Weekly Coach Jordan Interview :: 09/06/16 Weekly Coach Jordan Interview :: 09/06/16 It was a good weekend for the team going 4-0 in the tournament.
Mike Jordan: It was interesting going there. We were trying to host that weekend as well as this coming weekend and we just couldn’t get enough teams to fill the tournament and so we were looking last minute for a tournament and they were nice enough to accommodate us and it turned out well getting four wins. One of biggest things that stood out from the weekend was net kills for the four teams (kills minus errors), just 28 more kills than errors while you had 132 more kills than errors on the weekend, that’s a pretty wide margin. You ended up holding the four teams to a .068 hitting percentage.
MJ: We were the best team there, this isn’t the strongest tournament we play in but I think the reason we were able to be so successful was our service game was much, much better than the week before. We really worked hard all week at trying to convince our players to go back and serve it faster, hit it harder, make it move more. It’s a hard road to go down because players don’t want to miss serves. It’s in them all the time, they just don’t want to miss. But at this level when you serve it lame and soft just to make, the other team is going to be in system and that makes life a lot more difficult. You have to take chances at the service line. What we’re trying to get them to do is change what they do and you know that getting people outside their comfort zone is a difficult thing. For instance, Bri Ainsworth for years in high school stood in the same spot to serve the ball and high school teams struggle passing, club teams as well. She could go back there and hit her medium speed serve and create some stress and pressure against teams like that but she gets here and she serves balls like that and they’re a soft serve. It’s too easy for this level. And then when she goes back and tries to hit it harder standing in the same spot she misses, she’ll miss long a lot. So she’s reticent and so she goes back to serving it soft. Finally we convinced her and Ariadnne Sierra and a couple others that they had to back up. Back up another ten feet and hit it hard and be consistent in doing it. Don’t change your method just because of the result. We convinced them to do that and they served it better. I still think we missed one or two too many balls that were mishit. If we miss, it’s a foot long but it was well struck, that’s not a big deal. When you hit the side of the ball and create a miss, those are the ones we want to avoid and that’s on the player affecting technique. I just liked our service pressure a lot better and some of the ace numbers were pretty high and that got us off to a good start. We’re getting a lot of medium speed stuff back and you can’t do that with a good team like ours. One of the things you wanted to see this weekend was a better effort blocking. Did you see that?
MJ: I saw better effort, the numbers were a bit better but we’ve still got a long way to go. Blocking is a very difficult skill and we’ve got players who watch the ball way too long and it’s really just repetition and going through the process over and over again thousands of times trying to change some bad habits. We also have to be more aggressive. The Megan Harts of the world, Lexi May, Hannah Combs, those guys can take up a lot of space with their length and we expect them to block more balls than they’re blocking. Sasha as well. She’s moving positions a little bit and that’ll affect block numbers but we need to see them doing more. The second matches on both days, we talked about it last week with your team needing to just kind of suck it up and you didn’t know exactly how they would come out after playing the first match of the day and then turning around on short notice to play the second but you got fairly quick sweeps out of both and both of them you were fairly low error as well.
MJ: That’s true and I felt like Valpo was probably the next best team in the tournament going in and with Jordan’s foot, Megan Hart just starting to play we were nervous. We don’t have a lot of depth but I thought we competed well. We got off to a great start versus Valpo and managed to finish them off before we got a little too tired. It’s a challenge and I thought our players did a good job responding to it. How important was this weekend for the team’s confidence. You mentioned last week that they had their confidence shaken a little bit losing the match to UC Santa Barbara and then that carrying over into the UNLV match the next day.
