Mondays with Jeff: Illinois week

Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm, junior wide receiver Antwane Grant and junior linebacker Nick Holt talked Monday about facing Illinois on Saturday.

 Jeff Brohm
“Obviously it was a great first win for us. Our guys worked extremely hard in the offseason and the fall to great ready for that game. I thought we were very well-prepared. We came out, we started fast, we played fast and we kept the tempo on the entire game.
“I think our guys were able to wear out the opponent and out guys got off to a great start. So it’s a huge first win for us, it’s good to be 1-0, it’s good to win at home, but at the same time now we’re moving on and that game’s over with. We gotta move on to Game 2.
“A tough opponent, a Big Ten opponent at their place which is always difficult and I think our guys understand last year we started off very well, also, and ended up having a huge loss to Tennessee. And then also combined that with a loss at South Alabama.
“We know how important it is to come out and be ready to play this game and we can’t get too high based off the last game. So it’s important for our guys to refocus, lock in and realize how much work it’s gonna take to win this next ballgame.”

    Game film: “I thought our guys played hard, and they played fast and they blocked for each other and they played for each other.
“I thought defense started fast to get a three-and-out right off the get-go against that team was huge for us. We had a good plan on offense so we took it down and scored, which was huge as well.
“We got off to a big lead thanks to our offense – and to our defense – playing very well in the first quarter. Then I thought they picked up their tempo, started to get their offense going and it was good that we were able to keep the pressure on on offense, continue to score and our defense found ways to get stops when they needed to.
“That was a very good football team, but I thought the fact that we started fast, we played hard at all positions, people played unselfishly helped us win the ballgame.”

    Avoiding the letdown: “Without question it’s key. We don’t wanna be a one-game wonder. We realize that this is a long season. We told our team and our guys before the season, ‘We’re gonna take one game at a time, whether we win or lose, that game’s over and you have to move on to the next one.’
“So this’ll definitely test us as far as we have to have a great week of practice, we have to focus in. I think Illinois is a big, physical team that’s gonna like to run the football. They’re gonna try to control the clock, they’re gonna try to take away what we do well and, to be honest with you, I think we were able to execute well on offense the first game because a little bit of the element of surprise.
“I don’t think Bowling Green knew exactly what we were gonna do, Illinois does know what we’re gonna do, so they’re gonna be very prepared for it and we’re gonna have to find a way to win on both sides of the ball so it’s definitely a critical game, but I know it’s gonna be a very tough game.”

    Things to improve on: “We obviously had success going fast, we had success getting the ball on the perimeter, we had success making yards after the catch. I would’ve like to have ran the ball better, I think we need to run the ball better, we need to be more physical up front.
“I’d like to take a few more shots up the field. When we did, we had to throw it away or got pressure and had to move and didn’t get as many big shots up the field as we need to to help the running game get going. Those are things we all need to work on.
“When you look at Illinois they’re gonna press our guys on the outside, they’re gonna try to take away all the quick throws that we completed this last game, so we’re gonna have to find ways to execute and push the ball up the field and we’re gonna have to find ways to run the football effectively as well when they cover out on our receivers.”

    Fourth quarter offense: “I thought our offense did a great job. That last drive, I think we got the ball with over 10 minutes left, we were able to work it all the way down the field and score with about two minutes left.
“We ran the football, we worked the clock, it was a little different because we went slower. Standing over there for a long time was a little different. We got to kinda see what the defense was doing and get us in the correct play.
“We’re gonna have to do that at times and to be able to do that in the fourth quarter in the first game when we needed to – their offense did have a little momentum, they were scoring some points. It was huge for us and really culminated the night, as far as executing very well.”

    Illinois QB Wes Lunt: “Wes Lunt’s a very good quarterback. When I was at Illinois we recruited him, we lost out to him, he went to Oklahoma State, started as a true freshman, which tells me he’s a good football player – Oklahoma State’s a good football team.
“Now he’s at Illinois and I think he’s a guy that is big, he can see over the line, he’s a very accurate passer, he can throw the ball up the field, he has a lot of experience being the fact that he played in the Big XII at a high level.
“He brings a lot of experience and really helps that offense become a better offense. I think they have a very fast running back that’s very good in Josh Ferguson that we recruited as well when I was there – very talented. He’s a guy that we’re gonna have to contain. I’m sure they’re gonna try to give him the ball as much as they can.
“But those are two key guys that we have to try to eliminate, or at least contain them somewhat.”

