April 21, 2014
MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin volleyball team wraps up its spring season this weekend, traveling to Minneapolis for the Minnesota Spring Invitational on Saturday. Wisconsin will face Minnesota, Minnesota-Crookston and South Dakota in pool play at the Sports Pavilion on the University of Minnesota campus. Matches start at 9:30 a.m.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield talked to the media on Monday about his team’s upcoming tournament as well as how the spring season is going.
A complete transcript of Sheffield’s comments is below.
Opening Statement: We're about a month into our spring right now with probably about two more weeks to go. We've played three of our four dates. We've got the tournament at Minnesota that will close things up.
It's been a good spring - a lot of learning. I think one of the messages that we tried -- that was difficult early on was coaches came back and were trying to push and expand our range of our team, and our team was kind of thinking that this should feel like November and December. It's not supposed to.
So we're kind of pushing. I think a lot of the players were looking around and saying, ‘Wait a minute, what's going on here?’ And learning -- so trying to go through this -- I had a great conversation with Coach Alvarez after our year, and he was talking about the first time they won a Rose Bowl and he came back and probably didn't push quite as much and how much of a mistake that was, looking back in hindsight that he learned. That's one of the things we try to do is, ‘Hey, this isn't supposed to feel like it did at the end of the year.’
That was a transition. It was kind of a hard transition. But I'd say the past week or two we've had some good workouts, and leadership is starting to come through to the foreground. This team works hard. They want to be great. We're going back into this phase where people are uncomfortable and learning to battle through that.
Recruiting, coaching staff is going hard and trying to bring some great recruits in and some more bodies, try to develop a little bit more depth. We've got a big senior class that's coming in here, so making sure this isn't a big drop-off; that we build a program that's sustainable over time.
That's kind of where we're at right now.
Kelly, last week you said that teams don't get better in the fall, they get better in the spring. With that said, how much better have you guys gotten over the last month or so?
I've always felt the fall was about the team. You try to bring teams together. When you're in season, it's systems of play and it's preparing for your next opponent, so on and so forth. If you're out of season, it's about expanding your range as an athlete, as a player. You're trying to develop leadership in people, stepping into those roles and getting people out of their comfort zone and seeing how far they can expand their game.
I think individuals are getting better. They're certainly working hard. We're probably at a phase right now where I think we're getting better, but our players probably aren't feeling like they're getting a whole lot better right now. I think, when you're expanding your game, there's this part where you're just -- you're not playing great. So there's some frustration that our players are having to battle through.
I think most of our players are getting quite a bit better. I'm seeing every day -- Taylor Morey, I love what I'm seeing out of here because you're seeing this leader that's really developing right now. She's playing with a lot of moxie right now. I've known her since she was real little, but I didn't think she kind of had that for most of the fall season. So you're seeing her kind of get back into her own groove of what she's had for most of her career, and that's a lot of fun.
Then you get players like Courtney Thomas, who I think is getting a lot better, but she probably thinks she's a lot worse right now from what she was two months ago, and that's okay. She doesn't need to be feeling like she's King Tut today. I see a lot of players that are getting better.
I see an Ellen Chapman the past two weeks that's getting a lot more aggressive. We've talked to her about training like an All-American. I don't think that was something she was doing in her past.
I'm seeing a lot of different progress on a lot of different fronts.
Kelly, after what your team accomplished last year, are you seeing an upswing in interest in your program recruiting-wise?
I would say from the absolute top kids, yeah. That still means that we're having to get in there and really work hard to try to convince them here. Yeah, I think a lot of the players we're talking to are being recruited by the best programs in the country.
That's kind of … we all know this. We live in the city and we know what kind of education this is and how beautiful this campus is.
But now you've answered that other piece: Can it be done at a school like this? Can you win? Can you compete for titles? Are you a serious player?
I think our players … we've all been around. We know that it can be done here in this sport. But think about it. The kids that we're recruiting, of how young they were the last time it was done here, and they just don't have that sense of history. So they're just viewing the past years.
So we've now answered that. There's a lot of talent in the Midwest, and, yeah, they're taking a look at us right now. Recruiting is fun right now, I'd say.
With Lauren (Carlini) playing with the U.S. National Team this summer, what can that do whenever she comes back? Can she pass along things that she's learned from the top?
She'd better! What an unbelievable experience that she's going to have. She stepped into a leadership role, which is really odd as a freshman, but she's going to be one of our captains this year, and the team just looks at her that way. She's going to go there and play with and against not the best college players, but the best in this country, in our sport.
So the power and what you're seeing, there's not a lot we can do in our gym. That's a different game, the international game. It's different. She's going to be able to get in there, and hopefully when you come back, the game is a little bit slower for her. She's able to make decisions a little bit quicker. And she already does a great job there.
We had three players last year that went and trained with the best college players, and I saw a very big difference in them. We're hoping the same, not just for Lauren, but also with Taylor and Dominique (Thompson), just more tools in the tool belt.
Getting back to Ellen, last week she said that her sophomore year she admittedly was checked out mentally, and then something happened along the way where she checked back in mentally, and she's been that way ever since. One, how did you get her to get checked back into the action mentally? And, two, how do you keep her there so she can continue to grow this coming year?
We threatened violence, you know! I always thought, if you rely on that, you can get people's attention pretty quickly. I don't know. You lay out a vision and a plan, and you sit there and you hope they're able to go along with that ride, and that's kind of what we did with her. How we talked to Ellen would be very different than maybe we talked with somebody else.
I don't think she ever saw herself as an elite player. I think other people did. I think she was always buried by those expectations and feeling like she wasn't living up to those expectations. I don't think she ever saw herself as an elite player.
Our very first conversation when I called and said, ‘Hi, I'm Kelly Sheffield,’ and she said, ‘Hi, I'm thinking about trying out for the track team,’ and that was about two minutes into our conversation, and I said, ‘Let's slow down here. Let's talk about you as a volleyball player first.’ I asked her if she ever saw herself as an All-American. And she said, No, I never even thought about that. I said, ‘What do you think?’ She said, that would be pretty cool. All right, you see yourself doing that. Now how do we get to it? She started having that vision, and I think in her case that was very, very big.
She's working hard. She wants to be good. You've got to show her the path. Like most athletes, they've got to have fun doing it. She's just in a place right now where she's having a lot of fun.
The past week and a half she's had some unbelievable practices, and she should. She's going into her senior year. This is your time. She's starting to have a little bit of urgency. We're asking all of our seniors should be feeling that. That was one of the things Annemarie Hickey, I thought, had going her last year, was she went into that last year with a lot of urgency.
I'm not sure our senior class came into the spring with that, but we're starting to see it a little bit more, a sense of urgency of ‘Hey, this window of opportunity is really shrinking awfully quick.’ If there's some things I want to accomplish before I leave, I'd better do it now.
Ellen's kind of stepped into that here, I'd say, the past couple of weeks.