Oct. 24, 2011
Lady Vol head volleyball coach Rob Patrick spoke with the media today at the football media luncheon.
"The season has been I guess a little surprising. That's the first thing I can say about this season. We are 18-3 and 11-1 (in conference play) after losing our All-SEC player, All-American, Kayla Jeter before the season started. We had some minor injuries, where we had to change our offense basically three days before the start of the season, and basically playing three freshmen and two sophomores or four freshmen in a majority of our matches. Surprising is a word I would use to describe this season so far, but probably one of the most competitive groups of young ladies to put on the uniform, a group of young ladies that are very coachable, and that don't know better. They are freshmen. They don't know the history of the Florida series or the LSU series, where we hadn't really won at their place in a while. Just being able to go and compete without having anything else on their mind except volleyball has carried us through."
On how sweeping an opponent encourages the team's play
"The one thing that it helps is that it shows that we are on task. To have a young team be able to play at that level for that period of time is very encouraging for us as a coaching staff. They have been able to take the game plan and then take it out onto the court. That sometimes is one of the hardest things to do. They all know how to play volleyball. The speed of the game is different and obviously there are some technique things that we work with them on, but the game plans are a real big difference for a high school player coming into college. All of the film work that we do in getting ready with our team, and they have been able to really implement that onto the court. One of the things you will notice is if you look at our matches is that if you look at a team's average hitting percentage as a team, we are holding them between 50 and 100 points below what they normally hit. We played Georgia this Sunday, and they are hitting like .240 and are third or fourth in the conference in hitting percentage. We held them about 100 points below of what they normally hit. That is due to the game-planning we do and our young ladies being able to carry that out. Winning 3-0 brings a lot of confidence to the team. Here are these young ladies who don't know what it is to lose and expect to win when they walk out there. Not hoping to win, they just expect to win, and when you win 3-0, that brings a lot of confidence to the team."
"DeeDee actually started off a little bit slower than we needed her to at the beginning of the year. She has really come on very, very strong since the second weekend of the year. Since we started SEC play, she has really picked up her game to another level. The other thing about DeeDee, we always expected her to be very strong offensively and she is doing a great job of that again this year, but she is leading the conference in blocks, and that was something she really needed to work on. She has been a force now not just offensively at the net but now defensively, and that has been a little surprising although it shouldn't be because we have been working with her on it for a couple of years. Kelsey Robinson is really the story that is really interesting, and I'm very proud of her. She finished the season last year and looked at her stats. We always have our meetings at the end of the year, and she wasn't happy with her performance. One of the things that great players like her, when they come in, they think they can prep kind of what they did in club and high school and be successful collegiately. Some people like her, until they see a little bit of failure in that, they won't make the changes. She has been very coachable. She is a very coachable young lady, but she wanted to do it her way first. She realized that is not going to work. We sat down and we spoke after the season, and I said you need to get stronger, that's number one. Number two, you really need to work on these types of hits and shots and those types of things. To her credit, she and Kayla Jeter were the hardest working players in our off-season. They went in on their own and stayed here all summer. She actually didn't take classes second session of summer school so she could work out even more to get ready for the season. She really changed who she was as a player and even mentally became a more disciplined player, a more mature player. Instead of after taking one swing and maybe not getting a kill, the next swing she says I have to get a kill somehow and makes an error. She will take three swings in one rally, and good swings, and not worry about not getting that kill. She has taken over 1,000 swings, more than twice as many as any other player, and still hits for a pretty good hitting percentage with that many swings with a whole opponent's defense geared to stop her. She has done an incredible job of getting ready for the season, and wouldn't be able to play at the level she has been this year if she didn't do what she did from January through August."
On the battling back from adversity against Ohio earlier this season
"Ohio and Maryland, both of those matches we were down. Maryland had a couple match points against us in the third set. There were two matches in that tournament that our kids at some point, me coaching, me getting on them, me trying to push them wasn't going to change anything. You have to give credit for their perseverance and how they are able to play big points. That is the one big thing. I talk a lot about our 2004 and 2005 teams. Those two teams were the most competitive teams that I have ever been associated with. They also have been teams that have played big points better than any team I have ever been associated with, and there are many, many similarities to that team back then are in this team. They play big points better than just about any team we have ever had, and they do it at such a young age. If you go back and look at our scores and all that type of stuff, we have been in seven five-set matches and have won five of them. We have been in a lot of two-point sets and have won a vast majority of those two point sets. If you look at them and we are down 24-22, you would think it was the beginning of the match where the score is two all. They don't change, they don't get excited, they don't get down, and they don't get stressed out. They play at a pretty even keel, and that is fantastic. The problem is sometimes we play a little bit to low energy at the beginning of matches, and that is one thing we are working on is to get a little bit more energy at the beginning of matches. The one thing they do is play very even keeled, which is great, and play big points. They will take the big swing and not make errors. That is something that will carry you through some of the tight matches that you're going to have against good teams."
