bleedCrimson.net: Your team picked up two wins last week against UMKC and Chicago State but lost at UNM. In the UMKC match you were playing out of system due to an injury to setter Crash Parker. How do you feel your team handled that situation?
Mike Jordan: It was a difficult adjustment. This team is not built for a 5-1, we’re built for a 6-2. We’ll scrimmage every once in a while with the setters in the front row but offensively we’re not really built for a 5-1. It was difficult at times but we got better as the match went on. We figured a few things out. Adapting to injuries is part of what athletes and teams have to do and we did an okay job of it. I don’t think we played great, I don’t think we were as sharp as we needed to be but I thought we made plays when we needed to.
bc.net: How do you think Brianna played with having to play all six rotations and having to play in the front row with the additional playing time from playing full time and playing a five set match?
MJ: She’s in pretty good shape and I think she handled it physically fine. It changes your decision making so that was a difficult adjustment but I thought she got better as the match went on and made some good plays for us.
bc.net: The team got down 5-0 in that fifth set, you called a timeout and then Jordan Abalos had two or three straight kills and Sasha-Lee really took over for the rest of that set. What did you see from those two players as far as leadership. It looked like Jordan was pretty vocal out there early in that set in getting you back into it.
MJ: They were certainly trying harder. I hope that’s part of the growth process for them. I see them working harder to make plays in crunch time and be a little bit more vocal leader. I thought they both did a really good job. We were working harder defensively, working harder to block balls and that definitely impacted the match. Sasha went to another level and it’s a level we saw at UNM on Sunday night, it’s a level we need to see her play at more often. I think when we locate for her, basically get the ball higher in the air and faster, she’s pretty tough to deal with. We’ve struggled at times doing that and to Sasha’s credit she’s kept her head up and kept working. Given better opportunities in transition, she could hit .400 a lot. It would be great if we could start making that happen more often.
bc.net: What did you see from your team against Chicago State in coming off that five set match against UMKC?
MJ: Again we had good kill numbers but our error numbers went extremely high again it happened a lot and we scored a lot of points for them and made sets closer than they needed to be. The way that impacts the match is it forces our regular players to stay on the floor a little bit longer. I’d like to some people off their feet but we don’t have a lot of depth certainly at the outside hitter position it’s a problem. So we’ve got to start managing the game better and being more functional. Chicago State to their credit extended some rallies and we errored out, we wound up making two good swings in a rally and then a tragic decision or attack choice and a bad hand contact and you’ve got yourself another attack error. It’s frustrating but again it’s not something that’s an overnight fix. It’s something we’re trying to address but the players just have to keep working at it.
bc.net: The UNM match on Sunday night was your third match in four nights, numbers-wise, scoring points for the other team finally caught up to you.
MJ: Yeah. It’s not a great situation playing three matches in four days and also having to travel up the day of. But our budget constraints don’t allow us to go the night before. Football can do that, they have the budget to do it, we don’t. So we travel the day of the game, it’s not great. It definitely makes life a little more difficult but it is what it is, we can’t do much to control that unfortunately. I don’t think that fatigue was truly a factor but maybe it was, I don’t know. All I know is we went high error in attacking it and then we added high error at the service line and that was just too much. When the ball was bouncing back and force, we were the better team the vast majority of the time but we just handed over free points. You’ve got a veteran UNM team on their home floor and you’re going to score 10 or 12 points per set for them, that’s tough to overcome, it’s almost impossible to overcome and we couldn’t. Again, attack choices, locating sets, out of system in particular. We’ve got to do a better job and put ourselves in better situations to score and put ourselves in fewer situations where we’re likely to make an error. It was our worst serving match of the year and unfortunately it came at a bad time.
bc.net: You’re halfway through the conference season. What’s your assessment of the team at the halfway point. What were you pleased with, what do they need to improve on? Obviously the high error part is something we talk about pretty much every week.
MJ: I see a team that is starting to grow together. We play for each other a little bit more. I sense a better competitive spirit about us. I think our confidence has grown some throughout the year which is great. I think we went from a team at the beginning of the year that with all of our youth and inexperience and the injury issues really wasn’t sure what was going to happen on a daily basis. We’ve got a pretty good feel for each other, they’re competing hard for each other for the most part. I think we need to train better during the week. You’ve got to have that competitive spirit in practice too and put yourself in as many game situations as you can and really make it count mentally. We’re certainly not a team that does that very well. We have trouble getting players on the floor with the injury and health issues. It’s been tough to scrimmage, that’s been difficult to overcome. I like the way the team is growing together. I think we’re doing fine.
The high error thing, obviously we’ve talked about it. It’s making me nauseous talking about it over and over again. I think the players have to get outside of their comfort zone. Work harder to get the balls, jump big, as opposed to decelerating and putting yourself in a position where you’re likely to make an error. We’ve got to work harder at that. We’ve got to be smarter, we’ve got to understand where we’re at when we’re jumping to attack. Are we on, are we tight, are we off? We’ve got to feel the blockers a little bit better. Those things, we work at it constantly. The players just aren’t as good at it as they need to be at times. Those are big deals for us. We’ve got to locate the ball to Sasha better, we’ve got to locate out of system better. But we play hard defensively. I think we’re an improving blocking team. Our service game has been really good all year with the exception of UNM. I think we’ve made progress. I think it’s been significant in certain areas but not fast enough in others. My time frame, what I would like to see, we don’t always get what we want obviously as coaches. But we’ve got to be persistent in the message we send to them and I think we are. Hopefully this last month of the season we’ll see some growth.
bc.net: Second time through WAC play, was there anything you saw the first time through that surprised you at all or was it a lot of the same of what you see every season with these teams?
