bleedCrimson.net: The team was able to pick up three wins at the Brown Invitational. What did you think about your team’s play?
Mike Jordan: The competition wasn’t like it was the weekend before obviously when we played Arizona, Sac State and Texas A&M but they were able to do some things against us to create some issues against us. Binghamton in particular. They received it well and when you pass it well and you get good swing after good swing you’re going to stay in the game. They pushed us late into sets. We were high error throughout a lot of that match and that made it closer than it needed to be. I thought in the other two matches we were fairly efficient, especially the last one against Brown. We settled down and started making better choices and attack selection. With this group when we’ve been high error, it’s trying to do too much with what you have. Sometimes you just have to get dug. You’re not going to get a kill on a particular set. We have to learn that. We do it at times but you’ve got to be consistent with it. There are times you have to be more aggressive working the ball off the top of the block. When we we’re able to do that we’re pretty good.
bc.net: That Binghamton match you got out to a big lead in the first set but end up losing that set. After the big lead, the rest of that match was really competitive. The second and third sets you had to fight off a couple set points in both of those sets. What did you see from your kids that allowed them to do that?
MJ: Late in those sets are probably the only times, in two and three, that we weren’t high error. We were able to settle down and make some plays and fortunately they made a couple attack errors late in games. But I think the majority of that match we were high error we just happened to be low error when we needed to most and came away with the win.
bc.net: The second set of the Brown match you didn’t have any errors in the set. What did you see that you liked in that particular set?
MJ: We made good choices. Our setters did a pretty good job of getting one on ones for us. Brown was not a good blocking team so they had a tough time dealing with our size and physicality. But for us to go errorless, somewhat of a small miracle with this group. It was a real positive obviously. To play that efficiently for that long is a real positive. I thought we did some real good things in that match and we stayed pretty focused and did what we needed to do.
bc.net: Coming off the home tournament playing against competition like Arizona and Texas A&M and the traveling out east and facing lesser competition, what did you like about how your team handled the weekend?
MJ: Travel was difficult there’s no question about that. The early morning match with Binghamton, that was a 10:00 start back there and so 8:00 here, obviously a little early. But they learned to go out and play. There’s no excuses and what if’s and no reason for not playing well and giving your best effort. We were able to experiment with the lineup again, I liked that opportunity. We’re still not settled in a couple of places and trying to come up with some answers in a couple of patterns. It gave us an opportunity to do some things that we might not have been able to do had we played Arizona and Texas A&M again. We got some answers and we learned some things. I thought our players handled the situation reasonably well. Certainly we weren’t always playing at the level of our capability but that’s to be expected with a group like we have this year. We’re not always going to play at the top of our level. Consistency develops with time and effort and improvements in your skills and your competitiveness. Hopefully we’ll keep doing that.
bc.net: Heading into the weekend you wanted to see some more from your sophomores and freshmen. Did you see what you wanted to from those groups?
MJ: We’ve been really worried about Tatyana [Battle] the last couple of weeks, she’s been playing with a rolled ankle that’s been bugging her. She’s starting to feel a little bit better on it. By the last match she said she was in really minimal pain and the swelling had gone down. We just needed to get her untracked and I thought she had a good last match and hopefully she’ll continue to build on that. She’s key for us. We need her to put up good solid numbers. That’s a big deal. The attack selection with our attackers obviously is very important. Jordan Abalos, she had the kind of weekend she did because of the shot selection that she chose. She was much smarter and was much more efficient than she had been in previous weeks. That was a good sign. I think she learned a lot. The young players, the freshmen in particular, Crash continues to develop as a play caller and decision maker. It’s hard as a setter when that ball is bouncing back and forth so fast you have to make so many split second decisions and try and create what you can offensively and she’s learning all that. It’s new to her. We see good progress from her. Every time she takes the floor she’s learning. We’re pretty pleased with some of the things we see.
bc.net: A little more on Jordan’s weekend. Obviously she put up the big kill numbers in the first and second matches and you haven’t had a player put up back-to-back 20 kill matches in four years and considering the fact that you’ve had players like Gwen is pretty impressive for her to do that. You talked about her better shot selection what else did you see from her this weekend. What did she learn this weekend?
