Weekly Coach Jordan Interview :: 10/08/14 You opened up conference play two weeks ago with a sweep, then you won two five set matches where you had to come from behind at 2-1, then you went up to Seattle, fell behind 2-1 but weren’t able to rally this time and the third set you lost 29-27 and if you win that set, it’s probably an entirely different match.
Mike Jordan: It’s frustrating when you’ve got a 24-20 lead and a good rotation to side out in and you don’t get it done. We missed a couple of defensive assignments. We just didn’t play assertively enough or aggressively enough. Part of that is youth, part of that is getting the ball to our experienced players. You’ve just got to make the right plays at crunch time and Seattle, you give them credit, they stayed aggressive. They were taking big swings when they needed to and we played patty-cake with a couple balls we should have hit. We missed those defensive assignments and it cost us. The fourth set, it was 20-all and the referee blows a call, it cost us a point and it shifts momentum but you still have a lot of time as a team to recover and make plays and we just didn’t do that. Again, we got a few good opportunities and we tipped balls we should have hit. We walked out after a timeout after being told to take aggressive swings and we tipped the next ball. I think we got what we deserved in that match. But hopefully we’ll learn from it and if we don’t you’re not paying attention. I’ve seen a lot of good things. I think when we’re playing well, which certainly isn’t consistently enough, but when we are playing well, it’s the best volleyball in the conference. We can beat anybody and unfortunately we just have to develop that consistency. We haven’t done that yet and that’s the goal right now is to put it together, play well in long stretches, miss fewer assignments, make the right decisions at crunch time and become the team we’re capable of becoming. It’s harder this year because we are young. We’re probably the youngest team in the conference. We’re in a 6-2 and we’ve got a rotation of 10 or 11 player we use on a consistent basis, really 12, and five or six of them can be freshmen. I’ve looked out on the floor quite a few times in the last few weeks and seen four freshmen on the floor at the same time. It’s not an overnight fix. It’s going to take us a little while but as long as we keep working and paying attention, we’ll get there. Obviously just because of history of the program and the name New Mexico State and being the longest tenured school in the WAC now, you’re going to get everybody’s best shot every night. How have your players handled that pressure?
MJ: I agree with you, I think teams, if they take the approach that we’re going to just let it all hang out and they play loose and they play hard the whole time, typically play well when you play like that. I don’t know that our players are affected too much by that. I think we’re affected by our own brains. When you’ve got the ball in your hands at 21-all or 22-all at the service line, we want you to hit a tough serve but it’s got to land in the court and there’s 900 square feet on the other side. If you’re given a zone to hit we want you to hit that zone, if you’re told to serve tough you make sure you serve it tough but you make sure you land it in bounds and we’ve failed to do that a couple times. We decelerate the hand, we look like we’re a little bit nervous. Same thing attacking it. If we get an out of system ball and it has to go to a high ball hitter on the left or in the back row, if you get a good set, you know you’re going to have two blockers in front of you so attack the ball high and hard and hit it off the top of the hands. Don’t play patty-cake with it right into the block, don’t tip it because that’s what teams expect when you’re out of system. you have to make the right choice. Sometimes those skills aren’t there yet or the confidence in those skills isn’t there yet so players revert back to their comfort zone. They’re used to making a certain play in that situation or hitting a ball a certain way and that won’t work at that level so we’ve got to get them out of that comfort zone. When you fail like we did at Seattle, you should learn from it. It should stick out in your brain. Maybe if I had those swings back, maybe I would have done this differently. Well, then go to practice the next day and when those situations arise, make the right choices and maybe it’ll be easier to do once game time starts. You mentioned at times seeing four freshmen out there on the court. How has their on the court communication during rallies been when you’ve got four freshmen out on the court?
MJ: It’s inconsistent at best when there’s a lot of freshmen out there. They want to win of course and they want to do the right things and they want to communicate but they have to prepare a little better. In between points the more you communicate specifically about what we’re going to do next, the more prepared you are for the point. Typically young players start to feel the moment a little bit and kind of put the blinders on and focus on themselves and they’re in their own little world. The veteran player can walk over to somebody else and remind them of an assignment, give them a little pep talk, that kind of thing. It’s a little spotty but that’s to be expected and they’re working on it and I see that and I know that eventually it’s going to come and they’ll say the right things and they’ll see the floor a little bit better and they’ll prepare a little bit better. One thing that I’ve noticed this year is that your team has played a lot of extra volleyball in terms of extra-point sets. You’ve played almost as many as you did all of last year and you’re only halfway through the season. Obviously some of it’s random but what’s been the biggest reason for that?
MJ: I think our youth and our inconsistency as a team still lends itself to closer games. Last year with the five seniors playing a lot we were just a little bit better, we were able to score points in bunches and I think teams, once we got them down, didn’t feel like they could come back on us. It’s a little bit different this year and we knew that would be the case. I think a lot of it is also situational, like I was talking about. Making the right choices and having the ability to play outside your comfort zone. I’ll use Kassie Tohm as an example. Kassie is a very, very good in-system attacker usually. On a good pass, on a good set that comes from the set, she’s a terminal attacker, she can get kills. Kassie out of system is a completely different attacker. She takes a lot off the volleyball when she attacks it. Her kill percentage drops significantly. She’s got to get better at attacking out of system. We’re trying to avoid setting her in some of those situations which doesn’t help the volleyball team. She’s just got to learn that particular skill. She’s got to become a better passer and defender on the floor so we don’t have to sub her out, especially since we’re in the 6-2 and we’re already subbing the setter and the right-side players. She’s got to play more of an opposite role than an outside hitter role because of the lack of ball control. As those skills improve for her, she’s going to get more opportunities to play on the left and she’s going to make a few more plays for us and not be so much of a one-dimensional player she is now. That’s the same for a lot of the young players. Everybody has their weaknesses and until they change those, it’s going to make games closer. We’ve got to be more well-rounded. It looked like over the course of the two weeks that your middles had pretty good numbers? Does that reflect that your team was passing pretty well on serve receive?
MJ: We’ve been okay passing it. I think when Andi Tauai is is in the game she is one of the better passers on the team. She stabilizes us on serve receive. When we sub her out for a more physical attacker or better blocking presence I think our serve receive falters a little bit. But again, I think we’re out-passing most of our opponents. I don’t think that was the case on Saturday and we lost. Obviously everybody knows how important serve and pass is and that was one of the few times this year we’ve been out-served and out-passed. Thursday night you’ve got UT Pan American. They’re having a little bit of a rough year. What do you want to see from your team as you’re rebounding off the loss on Saturday?
MJ: Well, consistency is something I keep talking about. I would just like to see us continue to play well throughout a whole match. We’ve had quite a few instances of playing well one set and then a couple players disappear and play poorly for a couple of sets and then they rebound. If you’re in the lineup we don’t need you to hit .400 the first set and then hit .000 for two sets. I’d be fine if you never hit .400. If you hit .280 every set we’re going to win. Sometimes when you look at attacking numbers you see a hitting percentage close to .300, sometimes that was just two sets worth of work where you were great and two sets where you disappeared. It’s per set numbers that we’re looking for and we need players to put those numbers up every set and I think when that happens we’ll be pretty good.