Stewart's Play Gives Cal Lutheran Hope for Another Title
Junior outside hitter has been a leader on the court for CLU
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - A championship ring has become a symbol of the ultimate success for most athletes.
Last season, California Lutheran University volleyball player Hope Stewart and her Regals teammates received rings for winning the NCAA Division III championship, the first volleyball national title in school history.
While Stewart appreciates her championship ring, the junior said the memories she and her teammates created during their historic title winning season mean more.
“All of us girls from that team have a special bond that we can cherish forever,” Stewart said. “Yes we have the ring but the memories mean more.
“Thinking about all of us all playing for each other, leaning on each other to reach our goal. It was unreal and it’s something I will never forget.”
Ironically, the top objective for Stewart and the other returning players from last year’s title-winning team has been to put last year’s success behind them and focus on this season.
That hasn’t been easy since nearly everywhere Stewart and her teammates go they are reminded or asked about last year’s winning season.
“We appreciate everyone being so excited, but what happened last year is last year. Everyone asks us about winning again but we all know it’s a different year. We know we need to work equally hard or harder than we did last year.
“We are so close. I have never been on a team before with zero drama. We all have the same goals, and all want to be here. Most of us were here the last few years so we developed a bond and friendship. We want to make each other better.”
Head coach Kellee Roesel said from day one she’s been extremely pleased with the way her team has approached the season. On a team filled with players who work hard, Roesel calls Stewart one of her hardest workers.
The former Oxnard High standout is a naturally gifted athlete, so Roesel said Stewart used her athleticism to overpower opponents throughout her high school career.
When she arrived at Cal Lutheran, Stewart quickly realized if she wanted to have a similar impact on the collegiate level, she needed to be a more well-rounded player.
Roesel said Stewart was mostly a front line player during her first few seasons with the team because her serve receiving and passing skills were not strong enough.
Instead of getting upset with not being a full-time player, Stewart put in extra hours refining her ball control skills and improving her ability to hit from a variety of spots on the court.
“She knew her serve receive and passing skills were not strong enough and she’s worked hard to improve those areas,” Roesel said. “She was our seventh player the last few years but now she’s coming into her own.”
The statistics show just how far Stewart’s game has come in the last year. Through 23 matches, the former Oxnard standout leads the team with 252 kills and has 203 digs. A year ago in 26 matches she had 104 kills and 72 digs.
In addition, Stewart has 21 service aces this year as compared to nine a year ago. She also has 39 total blocks, up from 18 a year ago.
Stewart has used her love of beach volleyball to improve her indoor game.
Growing up near the beach in Oxnard, Stewart started playing beach volleyball in high school and it’s something she does whenever she has the chance.
“I love it because it is so physically demanding,” Stewart said. “Playing on sand is really hard."
Because it’s a two-player game it helps me work on my passing, defense, and serve receiving. When I am not in season, I play beach to help me improve my indoor game.”
Stewart was introduced to volleyball by her older cousins, Jourdan Lemons and Shannon Balan. Her mom enrolled her in a summer volleyball camp when she was in third grade and she was hooked.
During her four years at Oxnard, Stewart was the focal point of the Yellowjacket’s attack, where she helped the team reach the CIF semifinals as a junior.
During a high school tournament at Cal Lutheran, she was introduced to Roesel, setting the wheels in motion for her to enroll at the university.
“I love it here, love the environment,” Stewart said. “The program Kellee has established is such a sisterhood and family environment. It’s been a great fit.”
Stewart is the only Ventura County resident on the Cal Lutheran team. As a county native herself, Roesel said it’s been gratifying to see Stewart evolve.
“I love seeing an athlete from our area who has come in and worked so hard and developed as an athlete and a person,” Roesel said. “It’s really cool.”
Cal Lutheran (23-4, 14-2 SCIAC) earned its seventh straight SCIAC Championship and will host the SCIAC Postseason Tournament Semfinal this Thursday, Nov. 3 at 7:00 p.m. against Pomona-Pitzer.
Video and Live Stats will be available for the match and tickets will be sold at the entrance. Children under the age of 12 as well as students, faculty and staff with ID will receive free admittance. Tickets for seniors (55 and older) and veterans will be $5 while admission for all others is $10.