Coach Dagenais' Notebook
Welcome to my notebook! Here I will take the opportunity to tell you some of the inside happenings of the UCF volleyball program, share some of the funny behind-the-scenes stories and keep you updated on any new information in a weekly blog. Check back often as you don't want to miss out on anything that happens during the season!
Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009
#8.....that's the key number to remember right now. I know what you are thinking....you love our libero too, but the #8 I'm talking about It has nothing to do with our ROCKSTAR freshman libero Meredith Murphy (#8). This year Conference USA is only taking eight teams to the Conference USA season-ending tournament. It has become our all-consuming goal to be one of those eight teams.
Did we start the season wanting to be #8.....of course the answer is a resounding "no". I'm going to let you in on a secret. Every year I write downs "win" and "loss" next to each match on our schedule. Heading into this season, I had us finishing no worse than 11-5 and somewhere close to third place in the conference standings. After our huge start, and near upset of Purdue, I thought that maybe I had UNDERSOLD this team. Maybe 11-5 was a bit too low???
Now that we have Lauren Williams back, and Sara Rex is getting closer to 100% than 50%, I think we have a shot at making some noise down the home stretch. We are sitting at 2-5 in conference. Historically the eighth-place team is either 6-6 or 7-9, so we have some work to do. Since there is no clear-cut favorite to win the conference this season, there will be a lot of teams beating up on each other throughout the standings. It's truly a year where anyone can beat anyone else at any given time. As a result, there will probably be at least two teams with three losses at the top of the conference standings when the year is over....maybe more. The next team (3rd or 4th) will probably be at 11-5 or so. Everything else after that will be determined in the next few weeks. I foresee a situation where there is a tie for seventh and eighth, or eighth and ninth. Tiebreakers will be very important this year.
Since we only play the West Division one time per season, the tiebreaker will be head-to-head. Whoever wins that match, will get the higher standing. This is why our road win over UTEP was so crucial. There is a possibility that the two of us may be tied at the end of the regular season, and we would go ahead of them to the tournament because of our head-to-head win. We have four remaining matches against the West Division, two of them this weekend. These are huge matches for us. There is a fair chance that Rice will be the conference champion this year, but a win over them would give us that extra win we would need to secure one of the eight spots. A win over Houston would be even more critical because they could be another team that we could tie with in the final standings.
Believe me, we still have a lot to play for right now. If you were sitting in our team meeting last week you would have heard the following:
1) We still have a chance to get our best finish since joining Conference USA (6 wins).
2) We still have a chance to finish the season with an NCAA RPI ranking of 100 or better (currently #133)
3) We still have a chance to have the best season-ending record in the last six seasons
4) We still have a chance to beat teams that we HAVE NEVER beaten
5) We still have a chance to get players named 1st Team All-Conference USA for the first time in school history
6) We still have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament (by winning C-USA Tourney)
So as you can see...it's time to Armor Up and compete. There is still a lot to accomplish.
Friday, Sept. 18, 2009
I need you to do me a favor this weekend when you are at the UCF Football game. Wait a few minutes before you go to the restroom or visit the concession stand at half time. If you don't, you might miss something special. No, this has nothing to do with volleyball or an appearance by our team at halftime. This is about the UCF Marching Knights and the show they are going to put on this weekend.
Ok...I'm a self-professed "jock". I don't own a band instrument, I can't read music, I can't dance and I can't count in rhythm. Needless to say, I have never been one of those types to really appreciate a marching band and everything that goes into those halftime shows...until last week.
I'm so thrilled by the involvement of the newly formed pep-band at our volleyball matches. As a very small token of my appreciation to the members of the Marching Knights, I ended my practice early last week and went over to their practice field to show them some support. Little did I know that I was going to be asked to stand up in front of the 300+ members and say something that could possibly convey my gratitude. I hope that I was able to express my thanks as I stumbled through a few words. Afterwards, I was asked to join director Ron Ellis up on the observation tower as the Marching Knights learned a new routine for an upcoming halftime show.
The view from this observation deck was stunning as I looked westerly into a gorgeous Florida sunset. Then it dawned on me, not only were the 300+ members going to learn this routine from scratch, they only had 20 minutes of day light in which to learn the entire complex series of drills and movements. Looking around the practice field I didn't see any lights. Either they were going to learn this in daylight, or they were going to be perfecting it in total darkness. I was absolutely amazed on how the various grad assistants and student leaders quickly mentored their small groups and taught them the steps. Then like some football-field wide jigsaw puzzle....BAM it all came together into a marching mosaic. What I saw taking place was stunning to me....but Mr. Ellis is driven by perfection. So they kept working on it.
Mind you, they weren't allowed to have their instruments until they had the entire routing learned, timed and perfected....all in 20 minutes. The sun had now dipped below the horizon....and they kept working on it.
In the mass of marching humanity was a "rotating wedge" that each member had to start and end their movement on the exact precise beat...all while rotating 90 degrees. They were pretty close after only three attempts. Then they started to work on a 64-count serpentine line movement culminating in a freestyle "jam" that gave me shivers. Again, they learned it after only a few tries. At this point it was so dark that I couldn't see the other side of the practice field any longer. But they kept working on it.
It was nearly pitch black, the choreography was nearly precise and Mr. Ellis leaned over and said, "You are about to see the reason why I love working with college marching bands." I wasn't exactly sure what he meant, but less than a minute later, I found an entirely new appreciation for the UCF Marching Knights. We could now see no more than a few feet in front of our faces as the band members stealthily picked up their instruments. Mr. Ellis helped the Marching Knights stay in perfect synchronization by opening his cell phone so the members could see his waving hands.
Then somewhere in the darkness of the night, 300+ Marching Knights stepped in perfect synchronization, the human wedge shifted a perfect 90 degrees, the 64-count serpentine line was on a perfect count and the blare of the musical instruments was so perfectly crisp that the Marching Knights could have been heard from Oviedo. I know why Mr. Ellis loves working with college marching bands. The "power" of that moment almost blew me off the observation tower.
It must have been right because they were finally excused for the evening. Perfection was the only means of escaping practice tonight.
If your Black and Gold spirit ever starts to diminish just stop by practice with the Marching Knights. They don't have the huge full-ride scholarships, they don't have the lucrative NFL career waiting for them after four years, they don't have the plush facilities, BUT THEY DO HAVE enough school spirit to fill Bright House Stadium 10 times over (we could all take a lesson from that!!!). They are doing it for the right reasons, for the reasons we should all be doing it. They do it for the love of the "game" and the love of UCF.
Do me a favor and hold off on that hot dog at halftime....take a minute to appreciate the finely tuned precision of UCF's 300+ person team. It didn't happen by accident. It happened when you weren't looking....and it happened so late that no one could see them anyway!
"Armor-Up" Marching Knights, you have a new supporter. I'LL BE THERE this weekend....because I know it's going to be a THRILLER !!!
Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009
I'm a "keep it real" person. I just cannot sit here and type without acknowledging the fact that we lost last night. I have two choices today. I can dwell on the loss or I can celebrate the positive. Coaches are not very good at the second of those two choices. I wouldn't be "real" if I didn't tell you that I was awake until 3:00 a.m. replaying that match over and over in my mind. I wouldn't be "real" if I didn't tell you that it stings even more today than it did last night. That really disappoints me because when I was in the locker room after the match, I was preaching to the team about how important it is to learn the lessons from this match and move on. I really need to take my own advice, too. I'm not proud of the fact that I'm still dwelling on this, and I will continue to dwell on this until we get a chance to do something about it in practice at 3:15 today. However, I'm not going to dwell on it anymore in this blog. The primary reason is because the UCF Volleyball program set an attendance record last night and that's something that we do need to celebrate.
