Sept. 30, 2013
MADISON, Wis. – The No. 23 Wisconsin volleyball team kicks off a four-match Big Ten Conference road swing this week. The Badgers (13-1 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) put their seven-match winning streak on the line when they travel to Iowa (9-5, 0-2) on Wednesday for a 6:30 p.m. Big Ten Network match from Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
On Saturday, UW faces its third ranked opponent of the season, taking on No. 10 Nebraska (9-2, 2-0) at 7 p.m. in Lincoln, Neb.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield answered questions from the media on Monday after opening the Big Ten season 2-0 last weekend and the challenges of taking his team on the road for the first time in conference play.
A complete transcription of his comments is below.
Opening statement: It was a good weekend for us. We played a tough Purdue squad on Friday. I thought we came out ready to play. I thought the crowd was fantastic. The energy was helpful.
I thought in game 3 we had ourselves a big lead and looked like we were probably about ready to close things out. Purdue got on a nice run there partly due to them and partly due to our own mistakes. We probably could have folded it at that moment. It was a massive run. I was really proud of our team of kind of staying with it. Probably got a little bit of help from Purdue there at the end, but I thought our kids had the right mindset at that time when they could have been thinking about the consequences that let that lead slip away. So that was a good win over a really good team.
I thought both of our middles Haleigh Nelson and Dominique Thompson were really good that match. Especially early from Haleigh. She really put a lot of pressure on them in game one. I thought Deme Morales in the back court was fantastic.
Then the next night against Indiana (was) another really good crowd. I was kind of expecting to walk in there, since we were playing the same time as the football game was, I was kind of expecting to walk in there with 45 fans in there, but it was fantastic. I think one of the things like about the fans here is when we're struggling, they really do a good job of trying to help us out. Sometimes fans are only cheering when good things are going on. But fans here are cheering when we need it, and it makes it really special.
Against IU, first two games we kind of struggled as kind of back-to-back. We made some adjustments in the locker room coming out of game 3. I thought we'd play a little harder, maybe had a little better mindset going into the third and fourth. So you know really had some separation, a good weekend.
We're excited about playing Iowa in the first Big Ten road trip. Excited about being on the Big Ten Network on Wednesday playing against Iowa. Then going out to Nebraska on Saturday and playing a really tough and competitive Nebraska team.
What, if anything, has surprised you or pleased you the most about the start the team has gotten off to this season?
I think we've been a really resilient bunch. I think when our backs have been against the wall whether it's been due to injury or come back from 0-2, opponents haven't exactly shown us what they thought they were going to show us or letting a massive lead slip by.
I think our team has been really resilient. Probably we didn't show a lot of that this spring. So when we come back in the fall really showing that, and I think that's probably been -- I don't know if surprise is the right word, but it's what you'd hope that you'd see.
I think the progression of our middles has been really, really good. We've still got a long ways to go. But Haleigh and Dominique and Tori (Blake) are doing a really good job. They're working really hard with Coach (Gary) White and trying to get better. I think those guys have given us a lot more of a lift and we're going to them more and more all the time. More times than not, they've been answering the bell.
What is the degree of difficulty in keeping your team focused on the moment when you look at your schedule and see the game play on BTN, but then it's a gauntlet after that of ranked team after ranked team after ranked team, especially on the road?
I think it depends on what your goals are. (We) talked about that at the beginning of the year, what are you trying to accomplish, and then you get lost in the moment. That's one of the great things about this conference is you don't have the luxury of looking ahead. You look ahead and you find yourself in a five-match losing streak. It really forces you to be in the present. I mean, it's awesome that way. We've got a lot of kids that are spending a lot of their energies trying to take care of their bodies right now. So sometimes when you're a little bit banged up, your energies go on something else rather than daydreaming and things.
We want them to dream big and get focused in on the process. I think so far these guys are earning the trust that they're able to do that. I think so far they've been able to do a really good job of staying in the moment, and staying the focus on the preparation that's ahead of us.
