bleedCrimson.net: The team found out their destination and opponent on Sunday, give me your initial thoughts on facing No. 8 Stanford?
Mike Jordan: Well, the first thing that I think that needs to be said is that I’m not happy, and it’s not just me, it’s many of the coaches in our sport who are not happy with the way that they select and seed and place teams in the tournament. When you look at what we’ve done this year, you can easily make a case that we’re every bit as good as Colorado State. Our results against common opponents are actually a little bit better and the same with Loyola Marymount, both very, very good teams. But we wind up playing Stanford in the first round because of our RPI number and because of geographically based selection choices. If you seeded this team 1 to 64 and you got rid of the RPI which was never meant to rank teams, it was only meant to group them. It’s been proven to be faulty and it’s easily manipulated by many conferences, ours is not one of them unfortunately. If you threw out the RPI you could easily make the case that we’re somewhere in the middle of the pack in this tournament. Yet, we wind up playing the 8th seeded team. That’s frustrating. All the work that we’ve done over the course of the season should be rewarded and yet in a couple of brackets you’ve got a couple of teams that barely got in who are playing each other with a chance to win an NCAA Tournament game and that frustrates me. That aside, the opportunity to play Stanford at Stanford is a great opportunity and it’s an opportunity to showcase ourselves a little bit. They’re a great team. It’ll be a great environment and those things in and of itself are a reward and I know the players are happy about the opportunity.
bc.net: Going back to the RPI and the selection process, obviously coaches know the RPI is weighted a lot heavier that what you’d like and you in particular have done what you can from a scheduling standpoint to counteract that. This is to specifically address people who might think that your low RPI number is based on you playing a weak schedule, you look at your schedule this year and you played against seven teams that are in this year’s field. You’ve done what you can.
MJ: That’s the frustrating part. This flawed system is weighted so heavily to conferences that have the ability to manipulate the RPI. Our conference, even before Hawai’i and everybody left, our conference often times hurt us. I’ve talked about this before but in 2006 at the end of the non-conference season our RPI was 16th because of what we’d done and we went 15-1 and split with Hawai’i and our RPI fell all the way down to 33. We still got in because it’s still a good RPI but we went 15-1 and split with Hawai’i and dropped almost 20 spots. It’s frustrating because once non-conference play is over we really don’t have the opportunity to improve ourselves (in RPI), we can only go down, even if we win a ton. If you have one bad night against the 120th team in the RPI like Bakersfield or Seattle who are decent teams, you drop even more. It’s a no-win situation for us right now and it’s very frustrating. But you’re right, we did everything we could. We can’t control a large portion of our schedule and that’s just the way it is.
bc.net: You’ve got three common opponents with Stanford, Texas A&M, Arizona and Arizona State. Have you watched film from those matches and what will you be able to take away from what those teams did against Stanford that can potentially help you?
MJ: I’ve seen Stanford a couple of times this year and part of the NCAA protocol is that you share your last match with the team you’re going to play. We’ve got video on them now that we’re watching and they’re loaded with great athletes. Obviously the injury to Inky Ijanaku right before the season started for them was devastating to them. They’re still a national championship contender, no question but they may have been the favorite had she been healthy. This is a team with a lot of great athletes and tremendous tradition. They do have some things that maybe we can exploit a little bit but at the end of the day it’s going to be very difficult for us to stop them. We don’t have the size they have. The other piece of the puzzle is that we haven’t played a team of this caliber for over two months. We’ve got to amp it up again and get ready for that. There’s no way of simulating it. They’ve got a 6’8” middle and we don’t, there’s nothing we can do about it. We’re just going to have to get out there and really be as competitive as we can and rely on our seniors to do everything they can to keep us in a position to steal games late.
bc.net: Your team and those seniors have experience playing in the tournament and have experience playing against teams with size. What do you hope that they’ve taken away from playing against those types of teams?
MJ: I think they understand the challenge that’s ahead of them and hopefully they’ll go into a little more aggressively than in years past. We’ve seen it and need to get out and get it done. It’s doubtful that Nathalie will be able to play and not having Nathalie hurts. She’s our second best offensive option and had a great year and that hurts us. She’s also one of our most competitive people and that’s as big if not a bigger blow than her offensive ability.
bc.net: From a serving standpoint they look to be a pretty tough team serving-wise. Maybe one of the few benefits of WAC play is you faced Seattle a couple of times who is one of the toughest serving teams in the country. How does that help?
MJ: I think it helps a little. Stanford does a great job of driving balls deep on you and getting you to stand up a little bit and turning you into a high ball hitting team. They’re very, very good at it. The fact that we played Seattle helps. Seattle clearly is one of the best serving teams in the country with the way they drive the ball at you. I don’t think what we’re going to see from Stanford is going to be anything special or anything we haven’t seen before but they are very good at it.
bc.net: Going back to the non-conference and the competition that the team faced and the way they played. How much can that help especially the younger players in the way that your team was able to compete with those teams?
MJ: We schedule the way we do for a reason. The bad part is it’s been over two months since we’ve played a team like that. The good part is we played a lot of them in the preseason with good athletes. I think we have a better belief in ourselves than we did in the beginning of the season having gone through it. I don’t think we’re going to be shocked by what we see from Stanford, the question remains will we rise to the occasion and play well enough to win. At the end of the day, if we pull off the upset it will be because our players went into it with a “we’re going to attack and beat these guys” mentality and not a “gee, I hope we stick around and find a way to win” mentality. Those are two entirely different things.
bc.net: Would it be fair to say that in those matches you played against those top teams, your team had that mentality of “we’re going to win?”
MJ: I think we were a little soft at times early on. There were times we weren’t sure we were going to win, there was some doubt in there. Early in the season that happens. You have new players around you and you believe you can win. But again, it’s a different thing mentally. It’s the difference between attacking and hoping. At this level with the amount of athletes that a team like Stanford have, you have to attack. You have to be an “I’m going to beat you into submission” kind of athlete. It remains to be seen if we do that. The early season schedule and the things we went through definitely helped us. Had we not played that kind of schedule there’s no way we would be prepared for a Stanford. We’d get rolled. But because we did and we had some success, I think that gives us a better frame of mind. It should put us in a better frame of mind.
bc.net: With the absence of Nathalie, Kassie Tohm becomes a very important piece to the puzzle. With her being a young player with very little experience, what do you tell her, what do her teammates tell her in preparing her for this match?
MJ: Well, the great thing about Kassie is she only knows one way to play and that’s full speed. The bad thing about Kassie is that she only knows how to play and that’s one speed. She’s a talented young lady with a lot of arm speed. I don’t want to take any of her aggressiveness away from her. I want her to go in there and let it fly. I think to over-coach Kassie and get in her head a little bit would be a huge mistake. She just needs to go out and do what she does and contribute points. If she does that great it’ll certainly help us.