In his 18 months coaching the Cal Poly volleyball team, head coach Sam Crosson has had the services of All-America middle blocker Jennifer Keddy all of a couple of weeks.
Last offseason, shoulder trouble turned into season-ending surgery, and the Mustangs stumbled to a 4-26 record without the 6-foot-4 former Big West Conference Player of the Year from Missoula, Mont.
And this spring, just when Keddy had been cleared to play once again, the senior was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her foot, which also required surgery in late May.
So, Crosson started training camp once more Friday with Keddy restricted from full activity.
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The difference this time: Keddy is eying a return later this month, and she has the potential to make a huge impact when Big West Conference play begins Sept. 27 at UC Irvine.
“I know as an outsider,” said Crosson, who served as an assistant coach at Cal for two seasons prior to joining the Mustangs, “what she was capable of doing and what type of performance in terms of athleticism and skill level she has on the court. Obviously, she has the accolades. She’s been awarded for those things.
“She’s a very good volleyball player. She’s doing well with her rehab right now. She wants the opportunity to get back on the court, and when she does, it’s going to provide a good boost for us.”
Keddy was an AVCA All-America honorable mention as the conference player of the year in 2011 and made the third team as a sophomore in 2010. Showing skills beyond just blocking and hitting, Keddy also racked up a season-high 19 digs against UC Irvine her junior year.
That was, however, nearly two years ago now. Keddy’s last regulation appearance for Cal Poly came in the Nov. 19, 2011 season finale.
Rust is a genuine concern for Crosson, who still needs to witness what Keddy can do first-hand.
“Everyone has to do that,” said Keddy, who reported no pain in her foot following practice Tuesday morning. “No matter your talent, you need to go into the gym every day proving yourself that you need to be a starter. That’s what I’ll have to do when I come back, prove myself.
“I’m not worried. I’ve been out for so long that it’s like I’ll be so ready to be back. I’m just worried I don’t get to practice with the team. It makes me kind of sad.”
Keddy hasn’t had much opportunity to build rapport with sophomore Maddie Kuber, a leading candidate to be the starting setter after rotating into the position last year.
Kuber was also a combo hitter in a two-setter formation used by Crosson last season. She averaged nearly one kill per set, and her 5.59 assists-per-set ratio was higher than those of junior Shannon Garrett and former starter Kate Walters, who was lost midseason with her own stress fracture.
“I’ve never set someone that’s 6-4,” said Kuber, a former Clovis East High standout. “So, that’s really exciting for me because it’s a different ball to set because of the trajectory and all that, but I think the time that she’s going to put in the gym when she gets back, and the time I’m going to put in will be fine and work well with the other girls on the team.”
Cal Poly lost its top two hitters from last season, lefty Holly Franks and Molly Pon, but returns the rest of its leaders, including senior hitters Chelsea Hardin and Megan McConnell.
Hardin was third on the team with 2.18 kills per set, and McConnell played in all 108 sets last season, averaging 1.52 kills and totaling a team-high 82 blocks.
Likely largely based on last season’s results, the Mustangs were picked to finish eighth out of nine teams in the Big West Conference preseason coaches’ poll, but Crosson said that prediction matters little.
He also welcomes six freshmen to the roster this season, including 6-foot-1 middle blocker Taylor Gruenewald, who led her Texas high school team to a 47-4 record last season.
That’s as many losses as Cal Poly had wins.
“It was definitely hard,” Kuber said, “going thought a season like that and having the results that just kept coming, but looking back, it was a huge lesson because nobody wants to repeat that season. It’s fueled the fire for preseason.”