Photo by Connor Ulrey/MTSU Sidelines
Middle Tennessee women’s volleyball opens the 2016 season in-state this weekend, taking part in the Tennessee Invitational in Knoxville. The Blue Raiders, along with Louisiana-Monroe, Cincinnati and the Volunteers play in the two-day tournament Friday and Saturday.
Middle Tennessee and Louisiana-Monroe square off Friday afternoon, with the Blue Raiders playing both Cincinnati and Tennessee to close out the Invitational on Saturday. The weekend’s games will be a good test for a team looking to shift the tide from previous seasons. Coach Dan Ahiers is at the helm after taking over the head coaching position in January.
Coach Ahiers spoke with Sidelines about what’s to come from his bunch this season, what we can expect and what’s important about the beginning non-conference clashes.
For those who would like to listen to the interview in full, a SoundCloud player will be at the bottom of this Q&A.
Sidelines: Getting everything underway you know, you guys have the Tennessee Invitational this weekend. Talk about that a little bit and what the prep’s been like getting ready for that.
Ahiers: Tennessee Invitational’s gonna be a great tournament. Obviously, University of Tennessee is a big time school, they play in the SEC, they’ll probably be a power 50 school this year. Cincinnati’s really well coached, they have a lot of really great athletes, so it’s gonna be a really tough tournament for us. The University of Louisiana-Monroe is also there. Their volleyball program the last few years hasn’t been great but it’s Division 1 volleyball. Anytime you take the floor you can get beat by anybody so if we’re not prepared to play we’ll get beat by them too.
What you really want in preseason before you start playing matches is team chemistry. If you can get team chemistry then everything else will be better. The girls have really bonded well together. They’re also really hard working. A really hard working team is a team that gets better quickly. We have a lot of volleyball players in our gym. When I say volleyball players I mean girls that can do multiple things, that can play multiple positions. It makes practice a whole lot of fun.
Sidelines: You’re starting the season. How important is it to have those beginning season tournaments, to have those classics, that kind of thing? To have the exposure to play schools in other conferences outside of Conference USA, how important is that?
Ahiers: It’s a great question. We like to go travel and play different types of teams, to play and see different types of schools, to see different parts of the country as well. Obviously, you go to the University of Tennessee and they’re classic, you play a couple good teams there. Then the second weekend we’re headed out to California. We’ll play two California schools and the University of Nevada-Reno.
After that, we’ll have our home tournament. We like to have one home tournament so that when we start conference play we’re used to playing at home. We also finish non-conference with a trip to Richmond, Virginia, and VCU, which is gonna be a really tough tournament. On our way there we actually play another ACC school, Wake Forest. So we play a bunch of SEC, ACC and Big West teams.
Sidelines: What’s your main focus for all these trips you’re making? What are the main things you want to take away and learn before conference play begins?
Ahiers: Yeah, it’s, like we explain it to the girls. Before you start playing matches you’re gearing up for non-conference play. Every match you play in non-conference is to gear you up to get ready for conference. All those conference matches are gearing you up to play the conference tournament. The conference tournament prepares you for the NCAA tournament. So it’s a big progression as the season goes along, so like we’re talking about, we’re now ready to play non-conference matches.
When we’re playing those non-conference matches, we’re gearing up, making sure that all the little fixes that we need to make to get ready for conference. Then in conference, we’re gearing ourselves up to position ourselves for a great conference tournament run which gets us to the NCAA tournament.
Sidelines: You know, you took over at a certain point last season. It was a kind of roller coaster season last year. What’s it feel like to be ready for a full season as the Middle Tennessee volleyball coach?
Ahiers: Yeah, got here in January. The only thing I knew to expect was that Middle Tennessee had a very high standard for winning and graduating great student athletes. They have a very high bar here, so I was excited to get ready. The girls all spring were great, but just like we talk about it’s about the matches in the fall. It’s about what you do in the fall, so it’s finally here and I couldn’t be more excited.