Coaches Look Forward to Omaha Regional

Read what the coaches of the teams competing in this weekend's regional had to say about this weekend's matches. Over 13,000 tickets have been sold for the Omaha Regional

Nebraska Head Coach John Cook Opening Statement "UCLA is good and we're going to have our hands full in Friday's match. The fact that the ticket sales are going so well in Omaha is going to make it a great event for all these student-athletes."

On the advantage of playing at the Qwest Center "I think it's a huge advantage that we not only played there, but played well there. So I think our players will have great confidence going in there knowing they had a lot of good feelings when we played up there in August. It's going to feel very much like a home match for us. That doesn't mean it's going to make us win or guarantee anything, I just think our players will have a great comfort level, and that's something you really want this time of year. Less stress, more comfort, so they are relaxed and can play their best volleyball. I think that's our biggest advantage."

On the intimidation factor of coming to play in the Qwest Center "Well if you ask them all, they'll probably say it isn't intimidating, but really for all of our players, how many of them have played in front of 12 or 13,000 before? So I think it's going to be a unique experience for all of them. The thing about the Qwest Center, which I've always called ‘Coliseum East,' I've always worried it's so big there. But the way they have laid that out, with the sport court and the chairs, it really feels pretty intimate there. The feedback from the AVCA (preseason) Tournament back in August was that the fans really enjoyed it. I think that's why you're seeing such great ticket sales, is because they felt a part of the action on the court. So there are a lot of positives with that, too. The other thing is that the Hilton is one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed in, and it's connected to the Qwest Center. It's a really, really neat setup, and it's just one more preview before the Final Four next year."

On what the other teams in the regional bring to the tournament "I'm sure every regional says they are the toughest, but if you look at where we're ranked, and our RPIs, we certainly have a very strong regional. Florida against Louisville should be a great match. Louisville I think is one of the tallest teams in the country. They have several Russians, a Chinese player, and more than a couple of U.S. players. So they're an international-type team. We played them last year, and they've got some outstanding players. Florida is as athletic as any team in the country. They have (senior) Jane Collymore, who is a great outside hitter. They have one of the top setters in the country in (sophomore) Angie McGinnis. (Sophomore middle blocker Kisya) Killingsworth is athletic as any middle blocker we'll see this year. So that should be a great match, and it could go either way. So I think people should expect what should be very similar to a Final Four-level of competition. All four of these teams are capable of getting to the Final Four, and it should be a great regional."

On what being knocked out in the second round of regional last year can do to help the team this year "The thing about this is that it's the third time we've gone into the NCAA Tournament seeded No. 1 in the last five years. What that says is that we're doing a great job during the season in managing our team and playing consistently at a high level. I think it's also reflected in how many weeks we've been ranked No. 1. But that doesn't mean anything once you get to this tournament. So far, we've shown that we're the top team, and we've proven that and been really consistent. But now it comes down to the fact that there are four matches left to win a national championship, and you have to play great. I think our players now have a better understanding of what it's going to take to get through this regional, based on last year. So I think that's the motivator. They know what it's going to take, they know how hard it's going to be. And they're just going to expect very close games and very close volleyball. And so I think we'll have a great mentality towards that going in, whereas last year, I'm not sure we understood that as well."

On what he has seen from UCLA "They are a typical Pac-10 team. They're going to play great defense, they ball handle well, they're athletic. They've got two freshmen that are playing great. Nellie Spicer, the setter, is doing a phenomenal job as a freshman. She flies all over the court and she's a lot of fun to watch. They have an outside hitter, (freshman Kaitlin) Sather who has really picked up the load since (junior outside hitter Colby) Lyman went out. And then (junior middle blocker Nana) Meriwether is very, very athletic and is probably going to get some kills where we'll do everything right and we still won't stop her. They're just a really well-balanced, solid team, and they've been playing their best volleyball the past month. They're as good as any team in this regional. You can't look at their record, because they went through some injuries early on. But you look at their last month of the season and they're playing great volleyball."

On the loss to UCLA in 2003 "Some of our players remember that. We're certainly much better and much more experienced than that 2003 team, and UCLA is probably a little less experienced than they were in that 2003 team. With these matches it's decided by, as I tell our team, who plays great in the defining moments, and the big points, and who's going to believe. I'm going to give them an example today that comes from Duke's basketball Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski that he has in his book that says, "luck favors those teams that trust each other.' On Sunday, when Duke was down by one or two with 1.6 seconds to go, and they hit a half-court shot to win it. I just think the teams that get to this point are going to believe deep down inside that they are successful, and you have to believe to win no matter what. I think our team is at a point, where they just believe they're going to win. However close it is this weekend, we're going to try to find a way to win."

