Sept. 4, 2012
MADISON, Wis. - Head volleyball coach Pete Waite addressed the media Monday as his Badgers (5-1) open their home season on Friday and Saturday, hosting the 21st annual InnTowner Invitational. Wisconsin takes on Drake (0-6), North Dakota State (1-5) and Milwaukee (4-3) in the round-robin tournament.
Wisconsin has hosted the InnTowner Invitational for 21 straight years, winning 15 tournament titles.
The Badgers are coming off a 3-0 mark at the Long Beach State Invitational last weekend. Wisconsin swept James Madison before downing Cal State Northridge and host Long Beach State by 3-1 scores.
A transcript of Waite's comments are below.
Opening Statement: I was pleased with our play over the weekend. We did a good job in all three matches. In two of the matches, we dropped a set but adjusted on the court and improved our play. I'm seeing some good things as far as the team chemistry, the level of play, the depth in a couple of positions.
Alexis Mitchell is really leading us offensively and in blocking. Annemarie Hickey is doing a great job defensively as our libero. And I think our passing is solidifying with Deme Morales and Caroline Workman and Annemarie Hickey in the back row starting our offense.
Things are starting to shape up. Courtney Thomas is doing a good job as a setter right now running a 5-1. We really like that. Overall, (we had) a great weekend and a good win over Long Beach State on their home court.
This is obviously kind of the way you wanted to start, right? This is what you were thinking when you went in, right?
Yeah, it's exactly what we were hoping for. When you go on the road, you never know – even our flight out there got delayed. We didn't get a chance to watch Long Beach State and Northridge play to scout them the day before and we had to play them the next day, but it all worked out perfectly for us. We came out of there without any major injuries and that was good. And it's becoming a more solid team and we like that.
Is Alexis your unquestioned leader?
She is right now. I think she's really become that … offensively, defensively in the block and verbally. She's really leading the team in a lot of ways, emotionally. Almost every category I could say she's doing it. But she's worked hard over the last four years coming from a very raw athlete out of Iowa, more of a track athlete than a volleyball player.
And she's really her game is really coming around, flying side to side and getting up in the air and starting to dominate the net at times. It's really been exciting to watch her progress.
How is Crystal Graff doing after what transpired last year?
Actually she's doing well. The first couple of (days of preseason) it took her a while to get up to speed. Even in her first weekend at South Florida she wasn't totally there yet. Her jump wasn't back yet. And she got in some playing time but then this weekend, she actually got some starting time (as well as ) came off the bench (and) did a good job.
We're getting a good rotation with Ellen Chapman, Bailey Reshel and Crystal. Crystal actually did really well this weekend. I think she was hitting some balls much stronger than she did a year ago.
All that time, from December through June when she was out, we had her up on boxes hitting balls against our own team, hitting against the wall so really her upper body got much stronger while she was recovering with a knee injury.
After a few years that have been a tad disappointing, how important is it to get off to a good start like this and how much does that build confidence early?
It's huge. The (Big Ten) conference is a big part of it and also just the record by the end, when you hit Big Ten play. Last year, we were one match away I think, one win away from going into the tournament. I really think we had the wins we needed.
You just have to be above .500. That's the big thing. Nonconference play is huge for us. We've talked to the team about that. They know about it. They're working as hard as they can to get up to speed as fast as they can and we're seeing some good things. I like that.
Kind of building off that, coming so close last year and the disappointment then of not making (the tournament), what did you see in the team in the off season in the early going here that maybe you've seen that a fire was lit because of that not making it, you've had so many years of success with this program?
They listen much better. When you take losses and you come that close … because they want to be one of the top teams in the country. And they've got the talent to be there. I think off the court they have become closer. They work hard to be just good teammates with each other, because you can't have anything going wrong. Any match and you're not in sync and you take a loss and that's what happened last year.
We took one (loss) early that made a big difference later on. I think we're seeing that. We're seeing some maturity in players (like) a Mary Ording, who has played some different positions and now (is) back in the middle where she came in as a freshman, (it’s) a new position for her as far as at Wisconsin. She's working really hard getting up to speed very fast.
(It’s a) combination of those things and it still comes down to ball handling. If you have the ball handling and the defense, you can do well. That's why I mention those three (back-row players) early. They're really doing a good job for us defensively.
You talk about the players, but what does it do to you? You've had a lot of success here and before you got here. Does it light a fire? Does it change anything for you from what happened last year going into this year?
The fire's been there the whole time. It's just a matter of every team (being) a different puzzle. Sometimes you have all the pieces and they fall together just right and sometimes it just misses and isn't totally in sync.
One thing that's also a big change is our entire staff has changed other than me. We've got two new assistant coaches. Sheila Shaw, Director of Operations is great. We've got two new managers that are phenomenal. That makes a big difference in just the culture of the team with what's going on with a fresh start and I think the players are feeling that.