As the daughter of an athletic director, Kelli Dickson grew up around college sports and knew all about the challenges she would face as a student-athlete.
Classes, practices, exams and workouts were just a few of the commitments she would need to juggle when she decided to play volleyball at Tulane University.
But nothing could have prepared Dickson and the Green Wave for the challenges they would face following their first match of the 2005 season. Two days after defeating Nicholls State, the Tulane volleyball team quickly transitioned from celebrating to evacuating when Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans.
"We had to evacuate last fall ," Dickson said. "We were lucky that it missed us and went to the East. We basically had a three-day weekend. It was no big deal. That's what we were expecting this time. We just threw three T-shirts in a bag thinking this would be a nice, relaxing break."
Unfortunately, Katrina turned out to be the tropical cyclone that the Crescent City had always feared. When the category-four storm made landfall on Aug. 29, the wind, rain and storm surge caused catastrophic damage in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
In New Orleans, flood waters left a large part of the city underwater and forced its inhabitants to leave their homes. That included everyone connected to Tulane University.
The volleyball team was fortunate to have many parents in town for its first match and to drop off team members for the start of the school year, so most of the team had left the city before the mandatory evacuation was ordered. What no one in the Tulane administration could have anticipated was that it would be months before their teams would return to campus.
"We released them with the understanding that this might be a normal evacuation and they'll be back in three or four days," first-year head coach Liz Kritza said. "I called practice for Wednesday afternoon and made it very clear that we were sending them away for safety sake. I said here's your workout, do it every day while you're gone and get back here for practice on Wednesday."
When it became obvious that its students would not be able to return to campus for the fall semester, the Tulane administration searched for academic alternatives for its student body. At the same time, athletic director Rick Dickson, Kelli's father, began searching for a way for the school's teams to compete while continuing their education.
Five neighboring schools in Louisiana and Texas -- Louisiana Tech, Rice, Southern Methodist, Texas Tech and Texas A&M -- admitted Tulane teams as visiting students and provided a venue for the Green Wave to practice and compete. The volleyball squad enrolled at Texas A&M, along with the men's basketball, women's swimming and diving and women's soccer teams. [Note: Due to Hurricane Rita, Tulane is prepared to move athletes on its mens' basketball; women's volleyball; women's soccer; women's swimming and diving; and men's and women's tennis to Dallas, sports information director John Sudsbury said Thursday.]
Once the volleyball team arrived in College Station, the first order of business was to get the players enrolled in classes and meet their personal needs. Since it was impossible to return to campus after Katrina passed, most of the team members had very few of the basic necessities. Volleyball still was not a priority.
"We had to make sure we met their basic needs first," Kritza said. "Getting them in classes, getting their supplies for classes, securing housing and getting them on a meal plan. They are students first. Then we needed to evaluate them and make sure their emotional and mental well-being was solid."
But as her players began to adjust to their new academic environment, Kritza knew the final piece to establishing some normalcy in their lives would be to get them back on the court. And Texas A&M was more than accommodating. The Aggies' home court, the G. Rollie White Coliseum, is a volleyball-only facility and the A&M coaching staff made sure the Green Wave had everything they needed.
"Our normal practice block was scheduled for the afternoon in New Orleans," Kritza said. "The way things worked out here is we're practicing from 8 until 11 a.m. There was not one complaint about getting up early and getting to the training room. They all had their bags on and were ready to go at 6:30 a.m. because they were so anxious to get in the gym.
"I'm a little taken back by the support we have received thus far. [Texas A&M coaches] Laurie and John Corbelli have been fantastic. They've opened their home to us. They said whatever we need, they'll help us get. They're sharing their facility with us and their equipment. I really can't thank them enough."
Three weeks after their season opener, the Tulane volleyball team returned to action Friday, when it played host to the NOKIA Sugar Bowl Classic. Despite being a little rusty after missing two weeks of practice and having six matches canceled, the Green Wave put up a valiant effort against No. 8 Notre Dame and Arizona State.
Tulane pushed the Fighting Irish to the limit before falling in three games -- 30-23, 30-26, 30-26. Two days later, the extended layoff was more apparent in a 30-25, 30-16, 29-31, 30-23 loss to the Sun Devils. One bright spot was the play of Dickson, who tied the school record with 32 digs against ASU.
Even though the Green Wave did not win either match, the Tulane players triumphed in a way perhaps only they can understand. When it was decided the university would continue to compete this fall, President Dr. Scott Cowan asked the Green Wave athletic teams to "carry the torch, be the face, and represent the name" of the university.
The volleyball team and all Tulane athletes are wearing patches on their uniforms as a reminder of their mission in 2005. The patch shows a torch rising above the New Orleans' skyline, and in the outline of the university shield, it reads: "The Torch, The Face, The Name."
Dickson and the Green Wave are fulfilling that mission.
"I'm a senior and I love my school," Dickson said. "I believe what President Cowan said. By keeping the university name in the public eye through athletics, we are carrying the torch. I've never had so much school pride as I have now, and I think the entire team has embraced that. Every day we remind ourselves that we're doing this for a bigger purpose."
Team of the Week
Washington answered any questions about whether it deserved its No. 2 ranking by sweeping a pair of matches at then-No. 6 Hawaii in its first matches of the year against a ranked opponent. The Huskies beat the Rainbow Wahine 30-18, 30-24, 30-28 Friday, then came back the following night to take a 30-28, 30-24, 30-28 decision before a pair of sellout crowds at the Stan Sheriff Center. UW became the first team to sweep Hawaii in back-to-back matches at home since 1993, and UH lost consecutive games at home for the first time since 1997. Washington, which won all of its nonconference matches by 3-0 scores for the second consecutive year, begins defense of its Pac-10 title this weekend when it plays host to Washington State Friday. In 2004, the Huskies set a school record by opening the season with 22 victories and went on to join Stanford (9), UCLA (7), USC (3) and Arizona (1) as the only schools to win a Pac-10 volleyball championship.
The Big 10 and Pac-10 begin conference play this week, with several matches featuring ranked opponents on the docket. Purdue will put its 11-0 record and No. 19 ranking on the line when it travels to No. 16 Ohio State and No. 4 Penn State. The Boilermakers earned their first appearance in the CSTV/AVCA Top-25 since Sept. 6, 2004, and tied their highest ranking since Nov. 13, 1990, after defeating then-No. 16 Tennessee in the Mortar Board Premier last weekend. One of the conference's top rivalries will be renewed when No. 10 Wisconsin plays host to No. 5 Minnesota. In the Pac-10, No. 12 UCLA and No. 13 USC will head to the Bay Area to face No. 3 Stanford and No. 25 California.
Army Wins All-Armed Forces Tournament
Army came from behind to defeat Air Force Saturday, giving the Black Knights their first victory over the Falcons in seven tries and securing first place at the second annual All-Armed Forces Tournament at the Air Force Academy. The 26-30, 30-21, 30-23, 30-22 victory was Army's first against Air Force since 1985, when it pulled out a five-game win for its only other victory in the series. Army claimed the tournament title in a tiebreaker over Navy. The Black Knights defeated The Citadel 3-0 in their first match and finished with a 6-1 individual game record. Navy had a 6-2 game record in its two matches. Air Force finished third with a 1-2 record, while The Citadel was 0-3. Army and Navy did not play each other because they are both members of the Patriot League and will meet during the regular season.
Louisville's 9-0 record is the best start in school history and its No. 9 ranking in this week's CSTV/AVCA coaches poll is its highest ever. High Point won its first tournament title in the seven-year history of the program when the Panthers went 4-0 at the Providence Friar Invitational. Senior setter Michelle Feiser had her fourth and fifth triple-doubles of the season and eclipsed the 3,000-career assist mark during the tournament. Wichita State set a school record with its 17th consecutive home victory Saturday against Indiana State. The last time the Shockers lost at home was Sept. 10, 2004, against Michigan State in five games. Florida earned its 14th consecutive victory over Florida State with Monday's 30-20, 30-23, 30-16 win over the Seminoles. The Gators have now won 27 consecutive matches against teams from the state of Florida. Pacific defeated Fresno State Sept. 14 for the 800th victory in the program's history. Cincinnati set program records for points in a single game when the Bearcats beat Jacksonville State 44-42 and for points in a three-game match when UC scored a total of 104. The previous highs of 39 and 99 were set Sept. 14, 2002, against Wright State. Kansas senior setter Andi Rozum recorded career assist No. 4,000 in a five-game victory over Oklahoma. Texas A&M's Laura Jones had 23 digs against No. 10 Missouri Friday to give her 1,004 for her career. Jones, who also has 1,578 career kills, is the eighth player in A&M history to surpass both
1,000 kills and 1,000 digs in a career. Loyola (Md.) College senior setter Krystal Biegaj surpassed the 3,000 assist mark in the first game of a 3-1 loss to North Texas Friday. Niagara senior setter Micole Daluisio became the school's career leader in digs after collecting 74 during a tournament at Cleveland State. Bradley senior middle blocker Lindsay Stalzer set a school record for kills in a three-game match when she had 29 against Butler. During that match, she moved up two spots into second place in career kills with 1,472. Fordham junior center Kealia Ieremia recorded her first career triple double with 10 kills, 43 assists and 10 digs in a 3-1 victory over Central Connecticut. South Carolina junior setter/outside hitter Iris Santos posted her third triple-double of the season with 12 kills, 57 assists and 13 digs during a victory against Houston. The Northern Iowa tied a school record with 28 total blocks and set a record with 52 block assists at Creighton. Trista Humpal tied the Missouri Valley Conference record with 15 blocks, while the Panthers missed Wichita State's team record by two. David Rubio became the winningest coach in the history of Arizona volleyball when the Wildcats defeated Connecticut at the Rhode Island Invitational. His 259th career win is one more than Rosie Wegrich accumulated from 1977-91. Missouri State's Melissa Stokes coached her 300th game against Indiana State Friday and picked up career victory No. 200 the following night against Illinois State. Stetson's Cheryl Carlson picked up career victory No. 100 with a 3-0 win against Savannah State.
Dave Reed has covered college volleyball for national publications since 1996.