Coach Kevin Ring is well aware of the challenges of playing in the MPSF but for the UC San Diego there is a reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season.
Ring said in a recent interview with Off the Block that UC San Diego will be a young team next season but is capable of being in the contention for conference tournament berth.
Check out the Off the Block’s interview as the coach discusses the changes to Tritons, the difficulty of being in the MPSF and his time working with the U.S. Women’s National Team during the summer.
Off the Block: Coach, last time you we saw your team you were playing competitively in April. What has this off-season been like for UC San Diego?
Kevin Ring: Once the academic year ends for the team a lot of guys go their own separate ways, but hopefully we still keep our mind on volleyball. They all have lifting programs that they stay on top of. A lot of them play beach volleyball, or they still play indoor volleyball as much as they can fit in. You have a number of guys that take summer school classes. Some guys have jobs or internships over the summer. A lot of them try to be pretty productive with their summers. Certainly enjoy a little down time but stay productive as well.
OTB: This summer you had an opportunity to work with the U.S. Women’s National Team during the FIVB Grand Prix. What was that experience like for you?
KR: Any time you get to represent the United States in any type of competition, whether it’s a player or as a coach or a staff member it’s a great opportunity. I’ve been involved with USA Volleyball in a number of facets over the years going back to 1991-93 as a full-time manager for the Men’s National Team. It was a great experience back then when I took a couple of years off from college. Obviously now having been a college coach for nine years as a head coach, I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Women’s National Team and Karch Kirlay and his staff. It kind of works out that Tom Black, one of the assistant coaches for the national team and the head coach from LMU, [was] with the [U.S.] team for the Grand Prix and he started back at school with his team and training. They were needing an assistant for their last weekend of Grand Prix and I was able to travel to Thailand and be with the team for the last three matches.
OTB: The men’s and women’s game is different but was there anything you were able to take away from your time with the U.S. Women’s National Team and apply to your team next season at UC San Diego?
KR: You kind of look at it as a whole different level. A lot of those women are playing professionally and playing on the national team. They finished their college careers. But it’s no different than what my guys are going through. Just from a playing standpoint, a lot of what they teach in the gym is similar to what we teach. The things that don’t work out so well from time to time, we’re talking about the same thing. It’s still just volleyball. You have to serve and pass at a high level, and let the other parts of your game feed off that.
OTB:< Looking at your team coming back from 2015, last year you finished tied for 11th place but what do you have to do have a bounce-back season?
KR: We had a difficult year last season. The MPSF is as competitive as ever — a lot of very good teams. I think this upcoming season we are going to be a very young team. A lot of freshmen and sophomores and a couple of juniors there. I think really for the team our fall training is going to be really important for us. How quickly can we get up to speed and what’s that MPSF caliber of play that we are going to need to be competing night-in and night-out. I’m really excited about the guys we have returning. I’m really excited about the guys we have coming in. They’re really excited about it and representing UCSD and the university. We know the challenges of the MPSF and how good the teams are. We are wanting to be in that mix. I really feel like we can be.
OTB: Is there any UC San Diego player who may not be well known now but could have a big season in 2015?
KR: One of the players, he redshirted his freshman year, got some playing time this past year as a redshirt freshman is Mathew Schnitzer, a middle blocker. I thought he did a really nice job blocking for us. I think blocking is really one of those skills that takes time and experience to develop into a high level. I think he got his feet wet last season for the first time getting on the court, so I’m really excited to see what he can do in his second year competing.
OTB: With this team being so young, how does it change the way you coach compared to having an older team?
KR: You look at it from a couple different ways. One, it’s a young team so you can kind of shape the team in the direction that you want. Give them some guidance because maybe they haven’t been there before. Even some of our returners haven’t played in a MPSF match or maybe they ended up redshirting as a freshman. So really it’s helping them through the process of their confidence, their skill level and getting prepared for the riggers of the entire season. It’s a long competition season. All the teams we play are really good so you kind of get no breaks. We want them to thrive on that. We want to enjoy that experience and the fact that they are going to be challenged. … Then with it being a young team it’s where do they want to take it. Let them have some autonomy as far as the direction of the team and have some new life in the program. As a coach we have our jobs and we can kind of direct things. We know what this team needs to be good at to for us to be competitive. We’re going to have to kind of guide that. But can this team find their own identity as a group of young guys and kind of say oh well, let’s just go after it and see how far they can take it.
OTB: With your team, you probably are one of the top 15-20 teams in the country. However, playing in the MPSF you haven’t been able to make the eight-team postseason. Is that frustrating knowing that you are good but the win-loss record doesn’t reflect that because of your conference?
KR: It’s certainly a challenge because every year for us you set your team goals. Every year we’ve had the goal of making the MPSF playoffs. We’ve yet to do that at UCSD. We’ve had some very good teams over the years and have been very competitive. At whatever level you are at, if there is any kind of postseason play that should be a goal of yours. It will be a goal of ours this upcoming season. I played here. I was an assistant coach for nine years. I’ve now been the head coach for nine years. So I’ve kind of lived it for many years now. The players coming in they kind of go through that as well. I think it’s real important to keep in perspective who you are as a team and what you believe you can accomplish but not set any limits on yourself. It is challenging, but we do know how good the league is. It’s just an opportunity for us to evaluate from each new season, each new match during the season what we need to do to get better and enjoy the process. This is a really fun league. I have a great deal of respect for all the coaches in the MPSF and men’s volleyball in general at the NCAA level.
OTB: This upcoming season you have non-conference matches against Grand Canyon and Ball State. With the way the NCAA Tournament selection committee is evaluating the at-large bids, do you feel a little more pressure when playing the EIVA and MIVA in non-conference to get a victory and help the MPSF as a whole?
KR: Every team out there is fighting for their own record and strength of schedule, to be there at the end of the season, to win your conference tournament or earn the at-large. As a conference, you want your conference to be the best conference. Just like the EIVA should and the MIVA should. It is important for us when we are playing our non-conference opponents to do well. I don’t know if there is an added pressure, any more than the fact that we just want to win the match for the sake of winning the match. But we do know the importance of what it means for our conference when it comes down to tournament selection time.