    Illinois struggles against Youngstown State: “I think Illinois is a team that’s improving every week. They improved last year. I think the fact they didn’t play the way they wanted, they’re gonna have a great week of practice, they’re gonna come ready to play and they’re gonna play with their tail on fire.
“They wanna beat us and they know how important this game is for them, so we have to be ready to play. We have to match the intensity, we have to match the focus, we have to play even harder.
“I think this past game, to be honest with you, the breaks went our way and the bounces went our way. I think the ball hit the ground four times for us on offense and we recovered all four fumbles, which can’t happen. They had a wide-open guy open for a touchdown they dropped. They had a kick return that was gonna go for a touchdown, he tripped over his own feet.
“So we definitely had the breaks on our side this game, we definitely had the luck fall our way. That’s not always gonna happen. We’re gonna have to overcome a lot more adversity in this game than we did the last and our guys are gonna have to respond, stick together, play together, play for each other and hopefully find a way to win.”

 Tenure at Illinois: “Illinois is a great college town, great campus. They care about their basketball, their football. They want to produce a winner.
“I think my last two years there we won a bowl game, but when your in the middle row, they want a little bit better there.
“They’re a team that’s growing, it’s the third year of their coaching staff, they improved last year, their offense was better last year. Now they have a quarterback to run the show.
“On defense they have a lot of seniors, a lot of guys that have been in that system for a long time that play hard, that are physical players, they’ll press you up on the outside. They’ll try to take away the easy throws.
“I think they’re a football team that plays a tough schedule. Obviously in the Big Ten they’re used to playing good opponents. I don’t think we’re gonna scare ‘em one bit.
“But we’ve gotta play hard, we’ve have to match their intensity and it’ll be a very tough opponent for us.”

    Beating a Big Ten program: “It would be huge. Any time you can beat a team in a top conference like that, it’s very important. The other thing, too, is going on the road is tough. We gotta find a way to win on the road, that’s what makes it even tougher is playing them at their house.
“You have to overcome a lot of obstacles: The crowd, the noise, any type of breaks that go their way. So it’s gonna be a tough, physical game, hopefully we respond, come ready to play, take care of the ball and do the small things that we did this past game that were a reason for our success.”

    Notable texts, calls after win: “Quite a few. Just the other night, late, I got one from Phil Simms. Basically was very complimentary, of course, but then he basically said, ‘You know Bill Parcells used to tell us, let’s not be a one-game wonder. Let’s keep it rolling.’
“So that’s important. Sometimes you can win a big game and feel good about yourself and think that you’re ready for the next one – but really you’re not. We’ve gotta get that hunger back, we’ve gotta try to work our tail off every day to improve. We have to understand how hard it is to win week-in and week-out and all we can do is concentrate on Illinois.
“But it’s definitely an outstanding team that’s gonna be big and physical and has some very good players.”

    Illinois: “As far as their defense, I think they have a lot of seniors on defense that have been in that system. I think their secondary, they’re gonna press you up on the outside, they’re gonna take away all the easy throws that you try to fake, force you to throw it up the field, force you hold the ball a lot longer than you want to and force you to run the football.
“You’re gonna have to do some things to counteract that. So that obviously presents a challenge for us. I think they’re good up front. I think they’ll match our personnel well. They play hard. I know a couple of those guys that were there when I was there and they play very hard. I think, like I said, they’re familiar with that system so that’ll be a challenge.
“As far as our defense, I think that their quarterback is very good. He can throw the football up the field. He can throw accurately, he can get completions. I think they did lose some receivers from the previous years, so I don’t think they’re as good at that position as they have been. But they definitely have guys that can go make plays and I think their running back in Josh Ferguson is very explosive, very fast, very talented. If he gets an open space, he can go a long way. He’s a guy that we gotta contain as well.
“I think the quarterback and the running back are the top things we have to try to stop and they’re very, very good football players.”

