bleedCrimson.net: You picked up a pair of wins last week, a sweep against UTEP and a sweep against UTRGV. The UTEP match was a lot of the same stuff we’ve talked about the last two or three weeks where you have a huge advantage in kills but are playing close sets and then the UTRGV match you have a match where the kill numbers are close but the set scores look more like what you would have expected from the UTEP box score.
Mike Jordan: Yeah, they were two completely different matches. Both were sweeps but the UTEP match was a lot of the same for a couple sets which is us scoring our points and theirs for them as well and making it closer than it needed to be until the third set. Again, it’s not an overnight fix. We’re not going to go from one week to the next and show huge improvement. We’re just hoping to limit the number of sets in which we get high error. I think if you start seeing us go from nine or ten errors a set to six and seven more often, if that’s our high watermark, then we’re making progress. We do that some sets. We can have as few as two or three unforced errors but it’s consistency throughout a match that we’re looking for and we just haven’t reached that yet.
UTRGV we did a lot of things right for two sets and they were a little bit more high error than normal. We did a good job of defending them and giving ourselves transition opportunities to score. I think a few of our players offensively played well and I think pretty much everyone played well defensively. I was happy with that effort. The third set they made a switch which kind of threw us for a loop for a little bit. We finally got it figured out and made the adjustments we needed to make but I think it was a pretty good performance. Not unbelievable. We had a couple of players struggle offensively but I think we did what we needed to to get a win against a good team.
bc.net: One player that didn’t struggle in the two matches offensively was Megan Hart. What are you seeing from her when she has a match like she did against UTRGV?
MJ: She’s improving and she’s giving better effort in the movement part of the game which is critical as a blocker and an attacker. She’s got to get along that net, jump quickly at times, jump bigger other times. But she’s making better effort. She gets more confidence all the time. I think our confidence in setting her the ball is growing all the time. We’re starting to do that a little bit more than we did obviously early. And she wasn’t even playing the first couple weekends, she saw very limited times. I think the growth we’re seeing the last month has been really good. She still has a lot to improve on obviously. She could be the surprise player of the year. She’s someone I think we could wind up setting twice as much as we’re doing now by the end of the season and if we can do that and she keeps putting up similar numbers as she is now, we’re going to be tough to beat.
bc.net: Lexi May got some playing time against UTEP and she’s a player who is getting some playing time here and there. She along with Megan Hart give you some big physical presence at the net.
MJ: We like the length obviously. Megan is 6’4” and Lexi is 6’5” and both can do things. They’re not great players yet obviously but they provide that length which can be really beneficial at times. When they are available I think they’re pretty easy to set, the window is pretty high there and they’re both low error which we really need in the lineup. It allows us to play Sasha on the antennas a little bit more which I think makes us a little more difficult to defend at times. With Lexi I think right now she’s our best quick attack blocker so she’s starting to do a better job of stopping an opponent’s quick hitter than anybody else we have. There’s definitely reason to play her more. Who comes off the floor is the question. Where in the lineup does she fit. We’ve just got to continue to work at that. I think it’s something we do with our team anyway, we try to make them as versatile as we can. We don’t ask them to play just one position, we ask them to play all three front row positions at times to get comfortable doing that. The better she gets playing on a pin, it’s probably going to open up even more playing time for her.
bc.net: How pleased are you with the diversity in your offense right now? With the exception of a few matches where you’ve had Jordan Abalos go for over 20 kills in a match, you’re getting pretty even kill numbers across the board.
MJ: It’s not bad. It was just four players early in the season and we’re starting to see a little more from a couple others and that’s great. That makes us even more difficult to figure out and defend. Our confidence in setting people certain things is improving too. Some players are very good at hitting a high ball but struggle with a lower tempo set and as they get better at that, it opens up the amount of things we can do. I think we’re starting to get to that point. It’s not an overnight deal but we’re working at it.
bc.net: How do you feel your team, especially with the amount of youth you have on the team, has handled being the hunted team? Obviously everybody in the WAC is out to get you, you’re the league favorite and haven’t lost a conference match in a while but a lot of that was built on players who aren’t there anymore.
MJ: We haven’t handled it as well as we need to. We certainly haven’t handled it as well as we did last year which is to be expected with a younger group. I think we’ve got to learn to be consistent in the way we train and the way we compete. We’ve just been inconsistent doing that at times this year and it comes back and it haunts us. We need a more vocal presence on the floor when things aren’t going well. We need people who are pointing people in the right direction more often in practice and in matches out on the floor. We need people who are gonna rally the troops to get people competing again if they sense a lull. Lackadaisical isn’t the right word but I think sometimes we’re guilty of not stepping on the other team’s throat when we have a chance. If we come out at the end of the break and we’re up 2-0 we have a tendency to really… it seems like we’re sleepwalking for part of that third set and that can’t happen. You let teams back in the match by doing stuff like that. We’ve got to get better at it. I think they understand it in theory but you’ve got to go out and do it.
bc.net: How much of that has been impacted by the fact that Jordan Abalos isn’t practicing a lot and you’re having to limit the reps for Sasha and Tatyana and so the younger players aren’t having that upperclassmen voice in practice as much as they would if they were practicing all the time?
MJ: Well, those things are issues for us but they shouldn’t stand in the way of leadership. You can be a great leader and not play. You’ve just got to pay attention and be diligent and have your finger on the pulse of your team. I think sometimes players wait for somebody else to do the leadership piece or they’re just a little bit nervous to open their mouths especially after they’ve made a mistake or two themselves. They tend to think, “Well, I’m not playing great so can I really step up and say something.” It’s not about the level of play, it’s about saying the right thing. Volleyball is a game where you’re going to make mistakes and no one is free from that. I think players put too much weight on that for being a leader or not being a leader. I think it really comes down more to are you paying attention to your team and do you have the desire or maybe the guts to say what needs to be said sometimes.
bc.net: This week you face UMKC, Chicago State and then UNM on Sunday. What do you know about those three teams?
MJ: UMKC is really good. I think they’re the most efficient offensive team in the conference numbers-wise. They’ve got two of the best players in Hagedorn and Mosier. They’re athletic and well coached and can really do some things to bother you. They do have some weaknesses as we all do that can be exploited. I expect it to be a really good match. I think it always is with them. They’ve got a senior presence on their team that we don’t have and I hope that we rise up to the challenge.
Chicago State is an improved team. They got their first [conference] win against Grand Canyon. They’ve taken some sets off some people. They’ve benefitted from some transfers and I think they’re going to be a little bit tougher to deal with. You can’t overlook anyone. Grand Canyon figured that out. They were up 2-0 and apparently stopped competing and Chicago State played better and beat them. You’ve got to pay attention to what you’re doing when you play a team like Chicago State and make sure you understand you’re trying to take steps forward as well. There’s always a lot you can get better at and hopefully we’ll do that.
UNM is a rivalry game, they’ve been struggling a bit, surprisingly with the amount of seniors and veteran players that they have. But they’re physical and they’ve played a pretty good schedule and on their home court they’re very tough to beat. I’m sure it’ll be a good crowd and having played our third match in four days I think it’ll be a little bit difficult for us physically but you go up and compete your butt off and get it done.