First-year Texas Tech volleyball coach Don Flora said it’s OK to use the word surprising when describing the team’s 13-1 start to the season.
But it’s not surprising to him or the players, but rather in terms of the lack of success the program has experienced the last few years. Entering Big 12 Conference play today at United Spirit Arena against No. 16 Iowa State, the Red Raiders have already more than tripled the victory total of last year’s team, which went 4-25, and have won more matches in 2011 than in the past three seasons combined.
In fact, the 13 wins this season are already more than any single-season total Tech has recorded since going 14-14 in 2002. Three more victories would ensure the program’s first winning season since 2001, when the Red Raiders went 18-14 and last qualified for the NCAA playoffs.
“You just didn’t know how quickly the players would buy into the idea that winning is OK,” said Flora, who came to Tech after 11 seasons at the University of La Verne in California. “The first weekend in the spring with our returners we saw some pieces of success in what we were doing and in how we were training, the system we were running, and that the athletes had recognized we can have much greater success right off the bat than they had imagined. This fall, I think seeing their focus on the demands of the job has been a pleasant surprise.”
Tech’s success has been accomplished with a mix of veterans and newcomers.
Senior outside hitter Amanda Dowdy continues to climb the career record books in kills and attempts. She ranks third in program history in kills with 1,215 and attacks with 3,359, and leads the team in both categories so far this season with 174 kills on 468 attacks for a .268 hitting percentage.
Fellow senior Karlyn Meyers has been solid in directing the offense with a team-high 412 assists, averaging 10.3 per game.
“Karlyn and Amanda have been tremendous,” Flora said. “They’ve embodied what we’re doing and have taken to what we’ve done like a duck wants to go play in the water. Their sense of how to go about training, treating athletes and the environment in the gym every day, they just love it. Their pride and love for the game is evident, and it rubs off on everyone in the program.”
Junior Miara Cave provides strong play at the net with 125 kills on 243 attacks for a .337 hitting percentage, and she’s also first in blocks with 52.
Then there’s the influx of new blood, particularly freshman outside hitter Breeann David and middle blocker Mikia Mills. Flora said bringing in players with a winning attitude was important to getting the rest of the team to buy into his program.
David is making a serious run at freshman of the year in the Big 12. The Denver City native is third on the team with 107 kills and is second on the team with 13 service aces. Mills has been outstanding at the net, ranking second on the team with 50 blocks and also recording 36 kills. Flora said both exemplify the aggressive nature with which he likes his team to play.
“We’re a good blocking team,” Flora said. “We’re high, we’re active, we’re aggressive and right now we’re third in the country in blocks per game. That correlates to being aggressive and physical and strong and active. There are teams that are passive and just let things happen to them. We take it to people.”
But the schedule is about to get much more difficult. Beginning with today’s match against Iowa State, the Red Raiders will face six opponents over the next two months who are either ranked in the Top 25 or receiving votes in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. Flora said even though Tech did not face a ranked opponent in the non-conference schedule that his team will be well-prepared.
“We’ve seen a lot of different offenses and defenses,” Flora said. “We had a very diversified preseason and I think from the confidence side we can be confident about finishing matches, going into hostile environments and getting some good opportunities to get some good tests. Being able to go in and play some good teams on the road, that confidence will bode well for us as we head into conference.”
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