Fullerton's New Coach Set to Win : Volleyball Team Will End Slide, He Says

Times Staff Writer

There are a couple of ways of looking at Jim Huffman's job.

Is it a) all but impossible to succeed or b) nearly impossible to fail?

Huffman is in his first year as coach of the Cal State Fullerton women's volleyball team, a team that hasn't won a conference match in nearly two years.

Pressure? Huffman thinks not.

"I think it's great," Huffman said. "I can't lose."

The thinking is that if the streak doesn't end, it's only status quo. And if it ends even with only one victory, it's progress.

And Huffman's thinking is that the streak will end.

"The conference streak isn't going to continue," he said. "I think we're in a good situation because--what coach isn't going to say this?--we're better."

Fullerton went 11-24 last season, 0-18 in the Big West Conference. Afterward, Coach Fran Cummings was forced to resign.

Now Huffman, 30, must try to succeed where Cummings did not, in the country's most competitive volleyball conference.

The Titans are picked to finish last. Huffman thinks they will finish higher.

This season, the team once again will be built around Susan Herman, a senior outside hitter who already holds school records for kills in a season, kills in a career and aces in a career.

"You've got to have some kind of base to build from, and if I didn't have Susan, we'd be several lessons behind where we are now," Huffman said. "She's great. It's easy for seniors under a new coach to just endure the season, but she's been really willing to help. She'll set the pace for us being successful or not this year."

Huffman also thinks Herman will have more support.

Tammy Miller, who quit the team last year, has returned. Stephanie Shrieve is back at setter. Stephanie Schofield, a player Huffman didn't think was good enough to play when he arrived, has impressed him so much that she is starting.

Huffman is also pleased with Angela Lightfoot, a back-row specialist.

The top newcomer is Sabrina Dennis, a 6-foot-1 middle blocker who was a second-team community college All-American for Golden West College last season. She is starting.

The only freshman, Rachel Wittleff, will also start.

Another of Huffman's top recruits, Fullerton College transfer Susan Guest, did not enroll this semester.

"The biggest things holding us back are one, there's a lot of new stuff to learn with a new coach, and two, they've got to learn how to win," Huffman said. "It sounds funny, but after you've lost as much as they have, every time its gets tight, if you let the old feeling take over, you'll lose."

Huffman, an assistant at Colorado State for the past three seasons, in his first Division I head coaching job. He was coach for three seasons at Rockhurst College, a National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics school in Kansas City, and also an assistant at Iowa State.

While Huffman was at Colorado State, the Rams were ranked as high as fifth in the country.

One of Huffman's moves at Fullerton has been to eliminate an early-season trip to the East, during which the Titans have picked up victories against weaker teams in the past.

"We'll find out if it was a bad move by me when the season's over," he said. "I don't think I'll regret it. How can you get better if you're playing bad teams?"

One thing is certain: They won't be playing bad teams in the Big West.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World