    Taywan Taylor: “I thought Taywan had a tremendous first game. He’s a receiver that’s very strong, he’s explosive, he has a lot of strength in his lower body. He works extremely hard in practice.
“He’s a guy that played for us as a true freshman last year and had his ups and downs like every freshman does. He was down at times last year, let it get to him a little bit, but he’s learned from it, and like I said, he’s practiced extremely hard in the spring, the summer, the fall – he came out and he made plays and caught the ball consistently, which was great to see, because he is a little bit raw in his route running.
“His ability to get yards after the catch and how explosive he was was tremendous to see because that’s what he does bring to the table. He’s very strong, he’s very athletic and he can definitely do things with the ball after the catch. So to see him do that the first game and get his confidence up, I was extremely happy to see that, happy for him and I think that’s something he needs to build upon as well.”

    2013 struggles for Taylor: “Last year he’s a true freshman. He’s a guy that we recruited and signed really late. We hadn’t offered him until a couple weeks before Signing Day. I went and watched him play basketball and I saw how explosive he was on the basketball court, how he jumped, how he moved and that’s kind’ve what we went on.
“Receiving-wise, if you watched the video, he was very raw. He caught some screens, but other than that, not a lot of route running. We knew he was gonna have to learn and grow into the position and that’s what he did last year. He did. He worked hard.
“He didn’t quite understand the receiver position as much as he needed to. He didn’t understand the entire system that we had in, which is normal. It’s not abnormal at all, but it was normal.
“Then he kind of let it get to him a little bit mentally and then lost some confidence. But, he’s very talented. He definitely went to work this spring, summer, fall and had a great camp. He’s a guy that works as hard as anybody that we have on the practice field. Goes hard every snap so he gets used to doing that in practice, making runs after the catch every day in practice.
“Coach Shephard, our receivers coach, has done a great job of working him on route running. We try to concentrate on a handful of routes every day, that, ‘Hey, these are the main routes we’re gonna run. You have to be good at these and then we’ll add in a few after that.’
“He worked really hard at those and he’s gotten better and he did a very, very good job the first game.”

Nick Holt
    Defense: “I thought we played really hard, but one thing that stood out that we need to correct is we missed too many tackles and had just a couple mental lapses.
“But I think we played really hard and we ran to the ball well, which helped us out a lot. But we gotta come back this week and really work on wrapping up so we can’t miss as many tackles as we did this week.”

Big Ten opponent: “It’s exciting playing a team from the Big Ten, but really we like to treat every game – they’re all just as important. We’re not gonna prepare any differently than we would for any other team. But we are excited to play a Big Ten school.”

    Shutting down BGSU early: “It was huge. We felt like we were playing really well and it was big because our offense came out and, I mean, they scored on, I think, two out of three of their first drives. That kinda changed the dynamics of the game, because they were down. We had ‘em down immediately.
“And Bowling Green’s a good offense. We knew that they were gonna end up putting up some points, but it was great to come out stop ‘em and let our offense do their thing right out from the gate.”

Antwane Grant
    Avoiding the letdown: “Yeah, that’s the mindset coming into this game coming up against a big-time opponent. We’re just looking forward to the challenge. We have a lot of great players, as we all know. We just try to, like, take it one game at a time.”

    Offensive numbers: “My take on it it, Brandon was, he was just saying the whole game, ‘Take it one play at a time, one possession at a time. Don’t over-think it.’ It just happened. The offense was clicking, the running game was clicking, the passing game was clicking and everybody was just on the same page. It wasn’t a surprise to us.”

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Jernighan commits to WKU

Western Kentucky received a verbal commitment Friday from Quin Jernighan.

Jernighan is a 6-foot-3, 195-pound wide receiver from La Vergne High in La Vergne, Tenn. Rated a three-star prospect, Jernighan holds scholarship offers from Austin Peay, Jacksonville State, Mercer, Middle Tennessee, Kentucky and WKU.

As a junior, he caught 45 passes for 800 yards and eight scores.

