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December 16, 2016
THE MODERATOR: Texas, making its second straight trip to the championship match, looking for its third NCAA title. This is the sixth time Texas has played in the season's final match. Joined today by student athletes Chloe Collins, Morgan Johnson and Nicole Dalton.
Coach, thoughts on the championship match tomorrow night.
COACH ELLIOTT: Well, honored to be a part of the Final game of the 2016 season. We know that we have a tremendous amount of respect for Stanford and their size and what they can do right now, and how hot they are playing.
You know, we're excited. Our team has a lot of confidence going into this match, and we're looking forward to putting a game plan together to be successful tomorrow night.
Q. I guess, Chloe, you can answer this, and Morgan and Nicole, if you guys have something to add to it. Obviously when people look at Stanford, they see that size and how big they are to try to hit against. Can you guys maybe talk about what are the ways that you deal with that kind of size?
CHLOE COLLINS: I think our main key point is going to be just great on defense and having great coverage, giving our hitters confidence just to go out there and be able to be aggressive on the net. Not change anything about the way we play, but just be smart with our shots and be able to maybe utilize the block in some ways.
MORGAN JOHNSON: Jerritt likes to talk about being methodical, like with our swings. So I feel like knowing that there's going to be a big block in front of us and making smart aggressive shots.
NICOLE DALTON: I agree with both of them. I think just staying really disciplined on the defensive side will be key for us. I think just being relentless on each of our individual jobs, and as defenders, just covering and going all out.
Q. Chloe, can you share for all the setters out there who are not six feet, what you've learned in your career about how to play at such a high level and not necessarily be able to put up a huge block or some things that a 6-2 setter could do?
CHLOE COLLINS: Our coaching staff has put a lot of trust in me in what I'm capable of doing at the net. I know Sulli just always tells me to always take away what I can take away and not try to be bigger than what I am, and let our team play defense around me, and they do a tremendous job of that, especially Cole, she always has my back.
But just be confident when you're at the net and be aggressive up there, and just know that you can do it. You know, just don't let the height, let it get you, because most of the times the game is played around the net and not so much seven feet in the air.
Q. For all three of the players, kind of overall thoughts about tomorrow's match and how excited are you to be here with a chance to win the title tomorrow?
MORGAN JOHNSON: Obviously like it's an exciting time. Every team dreams of being in our position, and we're so grateful to be in this position and have the opportunity to go out and represent our university to the highest.
NICOLE DALTON: Yeah, I'm super excited. I think that we have been given this great opportunity to go play for the last time together one more time tomorrow night, and I think that Stanford is going to be a great opponent for us. They are a great team and I think that we have grown this whole season a lot to get to this point, so we're very excited about it.
CHLOE COLLINS: I think they summed it up pretty well. Even to date, Stanford, they have had a rocky season as well as we have. I think it's going to be just a great match-up between the two. They are a really great defensive team with their blocking and just to go out and compete, it's going to be really great just to play this one last match together.
Q. I know when you're in college, everybody is kind of in the moment, but I wonder if any of you would answer this that have a strong feeling about it. Is there a time when you recognize that you're part of something bigger in terms of history with Texas Volleyball, and the same goes for Stanford. You're talking about two programs that have stood the test of time for a long time, and does that mean something special to you as long horns that you're playing a team like Stanford?
CHLOE COLLINS: I'm going to say yes, for sure, especially with our alumni base. They do a tremendous job keeping in contact with us and just knowing the tradition and the legacy; they have led the way for Texas to be such a powerhouse. Even before our Nebraska match, we had a couple alumnis, they sent us some messages to go out there and play and continue what they started, and it just let's you take a step back and be like, wow, I'm a part of this big university and representing them in a way that I never thought I could. I think we can all say that we are truly blessed to go to this university and represent it.
MORGAN JOHNSON: I agree.
NICOLE DALTON: Yeah, I definitely agree. I think Texas has this amazing tradition that we've been a part of for a couple years, and Chloe and I for a little bit longer.
But it's just amazing looking back at the people that have come before you, all of our alumni, and how supportive they are of us, even five years, four, three years after they are done at Texas.
I think the tradition is awesome and I think Stanford has that, as well. I'm not sure of their specific traditions, but they have a great program, as well.
Q. Nicole, what are some of the things you've been able to share as a leader with your teammates based on your journey? You were on the roster when they won it last time, the injuries were tough and you had to keep battling back on that. Are there some messages you've been able to tell them throughout the year through challenges to get to this point?
NICOLE DALTON: Yeah, for sure, I think just always stay positive and not take anything for granted. Because at Texas, we have so many great opportunities, and going to the Final Four for the past five years in a row has been absolutely amazing. It's such an honor to represent this university.
Yeah, I think just giving my teammates confidence when they may be injured or down or not have the greatest day. So I think just always have a smile on your face and have a positive outlook on life.
Q. Morgan, could you talk about your season and kind of your growth at the middle blocker position and the ups and downs you've had this year?
MORGAN JOHNSON: Yeah, so coming in, obviously not having Chi, having to step up and fill that role, very intimidating, because it's really big shoes to fill. And I had a lot of pressure on me from Jerritt in the beginning because like trying to switch hitting positions, going from M1 to M2, it didn't seem like that big of a difference, but it really is a huge difference.
And then just trying to build confidence with Chloe and the rest of my teammates was kind of rocky, like at the beginning. But as the season progressed, we started getting better and building that confidence and getting that chemistry and I feel like we've peaked at the right time.
Q. A question for all three of you. Before the game when you guys are chilling and just listening to music, what's one song that you have to listen to before you go out there, and why?
NICOLE DALTON: For me personally I usually have my headphones in because I'm not a fan of what they listen to, so I don't really know. I'm more a country type of person but they could probably answer that question.
MORGAN JOHNSON: Well, I mean, like when they play the rock group (ph). I just listen to my headphones. I listen to like a lot of variety. Like one song I listen to is 'In the Air Tonight' by Phil Collins. It's a great one (laughter) you need to listen to it. Like last minute and a half, superb.
CHLOE COLLINS: I don't have a particular song that I listen to. I don't listen to my headphones in the locker room but we do have our own like Texas Volleyball game day playlist, and we play it every single game. So we basically hear the same songs about twice a week. And I think that's allows us to build a routine and build off that.
Q. Who chooses that --
CHLOE COLLINS: Cat McCoy.
Q. Any of you guys can answer this. When you look at the power that college volleyball hitters have, how long did it take you, or is that a gradual thing, especially when you're digging and blocking to get used to that? Is that a big jump up from high school? Because when we're watching, it looks like incredible, the power and the speed of some of these balls are coming at, does that just become almost second nature to you to be able to deal with that, or how long did that take to adjust to it?
NICOLE DALTON: Gosh, high school was a long time ago, so I think that transition is a little blurred. Yeah, it's definitely -- people are jumping higher, swinging faster, hitting harder. I think on the defensive end of it, it was definitely a transition.
But the coaches at Texas have definitely prepared us and they prepare you quickly as an incoming freshman for that. So I think the transition is a tough one for everyone, but I think we all picked up on it pretty quickly.
MORGAN JOHNSON: Yeah, they definitely do like hit harder; I can tell you that by the amount of jammed fingers I have. I currently have three. It's just something you learn to deal with, and then you -- also, the harder they hit, the faster the ball goes down, so I don't mind that, either.
CHLOE COLLINS: I think it just has to do with our staff does a really good job of emphasizing seeing the right things, being able to react to it that way, and allowing your mind time to think because you have more time than you think you do. Because as fast as the ball seems like it's going, you have a lot more time to react than you think; and being able to utilize that to your advantage and just go for balls.
Q. How are you all spending your day today and tomorrow in preparation for the National Championship? How are you calming the nerves that you might have?
NICOLE DALTON: I think today we had the banquet earlier this morning, which is awesome. We had a couple All-Americans on our team, which was great, to celebrate them this morning. But I think the coaches just let us get back to the hotel. We had some treatment. Kind of laid down, relaxed, closed your eyes. Maybe not think about volleyball for ten minutes or so.
But we're just really focusing on tomorrow, just by our routine today. It's just like any other game and I think we are treating it as that just the day before the game, getting mentally prepared and relaxed, as well.
Q. How are you going to deal with Inky?
JERRITT ELLIOTT: I think you've got to try to do a good job from the service line. Inky is going to get her kills. There are some things that we're going to do to try to slow her down at times. People have been trying to do it all year long, and when you get a player of that calibre at the middle, she can do some damage to you.
SO you hope to do a good job from the service line to get them out of system a little bit more and inside-out pretty quickly during the rotations that she's up there.
Q. We talked about this a few times during the season, but can you go back through your decision to move Yaasmeen to the middle and your thoughts on her and Morgan's development?
JERRITT ELLIOTT: Yeah, it's been kind of the key to our season and been the key to the development of this team. We were really struggling in the beginning of the year without Chi.
The difference is for writers that don't know a lot about the game of volleyball, when you're in the M1, you've got to hit more off of one foot behind the setter. So when you're in the M2, you're two out of the three rotations in front of the setter. So to be able to hit that ball off one foot takes time to develop and years to get at it sometimes.
So Mo wasn't very proficient at it at the beginning of the year and she was struggling. We spent a lot of time on her footwork and trying to get her planted foot in the right location seeing the right things and getting the range that she had.
And then Yaasy, we're really struggling at our other position. Orie was starting but was going to be really good and we have a lot of confidence in where she's developing to, but just didn't have a lot of experience. So one day I'm like, I just looked at Yaasy like, Hmmm, maybe there's an option.
So I just kind of threw some balls during a time-out and she crushed a couple slower tempo balls, and next day we did a little bit more. And then the third day we started doing some transition footwork off of boxes and trying to see how she did, and after about two weeks, we're like, let's do it.
Yaasy has really developed in that position, but both of them took a huge amount of tried in terms of their conditioning level. I think that's been a big part of this and they committed to it; our staff has done an excellent job, Jan and Donnie and our nutrition program. I think they are the most, best condition they have ever been in and are feeling confident because of that, and have really increased their vertical and their speed and the things that they have been able to do.
Q. How does Stanford size-wise match up to some of the teams you've faced, even going back a ways? Are they one of the biggest overall that you've gone against that you remember?
JERRITT ELLIOTT: Yeah, I think they are one of the biggest that you've -- I mean, they are physically everywhere. They are overwhelming at times. Their physicality can pose a lot of problems with their blocking.
But you know, they are big and they are long, and you know, there's advantages and disadvantages to all of that. They have got to be able to bend and they have got to be able to move and they have got to be able to kind of transition and be in good system to be able to be effective that way.
Some people wonder why we took Chloe. Chloe is so small that she can move fast and she can run down balls and she can cover and do the little things more and she makes -- than she does, but she gives up a little blocking makes it up in other areas.
So we have to do a good job with our first contract, again, like we did last night, to put them in situations where we can at least get one-on-one situations and hopefully score with some opportunities.
Q. There was a point around the Iowa State match where you didn't seem like you were anything like you were last night. After that, was there a point that you felt like, we fixed a couple of things, now we're rolling?
JERRITT ELLIOTT: I don't know, maybe we need to lose to Iowa State more often the last game of the year. You know, we won in '12 when we lost -- we weren't very good when we lost up there. I remember thinking that; like we're just not very good right now, and we're trying to do this and we're trying to get this team to kind of buy into it, and they were and they were working really hard.
But for whatever reason, that just kind of relieved all the stress. Just kind of threw it out the door and they just said, you know, we had the seniors over -- as I said last time, I had the seniors over for dinner at my house and cooked with staff and added different things to all the things we were making; and just sat down and said: What do you guys need, how can we help out, what are we doing well, what are we not doing well.
We made ourselves vulnerable to see what they needed. We told them that we had two out of the three equations to be a great team and we just need one more. And if they bought, believe in that and bring that energy every day and start having fun, that can happen.
So at that point, I just started, we need to look at each other more in the eyes and we've got to make people around each better. The self-talk in our head needs to be a lot better. Because what you guys don't know is what we know, is how special you are and how good you guys can be.
Every year, you go through this, and it's trying to convince them that -- all they remember is the last week of the season, it was so easy, we got to the Final Four, and they don't remember all the work that goes into it all throughout the process. It was great because the group committed to it. We had great senior leadership and just did a really nice job.
Q. When you have been able to do this for so many years in a row, sometimes I think it means that you have taken some teams probably further than maybe they maxed out. But that also puts a lot of pressure on because in some ways, everybody thinks you guys should win the National Championship every single year. How have you kind of dealt with that, of knowing that there's all those expectations and at the same time knowing how hard it is to actually win the thing?
JERRITT ELLIOTT: Yeah, I'll go back to a couple things. I know you asked the players about that and I think that was one of the struggles that we were going through. They felt so much pressure like they weren't going to be the senior class that got us back to the Final Four.
And so they wanted it so bad and they didn't know how to get it, and maybe they wanted it to happen now and you know just were young in their thinking. We were just confident in what we were doing with them.
Same thing goes about us. We have a former chancellor (ph), Mike Boyds (ph), who is sitting in the back here that we work with to build a culture. It's more about what it takes to be great, and it's important to be able to create leadership within our team that is able to speak when we're not in the locker room and on the road and those kind of things.
What we try to do is create a culture that we can establish over a period of time in terms of what it means to be a part of our program, the work ethic that it takes, the loyalty and the friendships that it takes, the tough conversation and communication that it takes.
And to learn how to manage these young girls. Because if I managed them the way that I was raised, for many of my coaches, I don't think I would be as successful. You have to be very vulnerable with this age group nowadays. You have to be very real with them and you have to be honest with them and our staff, fortunate to have Erik and Tonya, and I include Donnie, our strength coach, and Dan, and everybody that we employ, we meet about each one of our players, because each one of them needs different things.
And they come from different backgrounds. We have got inner-city kids, we have got affluent kids, we have got single-parent kids, we've got foreign kids, and they all are raised differently. And so we have to create a culture of trust. That's the biggest thing that you have to do as a coach, and if you don't do that, then I think you're going to have a lot of inconsistencies. Because there are a lot of kids that come in that are not emotionally stable enough or have been treated a certain way that they don't have that trust, even with me.
So it takes about a year, year and a half for them to say, okay, who does have my back, and those things are tested constantly. I can't tell you how many of my players have always, going back to like a Khat Bell. She tested me so many times to see if I would stick by her side. And now we're like, you know, she's like almost a daughter to me because she understands that.
That's what coaching is about. I think it's about developing these young women and building that culture and doing it. So that's my primary job as a coach.
Q. So the Final Four was on ESPN last night, kind of an historic season for volleyball in general, and I think a lot of people expected a Nebraska/Minnesota matchup. What makes this championship special and what does it mean for the future of college volleyball?
JERRITT ELLIOTT: I want to talk about that really quick. I got a text from my assistant earlier this morning, the ratings today -- I'm a little slow with my phone. I'm not the greatest.
It was up 50 percent I believe from a year ago. The semifinals in terms of the ratings and I think the streaming was up 183 percent. So it shows -- I don't know if the growth of this sport, the more people that buy into what a great sport it is are just starting to see that. The people that play it overseas get to see that and how big it is. Poland has had their World Championships and I think they sold out a 55,000-seat arena in 11 minutes.
I don't think anybody that comes to these Final Fours says, this is a really boring sport. They come, and say, wow, these are pretty impressive women. The game continues to grow and gets -- the participation rate, growth, just continues to go, and it's exciting.
I don't even know if I answered your question. What was your question again? Okay.
Q. I was asking about power earlier and forgive me, but for people who don't really understand as much about the sport, when they see the kind of power, when you're preparing people to do that, is it similar to somebody learning the difference between a fastball and a curveball and a changeup, learning to read things? Is there any similarity in terms of the hitter in baseball and what somebody who is digging or blocking is trying to do?
JERRITT ELLIOTT: There's some similarities tore four. There's a reason you don't see 18- to 22-year-olds on the Olympic Team, because there's so much volleyball (ph) IQ that that taken place. When a ball is being set, it could be inside, outside, high or low, inside or off. It depends on how physical that player is, where their feet are to the ball, and a lot of those things dictates where they are going to hit based on those skills.
What I see on the bench, I could scream it out five seconds earlier than what my kids are seeing it, but that part of it takes a big adjustment period. And so, you get that and then you start getting into physicality. When you talk about a kid guy like Inky or Lutz or those guys that are touching so high; there's different angles that start playing in the game, and so the court becomes even bigger for those type of players, and it's harder to defend those type of players and physicality becomes a big part of it.
So there's a tremendous amount of reading that goes on. There's a complete understanding of what you need to be seeing at the right point in time, and to be able to come up with a scheme where we can just try to slow the ball down a little bit and get some quality touches and transition off of it.
Q. Do you have to do any sort of rebuilding of mechanics in terms of the way people hit when they get to your level, or is it more refinement?
JERRITT ELLIOTT: It depends on the players. There's some that we have to -- like Orie right now, we are spending a lot of time in trying to re-train her muscle memory with a lot of different areas. And when it aligns, it's really special but it's few and far between. So it keeps growing and developing.
So the skill set, the hardest part is probably the serve receive, because in the club level, kids are playing on sport court that there's no depth and the players are not as physical and the speed doesn't come at you as fast.
So it usually takes -- the two players that usually, positions that usually take the longest to learn is usually the ds and the middle blockers, learning to read, because the quality of players, when you bring a freshman is that has to try to block Inky and the two pins, they are going to drop their hips every single time and they are not going to be able to make good reads off of it.
So it takes a ton of time, something that we try to do on a daily basis. And you know, the things that we do in our gym, we are not like, everybody wants to know what the magic is. There's not a whole lot of magic. We do our drill sets. We kind of go through the same drill and same progressions on a daily basis and we get good at that, and then we watch film and spend some time individually if we can with those players, and try to develop their volleyball IQ and their understanding of how to go about the mechanics of it, as well.