On what challenges his team presents UCLA "I'm not sure they've played a team as physical as we are, with the exception of USC maybe. I think our blocking defense will create some challenges for them. And I think they'll have trouble matching up to us, assuming we can pass the ball. Every team has to pass the ball to be successful. But they'll have trouble matching up with us if we're in system a lot. We'll have ways that we can attack them. They're a great team, they're athletic, and it's going to be two great teams going at it."

On the scouting he had to do to prepare for this weekend's regional "The challenge is that you have to prepare to play two matches, if you believe you're going to be in Saturday's match. The way we approach it is that we're still going to work very hard on UCLA, but we're preparing for things we could see on Saturday as well. UCLA may come out with some things, so you kind of have to be specific, but be general. The thing that I really believe is that we go back and we work on our fundamentals. I'm going to make sure that this weekend we are fundamentally sound in all of our skills. So if we go back and rehearse last week and this week on a lot of fundamental-type drills that we do so that we're just really solid and have an understanding of what we need to do to be really good on our side of the net."

On the record-breaking season that senior middle blocker Melissa Elmer has had "She's proven that. She has played in almost every match since she's been here, after her redshirt year. Melissa certainly doesn't have the most talent as a lot of the other middle blockers in other programs, but she has willed herself into a great player. She's worked hard, extremely hard, she studies the game, and she makes adjustments. She has also taken the opportunity of our strength program and the training that she has been given, and she's made the most of it. So it's very rewarding as a coach in a program to see a player come through like that and become one of the all-time best blockers, not only at Nebraska but in all of NCAA volleyball."

On what role the spark from the bench will play in the regional "Your marquee players have to play well. That's the bottom line, and they know that and they expect that. However, when you get in these long matches, somebody coming in there to provide a spark can really make a difference. It's going to come down to two- or three-point runs in a game, so if (junior outside hitter) Dani Mancuso can come in or (freshman libero) Rachel Schwartz can come in and create a couple point runs for us, it might be the difference in a game. So that's where you'll see those players have their opportunities to impact the match."

On what is different about this team that will prevent a loss similar to what knocked out last year's team in the final round of the regional "Our players have worked really hard so that they would be healthy at this time of year, and that means physically and mentally good. Part of it is that we back off a little bit. Practices are a little bit shorter. But the ground work was laid all the way back in January and February, when they were walking over here in snow storms to work out, all the way through this summer. That's when the foundation was laid. No team has out-worked Nebraska to get ready for this weekend."

Florida Head Coach Mary Wise Opening statement "Well at this point in the season we're thrilled to still be playing. Parity has come to women's volleyball and the results are talent across the country and real changes. Getting to this second weekend has become a much more difficult task than arguably it was 10 years ago. To be one of those 16 teams still remaining is a huge accomplishment for all the teams still in it."

On the reaction of the team to being a No. 8 seed "Well you have to understand the history, and that a year ago we were not a top-16 seed. And so just to be one of the 16 teams there is a lot of excitement."

On having regional play go through Omaha "Well when we started the tournament we weren't looking that far. That may sound very cliché, but we went out the second round, as we did a year ago against Stanford. We've had some success but in this day of women's volleyball, you can pretty much figure out who's going to be in the top, who's going to host regionals. We all play to host regionals. I think we were all kind of waiting for that announcement, because geographically speaking it's not likely that we are going to be hosting and that the committee is going to choose us."

On whether the team would rather be playing their regional game somewhere besides Omaha "Well, I think that's pretty obvious for any coach. During the years now when regionals are now pre-determined, whichever team is hosting, their winning percentage is pretty huge. There are not that many teams with (Nebraska's) kind of winning percentage that are on the road for regionals. Yet, we also understand this is Omaha, and not Lincoln. But we also understand what a great following Nebraska has. I understand that it's pretty close to being sold out, and truly, the reaction is that it's great for women's volleyball. With Louisville, we have a huge challenge for our team."

On what you are doing to prepare for Friday's night match against Louisville "They have big size and a great game plan. You look at this Louisville team and because of their seniors, and the great talent that they have, I see one of the best blocking teams in the country. I think if anybody loves blocking, this is the regional they'll want to come see, with Louisville and Nebraska being in the same region. They can certainly get their kills. This is also a region that features some big-time offensive numbers. In Louisville you have some big kills and they block balls. And in women's volleyball, two huge factors in determining success is if you are able to get kills and block balls. And that's what Louisville does really, really well."

On whether the possibility of Florida against Nebraska has the possibility to be the most tension-filled match of the regional weekend "If we got to meet up in a regional final, that would be special. I think there is some validity to the match being tension-filled. But there is also a lot of press in that you are playing for a chance to go to the national championship match, and we all know how difficult it is to get there, and those are chances that don't come along easily. So that might bring some tension with it as well."

