NCAA Volleyball Championships: Karch Kiraly talks Texas
Dec. 16, 2009
On the 2009 Longhorns: My first impression of this team is it seems more comfortable (this year) in this Final Four role. It had been quite a while since Texas had been here, when UT got to Omaha last year. Texas definitely wants to get behind where they got last year, being up 2-0 in the semis and ending up losing to Stanford. That, if anything, has probably provided them more motivation and focus this year.
Texas is three points away from being undefeated itself. I didn’t think they were very good at that match at Iowa State, against a very good team on its home floor, and Texas still almost won. That’s a tribute to how strong this Texas team is.
Like the other teams here, Texas plays together. They run a great program. They have very good recruiters, and they recruit some of the very best players. They have some of the very best athletes and some of the very best players who already are athletes, like a Destinee Hooker. And, the rich just keep getting richer. That builds a snowball effect. Texas has great recruiting classes almost every year. They train well and they are a well-coached team.
There’s this expectation at a program like Texas now…’This is what we’re going to do. We’re in this quest, and we want to be in the Final Four every year. We want to win our conference every year.’ As programs like Texas and Penn State get better, this culture immediately helps the freshmen. They come into this situation, and they’re immediately in this winning mentality, mindset, attitude and culture. That helps the program build itself.
On the Texas-Minnesota match: Minnesota is a great story. They lost their best outside hitter during the season. It would be something like Texas losing Destinee (Hooker) or Juliann (Faucette). Minnesota has overcome that. They reached this critical point in the season where they were down 2-0 at Michigan State. It was a ‘now or never’ situation. They came back and won that match, 3-2, and they have picked up a lot of momentum. They put the pieces together, and it has really come together late for them.
Texas probably outmatches Minnesota, physically. But, I wouldn’t put anything past Minnesota, who has another one of the great coaches in college volleyball in Mike Hebert. He has taken two different programs to multiple Final Fours now, both at Illinois and Minnesota. They’ve got a real nice middle blocker in Lauren Gibbemeyer. I know they can’t out-vertical Texas, but maybe they’ll try to spread it out and work them horizontally. It will be a fun match-up to watch.
On UT's 2009 AVCA first-team All-Americans, Destinee Hooker and Ashley Engle: I’m really impressed with them, especially with Destinee. She is one of these well-rounded athletes, a NCAA high jump champion. The challenge for her is that during the spring season she is in track and field. Most volleyball players are training and getting better in the spring and getting some good time in the gym. Destinee doesn’t get any of that.
So, that’s the great challenge - how do you get better when you lose all of those hours doing something else? She’s doing something that she loves to do, which is great. I encourage people to be more well-rounded athletes. It is impressive how she has gotten to this point, considering the hindrance of the lack of time in the gym she gets, compared to other volleyball players.
Ashley, from what I can see, has served this team in so many ways. She has just taken on a mentality of ‘I’ll do whatever to help this team - if I need to set, if I need to outside hit, if I need to do that, I’ll do it.’ She will do anything, and coaches love to have players like that on their teams.