bleedCrimson.net: You survived the opening weekend of conference play. What were your thoughts on the two matches?
Mike Jordan: Survived is a good word. In the two matches I think we had 40 more kills than our two opponents and that’s a huge number. Any time you see that kind of disparity in kill numbers, typically you think it’s going to be a pretty easy win. I think that unfortunately we got very high error in some of those sets. We scored not only our points but we scored a ton of their points too. That’s frustrating. Just a lot of mistakes that really should not happen. We made attack errors with no block in front of us sometimes. We tried to avoid the block and hit balls wide. Just things like that. We tipped the ball out of bounds a few times. Frustrating from an offensive standpoint to be so much more dominant in the kill category but then to just hand so many points away. We’ve got to certainly make adjustments and move forward. But I will say this, any time you can get two wins against two solid teams that have played a lot of good competition and you didn’t play well the whole time, you’ve got to feel fortunate.
bc.net: The first two sets against Seattle just based on how they’ve played against you pretty much since they came into the WAC was a bit of a surprise. What were you able to do against them that was so effective?
MJ: Our service pressure was much better than theirs early in the match and we blocked a few balls early and I think they tried to avoid the block a lot and made some errors. It enabled us to get some easy points. We were able to go on a few significant point runs and really only gave up one of our own. After the second set we felt like we were pretty much in control and then we get up 23-20 in the third with a chance to close it out and they side out and get a kill. Then we make three errors in a row attacking the ball. That can’t happen and that eventually led to the third set loss and they extended us to five. Again, fortunate to have won.
bc.net: You mentioned Utah Valley being the best blocking team in the conference and they put up some big numbers. What did you see in that match as far as your team attacking their block?
MJ: They are a very good blocking team. They block mistakes. When you hit it low, especially when you’re out of system. They have a good shot at getting you. Unfortunately we did that a little too often. I’m not surprised by their block numbers against us. We’re an aggressive team that’s just going to keep banging away and they’re a very good blocking team. We made too many mistakes in attack choices and they can block some balls. They’ve blocked balls against a lot of really, really good teams. That wasn’t a surprise. Again, fortunately I think offensively we were better and we came up with 19 more kills against them and obviously we had our moments of looking pretty good but there were too many inconsistent moments and too many errors.
bc.net: What was your impression of your team in the two fifth sets, particularly against Utah Valley, you get down 7-3, 12-9 and 13-11.
MJ: Against Utah Valley we missed three easy digs in the first seven points and that’s not characteristic of this team at all. We’ve been very good defensively. We just had some hesitation going on for some reason. It almost came back to bite us. I was happy with the way we played late in sets in the fifth set games but certainly we’ve got to do a better job early in those sets.
bc.net: You’ve talked about having a couple of rotations that have given you problems and it looked like in a couple of the sets you had that happen again where a set was close, maybe 10-10 or 12-11 and the other team goes on a five or six point run. You had one set where you had a significant lead and it almost got away from you in one of the sets against Seattle.
MJ: There’s two different ways to look at the side out issues. The first would be do you have balance? Do you have multiple people that you can set in each rotation? There are a couple of rotations that we struggle with that in. I changed the lineup in both matches and went to lineups that I think are a little bit more balanced, not necessarily our best lineup but a little more balanced. Unfortunately when we did that a couples times we went real high error. We were able to set different people, we just didn’t execute well enough. I think until we fix that, either one of those issues, you’re going to see the possibility of an opponent going on a four or five point run. That’s scary. We can do that to teams because we defend so well and serve tough usually. We’re very capable of putting up four and five point runs but we’ve got to get to the point where we’re not letting our opponents do it back to us.
bc.net: How much of that is just having some players who are young and inexperienced having to fill those roles opposite of Jordan or Kassie or Sasha-Lee?
MJ: A little bit but at the same time they’ve got good arms, they’ve got size. We’ve just got to be comfortable calling their number in certain situations. I think we’re getting there, it’s just not an overnight fix. When they get their opportunities they have to capitalize. Brigette Lowe is a perfect example. Brigette will go hit .300 one match and then she’ll hit negative in the next or zero. They’ve got to develop some consistency. That takes a little time. She’ll get better each time out. And as we work on the skill stuff and attack choices, she’ll get smarter and do the right thing more often, execute a little bit better. There’s a lot of reason to be optimistic.
bc.net: We’ve talked a lot at various points over different seasons when you’ve had freshmen setters of how difficult it is to learn the offense on the fly while they’re playing. How difficult is it for the young players like Brigette Lowe or Megan Hart or Hannah Combs who are hitters to pick up the system while they’re trying to play collegiate volleyball for the first time and adjust to the speed of the college game?
MJ: The worst thing for an athlete is to stay in their comfort zone and all of these incoming players have been relatively successful in their lives kind of doing what they’ve done. But that usually does not translate to success at this level and they find that out pretty quick. The balls they hit get blocked more often, get dug more often. They’ve got to be versatile, make better choices. You can’t score with power all the time. In the case of Combs and May and Hart, you can’t rely on your height all the time. You’ve got to be able to do other things and do them well and that’s a hard lesson to learn and it’s difficult to get outside your comfort zone. It’s our job as coaches to get them outside that comfort zone as often as possible and teach them and make them better. They’re a hard working group. The key is to work hard at the right things. I think they’re learning that and I’m sure they will. It’s just going to take a little time.
bc.net: This week you hit the road for matches against Bakersfield and Grand Canyon. Bakersfield doesn’t have the best record but it’s a bit deceiving. They’ve played some really good teams.
MJ: Yeah and they also played the first couple of weeks without Grasso who is an All-Conference kid and the wheel that makes them go. They’ve been significantly better as she’s gotten back in the lineup and gotten healthy and they’ve played very well the last couple of weeks. It’s not easy to play there and they do a lot of really good things. From a competition standpoint they compete as well as anybody.
bc.net: Grand Canyon has a first year head coach so they’re learning a whole new system. What do you know about them?
MJ: I think they are well coached and they’re going to get better and better. I think they’ve been inconsistent but that’s to be expected. When you come in you change things and you’ve got players you’re learning to deal with and get to know, it’s not going to be easy that first year. It’s very difficult. I think they’ve competed well, they look like they’re a bit improved on video. Again, a road match. It’s not an easy place to play. We’re going to have to play well if we want to win.
bc.net: What improvements to do you want to see from your team this weekend?
MJ: Obviously we’ve got to minimize our attack errors and make better choices. Our set location needs to improve, particularly out of system and not just the setters but the non-setters as well, the people who step in and set a ball when a setter digs. We’ve got to do a better job of locating for those attackers. Totally fixable things. And again, I just want to continue to see us grow and be more mature and show our teeth a little bit competitively. If we do those things we’re just going to keep getting better and better. With the youth we have and people playing out of position, Sasha and Kassie play different positions a lot, I think we have as much room for growth as anyone in this conference. I tell them that all the time. We’re doing fine but we’ve got a lot of room for improvement and that’s an exciting thing. You’ve just got to go make it happen, otherwise you keep spinning your wheels and somebody is going to knock you off.