On where last year's team finished and how that will play into this year's NCAA tournament play "It all started with the work they began putting in back in January. It wasn't just losing in the second round, it was that we were so close in that game, down just 27-24, before our player got injured. We realize that there are things you can't control, but we did have an understanding that we weren't that far away. That team played its best volleyball of the entire season in December, and we've always tried to be tough in the tournament. You just hope that you have good enough health to take you until the end."

Louisville Head Coach Leonid Yelin Opening statement "We are very happy to get to the Sweet 16. We're very excited to play, and I heard that they have sold more than 10,000 tickets, so it's going to be quite an experience for our players to play in that kind of environment and be with those three other schools, so it's very exciting."

On the keys he is looking at for the game against Florida "There really isn't going to be a large change from what we've been trying to do all year. I think a key for us is going to be ball control, and most importantly serve receiving. We are the kind of team who loves to run its offense pretty quick, so the serve receive is going to be a huge factor for us. So I think that if we will do well in the serve receive area, I think we could stay in the game."

On how the team is different and better from last year's team "It's really hard to tell. In some ways we are better and in some ways we are worse than last year. It's a different team. We have a lot of players back from Latvia, but the way we are playing (this year) is different, just in the way we are running our offense and defense, it's different. Since we are running a 6-2 system, we are a little bit bigger in the front row, and for us, we have to use our hitters well, and ball control is just going to be a big, big factor."

On what his team's goals were for the NCAA Tournament "It's really no different, for every school they have a dream to get to the NCAA Championship and we are really no different from any other school. We broke down our goals, and one of the first goals we had was to get to the conference championship and try to win that. The second goal was to get to the NCAA and try to get as high of a seed as possible. I think we achieved that goal because it was the highest seed we've ever had. The next goal was to at least get farther than the Sweet 16. We've been to the Sweet 16, this is our fourth time, and every time we've been we've lost in the first round of the regional. So our next goal is to try to break through to that second round of the regional this weekend."

On what the level of competition will be like for the regional in Omaha "They are all great teams. We're talking about teams with so much great history behind them. Nebraska, Florida and UCLA are all great teams, so it's just great to go and find out where we stand with those great teams."

On where he would choose to be playing the regional this weekend "Well, I know from personal experience when I used to play professionally, what it's like to play in front of big crowds. Our players haven't experienced that. The biggest crowd we've played in was in 1996 when we played in a tournament in Hawaii with 10,000 people, and I could see how it intimidated many of our players. So it's really big. So in the sense of having an experience with playing in front of crowds, that is an advantage."

On what teams have come close to matching his team's height in recent years "Not too many. Last year I think it was only Nebraska, and they are a great team. I have so much respect for the Nebraska volleyball team. It's a highly-respected program throughout the nation, and they are so solid and so balanced in all their rotations. They are solid and the players not only have the size, but the skills all-around, and that's what makes it so hard to play against this Nebraska team."

UCLA Head Coach Andy Banachowski On UCLA's win over top-ranked Washington this season "It was a validation for so many of our players that they could be successful and beat a team that was top-ranked."

On the ability of young players to step up their play "I don't think we've ever had so many young players come in to compete. Even the ones that aren't playing are pushing the other ones in the gym. This team is much improved from where we were in the beginning of the season."

On having the trip to the regional fall on playing at the Qwest Center in Omaha "We're excited about the opportunity to play at the Qwest Center. We knew we'd have to go on the road if we wanted to stay alive in the NCAA Tournament. We know Nebraska fans appreciate good volleyball and we're excited about coming there and playing in front of them. We're excited about coming to Omaha and playing in front of this great Nebraska crowd."

On UCLA's 2003 win over Nebraska in the regional "It's going to be a totally different experience because so many of our kids weren't involved in that. It's a whole different ballgame this time out and it's a whole different setting. We're looking forward to coming out there and challenging Nebraska as well as playing in that arena."

On what have been UCLA's strengths this season "The things that have led to our success have been serving and blocking. For us to perform well we're going to have to play to our strengths well. I think we're also going to have to pass well to be able to handle their serves. From what I've seen they are an extremely well-balanced team and we're going to have to play well to compete with Nebraska at home."

On the amount of tickets being sold already topping 12,000 "This is a tremendous thing for volleyball and we're happy to be a part of it. We've drawn a tough seed in having to face the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but it's what we deserve with how we've played this season. But it's a great chance for our team and a great thing for volleyball."

Nebraska senior middle blocker Melissa Elmer

On how the starting players are going to have to play to win this weekend "I just think that now, this team should understand that this is it. It's win or go home, and you've got to play your best volleyball, because every team is going to be playing their best volleyball. I think just from last year, we learned some valuable lessons, and I think from previous years we did, too. You can't take a night off in the NCAA Tournament, and everybody has got to come ready to play. That means the starters and the bench."

