bleedCrimson.net:: Your thoughts on the alumni weekend?
Mike Jordan:: It was a blast. So much fun to see so many players from the past and their families. It takes you down memory lane. It's a really neat deal to see Annika Donaldson-Williams and her kids and her husband who I'd known a little bit, it was really nice because we haven't had a chance to see her too often. She was a junior when I took over, it's been quite a while since she finished playing. It's been a decade. It was great to see them come back and enjoy playing and seeing the team and interacting with them and touring the facilities. I like the look in their eye knowing that they had a hand in building what we have now.
bc.net: How did some of the new players do in the match against the alumni?
MJ: Freshmen and sophomores that haven't played much or at all tend to be a little nervous. We saw a little bit of that early but once they loosened up they played pretty well. I was really impressed with Rocio Gutierrez. She did a good job on the left and passed great serve receive which we were hoping for out of whoever plays that spot. She played real well.
The transfer middle, Michelle Kuester, her shoulder is getting stronger and she gets a little bit better every day. She didn't play all spring and played sparingly in the fall because of the arm. Her progress, we've got to bring her along slowly but we think we're going to see a player that can help us.
Desiree Scott is such a phenomenal athlete but she's got a lot to learn still but she's competing hard. The two of them are going to see some time at that other middle spot.
Shelby Tamura and Ellen Miks did a good job at libero and defensive specialist. They passed the ball pretty well, made some good defensive plays, gave us good energy. Ellen in particular served the ball real well which is great because we weren't satisfied with her serve last year, we thought it was too easy. We worked at it and she's made really good strides there. All in all I like what I saw from the new players and the youngsters. As long as our veteran players play well I think we've got a shot at being pretty good.
bc.net: Kayleigh Giddens had a pretty good night for the team as well.
MJ: Yeah, she hits the ball so hard and she got probably a few more free swings than normal because the alums haven't done a lot of blocking recently so they were a little late closing at times, that kind of thing. But she's so strong and she hit the ball well out of the back row too which is really a good addition for her that we made in the offseason. Kayleigh's learned how to tool the block a little better. She could conceivably hit 30 or 40 percentage points better than a year ago, that's saying something. She's in great shape and made some really good defensive plays as well. We're pretty happy with what we see from her.
bc.net: Stephanie Ziegler is a player you mentioned would be in the running for that second spot on the left side. How has her play been?
MJ: Steph's going to see time on the left for sure. She's improving. Her serve receive has improved a lot. What we really like from her is the jump serve and the back row attack. Those are things that we definitely have to incorporate into what we're doing. She's an improving player on the front row. She has really become a solid blocker and offensively she's improving. She's definitely going to see time there [on the left]. You've got to remember that she's young too. She played some as a freshman when Kayleigh and Krista were out with injuries at different times in the season so I think that helped her out a little bit. Most freshmen don't get to see a lot of time but she saw her fair share and hopefully she benefitted from it.
bc.net: You open up the season this weekend down in Tallahassee at the FSU tournament. This is your first chance to get some RPI boosting wins.
MJ: Yeah. All three teams are really good. They're all conference champions. We just started watching video from last year of FIU. They've graduated a couple players but they've got a lot of players returning, a lot of good players. They're very very good. I've been very impressed with what I've seen so far. They're a foreign loaded team and they do a lot of things really well. It's going to be a very tough match.
Florida State makes the Elite Eight last year, they had a great recruiting class and a fantastic outside hitter transfer in from the junior college ranks. They've got some really good players returning and obviously it's their home court. We know that's going to be a really really tough match.
Florida A&M, we don't know a lot about them. I talked to their coach the other day, he said they've got a lot of new starters but they win their conference every year. They're typically a foreign loaded team as well. Hopefully we'll get a chance to see them play while we're out there.
bc.net: What do you expect to see from FIU on Friday?
MJ: The first thing I noticed is how versatile they are. They hit the ball hard on both antennas and their middles are pretty active. Their setter does a really good job of locating. They don't set the ball way up in the air, they get it out there fairly quick to the antennas like we do, make it tough to close [the block] and they bring it at you. They like to keep the pressure on. They seem to be a pretty competitive group. I think they're going to be very very good again.
bc.net: Every year we talk about your defense, it's one of your big points of emphasis for your team. How does the team stand right now defensively compared to where you'd like them to be heading into the season?
MJ: You're right about us being really good in the past defensively with last year being the exception. I thought we blocked okay last year but we didn't dig the ball very well and we didn't work very hard at times defensively and that was a bone of contention for a lot of people, myself included. So we worked hard in the offseason to change that and get back to being the great defensive team that you're used to seeing. I think we're going to be that. We've got to take care of the easy ball a little better, put the ball on the money when it's hit slowly or deflected off the block. If we do that, we're obviously going to get a better swing. The effort level has been tremendous. We're making the difficult play quite a bit. We're seeing huge improvement defensively from people like Kayleigh [Giddens] and Stephanie [Ziegler] , they're much improved defensively. We're excited to see this team play. I think we're going to make it hard on teams to get kills. Defensively we're right where we should be and hope to be right now. It's early and people are going to make mistakes, someone will go the wrong way once in a while. The skill level has to improve but I think we're going to fly around and make it tough on teams.