The numbers don’t lie, UNO volleyball is on its way up
Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 17:12
In 2012 UNO volleyball finished its second losing season in a row, going 6-22 and just 1-15 in conference play. The season before the Mavs went just 5-23 while playing some teams from The Summit League and a mix of other teams from all levels of NCAA volleyball.
The difference from 2011 to 2012 was only one win. It would appear that there isn’t any great indicator that things are getting better.
But Coach Rose Shires would disagree. Throughout the season she had the feeling that her program was moving in the right direction.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of evidence to prove that. But some number crunching at the end of the season confirmed what Shires felt all along.
“In 2011, out of our 28 matches, 12 were against Division I teams,” Shires said. “In 2012, out of our 28 matches, 28 were Division I. Not only did we play at a higher level in terms of kills per set, aces, blocks, every single statistical category, we played at a higher level in 2012 than in 2011.”
When the team went 5-23 a season ago, UNO averaged 10.9 kills per set, hit an average of .127 percent and compiled 115 aces in 28 matches. A year later the win total only got one better.
But the average kills per set went up to 11.4, hitting percentage improved to an average of .163 and the Mavs piled up 153 aces.
With 153 aces UNO ranked 18th in D-I volleyball with an average of 1.5 aces per set. Every significant category got better while the Mavs also picked up six Division I wins as compared to just one a year ago.
Getting better from one year to the next is probably not a surprise. What is a surprise is that the manner in which it happened. Only 12 matches in 2011 were against Division I opponents. All 28 in 2012 were against D-I.
Thus, although the schedule and the opponents got harder, the Mavs got getter.
“When you look at numbers and you look at stats, the statistics don’t lie in terms of, were you playing at a higher level,” Shires said. “That’s really what these numbers are showing me. We were playing at a higher level than we were a year ago. And consistently playing at a higher level because you take the average for the season. We made, in my opinion, great improvements.”
The improvements came not only against more difficult opponents, but with less experience on the team as well. In 2011 the team makeup was four seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and no freshmen.
A year later, Shires always made lineup cards that included seniors Amy Roberts and Natalie Ebke.
But over half of the group she put out on the floor was made up of either freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Shires 2012 squad had only two seniors, a single sophomore and six freshmen.
“The level that the freshmen group, the level that the team played at this year was at a higher level than what we’ve had in a while,” Shire said.
Ebke led the way with 284 total kills and a .142 hitting percentage. The next four players behind Ebke in total kills were true freshmen or redshirt freshmen.
Granted, rookies make up 67 percent of the team so they get more of the chances. But this group of newcomers might have been more prepared than any other Shires has coached before.
Early on she recognized that the status quo of the past was no longer acceptable for the UNO volleyball program. The intensity of The Summit League and a full D-I schedule simply wouldn’t allow it.
“We know what we have to face,” Shires said. “You have to mentally and emotionally be ready to play at a faster, higher, harder pace than you did two years ago.”
Shires has always prided herself on creating high intensity practices that demand much from her players. But she said that the level of talent on her roster from top to bottom is higher now than it ever has been before.
That level creates intensity on its own. It also requires an average player that looks very different than average UNO players of the past.
With each new recruiting class, Shires said that her team is creeping closer and closer to an average height of 6-foot. In addition, more players can jump and reach the top of a basketball rim than in the past.
Those are both physical expectations that the program couldn’t have in the past. Mentally, Shires expects a lot out of her team as well.
“We’ve also increased the expectation of what we would call their volleyball IQ,” Shires said. “Understanding the game, understanding reads, defensive, offensive setups, shot selections, [and] how to make decisions faster. We spent a lot more time in our film sessions, cutting film up and knowing our opponents than we ever have in the past.”
Every player is given a flash drive that includes film on the opponent for the next match and how that player performed at the most recent practice. It’s no longer a situation where the team assembles for two hours a day at practice and that is it.
The expectation now is that the players will be doing more preparation on their own away from practice and away from campus. Being a UNO volleyball player is a now what Shires calls “a more time-intensive commitment.”