On having the opportunity to play in the Qwest Center "I think it's a big positive for us because we're familiar with the arena, and it's going to be a lot of our fans, so I think that's going to really help us out a lot. But any team can play well; you saw a lot of teams come in here and play well in the Coliseum throughout the year. I think it's going to be a positive for us, but we've still got to come in and play some good volleyball."

On how the crowd affects the play of all the teams in the tournament "I know from personal experience that I feed off of big crowds, no matter if they're on our side or not. So I think we do have an edge because we have had that experience in there, but it's going to be a great environment and it's going to be a great place to play volleyball. So I think the other teams are going to be pumped up to play, too."

On the team being able to find ways to win throughout the season and how that will affect postseason play "Every point counts, and in any circumstance or situation, you have to find a way to win. We always say we want to be two points better in everything we do, and that's always going to give us an edge. We may not be playing our best volleyball, but we do have to find a way to win. If that's through serving tough, or just coming together and worrying about what we're doing on our side, I think this team has done a tremendous job. We haven't had some of our best matches, but there have been matches where we've fought through and still found a way to win."

On the loss to UCLA in 2003 and what it will mean to Friday's match "We do have some revenge to give them, but this is a totally different team. There are some of the same players. We learned a lot from that year and we were a very young team. But this is a new UCLA team, too, so we've got to approach it a different way."

On UCLA ending the Huskers' season in 2003 and the loss in the second round of regional last year as motivation for this season "I think anytime your season ends in a disappointment it definitely motivates you to work very hard in your offseason. We were very motivated to work hard that year and we were very motivated last year. This team has just done a tremendous job of putting in that extra time commitment to come in during the spring and the summer to train and work hard to make us a better team in the fall."

On her record-breaking season "It's definitely been a special season with it being my last season. I've had the opportunity to play with some awesome players and teammates and friends. To do anything I can to give to this team, those records and anything I get is just a reflection of them. I couldn't do it without them, and they are the ones that make me better in practice every day and they're the ones that are out there on the court playing with me. So it's definitely an honor to follow in the footsteps of all the great middle blockers here, but none of it would be possible without any of my teammates."

On what makes her ability to block so unique "I think what makes it special is all the work that I've put into it, and the results are very rewarding."

On how this week's preparations differ from last week "I think this team is very anxious. It's an exciting part of the year, and there's going to be some great volleyball this weekend. Each match we play, we're getting one step closer to our final goal. Omaha is going to be a great place to play. It's going to be a great environment, and it's going to be a lot of fun. I think each day we get closer, this team is getting more and more excited."

On how she has managed to continually get better throughout her career "I think definitely playing attention to detail. When you reach a certain point in your career, it's very, very hard to get better, and you have to pay attention to things. The coaches have done a great job of pointing that out, and pushing me, and never letting me be satisfied with where I'm at. Just with blocking, it may mean leaving your hand over the net one second longer. It may just be one second, but it makes a huge difference with getting a block or not."

Nebraska junior setter Dani Busboom

On what it means to Nebraska to be able to play the regional in the Qwest Center "It's a huge deal. Last time we saw how much Nebraska loves its volleyball, and it will be an even bigger deal this time around. It's so fun in there. It's not as loud as the Coliseum, and not as compact, but it's definitely a lot of fun, and emotional and exciting. There are so many words you could use to describe what it feels like to play in there."

On what Nebraska is going to have to do to get two wins this weekend "We've got to play every point with confidence. The way we lost the game, two missed serves and an overpass, that's just a lack of doing the little things. Those are all what Coach Cook calls the mental errors, and things that could easily go the other way. That's the big thing. We just need to play every point with confidence and have fun."

On how the level of trust among the team has helped "This team has probably the highest level of trust of any team I've been on at Nebraska so far. We've come back in huge games. When we were at Texas, we were down 17-3 and almost won that game. Yeah we didn't quite win it, but that's huge coming back from that big of a deficit, especially in rally scoring. I definitely think that, no matter what, this team will find a way to win. I think everybody believes that. There are so many go-to players, and so many people that don't stand out, because there's not one person that we go to this year. It's everybody, and everybody trusts themselves so much more than last year."

On this year's standout play from senior middle blocker Melissa Elmer "Melissa is a great teammate. You never see her getting down, you never see her not working hard. She's a leader, and not by words but by example. She's very quiet, and she's not an emotional player, as you guys can tell on the court. Each of us just follow her lead of hard work and dedication, and mental toughness. You never see her get down on herself when she makes mistakes, and she's going to be a huge loss for this program next year. She'll be missed not only as a teammate but as a friend, too."

On what Elmer has done to improve this year "She's always been a hard worker, so I can't tell if she's working any harder this year. I think definitely her leadership has improved a lot, and I think all of us look up to her more as a leader than we have in the past, just because we know how much hard work she's put into this, and how much she cares about us and this team, and the chance we have to win a national championship."

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