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NCAA WOMEN'S NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP


December 18, 2013


Lauren Carlini

Ellen Chapman

Annemarie Hickey

Kelly Sheffield

Courtney Thomas


SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

COACH SHEFFIELD:  We're excited to be here.  This is what you dream for is to compete in the Final Four.  And we've had a great season.  We're in a nice tournament.  We feel we're playing our best volleyball at the end of the season, which is kind of the idea.
We felt like we went into the tournament playing really good volleyball, but we felt like there was still ways we could get better.
And we've continued to do that all the way through.  This is a new experience for all of us.  But I don't get the impression that this is too big for any of us.
As a matter of fact, when you look at our players, it almost feels like this is exactly what they should be doing.  And we've got a lot of players that I think they're winners and they like the bigger stage the better.
And we appreciate the hospitality of Seattle.  And we're ready to rock and roll.

Q.  Lauren, this year seems like the greatest year of freshmen in the country, unbelievable some of the players.  Can you address how you guys are so experienced now because of club and how ready you seem to be?
LAUREN CARLINI:  Yeah, I think as people get more experience and during club, clubs are just able to produce more talent now more than ever.  And this year's group of freshmen has just been outstanding and they've been big time parts of their teams.
And I'm really excited for Ebony on Freshman of the Year.  She definitely earned it.  Made one hitting error during the whole tournament.
It's really impressive to be able to see how much of an impact this class has been able to make.

Q.  When you play in the national tournaments and qualifiers and all that stuff, did that prepare you for this type of atmosphere, do you think?
LAUREN CARLINI:¬† Maybe a little bit.¬† But definitely not on such a big stage.¬† You get a few hundred people maybe at your national championship game in club.¬† On the other hand, here, you're going to have almost 17‑, 18,000 people watching you, plus you're going to be on TV.
So you get a small amount of experience at the club level, but it's nothing like we will experience tomorrow.

Q.  You came through a bracket with the toughest seeds being eliminated, make people go, well, how challenged has this team really been to get to a Final Four.  Not that we should question your worthiness, but you're the 12 seed here.  What should people expect from a team that wasn't seeded as high as the other three teams here?
COACH SHEFFIELD:  I think that's fair.  We didn't have to be a seeded team.  That's one way of looking at it.  Another way of looking at it is if you're somebody who pays attention to Pablo rankings, which are pretty good, we had, out of the four teams still playing, we had the toughest first round opponent, we had the toughest second and third round opponent, according to Pablo rankings.
And you've got our opponent, Texas, had to play Nebraska which is a pretty tough team.  Our opponent was a team that swept Nebraska and beat them in four.  So we didn't luck ourselves into this.  We didn't walk backwards into this.  We hit it straight on with some really, really good teams playing in the best conference in America.  This team deserves to be here.

Q.  You mentioned Big Ten, best conference in the country here.  Are you convinced of that?
COACH SHEFFIELD:¬† Am I convinced of that?¬† Sure.¬† I coach in it.¬† You had the most seeded teams, the most in the conference.¬† You've got two to the Final Four.¬† The Pac is great as well and you've got unbelievable elite teams elsewhere.¬† That's not‑‑ if I was coaching the Pac, I'd probably say that was the best conference.
It's what do you like, what do you value.  But neither of those take a back seat to anybody.  It's great volleyball, great coaches, great venues, great fan bases.
You go through a season in either one of those, you've been tested every single night.

