bleedCrimson.net: You picked up a pair of wins on the road this past weekend at Bakersfield and Grand Canyon. You talked about Bakersfield being one of the most competitive teams in the WAC and I thought the Aggies played well particularly in closing out the sets.
Mike Jordan: Yeah, I challenged the team last week. Part of the growth process is learning how to compete. Sometimes we have a tendency to think Division I athletes are going to be competitive people all the time and that’s really not true. I think being competitive is something some of them have to learn. Many of them grew up the best player on their team and were never really challenged that much or come from backgrounds where nobody really challenged them that much. Learning how to compete is very important. I had a conversation with Don Ball our former tennis coach and Don said he thinks that those who grow up playing individual sports such as swimming or tennis, track and field, have a leg up in learning competitiveness early on. I think that’s true. I challenged them because I think the Bakersfield team is always excited to play and perform. They know that we’re a good team and they get up for us and I think they get up for everybody. I think they compete against everybody. They understand their deficiencies that they’re not real big but they play their butts off. They’re fun to watch. I think you can come out on top if you’re a super competitive group and win some games that maybe you’re playing against better talent. I challenged us to rise up to their competitive level or try and surpass it. I told them I’m not sure what I’m going to see but I’m looking forward to seeing something different from us. I think they took that as a challenge and did a good job with it.
bc.net: Megan Hart had five kills on six swings, eight block assists and a couple of digs in that match. How is her progression going as far as reintegrating into playing volleyball after her injury?
MJ: Sitting out that long and not doing anything for the entire year, I think she’s starting to feel more comfortable as the days go by with the knee, that it’s solid and repaired and she doesn’t have to worry so much about it. I see her jumping bigger, moving a little quicker which is great. From here on out it’s just figuring out how to play volleyball. She’s got limited experience and a huge ceiling. It’s exciting. She’s starting to get a little bit better. Yesterday she blocked a couple of balls back to back that were impressive in her reach and her ability to go get people is really, really impressive. I just want to see more and more of that and I think we’re starting to. We feel more comfortable each week it seems in setting her and setting her in critical situations and counting on her to deliver a block. She’s been showing steady improvement and I’m hopeful we can get the same kind of progress out of a couple of her younger teammates in the middle.
bc.net: The Grand Canyon match you sweep them but you have another match where you have significantly more kills but play close sets. What did you see in that match?
MJ: Some things I liked and a little bit of what we still are which is an error prone group. When you look at a box score and see 15 or 20 more kills you think you’re going to look at scores that are pretty lopsided. Even when get past 10 kills you should see a score that’s a little more lopsided. We’re in a lot more games because every once in a while we’re scoring the other team, half their points with errors and such. Really you want to keep that number somewhere around five per set and that would be attack errors, service errors, net violations, ball handling calls. If you’re under five you’re doing great but sometimes we’re close to 15 and that’s pushing the limits of anyone’s sanity.
bc.net: Obviously a lot of what you’re seeing is correctable, even in the first weekend I didn’t see glaring weaknesses that are going to be season-long problems. What will it take for the players to get past it?
MJ: I think you’re correct in saying they’re correctable mistakes the thing to understand is they’re not correctable overnight. It’s not an X’s and O’s thing where it’s, “Stand over here, you’re out of position.” A lot of it is technical, a lot of it is decision making and the ball bounces to fast back and forth, those choices have to be made in a split second and it’s difficult to do. I’ve seen progress from us. I think we’ve talked in the past about attack selection and our players are doing a better job. Some of them significantly better but some of them are in that learning curve and they’re going to make those mistakes. Sometimes we’re guilty of trying to do too much, particularly at the service line. We’ve had quite a few instances this year where we’ve scored a point, gotten a good serve out of somebody and then they went back and hit it five miles an hour harder and hit it out of bounds and you ask yourself why? You just hit a great serve that created stress on the opponent, do the same thing. Don’t try to load up and score an ace in that situation. They’ve got things to learn, they’re just not fixable overnight. We’re going to have to continue to every day in practice to have the conversation to point them out and work on the technique. I like the group. I think they get it in theory. It’s just a matter of are we working on the right thing and when we do I think we’ll show that progress.
bc.net: You’ve got four straight matches at home and then you don’t play UNM until the following Sunday. You basically have three straight weeks at home. How helpful is that to address a lot of stuff. Talking with other coaches, they all agree that when you’re on the road all the time one of the things that happens is you get slippage because you don’t have enough time to practice.
MJ: Absolutely. We’re excited to hopefully get some more practice time specifically with the younger players, Combs, May, Megan Hart, Brigette Lowe, Megan Mattie, those players as front row players will really benefit from it. We’re going to have some issues unfortunately because Jordan doesn’t really practice because of her foot, we have to limit Sasha and Tatyana’s reps and so they don’t practice as hard every day or sometimes at all. It’s hard to get the work in when you’re dealing with those injuries. You just manage it as best you can and try to make improvements where we can. One thing we can do is watch more video. Players can spend more time watching the match video and checking out the practice video. We’ve got them doing a lot of that and hopefully we’ll see benefits.
bc.net: Tomorrow night you’ve got UTEP, Saturday night you’ve got Rio Grande Valley who has started off well in conference play. What do you know about you’re two opponents?
MJ: I think UTEP has improved. Their record isn’t great but they’ve gone five with some pretty good things. I think they’re more athletic, they’re a better group than they’ve been in the last couple of years. We’re certainly going to have to play well to win.
UTRGV is a completely new team almost. They’ve got their best couple players back from last year but they’ve added some foreign kids and them along with Seattle are two of the three most foreign laden rosters in Division I volleyball. They’ve really revamped the program going the foreign route and it’s paid off for them. They’re a very good team. I was a little surprised they lost a Bakersfield considering how well they’ve been playing but they’re a team that can beat a lot of good teams as is evidenced because they beat Baylor and Baylor has a lot of good wins under their belts. The team can play and it’s going to be an interesting match.
bc.net: When you face teams like Seattle or Rio Grande Valley who have a lot of international players, do you see a different style of play?
MJ: Not necessarily, most of the Europeans like a higher ball so the offenses sometimes are a little higher but I think what we see more than anything is players who are more experienced. These kids play from a very young age and they play a lot so they’re thousands of reps ahead of a lot of their counterparts here in the US. A lot of them play at the national team level so they’re going and playing a lot of other teams in Europe and they get a lot of international experience. It pays off at this age, there’s no question. They’re more prepared to be successful coming in than the average 18 or 19 year old.