The Oracle sat down with head volleyball coach Jeannette Waldo on Nov. 6 for an interview about her first year coaching the Golden Eagles.
Q: As you stand now your record is 11-17, how do you feel the season has went so far?
A: Our season is progressing for sure. We have had some highs and some lows. We haven’t been super consistent. It’s a brand new group, we’re a brand new staff, we’ve got some young players we’re trying to get some playing time in. We have been learning a lot, so I think that’s why there hasn’t been as much consistency throughout the go of it. But, just before you came in, Zack, my assistant coach and I were talking about – and I don’t know how much you know about volleyball but you have to win best three out of five – and we’ve had nine matches that have gone five sets, so that’s a big number. So we were just talking about you know if any of those had fallen, our record would be much different here. So, we’re in the fight for sure. We’re hanging with every team that we play, it’s just a matter of you know closing out, which we did a nice job of this past weekend.
Q: It’s your first year as the head coach here at Tech, how did you adjust to coaching a new team?
A: We really lucked out because this group, they were really up for anything, they were excited about the change, they hadn’t been successful the past couple seasons so it wasn’t like they were winning everything and I’m gonna come in and screw it all up – like that wasn’t at all their thought process. It was you know, maybe that’s what needed to change – you know just a different direction, different thoughts, I mean volleyball’s a pretty simple game, so you can only change it so much – you know there’s only little things that maybe you teach a little bit differently. The group of girls – we had the best case scenario that they were up for whatever we asked them to do, they were ready to work hard, they’re driven. I think with a team that hadn’t won very much in the past, it’s easy to kind of have a mentality of being sort of over it, and you know we didn’t have that at all – so that’s been awesome.
Q: You have five seniors on the roster. How have they had to step up this season?
A: We have two senior captains, and that’s Shea Little and Susie Jeziorowski, and so they did a really good job right from the get go in the off season because I got the job over winter break, and so I was on campus in January and so we’re not in season until August but that’s our off season, and we need to be working really hard in the weight room and conditioning and they need to be touching the ball on their own because we’re not allowed to work with them part of that season – we just have really limited hours we can be with them, so during that off season and during the summer, our seniors did a really nice job of leading by example, and making sure they were doing everything that they could possibly do to get ready for the season so we came in knowing what a volleyball looks like, and not looking at it like we haven’t touched it for six months. We were well conditioned and they felt strong, they felt ready to go, so they definitely put in the time and effort that was needed, and without that senior leadership of leading by example, the freshman probably wouldn’t have known exactly what to do, and they wouldn’t have come in as ready to go.
Q: So, there are eight freshman on the roster as well. Are those your recruits? What kind of things did you expect from them?
A: No, I mean some of them are – some of them were previously committed by the previous staff so as a new coaching staff, we brought in Taylor Dorsey who is a freshman, we brought in Ali Verzani who is a red shirt sophomore, so she was a transfer for us, and we brought in Ashley Hand who is a freshman – she’s a setter and she has done a really nice job of competing with our senior setter to push her because in the past, Susie just kind of had the spot by default and you know the setter’s the quarterback, so everyone looks to them every point, every play, they’re the heartbeat of what happens, and so if you have a good leader and someone that’s really driven in that position, it really sets the tone for everything else. So the fact that you know that freshman, even though she’s not on the court, she’s really pushing because our senior feels a little fire underneath pushing her so I think all three of those – I mean Ali Verzani is playing very consistently, Taylor Dorsey’s playing very consistently, so the three that we brought in have really made a strong impact right away. The other freshman that were previously committed, they all have their roles in what happens – whether it’s in practice or in game, and so even though it’s a big group, they’re all very valuable to our program.
Q: You currently have two games left before tournament play, how are you preparing for that?
A: Well, we’re not officially in it yet. So these next two matches are a big deal, so if we win both of these matches tomorrow and Saturday, we believe we’re going to be in the tournament, but like the top three spots are kind of solidified in the tournament, and then after that everybody’s tied up because everybody’s beaten everybody, and so it really comes down to the last week for really a lot of teams, and so maybe if we just win one of these, we can go maybe, but we’re not controlling our own fate as much as – then it’s going to depend on who else loses, who else wins, and all that stuff, so these next two are very very important, and our team knows that – we’re trying to keep them loose about it and not stressed out, but they do know that, but they also felt that way this past weekend. There were moments when we saw some tightness because they knew we had to win those games, but we did win those games, so they did rise to the pressure, so that was exciting.
Q: How do you like Tech so far?