Q.  Annemarie, let me start with you and ask about a couple of other players on this.  Most teams can look at a season and say at some point something defined this team, something happened to us, it was a big win or we had a loss we didn't like, where we came together to be what we are now.  When did that happen to you that you realized you guys are what you have become?
ANNEMARIE HICKEY:  I think what really set the bar for us was when we beat both Michigans on the road.  We were going into a match where we were playing two ranked teams and our traveling partner Minnesota was also ranked solid.  A lot of competition for that week.  And it tested a lot of what we needed to do.
Coach was kind of telling us these are the types of teams we'll be seeing in the second and third round of the tournament.  I think it will be a good test for us to see where we're going to be.
And I think that kind of set the bar for us coming off like a Michigan State win and beating Michigan in 5, just gave us a lot of confidence in coming in for the rest of the season of the Big Ten but also coming into the tournament, just believing in ourselves saying we can do it and getting over the hump of, okay, now since we've beaten these two teams who are great in our conference, I think we can go a really far way in the tournament, too.

Q.  Let me ask then, you guys lost nine times this year.  Did any of the losses in any way, can you look back and say that was a really defining moment for us that really moved us along?
ELLEN CHAPMAN:  The Purdue match when we lost in five at their place was a heartbreaker.  It was back and forth, and every single game was defined by two or three points.  That was just a hard match to lose.  Both sides were playing really well.
I just think that we as a team in the fifth set needed to step up like when the moment was, when there's a big moment we needed to step up and play better.  I think after that match we learned so much that important moments, we can't just play it safe, we can't just take the safe shots, that type of stuff.  I think every since that match we have grown as a team a lot and stepped up in those big moments.

Q.  Courtney, would you agree with that, that Purdue match had an impact; and if so, did it help you in a specific a match you can think of more in recently?
COURTNEY THOMAS:  Purdue, it had a big impact on our team.  And our first loss to Nebraska was really big.  We flew into that locker room and we knew we could have won that match.
And I think that set a tone really early in the season for our team knowing that we‑‑ in front of 8,000 people‑‑ we could have won that match.¬† And I think that was really important.

Q.  Coach, did the lessons that they're talking about ever in your mind then become evident in one of these last few victories you've had where you've seen the results of that actually played out in some of these victories you've had in this tournament or near the end of the Big Ten season?
COACH SHEFFIELD:  I think it's been accumulated toughness.  As we've gone on.  We mentioned the Nebraska match.  And we talked about in the locker room that was a hard locker room.  There was no moral victories here.
When it got right down to it we weren't playing great volleyball when the match was on the line.  And the Purdue thing that a couple of them mentioned, yeah, it's painful when you lose four of those games went to overtime and you're obviously losing by two and you have a choice, when you're losing.  You can find ways to get better or you can sit there, make excuses and feel sorry for yourselves.  And our team, it made them tougher.  So you mention nine losses and the other teams they don't have nine losses.
I don't know, we tend to look at things positively.  Maybe we're the toughest team here, if losses make you tough.  We certainly have had a lot of those opportunities.  But, no, there's growth.  You learn some things.  Win or lose you've got the opportunity of learning some things.
So whether it is being able to close people out when you've got the opportunity, whether it's having the right mindset like Ellen said of not playing as safe but actually playing with confidence, going with the shots that are required rather than playing it safe, there's been a lot of growth from this team.  A lot of growth.
And wins and losses.  We haven't wasted opportunities to learn, I'll tell you that.

Q.  Courtney, can you just talk about just the journey you guys have been on, a tough year last year, this is a completely different season this year ending up in the Final Four, what's that's been like especially for those in the program for a few years?
COURTNEY THOMAS:  It's been a great journey so far.  It's been a lot of fun.  The love of volleyball that our team has right now and the confidence that our team has grown with so far this year, it definitely has been a dream come true in my eyes and I think for a lot of people on our team.  And I think we deserve it.
I think we put in a lot of hard work this year and people are working hard every day after practice, staying after practice, Annemarie stays, like there's no reason that our team shouldn't be here right now.
And I think our team is out here to play confident and win.

