It happened in a flash — almost unexpectedly.
Sophomore outside hitter Falyn Fonoimoana, who appeared to be the future of an already bright USC women’s volleyball program after being named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in 2010, was gone. There was neither a news conference nor an in-depth explanation given.
A simple, almost mundane, 95-word press release was issued, alerting the masses to the fact that the talented sophomore would be “ineligible” for the upcoming season and leaving more questions than answers.
“We exhausted all of our resources in order to help Falyn retain her eligibility,” Haley said. “We have very high expectations of our student-athletes, on and off the court, here at USC.”
Was this because of academics? Or did it confirm message board rumors that Fonoimoana was looking to transfer to Hawaii?
Regardless of the reason behind her departure, it leaves a gaping hole on the Women of Troy’s roster. After all, she finished second in the team last season in points and kills with 398.
But USC will survive.
Granted, you don’t replace those kind of stats overnight, but with nine talented starters returning after a run to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament in 2010, the Women of Troy, nonetheless, could very well notch back-to-back Final Four appearances. Heck, with a No. 2 preseason ranking, a national title is in play as well.
With the Fonoimoana ordeal in the past, the team and the coaching staff can now move forward, putting its rocky week behind them.
USC coach Mick Haley shouldn’t be one to worry, either. I’d be hesitant to get worked up over one player, especially when he has a multitude of talented student-athletes able and ready to make up for her absence.
Haley certainly has the pedigree to back that up.
Since coming to USC, Haley has guided the Women of Troy to two national championships, five Final Four appearances and 10 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances in 11 years; it’s quite the résumé.
Possibly atop his laundry list of accomplishments, he guided the Women of Troy to an undefeated 2003 season, a rare feat in collegiate athletics.
This year the Women of Troy have a ranking to defend, but more importantly, the top spot to chase.
No. 1 Penn State, winners of four straight national championships, currently sit atop the collegiate volleyball world, but a fifth straight title won’t be easy looking at USC’s roster.
The Women of Troy boast an impressive trio in outside hitter Alex Jupiter, setter Kendall Bateman and middle blocker Lauren Williams. All three are seniors and all three were All-Americans last season. And all three are among the best in school history.
This season Jupiter has the opportunity to break the record for kills, service aces and points for a career at USC. Bateman can also set the career record for assists. And Williams, who at 6-foot-4 remains an incredibly important asset for the Women of Troy, particularly in terms of blocking, after posting 115 blocks last season.
All three will be counted upon to make up for the absence of Fonoimoana, as well as the loss of sophomore middle blocker Alexis Olgard for the first couple weeks of the season because of offseason knee surgery.
To aid the experience of their three seniors, last year’s No. 1 recruiting class, including sophomore libero Natalie Hagglund, sophomore outside hitter Kirby Bunham and sophomore outside hitter Sara Shaw will take on an even greater role.
And an incoming freshman class rated 10th in the nation will also get an opportunity to play early in the season.
So despite all the hoopla surrounding Fonoimoana, this USC squad still has the talent, experience, depth and coaching pedigree to challenge and upend the Nittany Lions four-year reign at the top.
With Haley directing Jupiter, Bateman, Williams and a group of talented underclassman, no Fonoimoana doesn’t mean no NCAA championship.
Without its Pac-10 Freshman Player of the Year, there is really no need to worry at all; she’s just another player on this deep and talented roster that can easily be replaced, just another road bump to get over on the way to another NCAA appearance and further.
“In the Zone” runs every other Friday.
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