MJ: The beginning of a season brings a lot of new issues and some of those issues are lineup choices. We’ve got players who are competing for time and they feel the pressure of putting up numbers, our returning players feel the pressure of doing more than they did last year. At times we’ve been really fun to watch and pretty good for this early in the season and then there are times where we’ve showed our youth and lack of experience in a couple of places. I think a tournament like this where you go out and dominate for long stretches certainly helps the players. They understand we’ve got the talent and we’re going to be fine if we just improve in some certain areas. Obviously with a tournament like we have coming up this weekend you can’t improve fast enough. But again, it’s a process, a progression. Pretty much every practice we have is a progression and the players understand that they have to be bought in to the process and making change and not worry too much about the end result just yet. You were able to get Megan Hart some more playing time this weekend, she didn’t take a ton of swing but she also in four matches didn’t have any errors.
MJ: Yeah. Megan, had she not gotten hurt last year, she would be a starter on this team and I think putting up really good numbers but she got hurt and then she had a setback in recovery. She didn’t get cleared until right at the start of our season. She’s really learning to play and at the same time testing that knee and her stamina and the confidence issues that go with that. To get results out of her this early is kind of whipped cream on top. It’s not something we can expect but we’re happy to see that every day she gets a little bit more confident, a little bit better and she’s learning. She took some very good swings, her kill percentage was very good even though it was very limited numbers but that’s an improvement over what we got the week before when she didn’t play. We’ll take it and if she can build on that a little bit as we go, hopefully by the end of the season we’re going to have the player we hoped to have at the beginning of this year and that’s someone who is going to be productive and do a lot of good things for us. Obviously ever player is different is different and every player handles the recover process and the reintegration into playing time differently but it’s a very similar situation to what you had last year with Sasha-Lee Thomas getting cleared right before the start of the season and working her back into the lineup as well. What is Megan able to take from what Sasha was able to do last year and that progression?
MJ: I know they’ve had conversations about it and our training staff has had conversations about it and it helps to see someone who has done what Sasha has done coming back from injury. If you’re Megan you know it’s possible and you look forward to that. They’re different though in that Sasha had some experience and Megan really has had no experience. She practiced for two days her freshman year last year before she got hurt and wasn’t able to do anything all spring. So here’s someone who is a freshman all over again but she’s not physically yet or mentally yet where she was a year ago. She doesn’t have the confidence, she hasn’t had any success at this level yet and I think that’s the separation between her and Sasha-Lee is right now. Sasha knew she could rehab and get strong and she was going to be a great player. Megan is still trying to figure things out. What improvements did you see from Crash Parker from last weekend to this weekend?
MJ: Night and day in terms of playmaking. The decision-making stuff she’s still got a lot to learn but she does so many things really, really well. She’s a lifer in terms of being a volleyball player. She’s been in the gym since she was tiny playing volleyball. She does a lot of things players her age don’t do. She’s got a good volleyball IQ, it just hasn’t been at the setting position so she’s learning. I liked her location better, I liked her command of the floor better. She got plays called quicker than the week before which helps everybody. It didn’t seem as rushed and she certainly wasn’t as nervous and she made a lot of really good plays. What other positives did you see from your team this weekend improvement-wise over the first weekend?
MJ: I liked our floor defense again. I don’t know that we really improved over the first weekend but we’re digging a lot of balls, giving ourselves transition opportunities to score which is all you can ask for. Our aggressiveness was a little bit better. Brigette [Lowe] was a little more aggressive than she was the week before. We saw some good things. Again, it’s a slow process. We’re not going to suddenly be the team we were last year overnight. It’s going to take some time to develop. You also picked up your 400th career win this past weekend.
MJ: I think it helps you remember. It brings you back to your first year and all the players and that’s kind of special just thinking back to all the different players that have played for you. Certainly you remember the big wins. The first win over a nationally ranked opponent was back in 2003 when we beat Santa Barbara who I think was ranked 11th at the time. The wins over the nationally ranked teams, the wins to clinch the championships, certainly the NCAA tournament win back in 2008 are a big deal. New Mexico State hasn’t had a lot of NCAA Tournament success really in any sport. So to get a win like we did in ’08 was special. We’re hoping at some point we can get a couple more. I think mostly about the players. Obviously it speaks a lot to the consistency that you’ve built into the program. You’ve only had one losing season in 18 seasons.
