By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Tennessee head volleyball coach Rob Patrick leads his Lady Vols into their school-record fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance on Thursday when they take on Big Ten team Michigan at 5 p.m. ET Thursday in Louisville, Ky.
Patrick sat down with the SEC Digital Network on Thursday to discuss his 2012 team and look ahead to the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
SEC Digital Network: Your team begins NCAA play on Thursday vs. Michigan; what are your overall thoughts on your squad’s NCAA Tournament draw?
Rob Patrick: “I’m excited about us being in the tournament and I’m excited that we’re not having to travel over any time zones to go play. I thought we had a good chance to be seeded and I was a little surprised to see some of the teams seeded above us, but that’s not something we have any control over. I thought our resume was very, very good in terms of the number of teams we played that had RPIs of 50 or higher, the wins we had over those teams and the fact that we had no bad losses. Our worst loss came to an RPI team of 50 in Missouri. I thought we had a great resume for the selection committee to seed us so we could host, but the committee saw differently. We’re going close to home, which I like, but it is a very, very tough first-round match. Michigan is a very strong team and they’re definitely battle tested. We have to go in and do the best we can on Thursday.”
SEC Digital Network: What do you know about Michigan and its style of play?
Rob Patrick: “They play the game really well. All of their players can handle the ball really well and they do some great things in terms of playing the game. We have to be able to play the whole match to be successful against them. We can’t just be good in one or two phases of the game, we have to be good in all phases for us to be successful; it’s something that we need to really make sure that we do. They serve well, pass well and their hitters don’t make a lot of errors. They’re going to be a really tough team to play.”
SEC Digital Network: Your team finished the regular season with a 22-7 overall record; how have you seen your squad grow and improve over the course of the year?
Rob Patrick: “The thing that most people don’t really understand is how injured we were. At the beginning of the year, we didn’t have any of our middles – both of our middles from last year were out. DeeDee [Harrison] had a sprained ankle and was out for three weeks and Shealyn Kolosky had a broken finger at the very end of summer and was out six weeks to start the season. Even when they came back, they were not at 100 percent because they were still getting over their ankle and finger injuries. I’m pretty happy with the record we have because we didn’t have a set lineup for a long time. I feel good about how our season went with all the injuries we’ve had over the past year. I don’t think people understand the adversity we faced in dealing with those injuries, changing lineups and getting people healthy. There was a lot that went on with our team and I was really happy to be able to deal with adversities and get big wins, playing with a lot of young people. We’ve been playing our best volleyball the second half of the season. I’m excited about how we finished up the regular-season.”
SEC Digital Network: Your 2011 SEC Championship team featured a lot of young players that weren’t necessarily battle tested. How do you feel that the experience of the 2011 season, including the NCAA Tournament appearance, will help those players in the NCAA Tournament this season?
Rob Patrick: “I think it’s going to help us tremendously. The big thing is that they’re not satisfied with getting to the second round. They’re excited about getting back to the tournament and they’re excited to really work hard to get past the second round. The experiences that they had last year are going to help them work hard to make that happen.”
SEC Digital Network: How strong was the SEC – in its first year with 13 volleyball programs in 2012 – this season and how does that conference schedule help prepare your team for the NCAA Tournament?
Rob Patrick: “I thought a lot of the SEC teams were very strong. You had the perennially strong SEC teams like Kentucky, us and Florida. Texas A&M is a very strong team and Arkansas had a very good year with a lot of talented seniors. There are a lot of really good things that happened within our conference because there are really good teams and players. Playing that strong of a conference schedule helps all of our teams be more successful in the NCAA Tournament.”