Jernighan is the first WKU commitment from outside of the state of Kentucky and joins defensive back Jordon Gonzalez (DuPont Manual), defensive end Ty’Ron Horton (DuPont Manual), tight end Tyler Jefferson (Doss), linebacker DeVon Quincy (Lafayette), wide receiver Dontavion Jackson (Lafayette), running back Marquez Trigg (Glasgow), defensive linemen Bryant Pirtle (DeSales), Heath Wiggins (Graves County) and Nick Coffey (Russell County), offensive lineman Cullen Reynolds (Madisonville-North Hopkins) and defensive back Aldwin Jackson (Seneca) as WKU commits for the 2015 class.


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WKU beats BGSU 59-31

Postgame comments from Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm here after the Hilltoppers beat Bowling Green State 59-31.

Postgame comments here from senior quarterback Brandon Doughty and sophomore wide receiver Taywan Taylor.

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Fredrick Edmond commits to WKU (again)

The Western Kentucky basketball program received a verbal commitment Friday from Fredrick Edmond, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard who committed to WKU once before in April, 2013.

Edmond never signed a letter of intent with Western Kentucky, instead opting to enroll at the College of Southern Idaho for the 2013-14 season. While at CSI, Edmond led the team with 18 points per game, 50 steals 91 turnovers and was second on the team with 6.3 rebounds per game. He currently holds offers from WKU and Tennessee.

Edmond has a long-existing friendship with Chris Harrison-Docks, a WKU redshirt-sophomore who played at Okemos High in Michigan. Edmond played at Eastern High out of Lansing, Mich., and the two faced each other March 9, 2012 in the Class A District title game.

Harrison-Docks scored 33 in that game while Edmond had 25.

Edmond left Eastern in 2012 and enrolled in New Beginnings Preparatory Academy in Dallas. He then played at Kingdom Prep Academy in Johnson, Iowa, where he scored 34 points per game.

Edmond is the second verbal commitment for the 2014-15 signing class joining Chris McNeal, a guard (5-11, 165) from South Side High in Jackon, Tenn.

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Five things to watch: BGSU

Here are five things to watch when Bowling Green State plays at Western Kentucky at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

1 — Bowling Green’s offense against the WKU defense: It’s called FalconFast, and while that may be as cheesy as it gets, it’s no joke. Dino Babers’ offensive system will go, go and go some more, looking to catch the opposing defense out of position for quick strikes and, eventually, the home run. If that weren’t enough, the Hilltopper defense is all sorts of new with different pieces to the puzzle. Can WKU slow down Babers’ highfalutin offense? It’s the No. 1 question of the day.

2 — Quarterback play: Western Kentucky’s coaches and players insist the Brandon Doughty of 2014 will be the Brandon Doughty they saw during the final four games of 2013 – a confident, precise, smart leader who led WKU to four straight wins. His first test comes against one of the best defenses he’ll face all season.

Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson, a redshirt-junior, threw for 3,467 yards and 25 touchdowns last season while leading BGSU to a conference title. Which quarterback plays the better game and makes the fewest mistakes leads his team to victory Friday.

3 — Running back play: Bowling Green has itself a special talent in redshirt-junior Travis Greene. A 5-foot-10, 185-pound product of Monsignor Edwards Pace High in Carol City, Fla., Greene racked up 1,594 yards last year and set a school record with nine games of at least 100 yards rushing.

For the Tops, Leon Allen steps in to the spot left vacant by record-setting back Antonio Andrews. Senior tight end Mitchell Henry told me at WKU media day that Allen may turn out to be better than Andrews – and Henry wasn’t the only one subscribing to that theory. Of course, Allen, to this point, is largely unproven, while Greene has the stats to back it up. Can Allen bust out and can WKU shut down – or at least contain – Greene?

4 – Western Kentucky’s wide receivers: I’ve argued all camp that WKU may have its deepest WR corps in school history (OK, fine, in fairness, the Tops ran the ball via the option for decades and decades, but still, you get the point). It starts with seniors Willie McNeal and Joel German, anchors who have just about seen it all since arriving to The Hill in 2009. Next comes the sophomore duo of Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris who each proved their worth with stellar true freshmen campaigns. Antwane (rhymes with main) Grant and Jared Dangerfield transferred from the junior college ranks and, while unproven, have had an outstanding spring and fall. If all that weren’t enough, freshmen Kylen Towner and Nacarius Fant may contribute as well. All signs point to Hilltopper receivers having a breakout year.

