make the right adjustment, depending on the blockers and where the hitter has openings in the block.
Q: Do you feel like he's saved you guys a few times?
A: Definitely, he is the backbone of our defense.
Q: Having Type 1 diabetes, has it stabilized over the years, or how have you learned to handle it?
A: I've got a pretty solid system down. I've had it for 20 years now. There haven't been any surprises for me this season or the year before, or during my entire experience in volleyball.
Q: If the match goes long, do you get drained easier or does it impact you in those types of situations?
A: No, I've definitely got it down to a science.
Q: In club, you were coached to some extent by (Type 1 diabetic and former Stanford and current U.S. national team setter) Kevin Hansen. How much influence has he had on you?
A: My first introduction to Kevin was that I went to the high school that he graduated from (Corona del Mar) and my coach would always talk about what a fierce competitor he was. And later on, I learned he was also a diabetic and that he also played for the same club team I played for, and he also played for the youth and junior national teams, like I did. I met him because he was the assistant coach for my club team, and from there, we just hit it off on a friendly basis, and he was a great coach for us. Since then, I've spoken to ask his advice on classes and what his academic experience was like here at Stanford. And he's a friend on Facebook.
Q: Your given name is Austin. Didn't you get your nickname from you mom, who called you "Guzzlin' Gus" because you used to drink a lot of water as a child?
A: I was a baby and my grandmother would say, "He's just a little Guzzlin' Gus," and ever since then, it stuck.
Q: No one calls you Austin?
A: No one that knows me calls me Austin.
Q: Looking back, did your thirst have something to do with the diabetes?
A: Yeah, I think there's a good chance that was the case. You get a high blood sugar and that causes you to be pretty thirsty, and so that might have had something to do with the fact that I was always drinking water.
Q: When did you find out you were diabetic?
A: When I was 1 year old.
Q: You've been getting insulin shots for how long?
A: Since I was 1, I've been getting insulin shots. I probably started really managing my own diabetes when I was about 10.
Q: Do you ever talk to kids who have diabetes?
A: Yeah, actually, there was a newspaper article done when I was in high school that mentioned the fact that I was a Type 1 diabetic, and when that was put out there, parents of children in the community talked to me. There was one guy who was a water polo player where I went, at Corona del Mar, and he had recently been diagnosed with diabetes and wasn't sure if he could continue as a player since it was sort of an adverse situation in trying to handle his diabetes and compete. So, I spoke with him a couple of times after games and I think I provided him with a lot of comfort and confidence that he could continue competing even with diabetes.
Q: About this year's team, the team is doing well, but has had ups and downs. What are you finding out about yourself as a team?
A: We hold ourselves to a very high standard and we feel confident that we've proven we can compete at a very high level and beat very good teams. What we're hoping to do is get into a rhythm and find some consistency and really hit our stride midway.
Q: Do you feel like you've gotten to that point, or seen signs that you're getting there?
A: We've had some signs that we're getting there, but I think we're going to have to have a couple more big wins until we're at the point where we feel confident that we're playing at a consistent level.
Q: What's it like to go against Brad Lawson in practice?
A: Just looking at Brad from a purely volleyball perspective, what he's able to do is absolutely incredible. He has a wide variety of shots, a wide variety of speeds, and an incredibly powerful serve. His defense is textbook, his blocking has improved markedly as the years have gone by. But what's more impressive than his physical abilities as a player, has been his ability to step into a role of leadership for our team. He knows that last year Kawika was the brain of our team, the leader of our operation and all that. With him being gone, Brad as well as Spencer have really stepped up to set the tone and guide us all during practice and during games, and his leadership has been invaluable for us so far.
Q: Who hits harder, Brad or Jake Kneller?
A: I love Brad, but Jake punishes the ball. Jake has got to be the hardest hitter on our team.
Q: On another subject, I know the women's gymnastics team has brought your team in to heckle them in practice, in an effort to strengthen their ability to focus. Have you heckled them this year?
A: We have heckled them this year.
Q: What do you guys say? Do you go all out, or do you hold back?
A: Garrett Werner is the one who knows no limits. And even though he's an alum, he'll come back and really give `em hell. The rest of us will be as annoying as we possibly can while still not being overly offensive.
Q: One more thing, you're a junior and you haven't gotten all-conference recognition. Why do you think that is, and where do you want to get?
A: I don't seek awards for the sake of getting awards for myself. The only reason I'd be happy to get an award was if it was a reflection of the contributions I get from my teammates. So, I'm hoping that I can get to the point where I can be a standout in the league only so I can improve my team that much more.
Q: Where do you feel you need to get as a player?
A: I need to be consistent more than anything else. I need to consistently be an effective blocker and consistently make contributions to our offense.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics