Q&A with Volleyball Head Coach Kevin Paul

May 4, 2005

Q: Last season, you took over as head coach after three years as an assistant. Describe the transition from an assistant to head coach within the same program.

A:It's not as easy as I thought it would be. It's different when you're making the final decisions. You have to change your attitude as the head coach because all the results fall on your shoulders. The transition period was difficult for all of us, but we set certain standards and expectations in order to make the best environment for the future of this program.

Q: In your first season, you led the program to its first Atlantic Sun Conference Championship crown and its first appearance in the NCAA tournament at the Division I level. Describe how it felt to be a part of program history in your first season as a head coach.

A: It was one of the best feelings I've ever experienced. To see this team pull together the way they did after a 0-8 start, and to see how much they grew together, is something I'll never forget. As a first-year coach, you couldn't have scripted it any better.

Q: When did it finally sink in?

A: To tell you the truth, it still hasn't. I'm still waiting for it to hit me.

Q: You mentioned starting the year with a 0-8 record, but you rebounded to finish 15-5, including a program-record 10-game winning streak in conference play. What the turning point that turned your season around?

A: I can remember vividly our van ride back from Tallahassee after we lost at Florida A&M. During the drive, the girls were talking amongst themselves and I overheard one of our players, with such sincerity, talking about turning the season around. A few of the upperclassmen began to take part in this heated conversation and replied, "We're good enough to beat anyone and we just have to believe that!" After that, the following days of practices were very intense from those individuals and it was exciting to see the rest of our team jump on board.

Q: Despite a first-round loss to eventual national champion Stanford in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, how do you think that experience will help your squad in 2005?

A: Even though we lost to Stanford, 3-0, we played them respectfully. Our defense picked up a lot of balls in that match and the opportunity to play such a prestigious program will give us more confidence for our next appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Now that we've experienced that environment, we will be able to focus more on playing as opposed to just being there.

Q: Did the success of the program in 2004 carry over into the offseason with recruiting?

A: Without a doubt it definitely did. A recruit called the night we won the conference tournament and gave us a commitment. We got some good exposure on TV in the finals of the Atlantic Sun Championship, which has helped promote our program on a regional scope. It's also nice to say "we won the conference this past season and played in the NCAA tournament," when you're talking to a recruit on the phone.

Q: Along with your first season as a head coach, assistant coach Cerina Pele completed her first season with the Dolphins. Talk about the impact she has made on the program.

A: My first big decision as a head coach was bringing Cerina on board in my first year. She has made things very easy for me on the court and in the office. Her work ethic is fantastic and her ability to teach the game has been extremely productive. Cerina is as competitive as any athlete/coach out there and she brings that competitive fire with her day in and day out. Cerina is one of those coaches who proves to the players that they can work harder by jumping out on the floor to train and condition with them. Not many coaches go out there with their athletes and run sprints.

Q: Now that you have a year under your belt as a head coach, did you make any changes to your spring training program?

A: This spring, I wanted to find a way to condition the team with as little negative impact on their bodies as possible. With the assistance the of rowing program, we spent two or three days a week on ERG (rowing) machines down at the boathouse on the St. John's River. The results were awesome. The kids enjoyed doing something different and it was a competitive atmosphere once they got the hang of it. From my experiences, there's no question it was the best offseason training I've been involved with.

Q: How was the mind set of the team leading into spring practice?

A: With a great ending to the fall, I thought our kids were anxious to get back into the swing of things. Although they were a bit nervous, knowing that it was going to be very competitive, they ended the spring season in the best shape they've ever been in. They worked hard every day, knowing that it was going to take more discipline and effort to maintain the level of play we have established.

Q: What were some aspects of the squad that you wanted to improve on heading into the spring and what was the biggest improvement of the team during the spring season?

A: Overall, I wanted to improve on our conditioning. It's very important that we stay healthy and continue to focus in the weight room and with our conditioning. By the end of the spring, I could really see a difference in our strength. Our verticals increased, our blocking became a lot stronger and our defensive footwork was quicker.

Q: Now that the spring season has passed, give me an assessment of your squad heading into the summer and fall.

A: We're going into the summer in really good shape, including some who are in the best shape of their lives. It could be huge for preseason training if they maintain what they accomplished the last four months. It will allow us to implement more on tactics, as opposed to focusing on conditioning. With a great spring from our current players and then adding the very talented recruits, the fall should be a lot of fun.

