CSUSM welcomes its first six volleyball student-athletes to campus as the players get an early start acclimating to university life and training for the program’s first season of collegiate competition, which starts August 19. Eager to make their mark, the six new student-athletes, Christie Allen, Rachel Kuehn, Nichole May, Alicia Perry, Lindsey Sappington, and Brittany Thompson, are the first players on campus from the 18-member inaugural team.

“We’re excited that we get to set the record at CSUSM,” said psychology major and 5-foot-10 setter Christie Allen. “It’s an amazing opportunity and privilege to be a part of the university’s first collegiate volleyball team.”

Allen, Kuehn, May, Sappington, and Thompson were among the 900 new students that CSUSM admitted and enrolled for the spring 2011 semester. Due to system-wide budget cuts in the CSU, the last time Cal State San Marcos was able to welcome a new class of undergraduate students for spring enrollment was 2008.

The added boost of early admission is giving them the opportunity to become more acquainted with the campus and their new teammates.

“In volleyball it’s critical to be in sync and know how your teammates communicate and respond to certain plays,” said middle-blocker Nichole May, who was recruited along with Sappington and Allen from Irvine Valley College. “Practicing together as a team is essential. An entire play can be over in mere seconds, and communication is the key for team solidarity and success.”

For the past four weeks, May and her fellow student-athletes have been practicing three days a week with Coach Dennis Palpallatoc at The Clarke gymnasium. Recently, weight training was added to the conditioning regimen.

“We’re doing drill after drill after drill,” explained outside hitter Lindsey Sappington. Sappington began playing volleyball competitively in high school and while at Irvine Valley College ranked eighth in the Orange Empire Conference in kills, which is a spike that is not returned by the other team resulting in a point. Combined, the first six players have more than 40 years of volleyball experience.

“Unlike other collegiate programs where you come onto a team with an established ‘this is how we do it’ attitude, here we get to build our legacy from the ground up,” said middle blocker Alicia Perry. Perry is the only signed player that is not a newcomer to the campus. Presently finishing up her sophomore year, Perry started as a freshman at CSUSM in 2009 and played on the university’s intramural volleyball team.

Currently, the volleyball program has 13 commitments from student-athletes – five freshmen, one sophomore, and seven juniors. The final team roster will have 16 to 18 players. The team held its first open tryouts on Saturday, March 5, and will schedule another for late April or early May.

By the first of August all of the inaugural team’s players will begin three weeks of intense training and practice before taking to the court for their first official match at the Azuza Pacific Tournament on August 19. In total, women’s volleyball will play 22 games for its 2011 season, competing as an independent member in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Less than 25 percent of their matches will be classified as home games, which would be played offsite at nearby facilities until the proposed state-of-the-art sports arena is funded and built.

Games will typically be played in the evening and the team hopes students and the campus community will come and support women’s volleyball. As other CSUSM athletic teams can attest, fan support can make all the difference.

“There’s nothing worse than hitting the court with no fans in the stand cheering you on,” added May. “Fans truly enhance the performance of teams; and as athletes, we feed off that energy and excitement.”

According to Coach Dennis Palpallatoc, athletics is a cornerstone to school spirit and pride.

“Athletics are good for everybody,” he said. “Sports have a way of unifying a campus and it’s through the success of athletic programs that all great universities have established a strong name for themselves – and that’s exactly what we intend to do.”

In January, the University announced Palpallatoc as the interim head coach of the women’s volleyball team after former Head Coach Sarah Gustin accepted a new position at Point Loma Nazarene University. Formerly the team’s volunteer assistant coach, Palpallatoc aided Gustin in recruiting student-athletes, including national champion setter Alyssa Foster. Foster, currently a senior at Central Catholic High School in Oregon, is ranked among the Top 150 in the nation.

“It’s extremely impressive and a significant testament to our university’s ability to attract and sign players of great caliber to a first-year program,” Coach Palpallatoc explained. “Every one of our players is a strong, competitive athlete and I ‘m confident that our team will climb to the top of the national rankings very quickly.”

Palpallatoc comes to CSUSM with more than 25 years of volleyball coaching experience. For the last five years, he has owned and directed 951 Elite Volleyball, which is ranked among the best in the nation, training junior volleyball coaches and athletes. At the collegiate level, Palpallatoc took over Christian Heritage College’s third-year program in 1993 and within three years led the team to the NCCAA Division I National Championship, earning recognition as National Coach of the Year. He then moved to Cuyamaca College, getting that volleyball program off the ground in 1998-1999 as its first coach.

“As a team, we look forward to writing the record books and being part of the history of volleyball at CSUSM,” said Coach Palpallatoc. “With the continued support of our campus, the sky is the limit.”

According to Coach Dennis Palpallatoc, athletics is a cornerstone to school spirit and pride.