bleedCrimson.net will be conducting weekly interviews with Aggie head volleyball coach Mike Jordan during the 2008 season. In this week's interview Coach Jordan talks about Illini Classic, the five upcoming matches this week and what the team learned from the season opening weekend.
bleedCrimson.net: Talk about the Illini Classic.
Mike Jordan: We played two exceptional teams in Illinois and Oregon. We knew Oregon, because of the fact they made the Sweet 16 last year, returned all their starters, would be further along than everybody else. Really that was a big deal. We made typical first tournament errors and too many of them. They took care of the ball a lot better. I think they had 11 fewer attack errors, 6 fewer service errors, they just ball handled a little bit better than we did.
Illinois was the most physical team in the tournament. They did a good job at the service line and their big block really slowed us up a little bit. It forced us to hit for a lower percentage than we hoped. It was a real competitive match until the fourth game. The fourth game got away from us early. We subbed and got some people some rest so that they could be ready for North Carolina. When stuff like that happens you kind of take advantage of it. You hate to say "we're done" but at the same time I needed to sit Lindsey [Yon] and Amber [Simpson] and some of these guys down and get them some rest for the evening match against Carolina.
Carolina has a lot of good athletes, a lot of very good recruits. They just, like us a little bit, were very error prone and we took advantage of that.
The fact that we're 1-2, obviously we don't like to lose ever but at the same time when you lose to two very very good programs as long as we learn from our mistakes and improve quickly we'll be okay.
bc.net: The first set of the match against Illinois your team fell behind 18-10 but rallied for the win. As a coach how do you approach a situation like that? Obviously you're happy you came from behind, but at the same time you can't be thrilled that you got that far behind.
MJ: It's good that we showed we've got some fight in us. I don't think we stopped competing at all the entire tournament. I thought we competed pretty well. We got our heads down a little here and there but never for an extended period of time. We showed some flashes of brilliance, we made a lot of plays. Illinois didn't really give us any cheap points in that run when we came back. I was pretty happy with what I saw.
bc.net: What did you learn about your team after this first week of play.
MJ: We've got a lot of improving to do. We're a long ways away skill wise with some of our players. They've got a lot of talent. Just improving the skill level stuff is important. The ability to hit the ball in the hole instead of into the block. The ability to three pass a little bit more often. The quality of the first dig needs to be good more often. It's just a constant working of the skills and holding them accountable.
bc.net: Talk a little bit about the attack errors and the errors from the service line. Those especially were something you talked about in the preseason that you wanted to get cleaned up.
MJ: We knew it could be a problem and it was at times. I think the attack error stuff was more of a problem. And not so much the number of balls hit out of bounds but like I said the times we had a one-on-one and hitting into the blockers as opposed to hitting into the hole. That kind of thing was more of a problem than the service line. We had one bad run at the service line against Illinois. All in all our ace to error ratio isn't that bad. We served tough at times after the first couple games. I'm not really disappointed too much with what I saw at the service line but the attacking definitely needs to improve.
bc.net: Talk about your freshman setter Jennah DeVries being able to come in and contribute immediately.
MJ: She set the ball really well. I think she only made a couple of bad choices, a couple of freshman mistakes here and there. She grew in confidence as the weekend went on and really showed us some good things. I think she's going to be a very very good player.
bc.net: Talk about Krista Altermatt, she had a couple of rough first matches but then she broke out of the slump in the match against North Carolina. When we talked during earlier for the season preview we talked about her being an x-factor on the team and that if she was playing well you liked your chances.
MJ: She really struggled attacking the ball in the first two matches but on top of that she didn't ball handle the way we needed to. I think she started to get a little concerned about the offense and didn't play the kind of defense we needed her to play. So I had to sit her in one of the matches, I took her out. I didn't start her against North Carolina and started Whitney Phillips instead. Whitney gave us a good lift. At the end of game two we felt like if Krista came in and serve received well that would help us. So we put her in the match and she played great. She played good 'D' which is what we really wanted to see from her. She passed like she normally does and she served fantastic and had her best hitting match as well. I'm glad she bounced back from a rough first two matches but like I said we need her to be good for the rest of the year.
bc.net: Talk about the upcoming five matches in five days. Four of the five teams you saw last year (UTEP, Houston, Texas, Utah). Obviously Utah's going to be a lot better than they were last year and Texas is ranked 4th in the country.
MJ: UTEP's got a lot of returners from last year. They've got a couple of very good athletes. They're one of the better defensive teams, they're not really physical but they're very good with the defense and they serve tough. It's a rivalry game and they'll play hard and we've had some close games with them here and there. We're going to have to play well to win.
I don't know anything about Florida Gulf Coast yet. I know they have a lot of foreign players. I think they struggled a bit in the first weekend but that doesn't mean much a lot of teams struggled.
Houston returns a lot of players. Their best player Justine Farmer is back. They had a good first weekend. I expect them to be a lot better than they were a year ago.
Obviously Texas is one of the premier programs in the country. Maybe the most athletic team in the country. It's going to be a really tough challenge for us.
Utah is better than they were a year ago. A lot of returners. They get Emily Toon back who's a 6'6" middle that had to sit out last year with a knee injury. She's a fantastic player. They're really loaded with talent and well coached. It'll be a very very tough match for us.
bc.net: What did you and your team learn from playing Oregon and Illinois this past weekend that you can take into this week especially playing against #4 Texas, Utah and Houston?
MJ: I think just that our skill level needs to improve. If we start attacking the ball a little bit better, play a little bit better defensively I think we're going to be fine. It's early in the season and you expect there to be some rough patches. I don't think we're necessarily behind where I thought we would be but the reality is that we're not a Top 20 caliber team right now. We can get there with work and improvement and I think we will. I just think it'll take a little bit of time.