5 — The crowd: I just get the sense that the buzz… honestly, there really isn’t a buzz. Even though the Tops are on a four-game winning streak, made headlines in the offseason by hiring a home-grown coach and by switching conferences, and host one of the better football teams in the country – the hype has been relatively nonexistent this week.

Did Bobby Petrino add intrigue in 2013? Did playing Kentucky in the opener add excitement? Absolutely. But there’s no reason fans shouldn’t be on board with this team given the offensive talent and defensive intrigue. Ticket sales for Friday, however, appear to indicate they’re not – not yet, anyway. Given the heat (which Kentuckians compare to Hades), and the Friday night kick (which will draw at least some elsewhere to high school football), there may be quite a few empty seats at The Houch once again.

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Final comments before BGSU

Final comments this week leading up to Western Kentucky’s season-opening game against Bowling Green at Houchens-Smith Stadium. Jeff Brohm, Nick Holt and sophomore defensive end Kalvin Robinson speak below.

Jeff Brohm
    Ready to go? “Yeah, I think we’re ready to go. We’ve worked extremely hard, now it’s time to go out there and test yourself and have a lot of fun, but our guys are ready.”

    When did you start looking at BGSU film? “Aw shoot, not too long after I got the job. We delved into ‘em a little bit and obviously as you got going in the spring even more. Numerous gameplans have been set for ‘em and re-changed.
“I think we have a good idea of what we think they’re gonna do. Obviously it’s the first game, they’re a new staff. We’ve studied Bowling Green’s personnel, where coach Babers was last year (Eastern Illinois), but we feel like we’re ready to go.”

    Team fully prepared? “I think we’re prepared. We’ve had good weeks of practice, good long, hard practices. We’re trying to get guys healthy to the game. We have a very good plan in place, we feel like we have an idea of what we’re gonna see.
“Obviously, you gotta be able to adjust and change. But I think our guys need to play a different team right now.”

    Feeling around camp: “It feels great. I know our guys are excited about it, looking forward to it. Obviously we’re probably gonna have a little nerves here and there. But that’s all expected and I told them just relax, play as hard as you can, play tough, play together and fight to win. That’s what football’s all about. It’s a great opportunity and a great team we’re playing and we gotta step up to the challenge.”

 Can WKU make a bowl? “We feel like we’re a good football team. We don’t want to talk about too much down the road. This is the first step and we got 12 steps along the way and hopefully we can move up the ladder.
“This is an important game, but it’s a tough one. It’ll definitely show us exactly where we’re at and what we need to do from here.”

    First offensive series scripted? “Yeah without question. Our format’s almost exactly the same we had last year. We feel like that’s a good system. I’ve been with coach Petrino a long time so we’re comfortable with it, our guys know the plan. They’re ready to play.”

    Brandon Doughty: “I feel great about him, he’s had a very good camp. Obviously he had great experience last year, had some ups and downs, which is gonna happen. I think he learned from ‘em. He’s gotta come out and play well for us, he is the leader of this team.
“He’s gotta continue to do the things he did toward the end of the year which is take care of the football, make a few plays with his feet every now and then when the plays aren’t there. If he does that I think he’ll be successful.
“I think he’s done a great job. He’s worked hard, he’s become a very good leader, he wants to win and he wants to do well and that’s important.”

Nick Holt
    BGSU: “I think they have a core of really good players coming back, starting with their quarterback, obviously. I think they have three offensive linemen that are really, really good. Obviously their running back is a good player coming back – 1,500 yards rushing. And then they’re a bunch of wideouts.
“So they’re good on offense, they got a lot of returning players that played a lot, starters that have played a lot of football for ‘em and won a lot of games and a new, explosive offense to take advantage of their skills.”

