Freshman of the Year
For anyone that has seen Deja McClendon play, it is abundantly clear she has that special je ne se quoi. The 6’1” freshman outside hitter from Louisville, Ky., plays with a broad smile on her face and a no-nonsense attitude about the game at which she excels.
In addition to clinching the AVCA Freshman of the Year title, McClendon, perhaps more importantly, was named NCAA Tournament MVP. She is only the second freshman to ever capture that title, next to Kerri Walsh who did it for Stanford in 1996. Contributing 16 kills and leading her team with 40 total touches, McClendon played a huge role in guiding the Nittany Lions to their record fourth NCAA Division I Championship title in a row.
There was no doubt McClendon was a strong player coming into a transition year for Russ Rose’s squad—she was named the Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year and an Under Armour All-American while playing for duPont Manual Magnet—but it became clear to everyone near the beginning of the season that she was going to be a collegiate standout. By Halloween, number 18 had already nabbed three Big 10 Player of the Week honors.
With three more playing seasons ahead of her, and one National Championship title already under her belt, it is likely that the world has yet to see the tip of the iceberg with the phenomenal McClendon.
Player of the Year
When it comes to determination and a strong desire to win, Stanford’s outside hitter Alix Klineman is a poster girl for her sport. Although the Cardinal was ousted from the tournament in the quarterfinals by USC, this senior’s motivation and loyalty to her teammates proved consistent throughout her prolific career.
As a four-year letter winner at Mira Costa High School, Alix led her team to three consecutive California State championships and went on to be named VBM’s freshman of the year in 2007.
“The rush is definitely still there,” said Alix, after four years in the collegiate arena. “This past season it’s been more exciting because I’ve elevated my game to another level. This year I’ve finally made some changes in my technique and it’s really showed.”
Klineman finished her career with 2,008 kills—fifth in Pac 10 history—and attributes many of her accomplishments to head coach John Dunning, who she says constantly encourages her and her teammates to push themselves to the next level.
“He’s a really good coach for someone like me because he never thinks you’re good enough. There were always things to work on.” She continued: “One thing me and John had in common is I never doubted how much he wanted to win and he’s never doubted how badly I want to win.”
Although Klineman said she is going to miss Stanford, she is ready for whatever challenge is next on the horizon.
“If it was up to me I’d stay a couple more years at Stanford. I’m definitely going to find a way to continue playing but until then, make every last minute count and feel so lucky to have been there.”
Coach of the Year
California head coach Rich Feller led his team to another program first this year, when the Golden Bears made it to the NCAA Division I Championship game. Although his squad fell to four-year champs Penn State, Feller has nothing but admiration for his 2010 squad.
“We only have 12 players on our team this year. Nine of them play all the time and they have played in those positions and those roles for two months,” Feller said. “The three that don’t play are critical every single day in practice and they understand their back-up roles and have accepted this for the greater good.”
When you look at his 12-year career at Cal, Feller’s impact on the team and their rise in the ranks is unavoidable: 2010 marks the team’s ninth consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, their first Pac-10 title and a program-best fifth straight 20-win season. Despite his clear and consistent leadership skills—he was also named VBM’s Coach of the Year in 2007—Feller is quick to pour the praise back onto his players and staff.
“It’s certainty important to have your setter be one of your dominant personalities, one of your best athletes and one of your most fierce competitors and those are all true of Carli [Lloyd],” he said. Lloyd was named the AVCA Player of the Year and played a big role in the Golden Bears run this season.
“Probably the smartest person in the world is the person that knows they’re not very smart. I definitely have found people that are good at what they do, particularly in areas that I may not be as good at. I don’t have the ego that says I have to do it all.”
Originally published in February 2011