Oct. 30, 2009
BY AUSTIN BAIRD
Now that you're halfway through the conference schedule, how do you feel about the way the team has played?
We've been playing some really good volleyball. In the conference right now we're 8-3 and I feel really good about our position. We've been playing consistently well, and the teams that we lost to, it wasn't that we played horrible. It's just that they're top-10 and top-20 teams and played a little better on those particular days.
Losing in five at LSU and in four to a top-20 team in really close matches isn't a completely bad thing. One thing I've seen is that we're getting better every practice and we're getting better every match. That's why I'm excited about the second half of the season.
Obviously it would've been nice to beat LSU after knocking off a team as good as Kentucky. What made the difference?
When we played LSU here, they just made a few plays that Kentucky didn't make. In both matches, we took some big swings, we had some great serves and we were passing the ball fantastically.
LSU made some great blocks and digs in transition. For both of those matches, there were a lot of two-point sets and a lot of toughly contested points. We happened to make those big plays against Kentucky and against LSU, they made some big plays.
The thing I'm happy about, though, is that they had to make a big play to get anything against us to beat us. It wasn't like we made mistakes by serving balls out or hitting into the net. You can't fault our kids because we played very hard and very consistently. When two top 20 teams play, somebody has to lose. Unfortunately it was us last Monday, but we've already learned from it and we'll play better because of it.
You play Ole Miss and Arkansas on the road this weekend. What are your thoughts about that?
We've got to come back from a really tough weekend, with another really tough weekend. It's tough to play on the road: Mississippi is very good at home and so is Arkansas. You can look at our schedule and see that we've won a lot on the road this season, but when you go into somebody else's house you have to come out and play consistently. If we can control the ball like we have been doing and continue passing and digging well, I feel very good about our chances. We're playing the second half of this season with a lot of the top teams at home. Florida we get to play at home, Kentucky at home and six of our 10 final matches overall are at home. Even though we're on the road this weekend, we'll be a lot more comfortable down the stretch. We have great fans that come out and support us in these kinds of matches.
We're excited about finishing up strong and getting to the NCAA tournament.
Who do you consider the offensive and defensive MVPs so far this season?
You definitely have to look at Chloe [Goldman] as the defensive MVP. She's been passing the majority of the opponents' serves and making very few errors. As big as anything, she's been passing at a very high rate overall. It almost goes without saying, but she also just broke our all-time digs record and she's leading the conference this year in digs. That provides us a lot of opportunities to score points in matches, which is huge.
Kind of chickening out a little bit, I'll give a co-MVP for the offense. Nikki Fowler does so much for us: she hits for us, passes, digs and blocks. She fills up the stat sheet for us from top to bottom and does an incredible job every match. But another person that's been doing a great job offensively is Kayla Jeter. In conference she's been hitting over .300 as an outside hitter. That's phenomenal, especially against the teams we've been playing. LSU, Kentucky and Florida are all great defensive teams and for her to hit that consistently against them is really impressive. It says a lot about what she's doing out there.
Those two players are helping us a lot offensively but the other thing I have to point out is that we have a team effort to get there. We have three passers who are passing as well as anybody in the country: Kylie Marshall, Nikki Fowler and Chloe Goldman. They set up our whole offense. And defensively, Chloe's gotten a lot of digs in large part because Farren Powe and Leah Hinkey are doing a great job of directing the ball towards her with their block.
Any other thoughts about the rest of the season?
The one thing that we're really excited about is that we're still in the hunt for the SEC championship. There are four teams right now that are battling it out at the top. We're excited to face these teams down the stretch and to see who comes out on top.
Usually there are two teams, maybe three, but this is easily the closest race I can remember. It should be exciting to watch.