They said it: UE volleyball previews a tough weekend vs. Missouri State, Wichita State

The volleyball team hits the road again for another Missouri Valley Conference weekend. Evansville heads to Missouri State tonight and travels to Wichita State for a Saturday night match.

The Aces are coming off their first Valley win of the season, a 3-1 set victory over Bradley. After getting off to a slow start in the first two sets against the Braves, UE dominated sets three and four to earn the victory. Junior Ashley Ring and sophomore Emma Roberson led the way in the victory, tallying 14 and 11 kills, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Aces are heading to face two of the best offenses in the conference. The Shockers are by far the best hitting team in the Valley, posting a .301 team hitting percentage, over 60 points higher than the next best team in the conference, while Missouri State is fourth (.225). Wichita State’s Ashley Andrade and Elizabeth Field own the best hitting percentages in the conference and Andrade is second in the conference in blocks per game.

I talked with senior libero Katie Klages and head coach Manolo Concepcion about the tough weekend ahead and how the team is improving after a 1-1 Valley slate last weekend.

Q: What’s the biggest takeaway from last weekend’s matches?

Klages: “I think we were really united and everyone worked together and everyone contributed, so just to take that in the rest of the games and just working hard in practice.”

Concepcion: “We’re adjusting well to the specific assignments that we have by player. That’s something we wanted to improve and let them know that in order to achieve better mental toughness as a team, we need more specific tasks for each of them and we need them to emphasizes and focus on those specific tasks. I think we got a lot better in that regard.”

Q: The defense played really well in the last two sets against Bradley. What was the key to the improvement?

Klages: “One of the big things we’ve been working with is the blocking sync and syncing with the defense. I think it went really well this weekend. It is getting better every time we work on it.”

Concepcion: “It got a lot more solid because serving got better. We learned how to serve a little bit tougher, so we’re getting opponents away from the net. It’s easier to read on the defense. (Wednesday) and (Thursday) we’re going to emphasize in blocking, so as long as we serve well and block well our defense is going to get better.”

Q: Do you think the team is prepared for the longevity and the toughness of the conference slate, especially facing two of the Valley’s best teams this weekend?

Klages: “I personally love it and I know everyone else does too. Every team is pretty even. It’s one of those conferences where any team can win on any given night and everyone’s right there neck and neck the whole time. I think it’s pretty exciting to play in.”

Concepcion: “We have two weekends in a row where we’re going to face the teams to beat, (as) people call them, so it’s going to be a good test and it’s going to be a situation where we have nothing to lose, literally. We’re going to the toughest crowd in the conference in Missouri State, so it’s going to be a week where we’re going to emphasize how we can control ourselves instead of worrying about everything around us.”

Q: So how have you been focusing on that this week?

Klages: “Just the simple things. Breaking everything down, focusing on the few things that each of us needs to bring to the table and contribute that will benefit the entire team as well.”

Concepcion: “We’re meeting a lot individually. We’re talking about, ‘this is what I want you to be thinking about, a specific technique, a specific strategy individually.’”

They said it: UE women’s volleyball previews its home tournament

The volleyball team is home at Carson Center for the first time all season. The Aces will host SIU Edwardsville, Valparaiso, and Memphis in a six-game tournament that will last through Saturday.

UE is coming off its second straight-set victory over Murray State this season, beating the Racers on Tuesday night. Though the Aces won 3-0, the match was closer, with each set going down to the wire. Evansville won all three sets closely, 28-26, 25-21, 28-26.

The Aces will face SIU Edwardsville first, who is 2-4 and coming off the Omaha Classic, where it picked up two wins over Southern Utah and Omaha before dropping a close, 3-2 contest to Bradley. Memphis is 4-2 entering the weekend, and Valparaiso is a strong 8-0 after winning the Popcorn Classic last weekend.

Junior Ashley Ring leads UE’s offense after posting a game-high 16 kills and 24 digs in the win over Murray State. Meaghan Holmes and Rachel TenHoor, as each posted double-digit kills and hitting percentages just under .400.

I talked with Ring, Holmes, and head coach Manolo Concepcion earlier this week to discuss the takeaways from the victory over Murray State and what the plan is heading into the weekend.

Q: First off, how nice will it be to play at home for the first time all season?

Ring: “I’m so happy to be home, to have our home opener. We have all the other sports here, so they can come watch us, we can go watch them, so there’s a lot of people around that can come watch the games so that’ll be nice.”

