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 NCAA tourament matches, their first round win against St. Mary's, the loss to Cal and the four seniors.
bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the St. Mary's match. You lost the first set 25-21 but then rolled in the next three sets.
Mike Jordan: I don't really think it was a very well played match, particularly the first game was ugly. Both teams played poorly I thought. A lot of mistakes, a lot of easy balls we should have capitalized but didn't. It was pretty disappointing to watch because it's so important to get off to a good start in the NCAA tournament. But we settled down a bit in game two. We made an adjustment that helped us and really picked it up defensively and made it harder for them to get kills. I think our physicality, our size advantage took over after that.
bc.net: It looked like you were getting a lot of one-on-one matchups, was that something you felt you could do going in?
MJ: Yeah, we passed the ball pretty well and we got Amber a lot of one-on-one opportunities in the middle. They tried to help inside a little bit but it didn't look like they were comfortable doing it. They weren't very big, their middles are good sized but their outside hitters and right side players weren't very big and so Amber was able to go over the top of them quite a bit. Erin Birmingham hit for a good percentage too. That was really the difference. We were almost at will in the last couple of games, get kills in the middle.
bc.net: Whitney Woods and Kelli Goodan also had a really good match, combining for 16 kills.
MJ: Once they [St. Mary's] started trying to help inside a little bit and spent so much time trying to chase our middles, it opened up some lanes for Woods and Goodan and they did a great job. They've just gotten better and better throughout the year. The fact that they hit for such good percentages is a great thing.
bc.net: Talk about the Cal match, you lost the first set on kind of a hokey call. What was the official explanation that you recieved?
MJ: Well the down ref said she saw the touch but she said that it hit the girl's hair which doesn't count as a body part, which is true. But the ball didn't just hit her hair, it hit her shoulder. If a ball's going to hit your hair it's not going to slow up tremendously or change direction which that ball did. We were upset about it but at the same time, game one against Cal was not a well played game. I thought we made a ton of errors early that kind of got us into the deficit. We had some free balls and some balls that we should have capitalized on that we botched and again it was tough to swallow. If we had taken care of the ball a little bit better in the game we had a great chance of winning it. The call didn't help obviously but we've got to look at ourselves first because we had those plays we should have made and we didn't.
Games two through four, game two they really rolled us. Give Cal credit, they played fantastic. We made too many attack errors, they blocked quite a few balls, we got steamrolled. But I was able to take a couple players out in the second half of that game and rest them which I think helped a little. The players that came in, Alex, Bryna, Whitney, Kelsey, all did a really good job when they came in.
Game three we played really well. We played the kind of volleyball we needed to play in order to get a win but you've got to do that consitently throughout the match.
Game four we were doing that through about 15 all and then Cal made a couple great plays, we made a couple errors and they took the advantage from there. Give Cal credit, they're a fantastic team, they're better than we are. If we played them ten times hopefully we could get a win once but that wasn't the night.
bc.net: What does being able to win that first match in the NCAA tournament do for your recruiting efforts?
MJ: The monkey's off our back which is great. I think it's great to be able to say we got a win in the NCAA tournament against a good team like St. Mary's. It helps our program's reputation which helps in recruiting. How much does it help? I don't know, really at the end of the day recruits choose a place for a myriad of things. There's a long list of priorities that kids have, a winning program is certainly one of them. The more you win the better. But I think more for the [current] players because it's a monkey on everybody's back. It's something we've talked a lot about this year. Getting to the tournament, which is a wonderful achievement in itself, but to go beat a good team in the NCAA tournament, it's something we hadn't done before and the fact that we've finally done it, it's a great feeling.
bc.net: Krista Altermatt had a great match against Cal, how much will that help to springboard her into next season?
MJ: It could help Krista's confidence, that she played so well against a good team. She struggled against Texas earlier in the year and against Stanford a little bit but I'm not that worried about Krista's confidence. Krista is very much a role player on our team. Her job is to pass great serve receive and she does that almost all the time. She's our toughest server consistently. She's a good attacker. She's not the best athlete in our lineup by any stretch but she's a very good volleyball player. For her to play well was great to see. Something we obviously needed in order to get a win. Unfortunately we didn't get the same kind of performance out of some other people. Krista did a great job against Cal and we're certainly going to count on her senior leadership next year.
bc.net: You had several individual records and team goals that you met this year. You had two players set individual career school records, Amber Simpson finished third in the WAC in All-Time blocks in the WAC, Krystal finished second in All-Time digs in the WAC. Out of all those accomplishments from this season, which ones are the most important to you as a coach?