MJ: It was a major rebuild project when we took it over. We went 7-22 that first year and I think I only inherited five players and only two of them were really legitimate Division I caliber athletes. The second year we had a nice recruiting class come in and we were a little bit better, a little more mature. We went .500, 15-15 in the Big West. It was a big deal because you had Long Beach State who was ranked number one in the country, Pacific and Santa Barbara were always ranked in the Top 15 so to have a good solid year it showed we were developing. Then those players were graduating and we had a younger group in 2000 and we switched conferences and you could see our growth from year to year and to get to 2002 and 2003 when I could tell we were a pretty good volleyball team. That was a lot of fun and since that point we’ve been really successful. Expectations are high which is great, hopefully we’ll keep it rolling. You open up your home schedule this weekend and obviously the competition level jumps up fairly dramatically. It looks like all three teams (Sacramento State, Texas A&M, Arizona) have had the same start to the season that you have, one bad weekend, one good weekend which I’m sure is typical of early season volleyball. You saw two of the three teams last year, what do you know about all three.
MJ: Sac State is first up and they’re coming off a really great year. They’ve got a lot of talent, they’ve had some early season success. They have more of a veteran presence than we do but just about everybody does. It’s going to be a tough match but a winnable one. Arizona and Texas A&M are elite teams. Arizona should be ranked, I’m surprised they’re not. They’ve played nothing but great competition. Both teams have veteran teams led by great players. They return most of their lineups from last year. We had great matches with both of them last year. Losing in five at Texas A&M, that was a great match and we went toe-to-toe and every bit their equal. They were just a bit better at blocking the slide than we were and we struggled stopping that late. I think both of those teams, Arizona and Texas A&M they’ve got great players at every position and they’re more prepared to win right now than we are there’s no question about that. But it’s our home court and it’s an opportunity to step up and make ourselves better. Like I always say when you play a great team, you’re going to learn a lot. You’re going to learn where you’re deficient and what you need to improve on and we’ll do that. You mentioned an injury situation with Jordan Abalos?
MJ: It’s close to a stress fracture in her foot. It’s not there but it’s kind of a deep bruise and she basically just needs to rest for a long period of time but that’s not going to happen. She’s not practicing much and obviously that makes life a little bit harder. We don’t have a lot of depth at the outside hitter position so scrimmaging becomes difficult when players are sitting out. But she’s working her way through it and it’s just going to be something she has to deal with for a while and we’re going to try to rest her as much as we can. You’ve got a few Sideout Club socials coming up this weekend. Talk a little bit about the Sideout Club and its importance for your program particularly right now with the way the athletic budgets are.
MJ: We’re excited this year because we’re going to do them on non game days, we’re going to do them the night before games. On a game night when you do it after a match it can get pretty late and by then it can be 9:00 and a lot of our fans want to go home and get to bed and you can’t blame them. I’m sure we’ll get a bigger turnout. We’ll start a little bit earlier and we’ll have some fun. It’s always great for our players to interact with our fans, we’ve got a lot of fans that care a lot about us. We’ve got a lot of new players who get to meet a lot of new people. But Sideout Club was formed to help us financially. Volleyball right now, the budget is terrible. We’re struggling to make things happen and make things happen for our players in particular. Our locker rooms haven’t been updated in a decade. We’re having trouble getting summer school money for the players. Obviously our recruiting budget it pathetic and for three years in a row we haven’t been able to finish a recruiting season or even get halfway through it and these dollars are really important for our program. Obviously recruiting is the lifeblood of the program and we want to be able to help our players go to summer school and be here so they can work out and get prepared for the season and get ahead in their classes a little bit. It’s a really important time and we want to do that locker room update as well which will help us in recruiting. Our team, we’ve won championships and been to the NCAA Tournament multiple times in the last decade. They deserve a nice area to be in and certainly a championship program should look like one.