Concepcion: “I think they’re relieved, as well. It’s been a long, long preseason so it’s good to be back home and I know it’s going to be exciting for them, too, to play in front of their fans.”

Q: Against Murray State, you won a lot of long rallies. SIUE and Valparaiso play similarly by keeping the games close. How will your last match prepare you for the longevity of the weekend?

Holmes: “I think winning the long rallies gave us as much momentum as a big kill or a huge block because we fought hard for that point. It helps us with the mental aspect of the game especially when it’s really tight and really into the game. Having that extra ‘umph’ to push through and get those two points to win the game.”

Concepcion: “Before the game we actually talked about the two percent theory — it only takes two percent to be better than the opponent. So can we actually take care of the easy actions? And they figured out, especially in pressure situations: can you take care of the free balls, can you take care of those one-on-one situations, can you take care of those situations that you can control, like serving? They just waited the opponent’s mistakes and it was good to finally see them realize it actually works.”

Ring: “It was great to pull that out, especially since we stayed disciplined throughout the entire rallies and that’s what we’ve been pushing for: staying disciplined in everything, especially in those long rallies, when we are getting tired and the other team is tired, just to stay disciplined so we can get the points.”

Q: The front line has been a strong point in the past couple of matches. How has that helped the confidence of the team?

Concepcion: “What we’re seeing is, we want our No. 12 player to feel that she can be the No. 1 player. You’re seeing that, when you’re talking about Meaghan Holmes, when she got here this preseason she was the third middle. Now she’s our No.1 middle. Ashley got a lot of load defensively, but we had kids who probably had four or five kills in the right situations.”

Holmes: “The more that we practice on it, the more we work on it in here, the more, I personally feel like I have more confidence in them because I see it in practice.”

Ring: “Our coaches have complete trust in us and confidence in our abilities to play and that is really helpful, too. It’s one thing to have confidence in yourselves and your teammates, but when your coaches have it, it’s that extra push.”

Q: What are a couple of goals that you have for the weekend?

Ring: “I think, like always, we want to make sure that we’re in sync with our front row and back row with that defense, making sure that we’re moving the right way. Right now we’re working on specific situations like if they’re hitting from here, like a Valpo middle is hitting a 31, we know how to read around that situation where we have to be in relationship to each other, to the block, all of that.”

Concepcion: “Can we get a lower number of unforced errors? That would be a great sign of improvement. Can we actually perform in certain situations? Can we actually keep the lead? Those will be things we will be emphasizing.”

Notebook: Youth, depth keys to men’s soccer win vs. SLU

They had subs and it was crazy.

For the University of Evansville men’s soccer team Wednesday night, youth and depth were in their favor.

The Aces substituted early and often, using five men off the bench. Their two goal scorers, freshman Jared Robinson and sophomore Mark Anthony Gonzalez, entered the game in the 17th and 30th minute, respectively. Even the player with the lone assist, sophomore Nate Opperman, didn’t play in regulation.

“I think a big thing for us is our depth,” said head coach Mike Jacobs. “(Saint Louis) only subbed like two or three times and we were able to bring guys in that made the game better. When you have that kind of depth — that you can bring guys on like that — (it) speaks volumes for the chemistry in this group,  that guys buy into doing what ever their role is, (and) the character of this team and the will this team has.”

Wednesday night wasn’t the first time Robinson — or any of the freshmen — have come up big for UE. The freshman tallied his first career goal against Northern Illinois last Friday, heading a shot in within the first minute of the game. Landon Souder and Kyle Richardville also saw minutes in the match, with Souder starting the game at midfield and playing the entire game.

“It’s always good when freshmen are stepping up and doing fantastic things,” Gonzalez said. “It shows the character of our team, that we keep on building, and next year we’ll have an even stronger team.”

BAND OF BROTHERS: The four juniors that make up Evansville’s back line were a brick wall yet again.

Patrick Hodges, Brandon Causey, Kevin Schafer and goalkeeper Eric Teppen stifled Saint Louis’ powerful offense that featured one of the nation’s best attackers in Robert Kristo on Wednesday night. UE held the Billikens to just seven shots on goal and the defense wasn’t afraid to get physical with the larger, quicker attackers.

“Our back line — and we changed our tactics, we played with three in the back against these guys and it thought it really, really helped — Hodges, Schafer, Causey, those guys were like warriors out there,” Jacobs said. “They were dealing with tremendous strikers. Teppen just stood on his head. You don’t win a game like that if your goalkeeper doesn’t stand up, and he was tremendous tonight.”