MJ: The individual things don't really mean a lot. Winning is the most important thing as far as the team goes. The individual marks, I'm happy for them that they got their names in the record books. But it's more about the W's than anything else. Looking back on it, I'll remember them more for the people they are than the records they achieved and I think their teammates feel the same way.
bc.net: You had seven regular season losses, all seven of those teams advanced to the second round and six of the seven are in the Sweet 16 and there's a distinct possibility that they could be six of the eight final teams. Obviously that speaks to the strength of schedule you put together, the question now is, will you do it again? Is that something you want to do on a continuing basis?
MJ: Well you have to look at every team and the personnel makeup and the level of experience when you think about scheduling. We've started our scheduling, it's going to be a very strong schedule. I don't know that it will be as strong but I don't know that many people can say their schedule was as strong as ours. When you look at it now... amazing. But I liked the fact that we took on the tough competition, we'll continue to do that. But you also have to be concerned with your team's psyche as well. And we've got to be careful, we're graduating four good players, three All-Conference players. Three of the best players at their position in [Lindsey] Yon, Krystal and Amber.
It'll be a good balanced schedule, there'll be a lot of good schools on it for sure. We're going to go Notre Dame and play Wisconsin, Notre Dame and it was going to be UCLA but I think now it's Central Florida. We're hosting Illinois, we're talking to Arizona trying to get something scheduled with them finally, here. They owe us a return. So yeah, it'll be a tough schedule, there's no doubt about that. We're probably going to wind up going to Texas. It'll be a tough schedule and it'll certainly challenge our team.
bc.net: We haven't talked a lot about your seniors because the season wasn't over but now that it is, can you share a personal memory or story about each one?
MJ: Well, Amber had really no volleyball experience. Amber played one year of club ball, it was with a little local team that was mostly her high school teammates. She didn't even start playing volleyball in high school until she was a sophomore and never played before that. When she got here she wasn't sure she could do it. She was really lacking in self confidence. For her to have grown into the player she became, and she really did it rapidly, but for her to become the player she became, and dominant at times, was really neat to see. And now she's a very confident person, and she talks a lot. We used to joke that in the first six months she was here, she never said more than two sentences the whole time and now you can't get her to shut up! She's telling her opinion on everything now. It's pretty neat to see.
Krystal, tremendous athlete and a tremendous competitor. The knowledge that we were going to go out and play and Krystal was going to be our libero for the last three years was a great feeling. She just loves competition. She's got icewater in her veins, she's as cool and collected as they come. And a good teammate. She's the kind of person everybody likes and everybody pulls for and she really was the glue for us defensively.
Alyssa Gintant, we really needed a setter, we lost one who was injured. We wanted to go to the 6-2, Alyssa came in and really did a good job. She came in and worked hard to adapt to our system. A great person, a great person to be around off the court and on. Obviously we'll miss her.
Lindsey's growth as a player and as a person in the last two years has been phenomenal. She had injuries when she got here, a lot of health concerns. Worked hard to overcome them and had a great senior year. She went from someone that as a junior was really up and down emotionally when she played to someone that was really pretty consistent. Again someone that everybody likes and has respect for not just as a player but as a person and a teammate.
I can't just pick one moment with each of them, there have been so many. Now we're friends for life. I'm honored and humbled to be able to say that I'm a part of their lives.
bc.net: Talk a little bit about the three new players you have coming in, Kayleigh Giddens, Ellen Miks and Sierra Whittaker.
MJ: Kayleigh Giddens is an outside hitter from Frank Phillips Junior College, we're excited that she's going to be a part of our program. She's very competitive. At six feet tall, big jump, rocket for an arm, she should be one of the premiere outside hitters in the conference immediately. She was Second Team All-American at Frank Phillips. Just physically very impressive and again, very competitive. That combination, you'll take any day.
Ellen Miks, again a very competitive kid, can play the left or the right, 5'11". Not a huge jumper, she's a lot like Altermatt in some respects. She's a great serve receiver, very good defender and the type of person who's going to give you 100% effort every day and comes from a winning background.
Sierra Whittaker is a fantastic athlete, phenomenal athlete is probably the best way to describe her. She can set and hit. She's farther away as a setter than she is as a hitter. It's going to take her longer to get there as a setter. But she's got the physical tools. She's someone we think can be a right side hitter or long term as a setter. We may red shirt her just to kind of improve the skills. I don't know that we'll need a setter or right side hitter this year with Woods and Goodan returning and with Jennah [DeVries]. I think we're going to be okay there.
The three of those are really good athletes and very competitive people and I think they'll fit in well here.