Q.  Coach, when you took over this program, did you feel like you could get this far in just a year, did you see the pieces there, or have they surprised you somewhat?
COACH SHEFFIELD:¬† First day that we met as a team we gave them a championship manual that was going to lay out everything that we felt we needed to do.¬† The goal we started talking about on day one is that let's dream big and let's‑‑ our goal as a program is to win championships, to win Big Ten championships.¬† If you're winning Big Ten championships, competing for Big Ten championships, then you're going to put yourself into a position to compete and win national championships.¬† So let's start talking about that.
You don't just one day, without discussing it, you don't just wake up and you're competing for a national championship.  Well, we better talk about it now.  It's over.  So you've got to lay the groundwork.  You've got to talk about it.  You talk about it enough, you dream about it enough and all of a sudden it doesn't seem so farfetched.  And maybe you start believing.
And this team believes they should be here.¬† But with that said, I think it's an incredible story not just from last year to this year but being able to manage your way through injuries.¬† We have two kids on the sideline all year long that have been two‑year starters and probably last spring, you know, Jules Mikaelsen might have been our number one option last spring.¬† She was our number one option last spring.¬† And you've got that and a freshman setter in a Final Four, that rarely, rarely happens.
But you put on top of it a freshman setter that really didn't have much of a preseason the first two weeks or has had tremendous learning on the fly.  Dominique Thompson, who didn't even play last year and is learning on the fly with our new setter.
This kid right here has been a two‑year starting setter for us.¬† Now she's playing right side.¬† She didn't have much of a preseason because she's setting because Lauren was out.¬† And then Annemarie Hickey was out for three weeks with an injury.
And you have those choices when things go bad and when adversity hits, you can respond one of two ways.  And this team has responded together collectively and they responded with incredible strength and resolve.  And to me those are great stories in life.  I think it's an unbelievable story in athletics.
And then when you see that toughness and that confidence kind of come along with it, this is a force right now‑‑ these guys probably believe they can conquer the world, and they should.¬† That's where that, when you battle through adversity together, that confidence becomes real and it becomes powerful and strong, and they've got it right now.
They're excited for tomorrow.

Q.  You having 5'7'' outside, what attributes does she have that allow her to succeed at this level?
COACH SHEFFIELD:  I think that's another point you brought up.  Not only 5'7'' on the outside but we've got a 5'11" middle and they're lined up next to each other.  5'11" middle might be the smallest in the big conferences as well.
The amazing thing is we've got those two midgets up there ‑‑ and, I don't know, am I allowed to say that?¬† I'm sorry.¬† We've got these small tikes that are up there.¬† And everybody is sitting there going, well, we're just going to pound over that.
But most of these teams when we're playing them they have one of their small‑‑ the lowest hitting percentage of the year.¬† I mean, we've seen that over and over again.
You play a team like Texas, and we talked about it as a team last night.¬† They're very, very impressive.¬† I mean, physically they're just‑‑ their athletic IQ is sick.¬† And ours isn't that.
I mean, we feel we've got very high volleyball IQ.  If we try to play their game, they'll destroy us.  Our game is different.  Their game is one thing; our game is very, very different.  But we're both elite at the games we play.
The example I use is Wisconsin football.¬† You know, that's a grind it out, in the trenches, a lot of running.¬† They don't try to play like Oregon, air‑it‑out football.¬† Two different games, but both teams are really, really good.¬† We feel the same way.
Our style of game works.  And it's something that we're good at.  Did I answer your question?

Q.¬† Curious if you could tell me about‑‑
COACH SHEFFIELD:  Oh, yeah, the small.  You know, she's getting it done with toughness and moxie.  She's finding those little seams in the hole.  When she's getting housed up there at the net, she's got tremendous bounceback ability where she's coming back at you again.
And it's kind of that Allen Iverson mentality:  You go in the lane and you get knocked down; you stand up get up.  And Deme has no quit in her.  She'll bounce up and go right back at you.  Sometimes we have to calm her down a little bit.  But I love that fight.

