Volleyball digs into next season

Rachel Roth / Roundup

“Don’t measure yourself by what you’ve accomplished, but what you should accomplish with your ability.”

The John Wooden quote remains one of the few items Nabil Mardini, head coach of the Pierce College women’s volleyball team, has not packed.

However, when reflecting on his record for the last eight years, his accomplishments are difficult to ignore.

In 2001, Mardini’s first season as head coach, he led the formerly last place program to a first-place finish, and sparked the run of eight consecutive conference championships.

“I feel I’ve worked very hard to be in the position we are with the program,” he said.

Last year, the Brahmas had their best season to date. Mardini was voted Western State Conference South Coach of the Year, and the team finished first in the state, winning 32 games out of 34.

In spite of their stellar season, Pierce fell just shy of winning a state championship.
Preparation for the new season has begun, but Mardini said the objective remains the same; “The ultimate goal, no question about it, is to win the whole thing.”

The team practices three times a week, has  6 a.m. training sessions at the track with strength and conditioning coach Steve Ruys and weekly games on the beach, which the girls organize themselves.

“I’m not the type who’s going to give them one of those artificial speeches, ‘Rah-rah’ speeches,” Mardini said. “You’ve gotta be driven, you’ve gotta be self-driven.”
The main focus of every offseason is rebuilding. This year, it appears as though everything is getting a new look.

Not only are current players expected to get physically stronger over the summer, but the veteran leadership of captain Kami Ward and three first-team all conference players—including  two-time WSC assist leader Terry Soltani and offensive leaders Vanessa Murray and Janet Alvarado — must be replaced.

The team will also temporarily relocate while the South Gym undergoes renovation.
“At the end of the day you’ve got to be positive about the changes they are trying to make,” said Mardini, who would prefer to play home games in the North Gym, if scheduling and logistics — there aren’t any bleachers in the North Gym — works out.

“If we have to go off campus to play somewhere, so be it,” he added “To me it’s not where you are, but who you are. To win a state championship we have to learn to win on the road.”

Returning to the Brahmas are WSC South Player of the Year, Sarah Martin, who also led the conference in aces, and Brooke McFerren who was fourth in the conference in kills.
Joining the roster are freshman recruits Amy Edberg, Julianna Hicks, Alexa Micek and Kelsey Van Uden. 

“I’m very particular, very selective in the players that I’m recruiting,” Mardini explained.
Stringent recruiting by the coaching staff helps to ensure that, from season to season, the program maintains its reputation.  The main criteria for a player isn’t athletic ability — even though it’s important — but that they fit the needs of the program and vice versa.

“I don’t recruit kids if I feel that this is not the right place for them,” he said.

Mardini looks to the returning players, like Martin and McFerren, to set the example for the new girls.

“Our sophomores do such a good job every year spreading the culture, spreading the standards,” he said. “They set very high standards in the gym and they make sure it’s communicated to all the girls. They make sure that everybody’s abiding by it and respecting it.”

Martin, who is still getting accustomed to her role as a leader, said that right now her focus is building team camaraderie and acclimating the incoming freshman to the way Brahmas practice — most girls show up an hour early to warm up.

Even though the season doesn’t begin until Sept. 4 — an away game against San Diego Mesa College — she couldn’t help but mention the illusive state championship.

“Our goal, ultimately, is to win state,” Martin said. “But you have to build up to that point.”
The last time the Brahmas got close was three years ago. They lost in the finals to Orange Coast College, the same team that recently knocked Pierce out of the playoffs.

“The have our number,” Mardini sighed.

He also admits that while every year it is a challenge to replace the players who are moving on, he usually feels like he ends up with the right people for the program.
The right players and Mardini’s proven leadership, give the Brahmas the ability to accomplish anything.

“It’s gonna happen,” he predicted, “I’ve got no doubt. It’s gonna happen.”

(Left to right) Returning sophomores Kimmie Kester, Natasha Wilroy, Gracie Shedd, and Brooke McFerren train on Monday for the 2009 Women’s Volleyball season. (Burke Bryant / Roundup)