Thursday, November 23, 2023

Interview with Women's Volleyball Coach Matt Jones

Gaucho Hoops (“GH”):  Why don’t we start with this year’s team vs maybe last year’s team, provide some color for this year’s squad vs. last year.  Roster make up, philosophy…I know you guys play fast.  Nicole was emphasizing that, and I guess you guys are the same this year.  You guys are a little taller this year.

Matt Jones (“MJ”):  We still play a pretty fast style.  We play really fast with pins, we want our middles up.  What we call zero tempo.  Basically up before the ball is in the setter’s hands.  So none of those things have changed.  We’re using the back row attack a little more.  So that’s a slight difference.

GH:  Are they a little more athletic this year?

MJ:  It’s the same players as last year…we just rep it more.  We practice it more, put more time into it, and they’re also a year older. So they’re just more experienced and better at it.  Both the rotation outsides are seniors.  So they’ve been in our system a long time, and they know what to do.  

As far as the starting line up, it’s fairly similar.  We’ve got a new middle in Grace Wuischpard, who’s a sophomore.  She was here last year.  Two new middles in the starting lineup.  Andi Kreiling is a transfer from Arizona State.  Grace is a true sophomore.  She has a year in our system, and has gotten a ton  in her timing, and is doing great stuff for us.

And then on the right side, another sophomore is Sophie Reavis.  She stepped in for Tallulah who played last year.  She’s doing a nice job, playing really smart, making good decisions.  And the second setter spot, with Mehana Ma’a and Megan Shimoda graduating, and Grace McIntosh is our only returning setter, we have 2 new setters in the other spot.  We have a freshman in Milan, and a junior transfer in Michelle Zhao.  So they’ve been competing for that second spot.  We haven’t made any changes in the line up yet.  We have a big freshman class, but most of them aren’t currently rotating in the lineup.  Some will likely redshirt.  It’s an adjustment to play in our system.  The speed of our offense is a big adjustment, so it takes them a year to learn the system, and so when some of these seniors graduate, they’ll be competing to fill those spots.

GH:  Is your style of play common in high school, or in the circuit?

MJ:  There are some places that play this fast in high school.  Like SC Elite just down the road plays pretty quickly.  San Gabriel…so there are high schools that do it, but even some of the ones that go fast, they may not do it if it’s a little bit off the net, or out of system, but we keep a pretty good pace off the net.  Obviously there’s a time and place for us to set higher out of system balls, but we try to keep a pretty good tempo to about 15 feet off the net, and even collegiately, a lot of top programs are going fast now, but there are plenty of places that do not play at this speed at the collegiate level.

GH:  Like UT, right?  They’ve got a monster front line.

MJ:  Yeah, like them…or even in our conference there are some places that don’t outs fast, just different styles by different coaches, different personnel groups.

GH:  Is it based on the height of the personnel?

MJ:  No, we recruit…we’re looking for…a lot of it has to do with arm swing, and the ability to adjust arm swing on the ball.  So we’re definitely trying to recruit for it.

GH:  Like a fast arm swing?

MJ:  Yeah, at the end of the day, internationally, they’re playing super fast, all their pins are 6’2”.  If you’re tall, and you’re dynamic enough to do it, we’d love to recruit you, of course.  So it is not based on the size of the player.  More about how dynamic they are.

GH:  So is the appropriate analogy a baseball pitcher who has a fastball?  Is that the same thing for a woman with a fast arm swing?

MJ:  Yeah, like how fast they can whip their arm through.  It’s similar for sure.  But there’s a slight difference there, because a baseball pitcher has complete control of the ball the whole way.  Some pitchers generate power in a certain way.  Some have hip torque, with a long whip, while some pitchers are just big, strong guys, using their back and chest to generate power in the throw.  It’s similar in volleyball as well.  For us, we’re looking for the few who can create the whip motion quickly.  That’s our ideal hitter in our offense, so they can get their arm through the slot faster.  In baseball, it doesn’t matter how fast your arm comes through.  But when you’re in the slot, you can create power.  The speed and slotting your power through the window is really important.  And catching up to the speed of the set.

GH:  When you say “slotting”, is that like the sweet spot?  Like you want to have perfect contact?  Is that what you mean?

MJ:  Right.  Our dream hitting location for a right hand hitter is slightly right of the shoulder, where she only has to tilt her head slightly with full extension, and slightly in front of their forehead.  That’s the dream window.  But because our offense is fast, we’re going to deal with more sets that aren’t perfect.  And so we have people who can take their arm and put it here and here and here, and put it in different slots in the window quickly.

GH: So that takes a lot of athleticism to adjust in real time.  So can you kinda explain how Nicole said you run different offenses than most teams?  Like the 6-2 and 5-1.

MJ: The 6-2 has two setters that play.  In women’s volleyball, you have 15 substitutions. Every 3 rotations, a right sight comes off the court, and a setter comes in, and vica versa.  So it basically allows us to always have 3 front row hitters, so it makes us a lot harder to stop because 90 - 95% of the teams in the country don’t have a back row attack, but if they do have one, their back row attack is typically much less efficient than their front row attackers.  When you’re defending 5-1 teams, it gives us an advantage, because it’s easier to defend because they have less attackers in and less options, so we can put in more blockers.  It’s easier for us to read and to decide what to defend.  So for us, we’re working to become the lead program in the country.  There are two factors that make it effective:  1) If you’re going to run a 5-1, you need a big physical setter who can block and really run the offense, they have to be a good enough blockers and they have to be threat to dump–to hold your blockers honest, to give the two front hitters freedom, 2) a really elite one-footed attacker, an attacker in the middle who can go behind the setter one one foot to spread the defense

GH:  You don’t see that in men’s volleyball much, right?