Q.¬† Does she have ‑‑ like Washington has Cassie, Strickland 5'8".¬† She's got big hops and a strong arm.¬† The same thing with Morales?
COACH SHEFFIELD:¬† Yeah, Morales is 30‑, 32‑inch vertical.¬† She's getting up there.¬† If you give her a hole, if there's a seam, she'll be able to blast through it.¬† She'll also work around the block and has really improved her ball control and her defense.
She's passing half the court when she's in the back court.  So we lean on her an awful, awful lot.  But there's more than just the offense as part of her game.
She's really become a really all‑around well‑rounded player for us.

Q.  Does she play different locations?
COACH SHEFFIELD:  She does, yes.

Q.¬† Lauren, with a‑‑ again, sort of a shorter line, as you as a setter, does that cause you to make any type of adjustments?¬† I'm guessing not, but I was wondering if you ever have to think about it‑‑
LAUREN CARLINI:  No, just because I know they're going to get the job done.  And I gave Deme like 63 attempts or something outrageous in the Purdue game, and she still got the job done.
And no matter what, I know that I can go back to her and I can repeat, just because, like Coach said, she has such a great bounceback ability and she knows she's got to be smarter next time she goes up and she gets blocked.
So kind of Dom goes with the same thing.  I can repeat with her.
I'm confident in both of them that they can get the job done.

Q.  Kelly, you might remember when you get out in the real world a 5'11" woman is considered fairly tall.  Are you rooting for Penn State?
COACH SHEFFIELD:  Yeah, I mean, go Big Ten.  Yeah, I think you certainly would like to see your conference do well.
We're not going to go too much further into that, because for some reason we see Washington in the Finals, all right, 12,000 people want to get on us, even more fine.  Go Big Ten.  Go Russ Rose.

Q.  You must be friendly competitors at least with Penn State players, aren't you?  Have you talked to them this week?  Maybe you don't like them?
LAUREN CARLINI:  I mean, we all know each other just through the volleyball world, and I think there's just a mutual understanding that, hey, we're both in the Big Ten, we both want each other to do well, but if we were to meet, then all bets are off.  It's a battle to the end.
COACH SHEFFIELD:  Court's friends with everybody, so...

Q.  Annemarie, I know you guys have faced the best teams, and Penn State's one of them, but Texas has so many big hitters with Eckerman, with Webster, Khat Bell.  Coach is talking about you can't allow yourself to play their game.  Can you tell me about how you do that?  How do you try to neutralize the offensive firepower they bring?
ANNEMARIE HICKEY:  I think that just means we have to play our game.  I think we're strong defensively in the back court and we have a lot of great defensive players.  They are very powerful and physical at the front.  But we also led the Big Ten in digs and we are also keeping a lot of teams we've been playing to the lowest hitting percentages.
And I think this past weekend when we played Purdue, one of the best defensive teams, we battle with them and we had this defensive mentality of, okay, we have to keep the ball at the floor.
I think just playing our game really well and giving all the effort that we can to keep these balls off the floor will put us right there with them, and I think it's a great matchup for both teams.

Q.  Could you expand on that a little bit more in terms of strategically, is there a different way you approach a team like Texas than, say, a team like Purdue?
COACH SHEFFIELD:¬† I don't know if it's differently.¬† I mean, we're not going to grow in the next 24 hours.¬† You serve like crazy.¬† You try to position yourselves in the right position where you think some of the balls are going to go, and then you just‑‑ you scramble.¬† And you try to keep the ball off the floor.
And we feel like offensively we've got great ball control.¬† We feel like we've got one of the best setters on the planet.¬† And we've got‑‑ we're very balanced offensively, where you can't just key in on one or two people.
And so we think we've given them some issues as well, like we give a lot of teams some issues.  I'm assuming you're not asking me if we're going to be running a lot of wide slides or tight slides or crossing patterns or things like that, or who we're serving.
But that's been kind of the formula.  You watch us play.  There's no secret or magic to what we do.  It's just that you watch us and who we are is who we are.
But you know when you play us that it's going to be a team that's going to battle all the way to the end.  And it's worked so far to this point, and we're going to lean on it.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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