Commentary

Sensational sophomores lift Tulsa

Updated: October 21, 2010, 10:35 AM ET
By Dave Reed | Special to ESPN.com

A hurricane warning has been issued in the heart of Tornado Alley.

[+] EnlargeTyler Henderson
Walt Beazley/The University of TulsaTyler Henderson has been a record-breaking machine this season.

Thanks in part to the rapid development of four sophomore starters -- libero Jessica Adams, setter Jordan Clampitt, and outside hitters Tyler Henderson and Diana Silva -- the University of Tulsa volleyball program has strengthened from a non-threatening storm into a Category 5 Hurricane.

Tulsa first appeared on the national radar on Oct. 6 when Henderson posted a school-record 45 kills during the Golden Hurricane's five-set victory at SMU, the highest total since the NCAA went to 25-point sets in 2008 and the ninth-highest total in NCAA history.

"I've been involved in the sport at this level as a head coach for 19 years," head coach Ed Allen said, "and I've never seen a match where one player was as dominating as she was, particularly given the fact those 45 kills were put up in three rotations. I've never seen a performance like that. Never."

Henderson leads the nation averaging 6.61 kills and 7.16 points per set, but even without her totals against the Mustangs, she would still be No. 1 at 6.43 kills per set. Clampitt, meanwhile, averages a nation-leading 13.23 assists per set.

But the most important statistics to Tulsa are its 19-2 overall record and its league-leading 9-0 mark in Conference USA that has the Golden Hurricane one match ahead of SMU in the race for the conference championship and berth in the NCAA tournament.

Since TU dropped two of its first three matches to begin the season, 18 consecutive opponents have fallen victim to the lightning of Tulsa's transition game and the thunder generated by Henderson's attack.

One of the players who ignites the attack is Adams, who has been Henderson's teammate in both club and prep volleyball since the duo attended middle school in Oklahoma City.

"Jessica is one of the finest passers and defenders in the league and, in my opinion, the country," Allen said. "Jess gives us terrific opportunities to be able to allow Ty and Jordan to put the numbers up because she digs balls and passes balls so efficiently.

"This is the best ball-control team that I've had since I've been at Tulsa. It really makes things easy for the setter in terms of locating the ball for Tyler, when she isn't running around on the court with a pair of track shoes chasing down balls."

Adams leads the team averaging 4.57 digs per set and is one of the primary reasons Tulsa converts on nearly 70 percent of its side-out opportunities.

And it certainly helps to have a player like Henderson who can end a play at any moment with one swing.

"Jessica is really good and Jordan is able to produce balls that I am able to execute on," Henderson said. "I don't really look at the numbers. I just keep playing."

Henderson, who won four state high jump titles during her high school career, had an outstanding freshman season, leading the team by averaging 4.62 kills and 4.89 points per set. So even the 45-kill performance against SMU did not come as a surprise to anyone who has seen her develop the last few seasons.

"Tyler has grown up so much, mentally and physically," Adams said. "She proved to everyone that she is one of the best hitters in the nation, for sure. She's going to keep getting better.

The same can be said for the Tulsa program, now in its fifth season with Allen in charge.

During his first season in 2006, the Golden Hurricane posted a 27-7 record and won the C-USA regular-season title. The following year, Tulsa went 27-9 and claimed the conference tournament title. The Hurricane has averaged 25.5 wins during the first four seasons of Allen's tenure, compared to 12.9 victories during the previous 30 years.

Last season, TU finished 26-7 and advanced to the championship match of the C-USA tournament. Falling one victory short of the program's first appearance in the NCAA tournament still motivates Adams and her teammates."

Jessica Adams
Walt Beazley/The University of TulsaJessica Adams is one of the top passers in the country.

"We went through a lot last year," Adams said. "We started off not too well, but came back and made it to the finals against Rice. We didn't do what we wanted to do, but we're ready this year.

"Our goal isn't just to win the conference championship; it's to be in the top 25. We want to send a message to everyone that we are good enough and we're not going to give up."

What the Golden Hurricane really desires is a chance to play one of the traditional powers to see how the team stacks up, and to use the experience as a building block for their next two seasons.

"I've seen those big teams play, and I feel like we are at that level," Adams said. "Obviously it will be a challenge. It will be a different type of match than we've seen, but it will be a good experience for us since we are so young."

Tulsa is receiving votes in the AVCA poll for the first time. While it's unlikely the Golden Hurricane will earn enough votes to pass more established programs during the regular season, a couple of postseason tournament victories might lift TU into the rankings for the first time in the program's history.

"We're going to be competitive for a while," Allen said. "We really believe we're on the verge of doing some incredibly special things here."

Around the nation

Team of the week: Arizona State defeated both USC and UCLA on the same weekend for the first time since 1995 and became the only unranked team to defeat a pair of ranked opponents on the same weekend this season. The Sun Devils snapped a 28-match losing streak against the fifth-ranked Trojans 29-27, 25-23, 14-25, 25-23 on Friday, ASU's first victory over the Women of Troy since Nov. 11, 1995, and then came back the following night to beat the 10th-ranked Bruins 28-26, 25-19, 24-26, 25-20. Arizona State will carry a season-best three-match winning streak into Friday's contest at Washington State.

Sudden impact: It would be difficult to find a first-year player who has meant more to her team than Lauren Wicinski at Northern Illinois. The first high school All-American to play for the Huskies, Wicinski ranks among the Division I national leaders in three statistical categories -- No. 6 averaging 5.83 points per set, No. 7 at 4.92 kills per set, and No. 7 at 0.60 aces per set. Northern Illinois is 21-2 overall, the best start to a season in the program's history, and leads the Mid-American Conference's West Division with a 7-1 record. After leading NIU to road victories at Central Michigan (3-2) and Eastern Michigan (3-1), Wicinski was named the MAC's West Division Player of the Week for the fourth time.

The week ahead: First place in the Pac-10 will be on the line when No. 5 Cal visits No. 2 Stanford on Friday night for the 71st Big Spike. The Bay Area rivals collide as top-five teams for only the second time in series history. The last time that occurred was Oct. 19, 2008, when the Golden Bears snapped a 29-year losing streak on The Farm with a four-set victory. Stanford holds a commanding 62-8 lead in the series, but the teams have split the last four matches. In the only other Pac-10 matches between ranked opponents, No. 16 Oregon heads south to take on No. 8 USC and No. 11 UCLA. In the Big Ten, No. 6 Illinois travels to No. 20 Minnesota on Friday, while No. 9 Penn State visits No. 22 Northwestern on Saturday.

Quick sets

Coach Mary Wise became the 16th coach in Division I women's volleyball history to record 700 career victories when No. 1 Florida defeated Georgia in four sets last Sunday. … Christine Morrill broke Utah State's record for career digs during a four-set loss to Nevada last Friday. The senior libero finished the match with 1,617 digs to move past Kelsi Peterson's (2003-06) total of 1,614. … Drake senior outside hitter Angela Bys became the 21st player in Missouri Valley Conference history to eclipse the 1,500-kill milestone with her first kill during a four-set win against Creighton. Bys, who owns Drake's career record, is the only Bulldog on the list. … Senior outside hitter Danielle Minch had a season-high 20 kills during Colorado State's five-set victory over TCU, the last of which was career kill No. 1,000 on match point. … New Mexico senior outside hitter Lisa Meeter reached a pair of milestones on Oct. 14 at Wyoming, notching career kill and career dig No. 1,000 during the 3-0 Lobo victory. … Senior outside hitter Alix Klineman recorded 13 digs during the four-set win against Washington on Friday to become the eighth player in Stanford history to record 1,000 career kills and digs. She completed her seventh double-double of the season with 32 kills. … Washington senior outside hitter Becky Perry surpassed the 1,000-kill mark on Friday at Stanford, while senior outside hitter Kindra Carlson recorded career kill No. 1,000 the following night at Cal. … Senior middle blocker Ashley Benson set the Indiana record for total blocks in a three-set match with 13 during the Hoosier's victory at Wisconsin … Senior middle blocker Kellie Sciacca put away career kill No. 1,000 to lead Notre Dame to a four-set victory over DePaul. … With first place in the Atlantic-10 at stake, Dayton went the distance to defeat Xavier in a match where every set was decided by two points. The final scores were 25-27, 25-23, 25-27, 26-24, 15-13.

Dave Reed is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.