    Is too much made of their tempo? “They are an up-tempo offense, historically what they’ve shown in the past. It’s gonna be a factor, we gotta keep guys fresh and we need to get some third-down stops, get off the field and get the ball back for our offense.”

    Has WKU’s offense been able to simulate BGSU’s offense? “I think it’s been a little similar, I’m not sure if it’s as fast. Hopefully it is. I know we did some looks from our offense with some tempo periods and things like that. I’m not sure if as good of a look as we’re gonna get, but it’s what we got and we gotta be ready for it.”

    Team prepared? “I think we prepared well, we had a good fall camp, we stayed relatively healthy. We gotta remember we’re young, we’re young at a lot of spots and a lot of these guys have not played in a game and they’re gonna take some time to be adjusted. But we’ll be OK when it’s all said and done. We’ll play hard and be ready to hit people, that’s kind of our personality. Hopefully we make them work for a lot of things and not give up the big play and tackle really well in space and we’ll see how it goes.”

Kalvin Robinson
    BGSU offense: “Just from what we’ve been watching through film and everything, Bowling Green’s a very good team. We know it’s going to be a hard game, just how every game’s a hard game. We’re prepared for ‘em.”

    Facing the hurry-up offense: “We’ve had a lot of practice with our offense and everything. It’s going always be just a competition or a hardship through a game. We’re ready, we’re ready for it, but it’s gonna be a tough game.”

    Youth: “We’ve matured a lot. That’s what camp is for, just to see where we’re weak at and where we’re strong at. We’ve strengthened our defense a lot from Day One to where we are today.”

    Game week: “Now that the game’s finally here, it’s time to really get our work done. A lot of people think that after camp’s done, we should just relax, but this is when we step it up to the next level and prepare for what we have been training for since, basically, last spring.”

    Team preparedness: “We’re really prepared. Coach Brohm, the strength and conditioning staff, the whole coaching staff, they’ve prepared us very well for everything that we’re gonna encounter on Friday.”

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WKU volleyball 2014 season primer

The Western Kentucky volleyball team opens the 2014 season Friday against California, Riverside in Las Vegas. Here are some comments about the Lady Toppers from coach Travis Hudson and senior Heather Boyan.

Travis Hudson

About the 2014 team? “Youth. Youth is the first thing that pops out. We have a roster of 12 kids and five of them are freshmen and are about two weeks into their college volleyball lives and we have to go play this week. It’s an exciting group, it really is. I’m as rejuvenated and looking forward to this season as I have any in a long time because the talent is there.

“We’re really a talented group and they’re a hard-working group. And we are anchored by some really, really good upperclassmen as well. It’s a when, not if, with this group. This is going to be a really good team. How long that will take remains to be seen.”

Playing in a new conference: “It’s new, and not much can be new when you’re 20 years in. It’s new for me and I’m excited about that as well. But there’s just so many unknowns, there’s so many unknowns when you have five freshmen and you’re gonna lean on ‘em pretty heavily.

“But certainly the unknowns really get greater when you’re moving into a league that you haven’t been a part of.”

Freshmen: “They’re still young and dumb, for lack of a better term, but they’re just really gifted. I’ve been very, very pleased with ‘em. They’re a very talented group, but you just can’t rush it. (Boyan) is sitting beside me, we were talking about her the other day, her freshman year. (Boyan’s) a player of the year candidate now in her senior year, but as a freshman, she stood and watched most of the year. Sometimes you just have to be patient a little bit.

“But it’s a really, really talented group and we’ll see. We’ll have the talent – this is kind of what I’ve been telling people, ‘We’ll have the talent to beat anyone on our schedule and we’ll have the vulnerability to lose to anybody on our schedule.’ That’s just where we are right now.”

Noelle Langenkamp: “I feel like we have one of the best tandems of middle hitters in the country. To put it in perspective, prior to last season, we had had one middle hitter hit .400 in a season in the history of our program and that was Megan Argabright who was a four-time All-American, and last year both (Boyan and Langenkamp) hit over .400 in the same season.

“We feel like we have two really, really accomplished middle hitters. I’m really excited for (Langenkamp) to get that recognition, but I think (Langenkamp) and (Boyan) would both tell you, I think either one of those kids could be a player of the year candidate by the end of the year.