Saint Louis is a possession-oriented offense which is characterized by long, thought-out possessions. So as the Billikens were patient with the ball, the Aces were able to play tighter defense to suppress any ‘good’ chances they were trying to create.

Many times that meant challenging the attacker and going in for a tackle — this proved risky a couple of times, as Saint Louis was able to get a few good looks on net — and UE’s defense held steady.

“I think they are comfortable playing in front of our back line, playing sideways and backwards,” Jacobs said. “For us, we felt as long as we can keep their attacking players in front of us, they weren’t going to be able to get good scoring chances.”

YOU’VE GOT ME FEELING EMOTIONS: A rivalry isn’t a rivalry without passion, and Wednesday’s game wasn’t lacking any fire.

Three yellow cards were given to Evansville players — Luis Romero, Alex Kapsalis and Charlie Macias — and Saint Louis’s William Hidalgo was booked with one late in the game, and there was plenty of tension on the field.

After a whistle, Macias got in a bit of a pushing match with a Billiken and after cooling off, went full speed on the attack, putting pressure on Saint Louis’ defense as they were passing around the field to set up a play. It was instances like these where you could tell this rivalry meant a lot to the Aces.

“The game was definitely heated, but we’re playing Saint Louis,” Gonzalez said. “Nationally ranked, but you have to play hard and get your emotions pumping.”

They said it: UE women’s soccer previews tonight’s match vs. UT Martin

The University of Evansville women’s soccer team hosts UT Martin tonight at 7 p.m. at Arad McCutcheon Stadium. After dropping last weekend’s regular-season opener, 1-0, to Murray State, the Aces rebounded with a 2-1 win over Tennessee Tech.

The visiting Skyhawks kicked off their season with a 1-0 loss to Oklahoma State before playing to a scoreless draw against Middle Tennessee State. UT Martin was tabbed as preseason favorites to repeat as Ohio Valley Conference champions, returning seven full-time starters from last season’s championship team.

The Skyhawks are led by goalkeeper Mariah Klenke, who set a single-season record for wins with 12 last season, and midfielder Hannah McGowen leads their attack.

Evansville is led by sophomore Abby Springer and senior Stephanie Thompson on offense and is backed up by a staunch defense that let up just

I talked with head coach Krista McKendree and junior defenseman Taylor Brand about their opening weekend and tonight’s game against UT Martin.

Q: What kind of lessons did you take away from last weekend’s matches and how did you addressing them in practice this week?

MCKENDREE: “I think we definitely did a much better job on Sunday of keeping possession of the ball. We connected over 300 passes, which is pretty good. Our speed of play was pretty good and we didn’t allow the other team to have the ball much. We still gave up a soft goal on Sunday, and that’s still a point of concern for us — not giving up easy goals — but overall, we’ve got some confidence in the fact that we can score. Our attacking play looked much better on Sunday.”

BRAND: “I think the main thing that we really need to focus on is putting two good halves together. Recently, we’ve played one good half, and the second half has been a letdown. I think it’s mental, thinking about the whole game, you can’t have mental lapses, especially, If it’s something small — the corner kick, we let a goal in, and we played better than them the whole half. It’s just mental lapses.”

Q: How are you looking for the offense to step up this week?

MCKENDREE: “We have dynamic attacking players. We just have to get to a page where all of them are dynamic on the same day. Right now, we have bits and pieces of that showing, (so) we just have to get to a position where more of our chances are much more dangerous.”

Q: On the defensive end, how do you put together a solid 90 minutes?

BRAND: “We have two new people playing on the back line with us, and so it’s just continuing to work on our organization, keeping our shape a little bit better. Just cleaning it up. If we don’t we have some problems.”

Q: What’s the main goal for Friday’s match?

MCKENDREE: “Obviously to try to get a result on Friday, a win being the expectation. But most importantly, it’s just doing something a little bit better than what we did on Sunday. So for us, limiting defensive opportunities is going to be key for us to be able to be successful.”

University of Evansville beat

This is Randy Beard, the sports editor of the Evansville Courier & Press. I want to use this space to update University of Evansville sports fans on where we are at with the Aces’ beat since Jonathan Lintner left for an online position with the Louisville Courier Journal.

