In February, former Sonora Wildcat star Ashley Pittman phoned Christina Lore, the eight-year head volleyball coach of Stanislaus State.
Former Sonora Wildcat great Ashley Pittman helps out in giving instruction during a youth volleyball camp in early-July at Bud Castle Gym. AMY ALONZO ROZAK/UNION DEMOCRAT
You need a libero?
“I’m good friends with Christina and know what that phone call meant to her,” said Sonora Wildcat head volleyball coach Kim Evans. “Christina had been following Ashley since she was a sophomore at Sonora. It was a great surprise to Christina to get that call but also a great feeling of excitement, too.”
“Well,” said Lore, “I had talked to Ashley after she had graduated from Sonora (2010) and it just wasn’t the right fit at that time for her. I had no problem with that. But to get that call a few years later from her? I said, ‘Sure, come on down for a tryout.’ ”
On March 1, Lore, her assistant coach and five other Stanislaus players fired spikes and fast serves at Pittman for close to two hours.
“My nerves sure would have been high with a one-day tryout like that,” said Evans. “Stanislaus plays in one of the top NCAA Division II conferences in the nation (California Collegiate Athletic Association). Christina runs a great program. It’s a tough place to try and make the team. But, then again, we’re talking about Ashley Pittman here: She’s tough, she can pass nails and you can’t find a harder worker.”
“Ashley did great on the court,” said Lore. “I really liked the way she was moving. Plus she has this presence on the court that’s very important. But that was only a small part of the tryout.”
“I was pretty nervous knowing that it was only a one-day tryout,” said Pittman. “But I’ve been playing volleyball for a long time and I do know the game for the most part so I was OK once we got going on the court.
“But the most interesting thing was what came afterwards: I kept getting peppered with all these personality-type of questions by Christina and her assistant coach while we walked around the campus. I had no idea what all these questions were for — and there were a lot of them. And when they were done questioning me, she said, ‘OK, we’re gonna take all your answers back to the other players on our team and see if you fit in.’ So then I was really nervous: Had I said anything wrong?”
“This year, because we have such a young team,” said Lore, “personality is the most important part to me. We need to have a team that will blend well together. So that is why, when we were done working out with Ashley, I had asked her lots and lots of personality-type questions.”
“But, of course, personality is the biggest strength of Ashley Pittman’s,” said Evans. “She’s honest, honorable, humble, a great leader and a great friend.”
Just days later, Lore called and asked Pittman to join the Stanislaus State Warriors.
“It actually turned out to be quite an easy decision for us,” said Lore. “Ashley has that type of personality we’re looking for. The fact that she is so talented was the icing on the cake. We wanted her.”
As Lore very well knew, Sac State was also courting Pittman.
“But this decision for me was easy,” said Pittman. “I liked Coach Lore’s approach to things. She’s very intense, which is perfect for me. She’s honest. She didn’t over-promise. She just stated the facts: That she has five defensive specialists, I’m one of them, three of us will travel, and I’ll have a legitimate shot to prove myself and earn the starting libero spot.”
“Ashley was a fantastic libero for us last season and I have no doubt that she will rise to the occasion at Stanislaus State, too,” said Gabby Houston, Cabrillo College’s three-year head volleyball coach. “The first day I saw her play, I thought, ‘Wow! We have someone very special here.’ ”
After playing her freshman year at Dominican College — “That wasn’t a bad experience,” said Pittman, “it just wasn’t what I was looking for” — Pittman moved to Santa Cruz County, quickly cracked Cabrillo’s starting lineup, was named team captain and led the Seahawks to a No. 4 finish in State, 28-3 overall record and Coast Conference championship. Along the way, Pittman earned First-Team Honors in the highly-competitive Delta Classic Tournament.
“There is absolutely no way we could have enjoyed the success we had last season without Ashley,” said Houston. “She never came off the court. She was so serious — which I loved — and so dedicated towards making her teammates and herself better. She was the team leader, and she was so smart in the way she approached each game.”
“Gabby would preach to me that, as a libero, I was her ‘Traffic controller,’ ” says Pittman. “I embraced that. I would be responsible for knowing where the opposing blockers were, where they were likely to go, and tell our hitters where to hit. And then on defense, I had to know where their hitters were, guess where they wanted to hit — and be correct. You do have to be a bit of a mind reader to be an effective libero.”
Which may explain in part why Pittman may add Psychology as a double major. She has been majoring these past two school years in Kinesiology.
“I’ve always had an interest in physical therapy,” said Pittman, “but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Psychology — particularly Sports Psychology.”
Pittman carries the same tenacity she has on the volleyball court into the classroom. She got all A’s at Sonora. At Dominican, Pittman got all A’s except for one course — an A-minus. In her first semester at Cabrillo, for the first time in her life, she actually saw what a “B” on a report card looked like.
“And I did not like that at all!” she says with a chuckle. “I was determined that wouldn’t happen in the next semester.”
A resolute Pittman finished up at Cabrillo with A’s in each of her four classes.
“Ashley is a winner,” says Evans. “She’s a winner in the classroom and a winner on the court. The libero position fits her because it’s a job where you must be the ultimate teammate. You’re captain of the backcourt, so you must be humble and tough at the same time, and that’s Ashley.
“She makes those opposing hitters so frustrated because that volleyball will be three inches off the ground and there’s Ashley digging that ball up — robbing you of a kill.”
“Ashley is so talented in that back row,” said Lore. “I know how competitive she is. But she’ll also be bringing a lot of maturity to our team. She’s a junior now with a lot of college-playing experience and we’re quite young this season. Being from Sonora — with its winning tradition — is a big plus. Being from that area — where there are so many talented players — is a plus. I’m confident she’ll bring great spunk and enthusiasm to our team. We’re real excited that we’ll have Ashley for the next two years. And I’m glad that she found what she was looking for with us.
“When you think about it, overall, it’s just a win-win situation for both Ashley and our team.”