"I'd say we went into the games thinking we'd compete at a high level in each of them, and I think in two out of the three we weren't playing our best at all. I was really actually happy with the Penn State match as far as the level we were playing. We had a shot at them … beat them the first game, had them down 28-25 in the second game, and we let them off the hook. It was more our play that allowed them to catch fire a little bit. And it's a very good team, obviously, top 10 in the country. And you just can't do that. And that's part of our youth showing through, that, No. 1, three road trips against top 25 teams is tough enough, but when you are playing well, you've got to learn to shut them out. And hopefully we'll learn from that and mature from it, because it was a hard lesson to learn."
Pete, what's your goal now here with four matches remaining?
"Well, obviously we want to win them all, for our standing in Big Ten play and then for the NCAA tournament. A lot of these teams we're playing are right there with us in the standings in the Big Ten, and they're all threats--Michigan, Michigan State. Purdue just beat Illinois, a top 25 team, at their place in five. So we've got to keep improving.
"By playing those top teams this week they really showed us the areas we need to get better at still, and consistency, ball handling, service errors we need to keep down. And if we fix some of those things, we're going to gain those points in each game and we've got a shot at winning every one of them. And we're thrilled to be home because it's been kind of a long road trip for the teams we've played, but we've been playing very well at home, so we're looking forward to that."
Do you think if you win out in the Big Ten, Pete, you have a chance at hosting first round?
"There's always that chance. It's really tough in the NCAA, the tournament and the pairings they give. You know, we went to Texas A&M last year, and they'll send you anywhere sometimes. I think we're actually sitting fairly well regionally in the RPI rankings. The top 25 doesn't have us in there, but that's a coaches' opinion poll. So they really, as far as computer rankings, have us, I think, high enough where we'd have that shot.
"It doesn't seem like they're looking much at attendance figures these days. They're just flat out going by computer rankings and location sometimes. We would love to. It's been a little while and we play very well here, so we are fighting hard to get these next four wins to give ourselves that shot."
Coach, can you talk about what Marian Weidner and Jill Odenthal have meant to this program over the past four years?
"You know, being Senior Night on Saturday night, we're looking forward to having them in front of our fans, and hopefully it's not the last time, but they've done some great things for us.
"Odie's just improved immensely on the defensive side of the game. She's always been a great offensive player. And she first came in to play for us when Zukowski blew her knee out a couple years ago, and has been pretty much the starter ever since.
"And Marian has come in here this year and really played a great role off the bench for us, and at times, especially at Michigan this year came in with 21 kills and really saved the day for us.
"They've been huge for us, and especially in a year where we've got 11 out of 15 underclassmen, freshmen and sophomores actually, they've been instrumental off the court also, just trying to be great leaders and good examples for the young kids."
Since your program is one of the leaders in attendance nationally then maybe your answer will be obvious here. But do you feel like it's fair that that attendance component is not really being factored in now, or why did they change that?
"I always think it's good for the sport to have it in front of a lot of fans. You know, when they go some places or send teams places where there might be 300 people in the stands, it's not good for anybody. I think they're looking at it maybe they can help areas grow by sending them different places. But in the last five years, I don't think we've seen that growth in the areas they try. So obviously we're working hard and our fans have been great. They keep coming out, and they would love to see us here."
Can you talk about the leadership from your seniors as the season wore on? I think it got a little stronger as it did wear on. Did that play a role in your improvement?
"You know, we made a big surge in October when, actually in the September games Odenthal was struggling a little bit, and what she was struggling with was a little bit of getting used to the young players around her, and especially freshmen setters have a tendency to not be as good setting behind themselves, the back sets, which is where Odie plays on the right side. So she struggled with her confidence some. But as our setting improved, she kept improving. She came on strong in the back row also, which has not been something she's been good at the last couple years, but now she's making defensive plays and it's really bolstered our team. And, again, Marian keeps improving different areas of her game. And it's mostly the leadership off the court, that they're just pushing people all the time and trying to encourage them to stay positive, because it's tough for these freshmen. This last road trip, these are new gyms they'd never been in, and they kind of teach them along the way what it's going to be like with some pretty tough crowds."
Coach, you recently added to your recruiting class next year. Can you talk about what the added size is going to do for your team next year?
"Well, right now in the Big Ten, a lot of the coaches are saying we're one of the biggest teams if not the biggest team, so we're adding two more kids that are bigger than anybody we have. So that's something we've wanted to do. They've got not just size at 6-3 and 6-4, with one touching 10-7 that's practically what Sherisa Livingston was touching when she was here.
"But on top of that, though, I will say we need to improve our defense, and we do have some plans to bring in a walk-on or two that are great defensive players also. But we were a little limited scholarship-wise this year to bring in as many as we like. But we're hoping to have a very imposing block, even more so than this year, which is pretty high ranked nationally."