I just wanted to give a huge "Armor Up" to the efforts of Jimmy Skiles and his marketing team for their months of hard work in making sure we set an attendance record. The Rowdy Knights/Block Party were there in full force (huge fist pump to all of you). I have an idea on how we are going to start using you in pre-game routines....I just have to get it approved by the big-wigs. The Marching Knights (now known as the "Jammers"... the official pep band of UCF volleyball) did such a fantastic job of keeping the energy in the building and making sure that our team felt the home-court love. We really need you there. You give the fans their "UCF experience" no matter what happens on the court. Thanks for the continued support...I hope you understand how much we appreciate you! Cheer Squad, you filled the Venue with the passion and excitement in those times when we couldn't. Thanks for the "assist" on that. The trio of the Block Party, Jammers and cheer team has truly become the seventh player on the court....and that is a huge advantage for our team.
To the students who showed up last night, many of which were probably attending your first volleyball match. I'm not a fool....I know the guaranteed Miami football ticket was the reason you started lining up at 2:30 yesterday afternoon. But, I really hope that you caught a glimpse of the emotional rollercoaster the sport of volleyball can be. I hope you soaked in the competitive atmosphere, the energy of the Rowdy Knights/Block Party, the spirit of the Jammers and the cheer squad. I hope that the combination of this trio and the effort that we put forth on the court are enough to get you to come back. You have to admit, it's not the backyard picnic volleyball that you are used to =) Some of those kills were in excess of 55 mph last night. When digging a 55 mph shot at a distance of less than 25 feet you roughly have the same amount of reaction time as a baseball batter has when trying to hit a 130 mph fastball. That does take a pretty exciting skill set, don't you agree?!
To everyone that made last night a memorable moment, the UCF volleyball program thanks you from the bottom of our heart. I hope you "returners" are hooked and I hope to see all the "first-timers" back this weekend! If you haven't joined the Rowdy Knights yet...WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR ??????? Jump in and become a part of the fastest-growing student section in the country. Tradition has to start somewhere...why not have it start WITH YOU????
This is really starting to get fun !!!!
Saturday, Sept.12, 2009
It was the same as a football team giving away four turnovers and being down five touchdowns at halftime. It was the same as a basketball team being down 20 after the first half. We were only 22 minutes from jumping on a 10-hour bus ride after one of the most embarrassing performances our volleyball team has ever put together.
I wish I could tell you that there was some magic moment, some motivational "win one for the Gipper" speech. The truth is that there was none of that. There was only a team that could hardly stand to look at themselves in the mirror because they were too disgusted by what they might see.
Our goal wasn't to win the match at that point, it was only to salvage enough pride and self respect to go back out there and compete like a two-game debacle really didn't just happen. That was all we could focus on...and we did.
We didn't come out in game three and set the world on fire. We did, however, dive for every impossible ball. We started to stand in there one-on-one against a wide-open attacker even if it meant that we might get "tattooed". We did start to celebrate and cheer even louder when our opponent's fans jeered and booed us. None of those actually scored a point, but did send a clear message to our opponent and their rowdy fans that we were in this match until the last point dropped.
Maybe we shouldn't have won, but I will never apologize for winning. Winning was never the goal though. I just wanted to see if we would be tough enough to show our faces in game three. I think the scoreboard clearly showed the answer. This is undoubtedly the greatest comeback I have ever been a part of.
I love this team.
Monday, Sept. 7, 2009
So as we roll down the runway of the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport I have this exciting but anxious feeling in my stomach. This was a hard weekend physically and mentally. We are all tired, me included, which has something to do with two hugely emotional matches on Saturday and the 5 a.m. trip to the airport on Sunday. Despite the mental and physical exhaustion, my mind is still racing at 100 miles per hour. I'm not a "moral victory" person, either you win...or you lose. Despite that, I keep coming back to the same thought. I'm not sure that we are very far away from being a nationally prominent team. Actually, we might be a lot closer than I thought.
