bleedCrimson.net will be conducting weekly interviews with Aggie head volleyball coach Mike Jordan during the 2008 season. This week we talked with Coach Jordan about last week's matches against Utah State and San Jose State, the WAC tournament and what he thinks has been the biggest improvement during this season.
bleedCrimson.net: Against Utah State you mentioned last week that you were looking for the team to come out better than they had in the previous three matches and after getting down 3-0 in the first set it was lights out.
Mike Jordan: Yeah. Definitely one of our better attacking matches. We passed pretty well and really did a nice job offensively. Limited our errors. I think we had nine errors for the whole match. That's unheard of for us. Typically we can be anwhere from 28 to... I don't know what our average errors per game is but to keep it to three per game, we're pretty happy with that kind of performance this late in the season.
bc.net: You had three players that hit over .850, Lindsey who hit. 522 and Amber who hit .643.
MJ: We ball handled so well and so we were in system a lot and our setters did a great job of locating the ball which helps.
bc.net: Krista was the only player who really didn't have a great night offensively but she made up for it on Saturday night with a 10 kills in 18 attempts.
MJ: She's a really important part of what we do. The important thing for our lefts and our rights to remember is even if they're not attacking well, they can help us win other ways. As long as they're receiving serve and playing good 'D', they can have a factor in the match. Even though Krista didn't attack the ball great against Utah State she she did all of the other things well which led to the everybody else attacking. And she did attack the ball well on Saturday. It's nice to see a player bounce back.
bc.net: The team had six service aces and just one service error against San Jose State.
MJ: If we could get six aces and one error every match, you'd almost sell your soul to do it. That's not going to happen every match but I think we are serving tougher as a group and obviously it's important especially against good teams.
bc.net: Krystal Torres picked up the WAC Player of the Week award for her play and surprisingly it was her first of her career.
MJ: She's so good defensively. She really is a big factor in the match and covers a lot of ground. It's nice to see her get that reward for all her hard work.
bc.net: Talk a little bit about the feelings after the San Jose State match, you guys only had a day or so to savor the victory and it was back to work.
MJ: Yeah. You know, I'm just really proud of our group, to be a part of the first WAC championship is great. The players have worked really hard and they've earned it. It's just a lot of fun coaching these guys. It's great to see them reach one of their goals.
bc.net: You finished up playing Hawai'i fairly and had a bunch of matches left to play to try to get a share of the championship. How were you able to keep them focused one match at a time.
MJ: It's always what we've done here. For us we take every opponent seriously. We make sure they understand the strengths and weaknesses of every opponent and that they respect every opponent. And for the most part we've really done that and the players have done a good job.
You see it all the time when you look at scores across the country, you see teams beating teams that shock you. I think one of the things that set us apart from a lot of teams is that we, the last few years, rarely lose to a team that is not as athletic as we are. We have very few bad losses and that's great.
bc.net: Up next you've got the conference tournament and you'll be facing teams for the third time around. What are some of the challenges you'll face with that?
MJ: It's never easy to beat a team three times. The format itself playing back to back nights, everybody's got the same dilemma but it's not easy. You've gotta get one match behind you and then you've gotta prepare right away for the next one. You've got to take care of your body and do a lot of things right in order to play well.
Your bench players have to be ready, kids that don't play a lot need to be ready to step in and play a pivotal role. Whether that be starting a match because of injury or coming in late in the game when the score is tight and you haven't played in a while.
There's a lot of things that go into winning a tournament and hopefully we'll do those things.
bc.net: Does having won in the Stan Sheriff Center, not necessarily against Hawai'i, but just winning in the building help the confidence of the team? Does the venue matter when you're playing neutral court?
MJ: I don't think the venue matters much. It's a bigger arena just like ours so we should be okay. We've played there before, now we beat them this year there. It's good to know we can go in and play well because the last few years we have not played well in Hawai'i. We should have a certain amount of confidence.
bc.net: Dr. Boston talked a little bit about this on Saturday regarding your schedule. When you put the schedule together there were a lot of tough teams on there. How did you know or did you know if your team would be able to handle that mentally because a lot of teams that put together tough schedules like that and don't get the victories often times can't handle it mentally and get beat down.
MJ: We played well at times, we certainly were very error prone early in the season. But because of the teams we were playing, we learned what our weaknesses were. The fact that we were very average at best, on a good night we were average on the right attacking the ball. Right away we knew we had to get in the gym and improve those right side players. We've got to improve the way we set the ball over there, we had to improve technically what we were doing to attack, we had to get our confidence built. So that was great that we played strong teams early and it taught us that. If we had played some teams that aren't very good we would probably still win and maybe not really have a good idea of how much improvement we needed attacking the ball on the right.
And serving the as well. We served it easy and terrible a lot the first two weeks. We started paying attention to that a little more. And eventually we settled on a lineup. Which I think helped with continuity, especially with the setters. We had three setters that were playing and we eventually picked two and we stuck with it.
bc.net: What has been the improvement that you've been the most happy with?
MJ: I think early on we had a couple players who were not giving their best effort defensively and now everybody is playing hard defensively. And we're doing it pretty much night in and night out. When teams play hard together it really helps with team chemistry. You feel like all of your teammates are sacrificing themselves and you'll sacrifice yourself too. So I'm really proud of that. That's been a nice change.
But I do think that our consistency attacking the ball has probably been the biggest improvement. That being said, we're still not a super consistent attacking team, we've just come a very long way from very mediocre or bad match to match early one to now we're getting to a point where we can hit .300 or .400 on occasion. I think we're capable of hitting .300 or .400 in back to back matches where early on in the season that was a dream. That was not going to happen.
bc.net: What's been the most pleasant surprise for you this season, something that you really thought you might struggle with but in the end didn't really have to worry about.
MJ: I think early on we weren't sure if we were going to get a consistent attacking performance out of the six players playing in the front row. But we feel pretty confident now that we can set anybody and they can get kills. We call plays for anybody. We don't have what you'd call a ghost on our team. You can't ignore people. I don't know if you can call it a surprise, but it's been good to see.