I received more than 170 resumes once the job was posted, conducted seven phone interviews and then brought three applicants to town for a second round of interviewing earlier this month. A little over a week ago I offered the job to Colleen Thomas, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan who has been working a summer internship at the Baltimore Sun.

Colleen will start work on Aug. 19 and once she gets her bearings and meets administrators, coaches and student-athletes at UE, I’m confident she will provide outstanding coverage of the Aces. She’s an excellent writer, has a background playing sports (her mother is a teacher and coach) and she managed to graduate from college in three years so she may soon be the smartest member of the sports staff.

As I did with Jonathan, I will set expectations for Colleen and then give her the leeway to grow the beat the way she wants.

Speaking of which, reading comments on the Purple Code message board about how Jonathan provided unprecedented coverage of the Aces because he was a fan has kept me amused. I’ve wanted to respond, especially  to the suggestion that we are no longer taking the UE beat seriously since he left.

One poster even suggested I’d rather cover  fishing before writing about college basketball. Wrong on two counts there, I’m afraid.

I would have set the record straight more than two weeks ago on the Purple Code, but I’ve forgotten my password and so far the site administrator hasn’t responded to three emails. So I’ll respond here.

Jonathan did take the beat in a new direction with daily blog entries and constant Twitter posts,  using the skills he learned at Western Kentucky. Those multi-media skills are one reason Jonathan was hired. We expected him to be a newsroom leader in those areas, and he helped raise the bar for reporters on other beats in sports.

But the thing people need to understand is that it wasn’t Jonathan’s decision to  focus on UE athletics. He was assigned that responsibility, although he did often go beyond what I would have demanded because he would post blog entries on his days off. I appreciated that effort.

However, unlike previous writers covering the Aces in the past six years or so, I made sure Jonathan didn’t have to worry very often about having to also cover the IceMen, USI or high school sports. He only got a handful of those assignments because I wanted him to stay focused on covering UE athletics.

In comparison, when I was assigned coverage of the Aces for two years, I was also the sports columnist who worked the desk two to three nights a week while also providing nearly all of our IceMen coverage. So yes, the coverage of the Aces wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as was in the past year.

When I moved up to sports editor here in May 2012, making UE a beat responsibility was as much a priority to me as all college beats had been when I was sports editor in Tallahassee, Fla., and Anderson, S.C.. It remains one now.

I believe Colleen will do a superb job while providing a different perspective..

 

Most of UE’s APR numbers at an all-time high

ncaalogoNine of UE’s 14 athletic programs posted their highest academic progress rates ever in figures released by the NCAA on Tuesday.

Those teams — men’s basketball, baseball, softball, women’s cross country, women’s golf, women’s tennis, volleyball and both swim teams — reached new highs during the 2011-2012 school year.

Women’s golf, women’s tennis, women’s cross country and volleyball posted perfect scores of 1,000. Those programs were also noted last week through the NCAA’s APR Public Recognition Award for finishing in the top 10 percent of Division I in their respective sport.

APR, “a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed as an early indicator of eventual graduation rates,” according to the NCAA, is scored by rolling four-year periods.

A perfect APR (or graduation rate) is represented by 1,000, while a 900 currently marks the threshold for which the NCAA can impose sanctions on athletic programs. But for the 2014-2015 year, that minimum rises to 940 – a new ceiling that will place a number of programs on the edge.

None of them will likely be from UE, however.

Perhaps most notable among the Aces’ athletic programs is the men’s basketball team. Since the NCAA instituted the APR in 2004, the Aces’ rate has grown every year — from 878 then to 965 now.

Higher APRs this year coincide with UE’s all-academic award from the Missouri Valley Conference, awarded last fall after Aces student-athletes combined to post the highest grade-point average in the league.

Most of the 18 division teams sanctioned this year by the NCAA come from low-spending schools in leagues such as the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Penalties typically include reduction in scholarships and postseason bans.

Click here to view the NCAA’s APR database.

Four UE sports’ APRs recognized by NCAA

ncaalogoThe NCAA, in its calculations of academic progress rates from the 2011-2012 academic year, recognized four UE athletics programs for figures ranking in the top 10 percent of their sport.

Each of the volleyball, women’s tennis, women’s golf and women’s cross country teams earned the APR Public Recognition Award in the NCAA’s latest rankings released Wednesday.

It’s the fourth straight year coach Don Walters’ women’s cross country team and coach Jim Hamilton’s women’s golf team were celebrated.

APR “is a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed as an early indicator of eventual graduation rates,” according to the NCAA’s website.

