HOUGHTON - Exactly five months ago the Michigan Tech volleyball team kicked off a three-match winning streak to end the 2012 season. Five months from now the Huskies will be under way in Matt Jennings' second season as head coach.
Currently the team - which returns all active players - is two weeks into a spring practice season aimed at maintaining momentum from the fall, keeping the team in shape after months of individual conditioning and refining skills.
"This spring could be one of the most important in my first five years, because we've accomplished something, but not nearly enough," Jennings said before practice Tuesday. "Either it goes to waste, or we build off it. The momentum is hot. We return everyone who played, and have four players coming in who will contribute. If we don't go up from where we left off, that would be bad."
Michigan Tech volleyball coach Matt Jennings instructs the team during a spring practice drill Tuesday afternoon in the SDC Wood Gym. Pictured left to right are Jordanna Kero, Jacqueline Aird and Madeline Haben. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
The four recruits won't join the team until players report this fall on Aug. 12, so instead of working on team strategy, the focus has been on individual skill training.
"It's been I think very good for us from an all-around development standpoint, and working on technical, fundamental type stuff," said setter Madeline Haben, who will be one of four seniors on the team this fall. "Definitely one of the major goals is to refine the game and make it flawless, make things muscle memory, continue to make those plays natural Practice has been very structured, and honestly it's been really nice having a stable coaching presence now, especially after a year. We know his coaching style and what he brings to the table and just how he works with us and gets us all on the same page and motivated."
Fortunately for Jennings, one thing he doesn't have to focus on as much in his second year is motivation. When he officially took over on March 1, 2012, he needed to breathe some life into a program coming off a 2-25 season. He did, helping the team to a 12-19 overall record last fall - 7-5 in the last 12 matches.
"When I got here I made the decision to start with energy levels, working on the team buying in and trusting each other, and having fun again," Jennings said. "We kind of had to apply some of the skill sets and skill training on the fly. We've slowed down a little bit this spring and really worked on the fundamentals.
" It's been great. The phrase we're using is 'the baseline has risen,' so our expectation for what we accept, whether it's in practice or maybe this fall, is significantly different."
The team will have two opportunities to put progress to the test during informal spring matches April 13 in Marquette against Northern Michigan, and an April 20 tournament in Duluth, Minn.
Jennings was "reluctant to even compete" this spring, but chose to stick with a few matches just to have something different from practice for the players. The real test, of course, will come this fall, but expectations are certainly different for the Huskies.
"Right now we know we have a lot to prove still," Haben said. "We had a great season compared to our other seasons, but that's not good enough. Almost .500 is not great in the grand scheme of things Expectations are high, very high."