Months after being upset in the postseason, Mount Olive has not only moved on but is now eyeing a feat never achieved by a Conference Carolinas team.
Mount Olive coach David Heller said Tuesday in an interview with Off the Block that his team has been eager and more focused during the preseason knowing in 2014 it has a chance to become to the first Conference Carolinas team to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Check out Off the Block’s interview with Heller as the coach discusses his team’s preseason, what it’s like now playing in a conference eligible for an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament and how the Trojans recovered from their postseason disappoint last season.
Off the Block: Coach, your team has been in preseason for a little bit and the season is coming up about a month. How has this preseason gone for Mount Olive?
David Heller: It’s been good, overall. There is a lot of new blood on the team. We have a lot of new players this year, and we had nine returning players from last year. So it’s 50-50 right now. We’ve done a lot of work in trying to get the guys caught up to speed and what I expect from them because there are so many new players with the returning players. It’s been really good because there is a lot of competition in the gym and returning players who don’t want to lose their starting spot, and then there are incoming players who want to earn their spot.
OTB: Talking about your roster make-up, your roster kind of resembles a United Nations committee with all the international players. When you took this position last year was recruiting international a big focus for you or is it just something that naturally happened over time?
DH: I had the opportunity to go overseas and work with some international players when I was coaching at a college in England. We had a mix of players from Brazil, Germany, the Czech Republic and quite a couple other places. So it was something that really drew me to this school. The whole reason I applied here at this school instead of returning overseas is that I had the opportunity to work here in the United States while I was still having that international touch with it. We are trying to continue to reach out to international players that I’ve had the opportunity to see when I was overseas and watched them play. So there a couple guys we got our eyes on this coming year and in the years to come.
OTB: Mount Olive last season won the Conference Carolinas regular season title but then was upset in the conference tournament semifinals. Is that postseason letdown something you’ve addressed with your team this preseason or do you put that behind you? How do you deal with it as a team?
DH: We did address it because I think it’s good for us to have it in the back of our minds. Where as, I think it’s kind of cliche to say but last year we weren’t really playing for anything but the conference championship. And yes, it would be great to win the conference championship always, but this year our conference championship and our conference tournament championship mean a lot more. So, I think that it gives us a lot of fuel to see the things that we missed out on last year when there wasn’t that light at the end of the tunnel. This year there is a really, really big reward for us if we win that conference tournament. I think that gives the players a big drive in wanting to do better, wanting to achieve and wanting to be the first team from the Conference Carolinas to make it the first round of the national tournament.
OTB: This might be a better to ask you towards the middle of the season, but even in preseason is there already a different kind of feel with the Conference Carolinas knowing that one of you will be in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season?
DH: I think it is. I think everyone’s game has stepped up their game. We played Barton in an exhibition game this past Sunday and their skill has gone up from where they were last year. I know most of the coaches here in the Conference Carolinas coach with the women’s teams as well so I’ve gotten a chance to see them and talk to them about how their seasons are going. I think everyone realizes what’s on the line this year and the players know what the stakes are. I think it’s going to come down to who’s going to have the most experience and who’s going to have the most composure in those high pressure situation.
OTB: There are a bunch of volleyball fans who probably have not gotten the chance to see your team play. What would you want those fans to know about your team?
DH: I think that we are really a high energy team. Some times when you are the underdog or if you are under-sized against some opponents you have to have something that gives you that x-factor against a 6-foot-10 block or hitters that can jump and touch 11-foot-7. So you have to have something that lets you bounce back from when they have a massive kill, and while we can do the same thing we just need to have the energy to come back and brush off that they just got a great point. We have to turn around and do the same thing. We’ve got a few hitters that can definitely put on a show just like the MIVA and EIVA schools.
OTB: As you talked about earlier, you have a lot of new players and some starting position battles. What is the biggest challenge for your team with about a month before the season starts?
DH: The biggest challenge for us is preparing ourselves because we are going to be playing the toughest schedule that I think any school from the Conference Carolinas has really ever faced. We open our with Lewis and Loyola at Lewis and Loyola. We play Ball State, IPFW, Penn State, St. Francis and Princeton comes down here to play us. We got seven pretty big matches in our non-conference schedule along with our conference schedule. I think that the biggest thing for us is recognizing that even if we go up against those big schools and don’t win, we still have to take care of business on the conference side of things. That is where we are really going to have our biggest shot is by winning our conference tournament. So we can’t get blinded by the glamour of getting to play Penn State or getting to play those schools that have been to the finals before.
OTB: With the Conference Carolinas being the newest conference, is there a feeling that when you play these non-conference matches you need to put on a good show to prove that the Conference Carolinas belongs?
DH: I’m super appreciative of all the coaches that have given us the opportunity to play their programs because it’s kind of a lose-lose situation for them. If they beat us, it’s because they are suppose to. If they lose to us, it’s not suppose to happen. So it’s kind of a dangerous position for them to play us in some cases. I’m very appreciative of the coaches that do give us the opportunity to play them. It’s kind of a really big reward for when the guys do work hard that they can say, you know last year we played Penn State in three really, really close sets, and we did great against them. So, I think it gives them that extra boost of confidence knowing that they can play well against those teams where we are an underdog.