Aug 23, 2013
Head coach Mark Rosen sat down for a question-and-answer series this week as his team puts the final touches on preparation for the 2013 season, which commences next Friday (Aug. 30) at the Xavier Invitational.
On the expectations for this year's team ... "I think there is good and bad about what happened last year. The expectations are clearly higher, which is a good thing. Our players are excited about having that confidence to take it to the next level and play against other teams that play at a very high level. But, we also have to avoid getting wrapped up in the expectations so they don't put too much pressure on us to the point where we are unrealistic about things. We need to continue to focus on the process. The process is what got us there. If we continue with it in the future, we can continue to elevate our game. The expectations aren't really the focus; it's the process of getting better every day. If we get better every day, at some point we're going to be at a very good place."
On the biggest challenge for the upcoming season ... "Well, everyone is coming after us. I think in some ways, it won't be that much different. When it comes to Michigan and the block M, most teams we play in and out of conference, we get their best shot. When we play a team much like the ones we play on opening weekend (Xavier, Clemson and Northern Kentucky), all three of those are great opportunities for them to play a highly-ranked team from a big conference and get a big upset. They're going to play well because they have nothing to lose. I think we've had that a lot over the years, so I don't know if that's going to be much different. But, it does put a bigger target on you and I'm fine with that. I'd rather wear a big target and be good than hide around in the background and just be average. We proudly wear that target, but we have to understand that we can't take any nights off. The name doesn't get us any points; it's how we play."
On players to watch this season ... "I think it's as in the past, balance is going to be a key. We don't want to be a team that's based on one player. If you shut that one player down, your team is very average again. I think we have a really balanced team. One key player to watch is Lexi Erwin. She's going into her senior year after she had a phenomenal junior season. She's working really hard and looks really good right now. She's poised to have a great season. Molly Toon, who's her counterpart on the outside, really emerged last year. The last half of last year was a real breakout period for her. She's been working really hard all summer and on the Brazil trip, she was unstoppable at times. Jen Cross is not just a big blocker, she's a very good volleyball player. She understands the game, she's a student of the game and she likes to think about the game. She competes really well and we're expecting a great senior year from her. The one who makes it all go is Lexi Danemiller. She goes unnoticed at times, but I think that's a compliment in and of itself. She's the type of setter who makes everyone else look better. So much of our attacker's success is a result of the positions she puts them in. She deserves a ton of credit and more people should be watching her. She's very calm and non-chalant, so people might not watch her as much as they should. Again, this is a strength because she really mixes it up, maybe as well as anyone we've ever had. I think Tiffany Morales fits into that category a little bit. We have a very good defensive crew and Tiffany sort of heads that up as our leader from last year, but we have other players in there and they all can play great defense and serve well. They play their roles as well as anyone in the country I think. There are lots of players to look at, but it's hard to single anyone out because we have so much depth, but that's our strength."
On volleyball in the Big Ten ... "I think the Big Ten is as good or better than it has ever been this year. It's going to be really deep and really strong. We certainly will not use that as an excuse or something that's a negative. It's just a challenge that we've got to face, and we're excited to face it. We want to be in a great conference. We want to be in a conference where there are other great teams. We know 20 times this year in the Big Ten, we need to be ready to play and to play our best. We haven't been as good in the past about that as we should have been, and we know that. We need to embrace the fact that we need to improve in Big Ten play and we're looking forward to doing just that. That's the challenge for everyone in the conference. Across the board, we're going to have a lot of really good teams in our conference that are going to make us better. That challenge and opportunity is a great one to have every night."
On the must-see events of the season ... "It's a good schedule. I really like our home schedule this year. Early on you have Oregon and Oregon State, two Pac-12 teams that are kind of on the rise, Oregon State the last couple of years has kind of been on an uptick. It could give us a preseason look of what the Big Ten's going to be like. Oregon, coming off the National Championship final last year, is a very talented team. They're very well-coached, they play a very unique style and system and it's hard to play against them. It's fast and creative. There's a lot of things coming at you, so great for us to see early in the year but it's going to be a challenge. They've got some really good pieces so it'll be a must-see. In the conference, every conference match is going to be good, but Minnesota is poised to be very strong this year, there's a lot of buzz about them being a team that could contend nationally. Penn State is back to where they were a couple of years ago talent-wise. They're very, very deep with talent and they're coming off the semifinals from last year, too and they've got pretty much everybody back so they're going to be legit. Nebraska is always a great emotional match, especially last year after the way we came back and beat them. I think it turned out to be a really fun match at home. Michigan State's a no-brainer. They're really good this year, they're very athletic. They have one of the most, if not the most, athletic player in the conference in Alexis Mathews and have Lauren Wicinski, who is arguably a candidate for Player of the Year in the conference. They're going to be really good. Across the board, I think every match in the Big Ten plus the usual suspects. You never know which team's going to be good."
On the style fans should expect from Michigan volleyball ... "I think it's a great question and I don't know that we know quite yet. I think we can defend and I love our defensive mentality. We're a good blocking team and we're constantly getting better at blocking. But we're also a very good floor defensive team. We're bigger than we've been in the past so I think we can be a little more aggressive at the net but I think we still have great back court defense. Part of it depends on the lineup we shuffle into, whether we use a lineup of defensive players or if we keep some of our outsides on the back row for offense. I think that could determine a little bit of how we look. Defense is certainly going to be a big focus for us as it always is. I like what we have to work with defensively, but yet I think we can also be a very, very physical offensive team. We're big, we're balanced, we can control the ball well on serve-receive, so I see us being a very steady physical offensive team as well, which is a great combination. That's what we're shooting for but again, it's really early and I think we're not sure quite yet what we're going to look like. We don't even know what our lineup's going to look like. But I feel like we have a lot of depth and a lot of options, which is fun."