Q: What were some of the new techniques and alternative workouts that you implemented this spring?

A: As I mentioned before, an alternative workout was using rowing machines a few days a week. We also started practice at 6 a.m., and, if things didn't go well, we would bring them back in the evening to work out again. There were only a few times we returned back for an evening session to make sure we got the quality time which was needed. We also introduced a more focused and intense strength & conditioning program. Our strength coaches did a great job of improving the strength of our players and it definitely showed by the end of spring competitions.

Q: How do you think the new spring training techniques will affect the squad in the fall?

A: Our focus was to give them higher expectations heading into the season. I'm hoping it will just continue to snowball from here, now that they have the confidence in training as hard as they have. I'm hoping this new attitude of wanting to get better day-by-day will help them work even harder on a more consistent basis. This will allow us to excel in some of the close matches we haven't finished in the past.

Q: You finished undefeated during the spring with only six healthy players (All-A-Sun outside hitter Eva Stoilova will return in the fall after sitting out the spring due to surgery on her shoulder). Evaluate how the squad performed this spring compared to last spring.

A: This spring was more efficient than in the past. We used as much individual practice times as we could and emphasized the importance of getting in good physical shape. Having only six healthy bodies this spring allowed those athletes to receive more opportunities and one-on-one instruction. This gave us the opportunity to work with the core starters from the fall and train individual defense and blocking. We wanted to get stronger in those areas and we definitely did that during the spring.

Q: Which individual players impressed you the most and who showed the most improvement from last fall?

A: Katie Hendrian (So./middle hitter) pushed really hard every session and the improvement in her strength and conditioning was really noticeable. Her blocking and attacking has also improved tremendously on the court. Katie is going to be a solid player for us, especially with her work ethic. Erin Donivan (Sr./setter) also did a great job. We practiced early in the morning during the spring, which isn't easy for kids, and Erin did a great job of communicating during morning sessions. She was always positive and was the only kid talking day in and day out. Erin is also the most dependable athlete I've coached and the best-conditioned player on our team.

Q: What are the team's strengths and weaknesses?

A: Our strengths are ball control and defense and the fact that we're solid in every position with this incoming class. Our biggest weakness is lack of depth. We can't afford injuries to occur, because it will force us to move our lineup around to something less effective.

Q: Talk about your 2005 recruiting class and how it will impact the team next season.

A: Our newcomers have really good balance and tremendous size. We signed a great athlete in Stevenique Richardson, who will help us in the middle and give us depth at the position. She's very quick for a 6-foot-2 player and has great leaping ability. Laura Goettsch is a 6-foot-2 middle hitter from Canada. She has good ball control for her size, and we may look to move her around a little, but again, she gives us depth in a lot of areas. We signed 6-foot-3 setter, Una Dzalba, from Latvia and she will be our setter for the future. She has great experience from playing on the Junior National team over the last three years in Latvia. She is very consistent when she delivers the ball and puts players in good position to be successful. Our biggest impact recruit this season should be Alyssa Fowles, a libero from Northern California. She has great court sense and can pass the ball extremely well. Alyssa is a well-rounded volleyball player and I look for her to make an impact.

Q: Talk about the 2005 schedule with UCF, Georgia State and Troy leaving the Atlantic Sun Conference next season and the addition of East Tennessee State, Kennesaw State and North Florida, who will be the biggest challenge in conference as you defend you're title?

A: Belmont has established itself as a real threat and Florida Atlantic returns a lot of key players. Adding North Florida will be fun for us because it helps create a good local rivalry. UNF is a very good program and I think it will make an immediate impact in the Atlantic Sun. East Tennessee State will be looking to make a statement in its first year. Kennesaw State will be starting a program from the ground up, so they will experience some growing pains. Our 2005 non-conference schedule will be very difficult for us because we have nine away matches to start the season. We open up with tournaments hosted by Georgia Southern, Denver and Florida International, in which we'll also play TCU, Idaho State and North Carolina State. We also have a road match at Florida mixed in between.

Q: What is your goal for the Dolphins in 2005?

A: First, we need to get off to a better start. Then, I want us to continue to build on all our the accomplishments from the last eight months. We have proven some things to our campus, and ourselves and I would like nothing more than to continue building on that. Ultimately, we want to win the Atlantic Sun regular season and tournament championship and return to the NCAA Tournament.