Annemarie Hickey returned on Friday and Courtney Thomas played both matches. Was she back a little earlier than you would have thought?
We were hoping to get her back. We were hoping to go get both of them back. Both of them took care of themselves and did the things they needed to do. I don't want to say they're anywhere near a 100 percent right now. Sometimes you pay the consequences of playing a little bit earlier than what you're projected to do. But we were planning on giving both of them at least another week. Both of them came and said there is no way we're missing the Big Ten opener. So we feel like we're in charge of the coaching staff and the training staff that these guys proved that they put the work in to get themselves back.
Annemarie was in the DS role. Both teams went after her. They knew that she was probably a little bit gimpy on that foot, and really did a great job of handling the service pressure that they were putting on her.
Court's numbers aren't where she expects them to be, where they'll end up being, where they have been. But she does so much for us in a lot of other ways, even when our hitting percentage isn't up. She makes the game easier for a lot of other people. And you know we're trying our darnedest to help her with her technique, so hopefully we can relieve some of the pain she's feeling. But also the medical staff is really working pretty close around the clock. It was huge having both of those guys back this weekend.
What are the logistics for traveling to this Wednesday-Saturday turnaround? You heard Gary Anderson talk about academics this time of year. How do you, with that kind of schedule this week have the kids focus on that part of it?
I mean, it's big. We talked to them about academics all the time. If you're a last-minute person, then you're going to feel an awful lot of stress. It's one of the things that college students, a lot of them have to learn when they get here is about thinking ahead and down the road and not doing all those all-nighters at the end or just piling on there at the end of the week.
So you try to give them some time where you're on the road where they're able to do some studying. Obviously, you've got study hall and everything, but we'll bus there tomorrow night. We'll take a charter flight back right after the match, so we'll get back here on Wednesday night. Then Friday night we'll take another charter to Nebraska and we'll try to build in some study time. But you're right. It's not just study time right now, but it's also flu season. You've got freshmen that are trying to make their adjustments. It's not a honeymoon phase at all. You've got to be careful as a coaching staff to make sure you're helping these guys out and they're taking care of what they need to be taking care of.
With freshmen like Haleigh Nelson and Lauren Carlini, is there any doubt in your mind at this point? Is the jury still out that you want to see them compete against this gauntlet that's coming up, or are you convinced that they're the real deal?
Well, they're both having nice freshmen campaigns with I don't know however many matches they've got under their belt, but this is a long season. October can be a long month. This Big Ten season can be a long deal. So they haven't been through an entire season. Every place they go to, it's new. They've handled things so far really well.
Haleigh is improving. She's expanding her role as she's earned some more trust. She's had a great weekend this past weekend. But my goodness, there were a lot of things on her plate that she's got to get better at. She's got to be focused on getting better.
Lauren is studying hard. She's getting more and more comfortable with the offense. It wasn't just Haleigh getting that (Big Ten) freshman of the week. It was kind of co-freshman of the week. Even though Lauren wasn't named, she's the one that's setting the ball to Haleigh. So I think she takes a lot of pride when her hitters are having success.
No, I think both of them would be the first ones to say they've got a long way to go to be the type of player that's they want to be and they need to be.
What is your history with John Cook at Nebraska, and any significance to that match anymore with him having been here before?
Oh, I don't know what I was doing when he was here. I was probably trying to figure out what a net violation was. No, John's a great coach. He's been very, very helpful, and in my career, any time I've had questions and believe me, anybody that's around me knows that very few people ask more questions than I do. But he's one of the best in the business of being able to be there and answer a young coach's questions.
I think he's very, very good for the sport. He wants to see the sport grow. They've accomplished some amazing things there at Nebraska. He accomplished some great things when he was here for Wisconsin. I know the Badger fans are very appreciative of what he did to help take this program to the next level. I'm very appreciative of what he's done to help my career along the way.