bleedCrimson.net: Obviously a disappointing loss in the conference tournament and an earlier end to the season than you'd hoped for. What did you talk with your team about after the match?
Mike Jordan: I congratulated them on a good season. Winning a regular season title and 23 matches up to that point is a big deal with the young team. We had a couple of people, Jordan Abalos and Sasha-Lee Thomas who battled through a lot of aches and pains to keep playing. There are some really important things that need to be mentioned. You have to applaud persistence. I think this team was pretty persistent. The downside obviously with the loss was the errors and that's been an issue all year long. We've just got a few people who are struggling getting outside their comfort zone and making the right choice attacking it. We made a lot of errors, 11 attack errors in the first set. Our setters doubled two balls. We netted. I think we gave them 14 points and we lose by two. And then we do the same thing in the fourth set and lose by two. You've got no one else but yourself to blame. I didn't think UTRGV played that great, they were just low errors. They kept the ball in play and gave it back to us and we errored out and that's not the way you win ballgames. They've got talent. UTRGV beat Baylor, that's no fluke. They've got talent, they have a couple of pretty good foreign players and they did what they needed to do to win and we just kept helping them and that's the downfall unfortunately.
It's frustrating to keep going through that. One of the things I talked about yesterday at practice preparing for this match, at some point you take a hit over the head like that loss and you have to internalize why that's continuing to happen. As coaches we have two choices. We can either keep rolling them out there and hoping that eventually they get it or we say they've had enough time and it's time for someone else to get an opportunity. We're kind of at that looking into the offseason. It'll be an interesting offseason for sure.
bc.net: Fans see Jordan and Sasha-Lee running around the court trying to make plays but it sounds like they were more injured than they appeared out on the court.
MJ: Well Jordan looks it. She's just gotten worse and worse with that knee. Sasha is okay. Our plan with her, we rest her during the week. The problem is you can't improve your game enough when you're sitting on the sidelines. We needed Sasha and Jordan learning to attack the ball better, be more deceptive, swing across their body more, those types of things and we just couldn't get those done because of the limited practice time. Hopefully the offseason rest before we start up in the spring will help cure those ails. I think Jordan in particular definitely you could see it. She was limping around, not jumping like she was earlier in the year for sure. I think Sasha is okay, I think it's just a matter of other teams are working hard to stop her, they're taking away her tendencies and she's got to learn to attack around them and find other ways to score and she just hasn't developed that yet.
bc.net: One of the things we didn't talk about was Ariadnne Sierra being named the Libero of the Year obviously that's a big deal for her and for the team.
MJ: Yeah we're proud of her. She makes a lot of plays. I think when we look at the video after we play and after all the practice stuff too, she consistently grades out at a higher level. She doesn't have too many bad games. I think only twice this year did she get a low grade. She scored well in 80 percent of our matches. She really had a good year and I'm glad she got that recognition and the exciting part is she still has room for improvement.
bc.net: Tonight's match against UTEP, how do you approach playing time since you don't have the NCAA Tournament match to think about. Is it maybe a chance to sit a couple of players and let some of the younger players get some playing time?
MJ: Yeah, here we are a few hours before the match and I still haven't decided exactly how we're going to go. You're torn between winning the match and maybe doing some experimenting. It feels kind of like a spring match. There's really nothing on it, it's not important from a won/loss standpoint for either team. It's a rivalry game so that kind of holds there and it's a home court game for them. I know they're going to play well, they've been playing well. I don't know, we'll see. I think we'll let the match dictate what we do but there's a good chance that we could change lineups throughout the match.
bc.net: It's obviously an important offseason for all of the young players who got playing time this year. What will you be working on with them?
MJ: It's skill polishing. Some of them have to become better ball handlers. Some of them have to learn to attack the ball away from their body line. Everybody needs to become a better blocker. We spend a lot of time on detail and specific skill. You see the progress. Tatyana Battle is a great example. Tatyana really wasn't able to play in the back row as a freshman and now she's back there. She's not great yet but she's solid. It helps the team when you become a better, well-rounded player. I think we've got to make some tough decisions on who is likely going to play where. We may have to position switch one or two players and you really have to have a plan and a vision in the spring so we've got to map that out pretty soon.
bc.net: You had a couple of players playing out of position this year that you've talked about throughout the season. Obviously that is out of their comfort zone, how do you feel they handled that and you like to have players who are able to play different positions. Is that situation that even though it wasn't idea, will it be beneficial down the road?
MJ: They handled it okay. Sasha-Lee played more right. We needed to locate the ball better to her, try to get her some more swings. She did okay over there, wasn't great all the time but she was okay. Brigette Lowe for instance playing the left, she's played the right her entire life and so when we asked her to move to the left for a rotation, she looks terrified. We're going to have to learn to get her to calm down and relax a little bit when she plays over there. She's capable, it's just confidence, getting outside your comfort zone, that kind of thing. You also have to get to a point where your teammates can trust you. When you look terrified or you look frustrated, your teammates can see it and that's not a good vibe to have on the floor when you're playing. So we've got to get these guys at ease with moving positions and playing in different spots and once they get there we'll be fine.
bc.net: How big a jump do you think or expect Crash Parker make from this season to next season?
MJ: Well we need her to make a big jump. She's certainly capable. She does some things innately that I think give her a leg up on improvement. I think she's a very smart kid and theoretically she gets things. It's just a matter of going out and getting her the reps. I think she's eventually going to be very good at what she does.
bc.net: Looking back on the season what's the thing you're most pleased with with this team?
MJ: I just think we found ways to win in spite of our inconsistencies and our youth and lack of depth, our injury issues. All of that stuff weighs on you and we just kept finding ways to go out there and battle and make plays late. We won a lot of five setters which is a great sign moving forward. I just think this team found ways to get things done most nights. It wasn't pretty. It was a very hard season in terms of coaching, very difficult to bring so many young players together, make the switches we made consistently throughout the year. You feel like you come out of a washing machine every time we played. Our team was persistent, we use that term a lot. I think they did a good job of that.
bc.net: You mentioned the five set matches. This club played as many five set matches as last year's team and obviously a much less experienced team this year and you only lose the one five set match at the beginning of the season. From a mental toughness standpoint, what does that say about the team and the kind of mental toughness you're trying to build into them?
MJ: I think it says a lot. Comparing the two teams is not something I like to do because last year's team was a lot better and they should have been and the preseason competition was a little bit tougher a year ago, we went with five with Wichita State and Texas A&M, those kind of teams in the preseason. But I also don't want to underestimate what this team did. I think this year's team was very persistent in matches and to win those matches and give ourselves more confidence going forward with a team that we know should be much better next year if we put in the work, we can look back and say we won 23 or 24 matches with a team that I don't think anybody expected to win that much, except maybe some of our fans. They always expect that. I think in a lot of ways we're excited about what we've done this fall and we're very optimistic moving forward.