The lessons Ashley Preston has been trying to teach her charges since she became the Cal State Fullerton volleyball coach were all there. Stress the process. Take care of the root and you’ll produce the most fruit. Focus on the program’s core values: respectful, responsible and relational. And be your sister’s keeper.

Ashley Preston, CSUF women’s volleyball coach (Photo courtesy Cal State Fullerton)

That last one, that bit about being your sister’s keeper? Well, that led to this year’s theme.

“I was talking to my sister, Alex, about the team and what we were trying to do and she said ‘Titan up.’ I said, ‘Oh my goodness. That’s the most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard. I wish I had thought it up,’ ” she said. “So toward the end of practice or whenever we need a boost, we say ‘Titan up.’ ”

“Titan up.” Words to live by for a team that will spend the first month of the season on the road and words to live by for a young team that features five freshmen and seven sophomores, one of whom – middle blocker Haley Carmo – is already one of four team captains.

“She’s just a doer. She comes into the gym, works hard and that’s why she earned a starting spot in her freshman year,” Preston said. “She’s grown. She wants to be a leader. Haley is an undersized middle who plays big. She’s going to do a good job for us.”

Starting with playing director. As one of four captains, Carmo is tasked with off-court responsibilities, something Preston takes very seriously in her captains. They don’t just talk to officials and amp up their teammates.

No. They work. In Carmo’s case, it’s viewing, directing and making sure her teammates are watching film of their opponents. She’s also responsible for scouting their hitting tendencies, pulling their record and their RPI, a measure of schedule strength.

Felicia Marshall, the Titans’ engaging outside hitter who had 269 kills last year? She’s in charge of the locker room, which means she comes up with the quote of the day and handles the “joy jar.” The joy jar contains written messages of daily happenings – anything that made a player happy.

“If you write something down that makes you happy, you’re going to come upstairs in a better mood,” Preston said. “We always forget how much joy there is in life.”

Tyler Fezzey, who will graduate in three years from the rigorous CSUF business honors program, handles the weight room duties, leading and ensuring lifting sessions are completely done in accordance with the strength and conditioning coaches. And setter Makenzi Abelman, another three-year graduate, leads cardio and pilates workouts, as well as handling small things that could otherwise fall through the cracks.

There is no madness to Preston’s methods. She believes in the old Spiderman theory that with great power – being a team captain in a college athletic program – comes great responsibility. So she infuses that in her captains.

“We talked a lot about this in the spring, about strong leadership and team leadership and what carries over and what we can say to each other during matches to carry us through whenever we’re in a tough, five-set match – which we were in a lot of last year,” Preston said.

That’s where “Titan up” came from.

And to Titan up, Preston said the Titans will have to tighten up in four areas: serving, serve-receiving, defense and hitting solutions. That’s why every practice centers on drills and mini-games in each of those four disciplines. Only when Preston and her staff deem a particular skill satisfactory do they move on to the next. And only when all four are handled to their satisfaction do they move on to team scrimmages.

“When we have to stop and clarify something; that’s the word we use, they understand they’re not getting it yet,” Preston said.

Given the Titans’ schedule, getting things quickly will define how successful the season is.

Cal State Fullerton opens its season in Idaho for three games, visits Chicago for three games, treks to Abilene, Texas, for three games, then visits Riverside for three games – two tournament games, then the Big West opener – all before stepping foot for keeps in Titan Gym.

“They look at this as an adventure, the chance to see a different part of the country,” Preston said.

“It also teaches them never to underestimate their opponent; that just because they haven’t heard of an opponent doesn’t mean they are a bad team. I have them pull up how many Division I teams there are – 336 teams in Division I.

“The opportunity to play different teams is great and that allows us to focus on the process instead of the outcome. It’s not like ‘Oh my gosh, we’re playing USC.’ They can focus on the things they need to focus on. You focus on yourself as a team, not the opposition.”

In other words, you Titan up.

Titan notebook

Did you know?

That Cal State Fullerton will play 16 of its first 18 games on the road.

She said it …

CSUF Volleyball coach Ashley Preston on the Titans’ schedule:

“Someone may look at our schedule and say it’s a bad schedule, but understanding RPI comes in here. Alabama State is a great team for us to play because they win their conference every year. That will boost our RPI up. Idaho had 20 wins last year. We gave them one of their wins.”

Follow Titan volleyball on Twitter: @Fullerton_WVB


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