ASU women's volleyball is gearing up for the upcoming season

ASU volleyball head coach Sanja Tomasevic discussed improvements, communication and the upcoming season

With possibly one of the worst season's in history looming over the team's heads from the past season, ASU volleyball head coach Sanja Tomasevic said this year's ASU volleyball team has all of what happened last year behind them, and they are focused on what is ahead.

Ever since the Sun Devils' 10-22 overall season ended last November, Tomasevic has made 180-degree changes, with the first being a call to James Felton, a corporate consultant for the Table Group to analyze the team's performance.  

Tomasevic said in the spring, Felton was working with the team on doing a lot of mindful performance work. 

"We called them Mindful Mondays and we would talk about things that James (Felton) would leave on agenda for us and to work on bettering the trust, communication, accountability and talk about healthy conflict," Tomasevic said. "Because the year before, we avoided conflict at all cost."

In regards to communication, Tomasevic said the team has had to learn how to separate off the court from on the court situations.

"We are trying to explain to them that if you're on the court and me (Tomasevic) is telling you, "'Hey you need to do your job,'" or me holding you (the players) accountable, it doesn't mean I don't like you as a person, so they can't take it personally," said Tomasevic. "They have to be able to separate the two because if I can't perform at my highest level (as a coach) because you are not doing your job, then I have to say things that make you better."

Although the Sun Devils lost 20 games in a row last season, one could argue that even in the most dire situations, a teaching lesson could always come out of it.

Tomasevic said what they learned about themselves as a team was that they didn't lack the talent, but the mental aspect of the game was the biggest dilemma.

"That's why we called James (Felton) to come in and help us out, because we were close so many times but we just couldn't finish," she said. "Why we couldn't finish is because our girls were living in a 'fake harmony' is what he called it after we completed this assessment."   

During the 20 games that were lost in conference play, ASU was able to win the first set in six of those matches.

"They were not comfortable with stepping on each others toes to do what needs to be done to win," Tomasevic said. 

In an elite Pac-12 conference for women's volleyball, players and coaches constantly need to be on the same page to pull out hard-fought victories. Teams are constantly making adjustments, and sometimes, certain points need to be expressed to get a message across in the middle of a game. It's what is required to become a winning team. 

These messages can sometimes be blunt, and hard to hear. But it is the results of the straight-forward, ongoing communication that often provides the biggest dividends. It is something that Tomasevic wants to reinforce this upcoming year.

Tomasevic explained that when Felton got the results of the assessment, he said to the group of girls, "It sucks to be a part of your team. You guys live in a fake harmony. I'm not even talking about volleyball, I'm talking about how fake you guys are around each other."   

The Serbia native said they were a team, but not an athletic or sports team. They were a group who got along on a surface level.

"With these new tools that we have, it's easier to communicate ... It's easier to address it without the other person getting offended," Tomasevic said. "So we say if you have something to communicate with a teammate, communicate it with care and receive with open heart." 

As Tomasevic enters her second season as head coach and Carlos Moreno was recently promoted to associate head coach, the light at the end of the tunnel can be seen getting brighter for the team. 

"I think the volleyball system that we played in works," she said. "We need to be more consistent in it, we need to perfect it ... I think our girls do get along. I just want them to be okay with the healthy conflict. In order for healthy conflict to happen, they need to trust each other." 

Tomasevic said on day one of practice, she and Felton plan on doing a workshop with the entire team, but don't plan on having this session everyday.

The Sun Devils will take the court at Wells Fargo Arena for the first time on Aug. 18 in a Maroon and Gold scrimmage. Their first actual game will be the following week against the University of Texas at Arlington (UTSA) on Friday, Aug. 24 at 11 a.m. MST.

Reach the reporter at or follow @Noriega_Edith on Twitter. 

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