After their 3-0 weekend in Columbus, Ohio, Texas Tech’s volleyball team has confidence going into this season that head coach Tony Graystone said they did not have last year.
“A lot of confidence, a lot of belief that we knew what we were all about,” Graystone said regarding what he saw beyond the scoreboard in the Red Raiders’ first tournament of the season. “We said last week that we felt like we were a little behind our opponents because we have less returning starters and more changes in our lineup from last year, and the teams we were playing were a little more put together.”
The team has progressed compared to a year ago, Graystone said, focusing on the Red Raiders’ mental toughness during their win against Ohio State on Friday. The Buckeyes forced a fifth set against the Red Raiders after Tech had a tough time and could not close out the fourth set.
“This is where, when you talk to the team afterward and we start comparing notes to where we are now compared to maybe in the same position a year or two ago. That’s where we really see the change,” Graystone said. “That fourth set against Ohio State, we feel like we had it and we had some chances and we got stuck in a bad rotation and we just couldn’t close it out. I don’t know that we would’ve won that match on the road a year ago when we thought we had it and then we didn’t, and we had to rebuild that whole thing again and get that momentum back.”
The body language of the Red Raiders has also changed this season, Graystone said.
“Confidence is always what we are working for and you could see that on Friday, you just felt like we had it the whole way,” Graystone said. “I don’t know if there was a moment on our bench where we really didn’t feel like we weren’t gonna get it done.”
Senior hitter, Emily Hill, grew confidence over this weekend as she said knew she was going to record a kill in the final set against Ohio State. Hill said confidence comes from her experience as she is a senior.
“I’ve had to work on (confidence) a lot because I’ve struggled with letting stats get to my head,” Hill said. “It’s the last go-around, just go for it.”
At the Sports Imports Classic, Hill said her play at the tournament improved confidence throughout the team and winning is becoming more of an expectation.
“It was really exciting. It definitely boosted our confidence too,” Hill said. “I think we’re in all those games like Tony (Graystone) was saying, we knew we were gonna win, and that does sound bad, but it’s just that expectation that we have for ourselves now.”
The team’s body language during the Ohio State game was praised by Hill, she said, specifically how they responded after losing the fourth set after being ahead.
“I think as a whole team we had confidence,” Hill said. “After the fourth set we could’ve been all down on ourselves, but we weren’t, it was loose we knew we had it. We went out, we were confident. We didn’t start out the greatest, but I think that confidence carried us through.”
Comparing the 2019 team to last year’s squad, junior Emerson Solano said the team’s confidence was not affected after the Buckeyes forced the Red Raiders to a fifth set.
“I think the difference this year was that even after we did lose that fourth set, and into the fifth set I still think we looked at each other and knew that we had it in the bag,” Solano said. “We didn’t have any doubt about it. We played super free and forgot our mistakes easily, and I think that helped us be in that moment.”
The Red Raiders will play seven more games on the road before hosting a tournament in Lubbock. The players are looking forward to the experience they will gain being on the road against Division I competition, Hill said.
“I think it just adds to our confidence,” Hill said. “In the Big 12 we’re gone all the time too so might as well get used to it.”
The first tournament of the season also helped the team mentally, Solano said.
“It just showed us our capabilities, it’s one thing to talk about it, but to go out and do something big like that in their home gym, in their home environment, in a brand new gym it was cool to know that we are able to go and get a good road win,” Solano said.
The Red Raiders will head to Evanston, Illinois on Sept. 6 for the NU Under Armour Tournament. Tech will begin the tournament against Stephen F. Austin (SFA) at 1 p.m. on Sept. 6 followed by Northwestern at 7 p.m. on the same day. Tech will face Austin Peay at 1 p.m. on Sept. 7.