I looked out on the floor in the 5th game of a great battle with a ranked Big Ten opponent. I look at them, with every starter jumping over 10 feet, some as high as 10'5. They have a senior setter that has been through the rigors of Big Ten competition and they have a libero who has to dig All-Americans night in and night out. They have outside hitters and middles who could possibly be on any team in the nation. Then I look at our side....yep...we have six new full-time starters (out of 7). We have a freshman at the most critical defensive position (libero), we have a freshman at the most critical middle position (M1), we have a freshman at the ever important right side hitter position, we have first year starters at M2 and L2. Seniors Erin Campbell and Andee Youngblood are practically retirees when compared in age to the rest of the players on the floor, and even Andee is in her first FULL TIME year as a collegiate starter. We had every reason to be on the bus already heading back to the hotel, yet here we were in a 15-point shootout with a big time volleyball school, winner take all.
Sure we lost....the fact that it was 15-13 doesn't make it any better. However, what does make it better is the fact that our leadership helped guide these young players to perform without fear of losing. If we can learn this lesson as a young team, and we can just get a few more opportunities to play matches like this, then we are going to break through this abstract barrier in front of us. I don't know if it will happen this year, it could happen next, but I know it's going to happen....and you will want to be there when it does.
Armor Up Knights....that was the best one-win, two-loss weekend in UCF Volleyball history. I'm proud of this group.
Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009
Most people think the UCF volleyball "Story of the Week" is the fact that we are 4-0. I respectfully disagree. I think the story is the successful birth of the "Block Party", the official student-section of UCF volleyball. Those of you in attendance this past weekend know exactly what I'm talking about. For those of you who didn't have a chance to witness it in person, I can only tell you to show up and see it for yourself. While our team is off to the best start in 14 years, the Rowdy Knights/Block Party is off to their best start in UCF athletics history!!! They owned the arena on Friday and Saturday nights and they own a huge part of our on-court success. I don't think most fans understand the impact that a loud student section can have in the sport of volleyball. I can honestly say that those in attendance now understand (and so do our opponents). Way to go Jimmy Skiles for fostering the student development, and thanks to David Shelton for believing that volleyball can be an excellent spectator sport for students. This was the birth of something BIG.
Another huge factor to the success of our team this weekend was the presence of the UCF Pep Band and Cheer Squad. We have been trying from the day I first stepped foot on campus to make them a part of our home environment. Thanks again to Jimmy and band director Ron Ellis for taking a chance on volleyball. I hope you are all hooked. Armor Up "Marching Knights", it's an honor to have you in the gym. Once again our most loyal supporters have been the UCF cheer squad, and it was no different this opening weekend. A big thanks to Linda Gooch and the team for being there. I promise we will reward you with some more memorable moments in the future.
So in two weeks we have the VolleyBowl II. Each year we are going to have a central focal point match, hype the stuffing out of it and call it the VolleyBowl. Last year it was against Stanford (retroactively dubbed VolleyBowl I), and this year we bring in USF. I understand that the first 1,000 students in attendance will automatically receive a ticket to the UCF-Miami football game. That means student will want to line up early and general UCF fans will want to purchase tickets now. The event will be sold out in a matter of days. Last year, the Arena people had to turn away upwards of 500+ people who wanted to see VolleyBowl I...with the band, cheerleaders and the "Block Party" in full effect, I expect that it could be even bigger this year.
We are working very hard to become a program and a team that the UCF Athletics community and supporters will be very proud of. Our team is striving for excellence in the classroom as much as they are trying to represent the Knights name on the volleyball court. Although we are still very young as a group, I think we have our philosophies and priorities in the right place. Last year we went from being ranked at No. 244 out of 320 at the beginning of the season to No. 113 at the end of the season. This was one of the greatest "turn-arounds" in NCAA volleyball history. I'm putting it out there right now....that's still not where we want to be. This year, despite having five new starters out of seven players on the floor, we are targeting the top-75 for this year. We are not afraid to set some pretty tough goals. It's time to "Armor Up" and let the rest of the volleyball world know that UCF is starting to become a national player in the NCAA game.
Thanks for the support!!!!