Monday Press Conference: Pete Waite

Volleyball coach discusses freshmen, early matchups and key players

"We've been going today since (Aug.) 12th and I've enjoyed the practices. I think we've got a good team, some strong returns, but we're definitely a very young team. We've got seven players who have not played in the fall for us yet and that's out of 15 players. So I think it's going to be possibly two to three freshmen starting, which is exciting for now and the future, but there's going to be days where we're going to be a little up and down. This weekend, we start with two very strong teams. We've got Missouri coming in and Georgia Tech coming in. And we haven't seen a Missouri . . . in play, but they're among the top in the Big 12. And Georgia Tech is very strong. They're ranked 12th in the country right now. We went to their place (last year) and lost in five, so we really want to get that match.

"But I think we've got some great players, some young players. We wanted to get bigger this year in our recruiting and we did. Our last group of seniors were our four smallest players and now we're bigger across the board, averaging between 6-0 and 6-1. On average, that's including our defensive specialist. So it should be a good season. But they have to get ready fast for Big Ten play and we're starting out with some very strong teams."

How many players do you see yourself playing early in this preseason, everyone or do you have a number?

"I don't think everyone, but I think we could as far as nine or 10 deep in any given night, just because I think there's going to be some inconsistent play where we've going to have to get some people in. But at the same time, I like our depth. I think we still have, if we've got some freshmen that do start, we've got some upper classmen that will be coming in. On any given night, the upper classmen will be in there and they'll be leading the way. So we've got some talent, some depth, and some size I like."

How difficult of a challenge is then playing these two well-regarded teams with such a young team? I mean, I don't know if this is ideal scheduling.

"Well, actually we need to jumpstart the team and you're going to have to find out if you're good or not. And if you're not beating those teams, you're going to have to find out how to fix it fast. Scheduling is done so far ahead of time these days that you don't get to predict how you're going to be as far as your class depth or age. But really, there's no better way to start than with the top teams. If they're easy teams, we might look good and not really be that good. If we beat these teams, it means we're looking good and we'll be ready for Big Ten."

You mentioned that you're expecting a big season out of Sheila Shaw and she played well in the intra-squad scrimmage. Why do you think she's going to do so well this year?

"She's just such a great athlete and she's matured over the last three years. Now entering her junior year, she's ready to take on a bigger load offensively. We're going to have our setters go to her a lot more. We're going to get her hitting balls, not just out of the middle, but out of the left and the right side and out of the back row. Some athletes are just gifted enough where they can carry a bigger load and she's one of those. She's also improved her defense enough where she's going to be playing in the back row all the time and that's really important. If she's on the bench and missing three rotations, we can't get her the ball."

Pete, will you see more of an offensive brand of volleyball because of the size you have now?

"In ways, what they'll see is more defense in blocking, first of all, and that's what we needed to do. Last year, we were at the top of the Big Ten offensively with Morgan Shields setting, but we were near the bottom in blocking and defense because we couldn't stop their offense. So with the bigger size, we'll disrupt their hitters and we'll slow them down and it should help us. But we also have two pretty inexperienced setters. Neither of them have set in a regular-season match before. So it's just like anytime you're starting with a quarterback that hasn't done that, you never know what's going to happen. And they have to give the hitters a great rhythm in their location and their setting. If they do that, then we'll be very offensive. We have that ability."

And has Jackie Simpson taken to the starting setter role nicely?

"Well, we only gave it to her last week, so we'll see. Actually, we had our intrasquad match on Saturday and I think a lot of our freshmen were a little bit nervous in front of the crowd. We had maybe 600 (to) 800 people there and we're going to have 3,000 or 4,000 at our match, so they're going to have to wake up. (Jackie's) very competitive though. I think she's going to be great when the match starts. She'll be good."

In addition to the setters, what other areas are you really looking for improvement or maybe are concerned about at the moment?

"Well, actually, in the libero spot, we're going to have a freshman, Jocelyn Wack. She was Wisconsin's Gatorade player of the year last season out of Westosha Central and she's an amazing defensive player and passer. She's a lot like Sara Urbanek and Erin Byrd were and that can just solidify your defense right there. And that makes a big difference. Hopefully, she'll stay in that position for a long time because we really need here there.

In the middle position, besides Shaw on the other side, we've got Amy Bladow and Taylor Reineke, who is a freshman, and both are 6-2, 6-3. I think they're going to be going back and forth. Bladow brings a little more experience and a very aggressive style of play. Taylor comes off a national championship Junior Olympic team for the last two years. She just has to get ready and get used to the speed of this game and in the Big Ten play.

But we've got a lot of returners. Obviously, Jill Odenthal on the right side was All-Big Ten last year. Aubrey Meierotto and Marian Weidner on the left side, so we've got some solid positions and those are good, but those kids are going to have to lead the younger ones and show them how to do it."

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