MJ:  There are men’s teams now that are using the slide, but you do see it less because men’s use a back row, right side attack.  So if you don’t have a good one foot attacker, and again, they have to be really good, otherwise you are giving something up because, again, it’s easier for us to defend, because there’s only two of them, even if they’re really good at it.  And you have to have a great back row attack.  The mid and the slide, or a backrow attack to keep the offense balanced.  So in the time we’ve been here, basically the kind of setter we’ve been talking about is both an elite setter and elite physical, there just aren’t a ton of those in the country.

GH:  They have to pretty much be an all around player.

MJ:  Yeah, they pretty much have to do everything really well, and they have to be able to set the speed of our offense, which is the most important thing.  And so to have both, realistically right now, those setters are being picked off by the top 15 teams in the country.  So until we’ve broken into that niche, setters are recruited more seriously.  There are a lot of setters in our opinion who are undervalued, just because they aren’t big enough, but they’re great setters, and so for us, we would much rather run a 6-2.  We always have 3 front row attackers, which makes us hard to stop, and in our case, we also have a back row attack, so we actually have 4 attackers ready to go at all times, and our 3 front row attackers are more efficient than if we’re trying to run our middles behind our slide, and we can kinda run our right side, back row attack.  Because the substitutions allow it, and because of our personnel, we have multiple and plenty of good pins, and we have enough good setters to make it work.

GH:  When you said “dump”, is that on 2?

MJ:  Yes.

GH:  I’m not an expert on volleyball, I played with Kathy on the beach in PA class, and she would yell at me <laughs>

MJ:  I’m sure she would.

GH:  “Dude, this is intramurals.”

MJ:  That’s intense, man.  

GH:  It’s a PE class, right?  She still remembers me.

MJ:  She got the best out of you.

GH:  Yep.  She was the #1 player at the time, yet had no hops.  It’s the weirdest thing, it’s different now, of course.  I just like the sport, I always have.  You guys are really good.  It sounds like the level of recruiting is rising.

MJ:  Yeah, we’ll see.  We love this freshman class.  We’ve had multiple good classes in a row.  That’s why we have a good team right now.  We have a chance to build something here.  But we have to continue to get good recruiting classes.  This freshman class is a big class.

GH:  How many?  4?

MJ:  There’s 7.    4 pins, a middle, a setter and a libero.  

GH:  What’s a pin again?

MJ:  A right sider and an outsider.  We think they’ll have a lot of impact for the next few years of this program, but then we have another class coming behind them in 2024, which we’re excited about that class as well.

GH:  Are they signed?

MJ:  Technically, they sign in November, but they’ve all verbally committed.  And 2025, we’re still working on building that class.

GH:  Are you recruiting internationally?  Women’s volleyball is a lot more dispersed.  Men’s volleyball is basically southern California and Penn St. or whatever.

MJ:  Yeah, we recruit internationally.  Because of the academic standards here, it makes it more difficult.  Also, we’re a UC school, because it costs double to go here, in athletic scholarship budgeting, so an out of state scholarship costs twice as much.  So we have a limit right now on how many out of state scholarships we can get.  Because of that limit and academic restrictions, it’s been difficult.  It makes it harder to pick up international kids.  We have to think they will be a 3 or 4 year starter, and they have to meet the academic requirements of the school.  And we’re doing all that, watching video.  Right now, our recruiting budget doesn’t allow us to go overseas to watch kids.  One of my goals is to raise funds to have more out of state scholarships, we want to have recruiting budgets to evaluate more recruits eventually.  But at the end of the day, there’s enough talent in the United States for the right kids.  We talk to international kids on a regular basis.  We had one, a libero when I first got here.  I haven’t had one since.  It’ll happen at some point.

GH:  What about outside of California?  Macall is from San Diego, from Penn St., but are you getting out of state players?

MJ:  Yes, Tasia is from Utah.  Milan is from Washington, DC.  We have Andi from Missouri.  Briana is from Arizona.  

GH:  Another topic being tossed around on the Gaucho message board, beach volley is a mecca here.  I lived in Hermosa for years, where beach volleyball is pretty big in the south bay.  Is UCSB going to sponsor beach volleyball at some point?

MJ:  We hope so.

GH:  Would you be a part of that?

MJ:  If they need it–if there was a way for the indoor team to help, I’m on board for that.  But at the end of the day, adding a sport is financially difficult.

GH:  It would solve Title IX issues, right?  Do you need women’s student-athletes to match males?

MJ:  Right now, the department doesn’t have Title IX issues.  We’re in line.

GH:  That’s right, we don’t have a football team.

MJ:  That’s not an issue for the Athletics department.  We’re in line there.  It’s a budget thing.

GH:  The marketing opportunities would be great.  So would selling beer in the Thunderdome.  Alright, thanks for the interview, Coach.  It’s been very informative. 

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