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Talk a little bit about Taylor Reineke. She's pretty close to breaking a record and just talk about what she's done for your team this year.
"If you look at Taylor from last year, she was really mostly just a blocker and a defender, and one of her big goals was to become more offensive and be more of a part of our whole team play, and she's done that. She really doesn't always get the press and she just seems to silently hurt people. Her hitting percentage is so high all the time. She's usually one of our leaders in kills and her effort is great every night on the court, so she's just been so consistent for us. It's been a great year for her."
What has she done to develop herself?
"She worked hard in the offseason, in the weight room. You know, she's about 6-3, but she was pretty slender coming in, so she really filled out. She worked hard in our spring training and over the summer. She played a lot of sand volleyball doubles, which for a middle blocker is pretty rare because they don't normally have the back-row ball-handling skills, so she really improved that part of her game, and just jumping in the sand made her stronger and tougher. She's got a great work ethic and a great attitude toward the game."
Pete, you're fairly familiar with Notre Dame. Can you just give us a little scouting report on them and are they playing the same system? Does (Notre Dame Coach) Debbie (Brown) just maintain that from year to year?
"From when we played them last year here in the NCAA tournament, it's a lot of the same players, but they've changed their system around a little bit. They've moved some players in positions. When we played them last year, they were a bigger team than we were and they were at times hitting over our block, which doesn't happen very often. But I thought we were a better ball-handling team at the time. That's one thing that they've solidified, I think. They've brought in some people to improve their defense. We like the match-up. It's somebody we're familiar with, that we saw last year, and we're looking at tapes today to find out what exactly they're doing in their offense."
Their defensive statistics are pretty good, but you just mentioned their offense. Are you actually more concerned with their offense because of the different looks that they're going to give you this year?
"A little bit. They've moved Adrianna Stasiuk from the left side to the right side and she hits a couple different spots. She's not a real big player. She's only about 5-10, 5-11, but she jumps real well, extremely fast arm, and they're giving her a lot of balls and a lot of sets. I think she was their kill leader in the last match that they played. She's their smaller player, but they have other ones that are 6-2 and 6-3 and big jumpers. That's something they've tried to do in their recruiting is to get some great athletes who can just hit over people. But at the same time, (our players) are a good size. We're used to that in the Big Ten and I think our match-ups are good for the match."
"Is volleyball like any other sport, Pete, where defense can lead you in a tournament run?"
"Yeah. That's the big part of it and that's what we also wanted to work on from last year, is to make our whole-team defense better. Jo Wack came in and really raised our level of defense individually, but now everybody else has stepped up their game a little bit. Anytime you have a big block, that's the beginning of the defense, but when you have a big block, you dig around that big block and that makes it easier for the back row. I think that's how we've done well this year. We've been pretty balanced, front court and back court."
How did your experience last year getting into this round and beyond help this team and just how do you like the whole bracket down in College Station?
"I think it really started last year in the second round when we played Notre Dame. We were actually down 23-29 and came back to beat them 36-34. That's a huge comeback in rally scoring, to be at game point and to come back that far. That gave our team a lot of confidence. I think the next two games were not very close, maybe 15 or 16 (points) and 19 the last two games, so that gave (our players) a lot of confidence, the feeling that they could come back against anybody if they needed to. Then they obviously went up and caught Hawaii up in Green Bay. So we've been building on that, and that was a young team we did that with. There were five freshmen on the court, a couple off the bench. Now as sophomores, they've gained that extra year of experience."
Last year your passing got better as the year went on and that was a big key. This year also your passing is better. Can you talk about how it has improved since the midpoint of the season to now and what the big differences are?
"Well, it's something we work on every day and obviously teams are going to attack us and try to go after some spots where it'll make it tough for us to play. One of them is Maria (Carlini), where she passes and hits in the front row at the same time, so they want to shove her back deep or make her move side to side, and then pass it and have to run to the front row and hit. So she has improved a lot. I think that's the biggest part of it. I think (Megan) Mills and (Amanda) Berkley and (Jocelyn) Wack have been pretty steady the whole time, but Maria's passing has improved enough where she's not that weak link where they can go after her. She's solid on her passing and then attacking in the front row."
Last year when you made it to the regional finals, it was considered an upset, maybe a surprise to a bunch of people, especially beating Hawaii. Would you consider it an upset this year if your team ends up playing in the regional final?
"Technically it is because they're the higher seed; I think they're six and we're 11. But because we know that team so well and we saw them last year, we're going into it feeling really good about the match-up. It's hard for me to predict or say anything about that side of it. But I don't think it'll be as much of a surprise because of what we did last year; that (our players) have the confidence they can make it to the next round and they want to continue past that."
Can you just assess this bracket? Washington is considered the favorite based on seed.
"We've got Washington, who's coming off a Final Four year and they've done great in the PAC-10 obviously, very, very strong. Purdue is going to have to play great to beat them. If Purdue comes out on top, that's a team we're familiar with obviously from our conference, and that would be a great win for the Big Ten. Notre Dame, obviously we've talked about, is very familiar to us. As the brackets go and how they look across the country, I like where we're sitting and I like our possibilities."
You said after you lost to Penn State the first time that you weren't at their level yet, but that the possibility existed that you could get there. How close are you to reaching that level right now?
"I think when we first saw them, I felt that way and then we hit the bump with Aubrey (Meierotto) being out with pneumonia. We kind of had to recharge after that and she had to get stronger again. I think we're back in full gear. (Aubrey's) feeling good. She had a great match on Saturday night.
"At this point, all you need is one match to be as good as they are or better than they are. I think match-up-wise, it's hard to say. Actually Penn State lost a middle blocker to a knee injury, so they're not quite as strong as they were last time we saw them."