MJ: As a third year player we’ve spent a considerable amount of time over the course of her career teaching her all the different ways she can score. Sometimes that with power, sometimes that’s without power. Sometimes it’s a little bit of target practice where you’ve got to learn to go high off the block and sometimes it’s cutting hard inside the block. As she’s gotten more comfortable and worked on those things over the course of her career she’s starting to use them now more in games. That’s really the big deal. Her shot selection, her choices she makes as an attacker based on what the defense is doing and the location of the set, she’s really getting better at that we hope and that’s really the main reason for her success. She got blocked a lot less than she had early in her career. She was more low error on the bad sets. She didn’t try to crush those bad sets when they’re too far off the net and you’re underneath it. Typically it was pretty commonplace for her to get underneath that and hit that ball long. Now she’s starting to take care of that a little bit better. I liked that about her. I loved the fact that she was more of a vocal presence with this team. This team needs that in a bad way and I don’t know that there’s any better person than her to start doing more of that given the fact that she’s playing in every rotation.
bc.net: You talked about going into the weekend wanting to see some more vocal leadership from some of your players and you didn’t face a ton of scoreboard pressure except in the Binghamton match. Did you see or start to see what you want from your players as far as leadership during those bad, stressful times?
MJ: I think so. It’s impossible for us to hear and see everything that goes on from the sidelines but I asked them a couple of times in timeouts, “What are we doing now when things are going very well. If you’ve made an attack error are you demanding the ball right now, are you looking each other in the eye, are you playing for each other?” I got a good response back from them when I asked those questions and I believed them. Had I asked those questions a week or two ago I don’t know that I would have gotten a very good response. I would have gotten a lot of silence. There would have been crickets chirping. But I think now they’re starting to understand and they’re working hard at it and that’s all you can ask for.
bc.net: What are some things that you’re doing better than you thought you would be doing and what are some things that aren’t quite where you thought they would be as you head into league play?
MJ: I feel like we’re doing a much better job of serving the volleyball. I think this team is one of the tougher serving teams we’ve had in quite a while here. We floor defend pretty well for the most part. We’re better than a lot of the teams we’ve played doing that. I think we’ve passed the volleyball better than most of the teams we’ve played. Where I think we really need to improve is the blocking side of it. Attack selection for some players. We’ve got to find more outs so to speak to get out of certain rotations. All-in-all I feel like there’s good growth and the players are trying hard and we’re making good progress.
bc.net: Seattle and Utah Valley this week. Seattle is one of the top teams in the conference and always seem to give you a tough match. What do you know about them this year, obviously Seattle lost their top player from last year as well.
MJ: They’re very good. They’ve played a tough schedule as has Utah Valley. I don’t think they’re going to be freaked out by what we do physically. I think they’ve seen better. I think both teams are well coached and they’ve got veteran players, good physicality. Seattle along with us is the toughest serving team in the league. That’s going to pose a problem. Utah Valley so far has been the best blocking team in the league. We’ve got our work cut out for us for sure.
bc.net: Obviously you don’t have any control over the league schedule but with this particular team is it more of a help to open up conference play at home whereas with last year’s team it might not have mattered where you opened up?
MJ: That’s a good question. I don’t know. The better team that night is going to win and when there’s a real even matchup, homecourt advantage can get you over the hump. We didn’t have to worry about that last year. We were the best team and it didn’t matter where we played. There was a big enough separation where homecourt advantage rarely came into play. I think this team could benefit from homecourt advantage. It depends on the size of the crowd but it’s still so early in the year that anything can happen. Neither team is going to play as consistently now as we will a month from now or two months from now when it’s conference tournament time. I don’t think the world ends if we lose but I hope that we’re competitive and ready to play. Winning every match from here on out is one of the goals and if it’s meant to be and we take care of business, so be it.