"I was really pleased with our play this weekend at Michigan State and at Michigan. It was an important weekend for us because, especially with Michigan, it separated us from the rest of the pack and put us in sole possession of fourth with the three other teams ahead of us in the top five or six in the country. So we're excited about how things went.
"Marian Weidner had a great weekend for us, (she) came off the bench twice, and then the second night had 21 kills. So that was a huge outing for her. And this weekend with Iowa and Minnesota coming to town, Iowa's been struggling a little bit, but Minnesota's No. 2 in the country and I think we've improved a lot since we saw them at their place and we're eager to see them again."
How are you a different team since the Iowa/Minnesota weekend?
"We've solidified things a little bit more. Early in our season, we were pretty fluid with the lineup. People weren't really hanging out in their spots and playing great all the time. And now Maria Carlini's in there; we've got Aubrey Meierotto and Marian Weidner on the left side so we've got three very strong players. We're a little more solid with the setting. Jackie's been setting now more consistently in the last couple weeks and she's starting for us and doing a great job. I think just as an overall team they've matured well. We had such a young team to start off, they've made great leaps and bounds over the course of the last three weeks, I think."
Pete, do you still think you can win the Big Ten title, because nobody's unbeaten? You're only two games back.
"Yeah, we're close and this is where we wanted to position ourselves. You know, being so young, if we could get right behind the top pack, we thought we'd have a good shot. And with Ohio State losing at Illinois last weekend, it opened things up for everybody a little bit more. It has us all a little bit more excited since we beat Illinois already. We know we've got one more shot at Ohio State, too. So obviously there's some great teams on top and it's the strongest the conference has been at the very top of the conference. But, I like our chances."
Coach, in the first match with Minnesota you held their outsides in check pretty well with Martin and Bratford, but the middles hurt you. Is there any adjustments you're making for that?
"Yeah, we'll be working all week in practice and trying to have a more balanced defense. It's tough when you have to commit a couple people to their top players and then some of the others come through with big games. But I think, again, we're better since we saw them last. It doesn't mean we can contain their outside hitters the way we did, but hopefully we'll keep them down a little bit and we'll have more of an offensive outing ourselves."
When Jill Odenthal came here did you anticipate she'd end up as one of the career leaders in kills?
"Odie has a knack for scoring that we couldn't predict at that time. It's very natural. We could be in a blocking drill and ask her to hit the block and she almost can't hit the block because she's so good at avoiding the block constantly. It's nothing we taught her. It's something she's just been given.
"What's really impressed me is her back row (play) in the last three weeks. She was really struggling about a month ago where she was struggling with her serve and struggling with her passing. But she's regained her confidence in both those areas and it's made us a much better team, partly because we don't have to sub any defensive specialists in the back and it gives us more substitutions to make in other positions if we need them."
Pete, I'm sure your club's itching to play Minnesota, but you also have a match Friday night. You've got two different things to worry about there.
"Yeah. As always, you can't overlook Iowa. You know, they're at the bottom of the conference. They've got a new coach in. They're doing good things and they're progressing, but obviously the one that we've got to look at more strongly is going to be the Minnesota match. But we'll scout them both the same. We'll put the same amount of time into both of them. Once we get done with Iowa, we'll really focus on the Minnesota match Saturday night."
Coach, you mentioned Jackie Simpson briefly before. What's the biggest difference between the Jackie Simpson who started at opening night and the Jackie Simpson you've seen the last couple matches?
"Opening night just very, almost overexcited freshman, trying too hard to do things, and now she's settled into being more consistent with her location of her sets. We've asked her to change and improve in her blocking, her defense, her setting, and that's a lot for a kid to consume all at once early in her career. So she's taken it well. Even when she did not have the starting spot she was saying ‘What do I need to do?' and ‘How can I improve because I want that spot back.' and she's made those changes and she's playing like a real veteran now."
So is the job hers now? Are you going with her? And do you still, you know, will you still sub in Katie?
"She'll be starting for us this weekend. And hopefully she'll be playing a strong game. If she is off on the night, we feel really good about Katie coming in because she's been a starter for us this year also. We've got two great options. And that's one thing that's made us better. We've got that depth where a number of people have started in a couple of different positions for us."
Where do you need to get better to make a legitimate run at the Big Ten?
"It's mostly defensively and that's where we really, after the Minnesota match, put a lot of our practice time into, serve receive and defense. We're leading the Big Ten in blocking. We're like fourth in the country blocking wise. But once it gets by the block we've got to ball handle them well. And so I think we have improved. The first two or three days of practice every week now are almost totally defense. And as in any sport, that's what they say, defense will win championships, and it's true for us too."