Loyola Volleyball Attempts to Reach New Heights in ‘91 : Colleges: After lean times, the Lion women finished 21-16 in 1990. Coach Steve Stratos will try to build on that success.
Friends tried to warn Steve Stratos of tough times that might lie ahead when he left a successful program at Woodbridge High in Irvine to become the women’s volleyball coach at Loyola Marymount.
After all, while Stratos was coaching a girls program that had been ranked among the nation’s top 20 for four consecutive seasons, the Lions were mired in losing seasons. In the two seasons prior to hiring Stratos, Loyola had a 17-41 record.
But Stratos accepted the opportunity to resurrect the Loyola program prior to the start of the 1990 season. He wasted little time turning around the program. The Lions finished 21-16, including a surprising third-place finish in the West Coast Conference and only the second postseason appearance in school history.
The Lions open their second season under Stratos today with two matches in the Washington State tournament at Pullman.
Loyola will play Indiana at noon and host Washington State at 7 p.m. in the round-robin tournament, which also includes Rice and Central Michigan.
“Indiana finished third in the Big Ten last year behind two top 20 squads,” Stratos said. “The good thing about this tournament is we will play teams we never see.”
The schedule will present a difficult challenge for the Lions, who must play seven NCAA tournament teams and 10 matches before their first home match against San Diego State on Sept. 17.
“I didn’t plan (the schedule) that way but when we cut back from 32 to 28 matches we had to drop some planned home-and-home matches and basically we had to go where the matches were,” Stratos said.
Stratos put his players through a tough off-season training program, similar to one that the U.S. women’s ski team uses.
Since January, the team has spent an estimated four hours per day, six days per week, using a program that combined weightlifting, jumping rope, running, and exercises that consist of jumping up and down off boxes set at different heights to build more power.
The Lions are gaining a reputation among other athletes on campus for their work ethic.
Many of Stratos’ changes caught some of the veteran players off guard and he said that some did not pay heed to preseason letters sent to them indicating what kind of conditioning would be expected.
“They weren’t my team when the season began,” Stratos said. “I had told them that our double days were going to be difficult, but I don’t think there was a total communication.”
One of the top players last year, Stacy Trapp, also learned the hard way about the Stratos’ new ways.
“She came around when she got thrown out of the gym during a practice,” Stratos said. “In the past they were used to making suggestions and she was being told to block a certain way.”
The incident did not have an adverse affect. In fact, Trapp now laughs about it.
“I guess the coach and the team were just getting to know each other and learning to trust each other,” said Trapp, the team captain. “After that I developed the trust between player and coach.”
Stratos was so impressed with Trapp’s work ethic and attitude last year that when he found out she had one more year of eligibility left he asked her to come back and play during her first year of graduate school.
Trapp will be the middle blocker after setting Loyola single-season records last year with 97 block assists and 112 total blocks. She is the school’s all-time block assist leader with 170.
“I’m glad to be able to come back and play and get a chance for one more year,” Trapp said. “I started seriously thinking about that once I found out I could be eligible.”
Loyola’s other senior, Lisa Wenker, benefited from the rigorous training program and will play the technique position.
"(Wenker) came in here as a great athlete but not a great volleyball player,” Stratos said. “In the spring she became a great volleyball player and could be the best right-side hitter in the conference.”
A transfer from El Camino College, Wenker came in with the new program last year and has noticed a major difference between the start of this season as opposed to last.
“We’ve seemed to combine as a team a lot quicker than last year,” Wenker said. “We have a real sense of teamwork that took a long time to build last year.”
Another key returnee is sophomore Deanna Doolittle, who will handle one of the outside hitter positions.
Doolittle played for Stratos at Woodbridge and had one of the finest seasons in Loyola history last year with 539 kills and 535 digs, both second on the team.
Doolittle also led the team with 37 service aces and was named to the All-WCC freshmen team.
“Deanna is the most intense individual in our program,” Stratos said. “She broke nearly every freshman record last season and has improved a great deal since the conclusion of the last campaign.”
Among the six players not returning from last year is two-time All-WCC selection Kerry House, but Loyola had a strong recruiting year highlighted by the signings of community college transfer Joli Eberhart and freshmen Robin Ortgiesen and Tahlia Wagner.
Eberhart helped lead Golden West College to a state championship last year and was named to the Volleyball Monthly All-America team.
Ortgiesen, a 5-11 setter from Mira Costa High, is expected to take over for Anita Irwin, who accounted for 93% of Loyola’s assists last year.
Stratos said Ortgiesen is one of the finest setters coming out of high school this year. She was named most valuable player of the Ocean League last year.
The 6-0 Wagner helped lead Corona del Mar High to a state championship last year and will add much-needed height to the lineup.
“We expect Tahlia to have an immediate impact in our program and to develop into a dominant force in the WCC at the middle-blocker position,” Stratos said.
A coaches preseason poll picked Loyola to finish second in conference. Pepperdine, which has won four consecutive conference championships and five in the past six years, was the preseason favorite.