"I was really happy with our play this weekend at Purdue and at Illinois. Going into Purdue, they were a top-20 team and they play in a small gym with a big crowd and they're an extremely scrappy team. Our team had to come from behind in the first two games by six and then five, I think, and really withstood the test from Purdue. (We) had a tough fourth game, but came out in the fifth (game) strong and were in the lead the whole time. I think that said a lot for the maturity of our team and just our ability to hang in there in a tough environment. I thought that was a great test. And then going to Illinois, (it was) another good match for us. We had lost there the last three years and to come out of there with a three-game win was fantastic. So we feel good going into this weekend. Obviously, two more ranked opponents and they're both very good programs. Another good test for us to see where we stand and it's going to be big for the conference race."
Coach, how important was it for you to prove you can win on the road in the Big Ten early on in conference play?
"It was huge. That's something we had not done as well as we needed to the last couple of years. And the Big Ten is tough, especially when you get into their home environments and their crowds and bands and student sections, everything. The teams are just that much more cranked up. I'm real proud of our team, how they did. So I think that said a lot for the road games. And then coming back home, we play the home game now and we've got the crowd and we've got the extra level we can go to. So, great test for us and we're really happy to come away with those wins."
Pete, people get excited about kills and all that but the defense seems like it's been the key to your success. Is that true?
"It is. The last couple years, I don't think we were as balanced a team as we needed to be offensively as opposed to defensively. We had the block and we had the offense, but if you don't pass and you don't dig, you can't stay in the game with the best teams. We've improved that partly by recruiting and getting somebody like Jocelyn Wack in there and also just training hard for the last eight, 10 months, since last season, to improve our defense. Our numbers are more balanced now. We've got the offensive threats and its coming together better for us."
So it sounds like then everything is going perfect. You're winning on the road. You're winning. Your team is playing well. Is there anything that you pick out with this team then or do you just walk in the locker room, say keep it going?
"No, no. As a coaching staff, we know the things we need to work on and the players do too and that's the tough thing. Sometimes I actually have to remind them to be more excited about the good things they do because they're always thinking they should be better. They don't realize they're a top-10 team and they've beaten some very strong teams this year already, but because we're always trying to make them better, they feel like they've got so much more to learn. So, they're definitely hungry for more and they're trying to get better as the season goes on. I think that's been a trademark of our program also is that as each season goes on and we get stronger and stronger, so every match we play, whether it's a win or loss, we're going to learn things from it."
"Ohio State returns their setter Marisa Main, who's a fantastic setter, transferred in, I believe, from Xavier the year before and just runs a great offense. (Danielle) Meyer is their go-to player now in the middle. Now, they don't have Stacey Gordon. That's a big piece of the puzzle that they've had the last four years and she was able to get them out of a lot of jams. So…obviously, that's good for us. Ami Stevens is a great outside hitter for them though. I think she was all-freshman team in the Big Ten last year, so she returns and she's great. They're solid. There's no doubt about it, very well-coached.
"And Penn State, I think they're fourth in the nation right now and just playing some great ball. They have Sam Tortorello setting, a senior, All-American coming back, running the offense. Nicole Fawcett is a freshman on the left side off the…. Junior National Team, I should say. They're balanced and they're big. Both teams run a very fast offense, probably some of the fastest in the Big Ten."
I just want to ask you about Penn State. You don't want to overlook Ohio State, but is Penn State your biggest rival do you think, when it comes down to it?
"I would almost say Minnesota, Penn State are the two because just the border battle with Minnesota and the three programs have gone, since 1999, as far as being the top of the Big Ten and some of the top in the country, with Penn State in '99 winning it (the national championship), then we go in 2000 (to the national championship game). We win in 2001 the Big Ten, and then Minnesota comes on the scene. We're all wavering a little bit. After you win, you go down a little bit, but I feel like we're on the way back up. And again we've got a lot of sophomores starting, so we're still young and learning, but we're right up there with the top of the pack."