Seniors set stage for success in ’15 for UNO volleyball
November 13th, 2015
In 2011 the University of Nebraska at Omaha athletics moved up from Division-II to Division-I. The move was not easy for all sports â€“ as the once successful volleyball program found itself at a disadvantage against opponents with more scholarships to offer. KVNOâ€™s Brandon McDermott spoke to head coach Rose Shires her answer to this lack of depth: recruiting.
Omaha, NE – UNOâ€™s volleyball team had some gloomy days following the move to Division-I. The Mavericks finished with an overall record of 7-22 that year, including 12 matches where they were swept 3-0. Last year they added depth producing a much improved 14-18 record. UNO senior Kelley Wollak:
â€œWe’ve picked up our game,â€ Wollak says. â€œIn the beginning, we were getting beat in three sets. Last year we’re getting to that fifth set but losing it. I think we lost 12 fifth sets, in a row. And we finally broke the curse and this year we’re winning those fifths. We’ve really kind of stepped up who are playing, how we’re playing and really finishing out games.â€
This year the Mavs are 16-11, including 11-3 in the Summit League â€“ good for second place in the conference. UNO went from losing sets 3-0 losses to beating teams 3-0. They already have seven sweeps on the year with two games left.
Wollak was a four year starter before she was sidelined with a season ending knee injury. But her commitment didnâ€™t end when her playing career ended. She still goes to every game. Head coach Rose Shires says the experience Wollak offers from the sidelines is invaluable.
â€œWell I think anytime an athlete who is in a team sport gives a four year commitment to building something you want to see that through,â€ Shires says. â€œShe’s been here through all the difficult times and was a big part of our winning and big part of where we’re at right now and I really appreciate it.â€
Wollak just had surgery on her injured knee this week, but she isnâ€™t getting down on herself. Instead she is focused on the upcoming schedule for UNO â€“ as if she were still playing.
â€œProbably the most proud of ever been in my life,â€ Wollak said. â€œI came and committed to the program knowing that we weren’t going to be able to compete for three years, and were starting from basically the beginning of the bottom of Division-I and having to work our way up.â€
Senior Kimberly Bailey also helped UNO become a formidable opponent. She believes the team has come far from 2012, the first year as a D-I squad.
â€œThe volleyball team – us as a volleyball program have made it,â€ Bailey said. â€œWe’ve made it out, we’re in the clear, and we’re winning games. That’s huge.â€
Bailey thinks the team coming together over the past year has helped with the Mavericks success.
â€œWe’re in our own shoes now is kind of what it feels like. We just have cohesiveness, last year we had it at times here and there. But we have such a strong foundation from the last two years that this year’s foundation is even stronger.â€
Bailey knows she, Wollak and the four other senior players for UNO are the cornerstone of the program going forward. She says newly built Baxter Arena, where UNO will play home games, is the icing on the cake.
â€œI feel like a boss walking in here. Driving over here this morning like â€˜oh yeah we got to go play in like this swanky new place.â€™ This is awesome – I love it. I loved Senior Day in here it was fun, a great environment and good energy. It’s our home so we’re comfortable.â€
Coach Shires knows that second place in the conference feels good, but that isnâ€™t the teams goal. She says they are focused on approaching each match, each set the same.
â€œOur goal is one match at a time one opponent a time. That’s how we’re going to approach it.â€
Shires knows what it takes to win, she coached UNO to a D-II national title in 1996. She says this team strives to get better every day and that is what is setting them apart from the last few years.
â€œThey allow us to get them better and they allow us to add something to our game plan and add something to what we expect of them. Thatâ€™s what is making them great is their never complacent.â€
The Mavs have won seven straight matches leading up to this weekendâ€™s games. It starts tonight against Summit foe Fort Wayne at 6pm at the Gates Sports Center in Indiana. Then UNO travels to Indianapolis to take on IUPUI at 6pm Saturday night. The Mavs have a shot at finishing the season in first place in the conference and earning a bye in the first round of the post season Summit League tournament next weekend in Denver.
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