"It was a great weekend for us. Even starting out on Friday night, our team was really just clicking on the court. I think just being home for the first time in three weekends was fantastic for us. The crowd was great. It was probably the biggest student section I've seen here on an opening night and probably almost any night since I've been here, which was fantastic. And that just got us rolling through Saturday night.
"Once we got those two nights done and we could look at UCLA and know that they're ranked ahead of us and know that they're a big-name program nationally consistently. We were pretty pumped for that match. So our kids played great. They played hard. UCLA was very good. I thought it was a great battle. We showed some great composure in the second game, came down from six points back and made a comeback and won the game. So that's a great feeling going into this weekend against Minnesota, since they're ranked fifth in the country right now.
The UCLA coach last night called you a good net team. What's it going to take and how much farther do you have to go to be referred to as a good passing team, and how close are you to getting to that spot?
"I think we made some big strides this weekend. Jocelyn Wack pretty much rules the court for us in the back row and we give her all the freedom she wants to take almost every ball she can. We've got some other players that are still working to improve their passing game. Blocking's been our forte and that's something that we really stress our opponents out with, and that's the thing. You've got some great hitters on the other side, if you can put up a big block and a consistent block, then they're going to hit some shots that they don't want to or get blocked and have to try something new. So I think we're almost there. I don't think we're done, and I don't think we're even done with our blocking. We can be better as a blocking team too. But I like the defenders we have on the court and the passers right now."
I know the press release that came out after the game from yesterday said that you upset UCLA, but with only two numbers difference in the rankings and the fact that you were playing at home, do you look at it as an upset, does your team feel that way, or do you feel like this is something we should do, we should be able to beat teams at this level at home especially?
"I think the only reason it was called an upset was the ranking was just a couple of spots different. In general, we were able to watch them two times over the weekend, so we saw them play and we felt as a group we were the better team.
"We just felt we were a little more mature, a little more solid in all our ball handling. And our kids are confident enough I think to go against anybody in the top 10 right now and have a shot at them. So that was a great start for us and it really prepared us for this weekend now because we're facing a tougher Minnesota team.
I don't want to say you're relying on Audra Jeffers or Taylor Reineke, but they've certainly been a big boost early on for you. And I also wanted you to kind of handicap the Big Ten race, because, once again, there's some good teams up in the top 25.
"Yeah, Audra and Taylor are doing some great things for us. What I liked about this weekend is that some other people stepped up. I think Jackie Simpson had her best weekend yet. Sheila Shaw had her best weekend yet. So, we're starting to see more weapons emerge on the team, so that's just going to make us more balanced.
"The Big Ten is going to be tough. Penn State right now is fourth in the country, Minnesota fifth. The rankings come out today and I think we'll probably move up to 10 or 11. And then behind us you're going to have Ohio State and Purdue is going to probably move in the top 25. So you've got probably four or five teams in the top 25 in the Big Ten. And after that, there's still some pretty dangerous teams that are hovering very close to it."
What's Minnesota going to give you? Is it the same Minnesota stuff that you're used to seeing or is this a little different team?
"It's a lot of the same. One of their best, the best player on the team is their defensive player, their libero, Paula Gentil. She is a two-time All-American already and she just gets everything defensively and makes you change what you're doing offensively. So if we can have more weapons, frustrate her a little bit, it'll be better for us. But they're a big team. They're a versatile team. They're confident because they're coming off another Final Four appearance. The one thing we have in our favor is that we're at home and we beat them here last year. Our kids are confident they have a good shot at them this year."
How does Sheila Shaw compare to some of the other players you've had in your program that have played that same position and can she, when it's all said and done, be considered one of the better players in program history at that position given who you've had play there?
"I think she's comparable to some of our best middle blockers. She obviously came in as a freshman and got a lot of court time early and has just progressed the whole way.
"As our program has progressed though, she's become one of our smaller players, believe it or not, as a 6-foot middle blocker our team has increased in size to the point where she's got 6-2 and 6-3 next to her, which actually makes it easier for her to be more open offensively and to be able to block more balls with bigger people next to her. So she's having a great time with it. And she's just happy to be here with this group."
Is she a very different player from some of the other great middle blockers you've had?
"Yeah. You've got Kelly Kennedy from 6-5 or Sherisa Livingston touching 10-9 and it is different. She's got different things she offers. But she's just, she's fast and she's agile and she gets away from blockers and scores for us. So I think this weekend Jackie found her more than any other weekend this season, so we're pretty excited she's back in the game."
There's been a lot of talk about the passing game and the blocking game. How do you feel about the serving right now?
"Actually we feel good. We have one jump serve going with Jocelyn Wack right now and everyone else is staying down, but they're doing some great floater serves, which is basically like a knuckleball in baseball, it just moves a lot.
"Megan Mills is somebody who's stepped up for us as a defensive specialist. She's really become a serving specialist for us. She's really keeping the other teams out of their offense. And that's the biggest part. If you serve tough, the other team can't run a quick offense. And we've got people from Jackie Simpson, who's great with a short serve, really clogs up the patterns of the hitters to people going deep, and Aubrey Meierotto has got a great floater also. She's probably our best. So I think that's what we did well against UCLA. We just kept them out of their quick offense and took Nana Meriwether, who is All-American material, out of her game."
You worked hard to make that student section big on Friday night. Is there any reason why you can't do that again or can you get the word out or whatever you have to do that you did the last time to create that student section?
"I think we gave some free t-shirts away and that got a lot of them in, so if we can do that again, that usually gets students in. But I think just with that big crowd, I think they realized how much fun it is at our matches. And there was a good third of them are usually at our matches, but the ones that were there for the first time found out what a great time it can be. And it was just like they are at basketball and football and hockey games. They were just fantastic. And they were going nuts and very distracting for the opponents. And that'll help us have even a better home-court advantage.