Coach Cliff Hastings talks about the championship season

Jacob Kenter

Staff writer

 

Photo courtesy of Phoenix College Parkland women’s volleyball celebrate after winning the NJCAA championship.

Photo courtesy of Phoenix College
Parkland women’s volleyball celebrate after winning the NJCAA championship.

From the late August heat to the late November chill the Parkland College volleyball team had one goal in mind. That goal, of course, was to bring the first NJCAA championship back to Parkland since 1999, and they did just that, boasting a 57-0 record. After this historic season Coach Hastings took some time to reflect on the team and the year.

What were some things you did to keep the team focused as you moved towards the championship?

In my seven years as the Parkland volleyball team coach, I’ve been very fortunate/blessed/lucky to have great teams that have made it to nationals each year. Each team is different, and each team approached nationals a bit differently. The nice thing about this team was that they remained focused and diligent in the time between Regionals and Nationals to work out some kinks to make us a bit more successful. Our ball control, setting and offense have been quite good all year; our blocking was a real up-and-down element for us throughout the season. Thus, we spent the last two weeks focused primarily on the blocking game and strengthening up that piece; fortunately, it really paid off and was time very well spent.

What was different about this team than teams in years past?

Throughout the volleyball season, life changes quite a bit. It goes from hot to cold outside; it goes from pre-season before school starts to midterms and finals approaching; it goes from knowing nobody to having a large network of friends, etc. Thus, to keep 18 young women focused and prioritizing their work in practice coupled with all the other outside elements of their lives can be a challenge. However, this team remained focused throughout and only got better as the season drew to a close. I also point very strongly to Kelly Lean’s leadership of the team to ensure everyone was maintaining balance of off-the-court relationship building with on-the-court work ethic and attention-to-detail. She didn’t win many individual awards this year, but the work and leadership she provided us throughout the season was instrumental in leading us to the national championship. In a lot of ways, that is the singular award she looked to and led us to.

What kind of implications will this championship have for parkland college volleyball in the coming years?

I think the duality of a national championship coupled with an undefeated season at 57-0 has a great community impact for the team and for Parkland athletics in general. Parkland is very well known for strong academics and athletics, but since Parkland does both so well, they can become somewhat mundane topics to be discussed actively for alumni, current students and prospective students alike. I think what this season does is provide a unique talking point about one exciting item (the volleyball season) to bridge to more important aspect of conversation (the success of Parkland for so many students past, present and future).

When you were preparing for this season what are some of the major things you wanted to instill on the team?

“We had 18 girls on the team this year (a lot for a volleyball team). The number one question I was asked during the season is ‘how do you keep so many girls happy?’ I’m happy to say that this year’s team was filled with talented girls – every girl on this team is a high-level player and could start for 95 percent of the other NJCAA teams out there. With that constant talent in the gym each day, the girls built a great respect for each other and where the program was going. Everyone wants to play in matches all the time, and there was no way that was going to happen; with respect established, though, they really did an outstanding job of appreciating each other’s talents while still working hard to try to beat each other out for more playing time. So if we finish 57-0 or 0-57, I wanted them to truly understand respect for the game and for each other, and they did an outstanding job of that along the way.

Was there a definite point in the season when you knew the team had what it took to bring home the championship?

I knew it was quite feasible on August 15, after our alumni matches. We split the 18 individuals into two teams of nine players, and both teams were performing at a higher level than I had ever seen one team of ours play at an alumni event. Then that evening when the alumni were telling me that they were confident this is the best Parkland team they’ve ever seen, I knew it was the real deal. I am so lucky to have seven years of amazing young women as alumni of Parkland volleyball, but they are competitive women. In there, you have two teams that finished second in the country and two teams that finished third. They wanted to be the first Parkland volleyball team to win Nationals since 1999 and just fell a few points short. So for them to put that pride to the side and tell the girls and me how impressed they were and that this is the team that’s going to do it, I knew my thoughts were valid and confidence grew from there. But with confidence also grew focus and diligence in practice and the weight room to ensure that we, as a coaching staff, were adequately pushing and preparing them to reach that final goal they were so focused on attaining.