bleedCrimson.net will be conducting weekly interviews with 12th year Aggie head volleyball coach Mike Jordan as the Aggies look to defend their regular season WAC co-championship and advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history. This week we talked with Coach Jordan about last weekend's season opening performance at the Mean Green Volleyball Classic, their own home opening tournament where they'll face Florida State and No. 8 Illinois as well as an exhibition with the Italian National A2 Team and a home match against I-10 rival UTEP.
bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the weekend. Kelsey Brennan had a big weekend, particularly on Saturday.
Mike Jordan: I thought we played well at times. It was the first weekend and the first Division I volleyball for a few of our players, significant court time anyway. I think we certainly did some really good things. Our 'A' game when we had it was very very good, we just didn't have it enough. I thought our serve-receive improved over the weekend, I thought our decision making improved over the weekend but we've got some things we definitely need to get better at fast.
bc.net: Kelsi Phillips has stepped into the libero role, how would you grade her play this past weekend?
MJ: She was really good. I was really impressed with her. She passed great serve-receive, she was relentless defensively and gave us a ton of energy. She served the ball pretty well. She did all the things you want your libero to do. She really was a key factor in us winning some close games.
bc.net: Your faced a lot of adversity in this first weekend, maybe earlier than any other team in recent memory with not having two of your players, Kelli Goodan and Lilly Wolfe. You were able to get the three wins outside of that how well do you think they responded?
MJ: I thought that for not really having any practice time, just a couple days in the 5-1, we did a pretty good job. Obviously we had some hiccups along the way but our players kept competing pretty hard and they did a nice job of following directions. Volleyball is volleyball. At some point you've gotta make the blocks, you've gotta make the digs and the system sometimes is irrelevant when the ball is in play. They did a nice job of just competing.
bc.net: Were there any things that you went in to the weekend thinking that you wouldn't be as good at and came away from the weekend surprised at how well you did and were there any things that you thought you'd be better at that you didn't do as well as you expected?
MJ: I definitely thought we would block a little better than we did. I was pretty disappointed with that. I was surprised in a positive light with how well we passed serve-receive consistently throughout the weekend. We were a little nervous, a little tight in the first match but just got better and better and I thought passed at a level maybe a little ahead of where I thought we'd be.
bc.net: In the SMU match the three games you won you held SMU to .100 hitting percentage or lower and the two games you lost they hit .300 or better. Is that somethign you can show your players and say this is what happens when we play well defensively?
MJ: Absolutely. We've always kind of hung our hat on what we do defensively and I thought our effort level, we flew around the court and made a lot of plays. I was happy with our physical effort. From a discipline standpoint we've got a ways to go. We missed too many assignments, particularly the blocking side of it. That was where we really fell apart so we've got to do a better job there for sure. But yeah, any time you can serve it tough enough and defend and keep teams to a lower percentage you've got a chance. We need to do that because we've been a little bit error prone offensively so we need to be stingy defensively.
bc.net: On Friday night you play Florida State who took No. 5 Florida to five sets last night. They've got their returning outside hitter Mira Juric who was injured last year but they also spread the ball around to four or five other players.
MJ: They have a lot of balance offensively. They have a lot of seniors, I think they return all but one starter from a year ago. It's a team that has a real good shot at winning the ACC. Obviously they can play some good volleyball to go to Florida and take them to five. You know they're a good team. It's not a surprise, I knew they would be and we're looking forward to playing them.
bc.net: They're also a pretty big blocking team, they've got 42 blocks alre.on the season.
MJ: Yeah, experience helps, they're big and physical and you couple those things together and you can see why they're pretty good at what they do.
bc.net: Then on Saturday you take on Illinois who moved up to 8th in the latest AVCA poll.
MJ: They return everybody but one starter from a team that made the Sweet 16 last year. They're very good. They've got fantastic players over there, they're well coached. We knew that would be a very tough match for us this early in the year but again, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
bc.net: In terms of scheduling, have you found that it's gotten easier to get these ranked opponents to come to Las Cruces as the Aggie volleyball program's profile has increased?
MJ: We've just had to do things contractually to try to make it happen. We're trying the last few years to get teams to come and in return we'll go there and play them the following year and vice versa. Illinois is an example of that, we went there to their tournament last year and played them and as part of the contract they had to come back here. That's one way of doing it and hopefully we'll get a few more teams in here.
The scheduling is such a pain. It's the most difficult part of the job now it seems. There's a couple of factors that play into it. Every coach has their own philosophy about scheduling in the preseason. Some teams need to get wins, some teams want to play as much quality competition as they can get and some teams want to have a balance. The date you play your home tournament, that weekend, is a factor. Teams like Illinois and Florida State on any given year might be interested in coming to Las Cruces to play us but do they have an open weekend? There's a lot of factors that go into the scheduling. But I do think that because we've had a good team that some of the higher profile teams are willing to come in and play us, especially if we'll at some point return.
bc.net: Illinois also has a first year head coach Kevin Hambly who took over for their long time head coach Don Hardin. Do you anticipate any change in philosophy or system or any major differences from last year?
MJ: I think they're playing in the 5-1 more this year, last year they were in 6-2 a lot. Kevin's been on that staff and he's a very good coach and I think he was really at the forefront of a lot of things they did last year. He had a lot of leeway to make decisions. I would expect them to do what they did last year but we do know that their system is different, they're more in a 5-1 this year.
bc.net: On Sunday the Italian National A2 Team comes in on Sunday, what can fans expect to see when they take the floor?
MJ: I think they're going to see some pretty impressive volleyball players who have played a lot of volleyball, probably a lot more volleyball than our volleyball players have played. I think they will be one of the better teams to have played here if not the best to have played, ever. That would include teams that won the national championship, Long Beach State was here, We've had some great teams here but they're [Italy] going to be very impressive.
bc.net: Then on Tuesday you've got a quick turnaround when you face I-10 rival UTEP here in the Pan Am.
MJ: Rivalry games are fun. We think UTEP's improved, they're an older group than they have been. Any time you're at home and it's a rivalry match you want to get out there and play great and get a 'W'. I'm sure we'll be prepared, we'll be fired up.