Q. Could you just comment on, last night you talked about the power of the game. This year you have bigger hitters. Could you give us kind of an analogy of what it might be like to be at the other end of ones of those kills?
JERRITT ELLIOTT: I could back in the day; those kids are probably jumping higher than I used to. I don't know what the analogy is. There's a sweet finesse about the game; that there's a physical side to it. When all those things kind of come together, the game is really fun to play. It almost seems like you're in slow motion.
I just felt like going into the match, our kids were in the right mind-set. I've been rolling on that many of times and they were just relentless last night. I called one time-out the entire night. It was late in Game 3. So they were in a good position.
But the physicality that we had, a year ago, we had matchup problems because Amy could score but she doesn't get over the net very high, and so when you have got Micaya starting to step block like she did and getting touches on the ball, it changes the way people think. It's one of the reasons why Stanford is so good right now. They can get in and they can be very imposing with their block and put pressure even from an emotional standpoint with their size and physicality.
Q. You made a reference last night to people have been talking about your passing for a decade now. Do you think sometimes you guys get a little bit of a bad rap because you're the physical team and everybody says Texas has got its athletes, but they are not -- you can get them in trouble with passing, so does that not tell the whole story?
JERRITT ELLIOTT: No, I think it's fair. I don't think we're as bad as people think. There's some things that prohibit us from being able to get as many kids as we had like admitted to the University of Texas, but we're not like most schools where you can just get a walk-on in and be part of our program.
It's very hard, and that's the skill -- if you look at Russ's team, he's probably got 22 kids and those kids are battling and getting better every single day. We don't have that luxury of being able to do that.
But I do know that we have battled and developed a skill set. If you look at the first match against Nebraska to where we were last night and our ability to refine their skill set over a period of time, it's kind of the mix in the battle of what you want to take. You've got to have these physical kids that you can play at a high level and try to get -- we've lost some. I can go through a list that we finished No. 2 on: Alex Hyland, Megan Hodge; I can go down the list of many more ball control players but we never got those players.
So we got physical players that didn't play six rotations. I mean, Micaya played a little bit of six rotations her senior year, but now she's developing into a six-rotation player and it takes team to refine that. But, you know, it's part of it.
I don't listen to the noise, you know. I put more pressure on myself probably. I'm not happy that we've only won one out of -- one of eight. I think there's two or three, 2010, I don't think we had a team that was a Final Four team by any means. Last year's team I wouldn't expected to get there.
This year's time, I wouldn't, before Iowa State, I would have told you we wouldn't be a Finals-type team. But I think what we do is we train our team to peak at the right time, physically, emotionally, and get them playing their best volleyball at the end of the year.
It's a thought-out plan, from everything that we do from the weight room, their muscle mass increases dramatically throughout the season, and we're peaking and we're rested and we're feeling good about it. I think that's one of the reasons we've had success is just about knowing how to kind of manage the season at a high level.
Q. You've talked about this a lot but with Ebony, she wrote a long blog post when she left USC about why it was tough to leave home, and you were saying last night she was also beat up physically. Can you talk about the process, did it work out maybe the best that she didn't play last year in terms of getting completely healthy and happy and everything?
JERRITT ELLIOTT: She wasn't ready -- she wasn't able to play last year. Part of this, I want to make sure my players can go for long periods of time and play. She got hurt with USA Volleyball and playing a long season at USC, I don't think it was anything they did, but it was just she came in beat up.
So we put a high priority in terms of taking care of the athlete over a period of time and believe me, I had many talks with myself of not want to go red-shirt her because I thought we were in a position to win. But I've got to look at it for her from a physical standpoint and emotional standpoint.
I can't tell you how many tears there were between her and Micaya sitting out and how hard that is, because they just feel so distant from the program. But constant, hanging out with them and talking with them, and they look back and now they have grown over that period of time. And now she's so much better from an emotional standpoint, too. She trusts -- she wouldn't look me in the eye for the first six months, was very scared and thought I was the big, bad wolf. And I would talk very calmly with her.
And now we have -- one of the great things I'll never forget is last night she came out of the match and put her arm around me and 24. That would have never happened a year ago. So she's developing that, and that's what this is about. She's a tremendous writer and I think that's where her future is, her blogging, and she's got this wonderful gifted personality. And I get to be the male figure in her life and help her develop and be confident as a young woman and get through this.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Good luck tomorrow night.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports