Coaches Prepare to Face Alma Maters

Nov. 1, 2012

By Theresa Kurtz

FRESNO, Calif. - The Fresno State and Nevada volleyball program's face each other for the second time this season. This college volleyball match is unique because each head coach is preparing to face their alma mater.

The Bulldogs' head coach Lauren Netherby-Sewell played for the Wolf Pack from 1996-99. While Nevada's head coach Ruth Lawanson was a Bulldog from 1981-84.

"It's a fascinating situation," said Netherby-Sewell. "In the back of my head it feels like Opposite's Day."

Each coach left their mark in their program's record books, while leading their teams to top 25 rankings and trips to the NCAA tournament.

Netherby-Sewell was a starter on the 1998 Wolf Pack team that received recognition in the top 25, won the Eastern Division of the Big West Conference and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"My favorite memories were made in 1998," Netherby-Sewell said. "Our packed house in what was then the "Old Gym" was electric and aggressive. I loved our team's pre-match rituals. I loved blasting balls in warm-up where I could act like a "tough guy." I loved playing in front of our small community and supportive student-athletes."

A captain in 1999, she was named MVP at the Duke University Tournament and garnered several other all-tournament honors. Netherby-Sewell still holds the Nevada single-match record for kills with 32, which she set against New Mexico State on Oct. 8, 1998.

She enjoyed her finest season in 1998, when she returned from off-season heart surgery to post career-highs of 378 kills, 252 digs, 44 service aces (which ranked second in the Big West) and 41.5 blocks. The 378 kills ranks 10th on Nevada's single-season list, while her 44 aces are sixth in single-season history. Netherby-Sewell is also represented on the Wolf Pack's career record list, where she is eighth in kills (767) and 10th in service aces (87).

Netherby-Sewell notched her first win over her alma mater and former coach Devin Scruggs in 2009.

"When I coached against my former coach, Devin Scruggs, it felt surreal," explained Netherby-Sewell. "She often beat me and I genuinely hated that, but I knew she was good at what she did so that helped me sleep at night. It felt really good when my team finally got the 'Pack in the 2009 WAC Tournament."

Lawanson is in her second year as the Wolf Pack's head coach and third year on the coaching staff. The former Bulldog has a 2-2 record against Fresno State.

She made school history in women's athletics by becoming the first female athlete, first athlete in a sport other than football, fourth athlete overall and first volleyball player to have her jersey number (15) retired.

"It was very special when it happened because I was the first female to have that honor bestowed upon," said Lawanson. "It was also a reflection of how the team did. The honor wouldn't have happened had the team not been successful."

Lawanson, the 1984-85 Fresno State Athlete of the Year, guided the Bulldog volleyball squad to the finest season in school history as Fresno State jumped into the NCAA Top 20 rankings for the first time and ended up tying for fifth in the nation at the NCAA Tournament. Fresno State finished with a final 26-13 overall record and 11-1 (second place) NorPac slate, both school-record win totals.

"Our biggest win of the year over Cal Poly on the road in the regionals is a favorite memory," recalls Lawanson.

The 5-8 setter-hitter set season (488) and career (962) records for kills and a season record for service aces (55) in 1984 to garner All-America honors from CVCA/Russell Athletic, becoming the first and only volleyball All-American.

After a brief stint with the U.S. National Team in 1985, Lawanson played with Dallas (1987) and Minnesota (1988-89) of Major League Volleyball. In 1988, Lawanson was named the Player of the Year of MLV after setting league records in kills (497) and hitting efficiency (.309). She returned to the U.S. National Team in 1989 and in 1992 won a bronze medal at the XXV Olympiad in Barcelona.

"Being able to represent your country and being able to play in some hostile environments," Lawanson said were some of her memories of playing with the U.S. National team. "We played matches in Cuba and Russia, and there is just a different feeling when you're playing for your country."

The Bulldogs host the Wolf Pack on Thursday Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. in the Save Mart Center. The `Dogs defeated Nevada in three sets earlier this season on the road.

"I enjoy the time when I am able to get back to Fresno," Lawanson said. "I still have teammates and my coach is around. I enjoy those times when we can get together, but when the moment starts I am ready to beat Fresno State."

"Discover Fresno State Athletics!" -- Bulldog volleyball returns to the Save Mart Center on Nov. 1 to face Nevada at 7 p.m. Tune into the home of Fresno State volleyball, ESPN 790, for game day action.