On if it is unusual that the team controls its own destiny in the SEC
"It is unusual. Our goal is to win the SEC Championship every year. That is something we talk about before the season and in our offseason we are preparing for that. Florida obviously has a lot of advantages in what they have been able to do over an extended period of time, and most teams are always looking up. We (the SEC) have a lot of good teams. LSU, Kentucky, Arkansas and Alabama have been very good and given any team trouble. Ole Miss has had some good matches. To be in the position that we are, specifically this year, is surprising. Again, I really thought we had a great chance to do some incredible things this year if we are healthy. We lose Kayla Jeter. We lose Kylann Scheidt at the beginning of the year and all of a sudden we are running a 5-1 offense with a freshman setter and playing Illinois at Illinois, who was ranked number one the last couple of weeks. When we came out of that match and lost in four sets, it was basically all two-point games, I really felt we had something special even though it was a loss. The two matches (Ohio and Maryland) that we were able to come back and keep plugging away and grind it out and watching us play against the number one team in the country. It took everything they could to beat us as we literally had four freshmen on the court most of the match. I felt we had something special that we could do. I didn't know until we got into the season if we could accomplish the numbers that would help us be successful. When I say that, there are certain numbers that are very specific to being successful. One is team hitting percentage. The other one is kills per game by the team and sideout percentage. I didn't know if we could develop those types of numbers with the young team we have, and in a 5-1 offense, but we have been able to do that. We're averaging over 14 kills a game and holding our opponents to 11. We are able to hit at a pretty high percentage as we are second in the conference in hitting percentage. We have the numbers that are allowing us to be in the driver's seat right now."
On the play of Mary Pollmiller
"That is a pretty special kid there. There are two things that drive our offense: one is ball control and our passing and the other one is our setter. We run a tempo offense. One of the things that help our young players is the type of offense that we run. Normally it takes a setter a while to figure out the tempo that we set. The other thing is that they come into our program and they don't know any of the hitters. They haven't played with them before. A middle set to DeeDee Harrison is completely different than a middle set to Shealyn Kolosky. An outside set to Kelsey Robinson is completely different than an outside set to Tiffany Baker. All of that type of stuff takes time, and the one thing is that Mary works harder than really anyone. She is in doing individual work five days a week on her own. I have walked past the gym, and she is tossing the ball to herself and setting the ball to the tempo that we need. She has put in the time, so when you see someone put in that type of time, then you are not surprised. The other thing is that she has been somebody that's a sponge in terms of taking the coaching. Anything that we tell her, it is never an argument of `I did this because, "It's always OK, I got it, and we will do that next time. She really implements what we want to do as a coaching staff very easily and very quickly. Those things have allowed her to be a top 10 setter in the country in terms of assists per game if you judge it by that. She has been able to do that because of her hard work and being open to the coaching that we have been able to give her."
On how the great start affects recruiting
"Volleyball is a little different than I think other sports. We are done with 2012 recruiting, and we already have a commitment for 2013. Our recruiting is so far ahead, it's a little ridiculous to be quite honest with you. Obviously winning helps. Number one, being at Tennessee is huge. It is a name that everybody around the country knows. I don't have to tell them where we are. I don't have to tell them who we are. Our football, basketball, softball and all of these sports are on TV. We have been on TV nationally. I have gotten more texts and calls and that type of stuff from recruits about seeing our match against Florida on ESPN. We won that in five. It was a great volleyball match. We played Kentucky on ESPN, and it was another great match. The people and teams know about our program. We have been in the Final Four just a few years ago, and we are in the NCAA Tournament every year. Those are things that people kind of know that are out there, so we just have to see if they are the right fit for us. It's a little bit easier than when I came here 15 years ago, I felt like a preacher running around the country trying to extol the virtues of Tennessee. Now I really don't have to do that very much. I can be very specific with recruits about how they can help us and that type of thing. Obviously winning helps a lot. People want to be with winners and people want to play with the top players. Tiffany Baker was one of the top five players in the country. We had two top 10 recruiting classes in the last two years, so people see that and want to play with great players. We can talk about the future with future recruits about how good we are right now, but also that doesn't change because we have no starter that graduating next year. We have everyone returning, plus Kayla Jeter coming back, so we are very excited about that."
On the match against Florida
"Florida is a great team. They do one of the hardest things in sports, and that is to play at a very, very high level consistently for many years. So they are a team that is very physical. Their number one recruiting class that they had four years ago are now all seniors. I think they start four seniors on their team. Right away we are under the eight ball. They have more experience than we do. They've had players that have played 100-110 matches in their career. Most of my team has played 18 or 20 matches in their career. It is not so much about person, for person and we are just going to go up there and beat them. It is going to be about us grinding out every point. It was a great volleyball match at their place. Florida played very well and we played very well, and it was one of those matches that it is kind of sad someone had to lose because both team played at a very high level I thought. It is going to come down to grinding out every point, and that is what our team is really, really good at. If we can continue to just grind and not worry about what happened, we get on to the next point pretty quickly. We are not going to fake Florida out with something new or anything like that. They are going to come at us. They have two All-Americans on their team; Kristy Jaeckel and Kelly Murphy are just tremendous players. It's not like we are going to stop them and have them hit zero. We're going to have to slow them down as best we can, and we are going to have to play as clean a game as we can. We can't give them anything. They are a very tough serving team. They are very physical. They make the court look small. That is the one thing that I have always said about Florida teams. If you look at them on tape, they have all these incredible athletes on the court, and they just make the court look small. How do you get a kill against this team? One thing that I was really excited about was we ball controlled very well, we served very well and our players played fearlessly. That is something that is really hard for players to do against a team that wins all the time is to play fearlessly. That is another word that I use to describe this team is that they are fearless. They don't care who they are playing. We played Illinois. Illinois has two All-Americans on their team. We went at them, played as hard as we could and looked up at the scoreboard after and realized we lost. We did the same thing against Florida, looked up at the scoreboard and, "Hey, we won." That's what is really neat about this team. You can't really tell what the score is by looking at their faces. When somebody finally blows the whistle and says the match is done, they are like OK. We have been very fortunate to walk off the court victorious."