MJ: I think that some of the teams that are in our conference are better than they were a year ago. I think some of them play differently than they did a year ago. There’s not as much consistency as you may think. I think getting prepared for this second half of the season, the big concern is we’re on the road for five of these seven matches. That’s going to be difficult because the travel in this conference is brutal. Getting places is an all day affair and it takes a lot out of you and we’re on the road for a long time, Wednesday to Sunday. That’s crazy. I think the tougher you are mentally, the more you’re excited to compete the better off you’ll be. I hope our team will be that. Utah Valley and Seattle coming up this week, they’re not going to be a lot different than when we played them a few weeks ago, it’s impossible. Neither are we. You make a lineup adjustment once in a while, maybe you’re a little bit better at something but you play to your strengths a lot, you try to shore up your weaknesses and hope the other team doesn’t abuse them too much. I think every team in this league is improving but I also think every team, including us, has some things that can be exploited. It’s just a matter of that day who does it the best.
bc.net: You talked about the mental toughness aspect. It feels like your team is quite a bit tougher mentally than where they were in the first week of the season, the five set loss to UCSB and that carrying over to the UNLV match the next day. Since that five set loss to Santa Barbara you’ve won all of your five set matches you’ve been in. Do you feel they’re significantly mentally tougher?
MJ: Yeah, I don’t know if significantly is the right work but I think we are tougher. I think we’re competing better. I think we have a little more confidence in ourselves and the players that are playing. That’s earned, we’ve worked hard for that. I think we’re definitely better in that area, I’m not sure significantly is the right word but I definitely see some improvement. Just because you do it a few times doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods, that you’re going to keep doing it. Every day is different and you’ve got all these players that play and if one or two of them happen to go soft mentally or don’t feel like competing or if they look for reasons to as to why they’re not performing well, it can go south just as quickly. It’s not something that really I think stays with you, I think you have to be that way every day. You have to make conscious choices. Hopefully we’ll do that every time we play in those tight matches.
bc.net: Two of your sophomores, Tatyana and Brianna got a lot of playing time last year as freshmen and maybe moreso for Tatyana it felt like she kind of hit a little bit of that freshman wall toward the end of the season. What do you feel like they’ve taken away from that first experience and can apply to the second half of this season?
MJ: Every time you take the floor you learn a little about yourself and both of them have done that. I think Tatyana in particular just needs to get stronger physically. I think she understands that about herself. I think mentally she is a stronger person. She’s a little more competitive, she’s looking forward to being a six rotation outside hitter more, she’s working harder for it. I’ve been proud of her in that aspect.
Brianna has a lot more responsibility on her shoulders than every before and she’s being asked to do things that she’s never been asked to do before. There’s a lot of newness for lack of a better word with her this year. It’s very difficult, it’s not an easy thing setting and being asked to do the things we ask our setters to do. You can struggle with your confidence because you’re being asked to set certain balls higher than ever before, faster than before, you’re being asked to be deceptive and make choices and be blockers and those are things that she’s just learning to do. For us to expect that she’s going to be great at them isn’t a reasonable expectation. To ask her to be improving at them and working at them all the time is the reasonable expectation. When she does that we see results. I think she’s got a lot of ability, otherwise I wouldn’t ask her to do as much as we’re asking her to do. I wish she were a junior or senior and had more time and more reps but she’s a sophomore and so is Tatyana. That responsibility when it’s given to you, you have to embrace it and you’ve got to accept it. It doesn’t matter how old you are. That’s just the way it is. I tell them all the time, you signed up for this and now you’ve got this responsibility and you should be excited for it and working hard to live up to it and not back away from the challenge of it. When they play well I see them really accepting responsibility and working hard and when they play poorly it’s when they second guess themselves. It’s when they’re not really truly competing. I think they’re hoping something good happens for them. They’re trying to stay in their comfort zone. We’ve got to get them outside that. I’m relentless when it comes to getting people outside their comfort zone.
bc.net: How much are those two able to help that large group of freshmen that you have with them having gone through it last year and playing significant minutes as freshmen.
MJ: I think they’re certainly capable. Are they doing a lot? I don’t know. We discuss that. Leadership qualities and taking time and getting outside yourself and helping others. I hope they’re doing it. I hope they’re doing more of it all the time. I see Sasha doing it more, I see Sasha doing it more. I think Bri and Tat are very, very nice young women. I think they’re the type that are trying to take care of their teammates. They do a pretty good job of trying to make them feel better or maybe relax them. I don’t know if they’re teaching as much as they could. That’s a question only they could really answer. There’s a lot going on in practice every day and during them matches. We can’t really see all of it. That’s a good question for them.