A: I love Tech. I mean I think it’s great. I did coach at Belmont for two years back in the day, so I was kind of familiar with the area and the OVC, so that was kind of a comfort level for me, but the town is awesome, the support is awesome, and I think getting the word out about our volleyball program is something that we definitely need to focus on moving forward just because everyone loves a winning team, and it hasn’t been that in the past couple years, and so you just kind of forget about it. And the basketball programs are strong, and you know people come and watch basketball – they’re a little more familiar with it, but everyone is really willing and excited about Tech, there’s a lot of alums that live here still, and all that so that’s really exciting. We have a beautiful campus to show off to recruits, our facilities are awesome, you know they walk out on the court and are like okay, so yeah, we’ve got a lot to be excited about.
Q: How did it feel to beat Belmont, your former team?
A: Yeah, that was pretty cool. Yeah, I mean, they’re a good team, and I knew that but luckily some of the athletes that I recruited graduated last year, so I didn’t have to go up against like friendly fire, but yeah to sweep them – to win both of them in our first year – that was pretty exciting.
Q: What are some of your favorite highlights from this season?
A: I mean there’s been a lot of them. I think, I don’t know, I mean I think so of the matches that we pulled out in five that we won because there was so many that could have gone either way, and because of whatever it is – momentum, luck, timing, whatever it is – didn’t go our way, and so I think when we beat EIU on our home court in five, I think that was a big moment for us. When we beat Belmont in five at our place, I mean I think that was really exciting. But I think we haven’t had as many big wins 3-0, because everyone in the league is so gritty and they’re all kind of evenly matched in a way, so I think that beating – some of our wins that we’ve beat in three – those were really exciting too. I think one of the biggest steps we’ve taken as a program is that the girls are really excited about playing at home now. It didn’t used to be that way because they didn’t feel like they had the support, and it was almost kind of a downer I think to play at home and not have that support, so I think that now that we have a better record at home than they’ve had in the past, and they get really excited to play at home, and now it’s true home court advantage, I think that a really really big step. Before one of our first wins at our home tournament I think they hadn’t won here in like a couple years or something crazy like that, which I didn’t really know until after it happened, but yeah, I think that’s a really big step. I think that another really big step that we took was this past weekend when we talk about the win in the locker room – we go back into the locker room after we play and usually there’s more conversation after a loss than a win. I try not to be that way, but it’s just normal you know, and so after we beat Belmont in five at their place, we actually sat around and we chatted for a good amount of time just about what good things got us to that win because the night before at TSU, it was like a really – not an easy win because no wins are easy – but it felt cleaner, everyone did their jobs, you know there weren’t any moments where we thought we were going to lose. Well Belmont, it wasn’t like that, it was like a boxing match, and we went back and forth, and so afterwards, I just really liked the dialogue between the players – they just gave a bunch of shout outs to all different people, different people spoke – it was just a really cohesive feeling, and I think that was the first weekend that we kind of flipped the switch from doing this because we’re supposed to do this to doing this because we want to do this for each other so that’s a really big step when you’re building a new team culture.
Q: Will you look to recruit local talent, or plan to look outside of the state for players?
A: The answer is yes. We really want to keep local talent local if we can. It automatically creates a family feel because then their families can make it to the games easily, so they automatically have that support, and all that so. And sometimes people want to stay close to home, and sometimes people have an aversion to that and they’re like no I absolutely don’t want to be anywhere close to my parents, so you just have to find the right players that want to do that, and there’s a lot of great volleyball out there, so we want to make sure that we have a diverse roster, and that gives us connections in different areas for future recruiting, but also for future tournament play because it’s fun to go places and play that a majority of our players have never been to. Like this past preseason we went to Seattle for a tournament because we have a player from Oregon, and she’s one of our senior captains. Her dad had been awaiting a lung transplant for a long time and so they had never seen her play live because he wasn’t allowed to travel. He had to stay close in case he got the call, and so she does everything right when no one’s looking – she was just leading our team in such a positive direction – and I mean if you’re going to do something for a kid – she’s someone you want to try to do that for, so we talked to our administration, we talked to some donors and we got some financial support to go out there and that so her parents could see her play live, and he dad was actually able to come to the matches, and be with her and see her play – so that was just a really cool thing, but that was cool for our team because they got to go somewhere different, like that was fun, they go to fly and all that is fun, but it was also really cool because you know it’s not just about volleyball all the time – it’s about relationships, and we actually had a couple alumni that were in the area that we didn’t even know lived in that area, and so they came to the game, so that was neat. So yeah, that’s something that we want to do too is if you’ve got people on your roster from different places then they say things differently, they’ve experienced things differently, so it gives you a little bit more to talk about as a team, and it gives you potentially places to go for tournament play.
Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with the Tech community?
A: Volleyball games are free, so it’s an easy sell. It’s fast paced – you don’t have to know anything about it because a point happens every time the ball touches the ground – so that’s really all you need to know about it.