“They both push each other every day and get better playing against each other every day and really help each other every day. We feel very fortunate to be experienced and talented in the middle hitter position.”

Setter position: “It’s going to be truly a team effort to replace (Ashley Potts). She is a special talent and no one player is going to step in and give us everything that she did. We’re trying to mask it. Georgia O’Connell and Kaelin Grimes have been in a real dogfight for the libero position throughout preseason. I think there’s the real potential to see both of those kids wearing the libero jersey for awhile early in the year.

“But I think watching us practice, I think the way we’ll make up for (Potts) is just by our overall size and athleticism in the back row. We’re making a lot of plays in the back row right now just off being long and athletic. So hopefully our coverage is better, we’re covering more ground back there with bigger, longer athletes and it’ll really soften the blow of losing a player of her caliber.”

Conference USA: “I talked to our team (Sunday), we kind of did some goal setting (Sunday), and every year we kind of put a theme together and our theme for this year is the word ‘respect.’ What that means, we’re kind of approaching Conference USA this year – there’s 13 teams that play volleyball in Conference USA – and we’re kind of approaching it as this is the 13th-best team.

“We’ve never played a part of this league and we don’t want anything given to us as part of this league. We’ll start at No. 13 and see how far we can work our way up throughout this season and figure out where we land at the end.”

Opening weekend: “I’m trying to get our kids – because we’ve been so dominant in the Sun Belt Conference the last few years and been in the top 25 for three straight years at some point, this is a different kind of an animal. When we sit around and talk about it, everyone wants to put a win total on it, or wins and losses.

“I’m trying to keep it simple with this group right now. What I want is for them to, almost, embrace the fact that things are gonna go wrong. It’s gonna happen. There’s no way around it. I don’t want them to be shaken by that, I don’t want them to be surprised by that, I want ‘em to embrace it a little bit.

“The two words I keep throwing at ‘em is competitive response. I want a competitive response to everything that happens. If we’re struggling in the middle of a match, I just want to respond competitively. If we lose a match we shouldn’t, I want to respond competitively. If we win a match we shouldn’t, I wanna come out the next day and respond competitively.

“If we do that and just get past the, ‘Oh my goodness I did something wrong,’ I think this team’s got a real chance. Wins and losses will be what they are for a little while, nothing would surpise me, good or bad. Nothing would surprise me because the talent is – I told a friend of mine this (Sunday), ‘Throughout the course of this year we’re gonna win two or three that will probably shock people and we’re probably gonna lose two or three that will probably shock people.’ That’s just the nature of it. But I’m just excited to get started with ‘em.”

Heather Boyan

Senior year: “I’m definitely really excited. I’m probably more excited than I’ve ever been for a season. It’s weird that it’s gone this fast already and here I am and it’s my last season. We definitely have a lot of talent this year and might have a young team, but I think we have a lot of potential to go far and do big things. I’m really excited.”

Conference USA: “Personally, I’ve kind of always liked being an underdog. It’s always nice to be able to go out there and be able prove yourself, instead of have that title before you at the start. I like it. I think we just need to go out there and earn our respect and show that we are capable of doing big things.”

Youth: “It’s definitely been a completely different atmosphere in the gym this year compared to last year because last year we had five seniors and this year we have five freshmen. It has been a lot of fun, just to see their talent and to see how good they really are and they’re all really fast learners. It just makes me even more excited for the season because I know even as the season progresses, they’re gonna get even better throughout. It should be good and it’s real exciting.

“I always learn things from my teammates and it’s good to have new talent out there and it’s always good to have fresh insight. It just makes me want to be a better leader for our team knowing that there’s so much youth on our team. I’m just trying to be the best that I can be, leadership-wise, for all of them and for the rest of the team.”

Leadership: “You have five people who are coming in and they don’t know the culture of our program or what we do here. It definitely puts more pressure on the uppoerclassmen to make sure that we set that example and let them know how we do things here. It’s give me and our fellow senior (Mollie Pajakowski), and the juniors, a lot to show them.”

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