The APRs for all programs will be released next Tuesday.

A perfect score (or graduation rate) is represented by 1,000, while a 925 (50 percent rate) marks the threshold for which the NCAA can impose sanctions on athletic programs. During the 2012-2013 academic year, only 35 Division I programs faced penalties such as loss of postseason privileges or scholarship reductions.

In all, 853 Division I teams posted perfect scores in the most recent figures — up 53 from last year. Ten programs in the top 10 percent of their sports were national champions. Dartmouth (25), Brown (20) and Bucknell (19) had the most programs recognized.

To view the NCAA’s Public Recognition Award database, which dates back to the APR’s creation in 2004, click here.

No guarantees with women’s soccer tournament

Arad McCutchan Stadium will play host to the 2013 MVC women's soccer tournament.

Arad McCutchan Stadium will play host to the 2013 MVC women’s soccer tournament.

The UE women’s soccer program will host this year’s Missouri Valley Conference championship. Due to a league rule change this year, however, there’s no guarantee the Aces participate in it.

Host schools previously gained automatic entry into the six-team field, which leaves one of the MVC’s seven members out of the three-round, single-elimination tournament. Last year, for instance, Creighton went 0-6 in league play during the regular season but made the field over Missouri State because the tournament site was Omaha, Neb.

Missing the postseason altogether likely isn’t a concern for UE, which returns its top three goal scorers — Stephanie Thompson, Abby Springer and Kayla Smith — as well as goalkeeper Simone Busby from a team that won last year’s regular-season MVC title.

“Not that we need more incentive, but obviously we’ve got to play well in enough in the conference to get a spot in the tournament,” said Aces coach Krista McKendree.

The six-team MVC tournament plays its opening rounds at campus sites before the semifinals move to UE’s Arad McCutchan Stadium on Nov. 8. The championship, broadcast last year by Fox Sports Midwest, will be played Nov. 10.

Although McCutchan Stadium is an aging facility, the Aces have had no problem fielding tournaments there in the past.

UE has hosted the women’s soccer tournament three other times, most recently in 2007, as well as the men’s championship three times and last in 2008. McCutchan Stadium has also been the site of 12 NCAA tournament matches, in all making UE’s soccer stadium home to more postseason matches than any MVC school.

“The athletic department takes care of most of it,” McKendree said. “We’ve done it so often that they’re not reinventing the wheel so to speak. They have a plan and might tweak on it here or there. I don’t want to say it’s not time intensive because the behind-the-scenes work of getting hotels and (awards) banquet stuff takes the most coordination.”

There won’t be much profit for UE in hosting a tournament in a non-revenue sport, but all games in the past were broadcast on the MVC’s “Valley Live” web channel. The championship is a regional TV broadcast.

In addition to the three women’s championship weekend games, McKendree said the men’s soccer program is planning a home game for the weekend too.

“The hope is we can create an environment that will be enjoyable for all teams, not just our team, as well as the local youth organizations and getting people to want to come out and watch high-level soccer for the whole weekend,” she said. “It needs to be something where the teams and players feel like people care and want to support the things that are going on.”

UE wraps up volleyball coaching search

Manuel Concepcion

Manuel Concepcion

The University of Evansville has filled its volleyball head coaching vacancy that opened after 10-year mainstay Mike Swan resigned in February.

A source close to the coaching search confirmed that Evansville hired Manuel “Manolo” Concepcion, a former Aces assistant under Swan and Western Carolina head coach.

The university will introduce Concepcion at a news conference Monday.

“Honestly, I can’t think of anybody that I’d rather see take over the job than Manolo,” Swan said when reached by phone Saturday. “I think it will be an easy transition for him to come in and continue what I was trying to do there.”

Click here for the full story on Concepcion’s hire.

UE volleyball coach Swan resigns

After 10 seasons at the University of Evansville, Mike Swan has left his job as the Aces’ volleyball coach to take the same position at Valdosta State, a Division II program in southern Georgia.

Valdosta State’s athletic department announced the hiring earlier this week.

Swan coached Evansville to a 124-184 record over the last decade, most recently a 9-22 mark and seventh-place Missouri Valley Conference finish in 2012.

“I could have stayed here for many more years and been happy, but I think sometimes everybody gets a little complacent and accustomed to you,” Swan said. “You get pretty set in your ways, and I just felt like if I’m going to make a move late in my career, now’s the time to do it.”

Read more at courierpress.com.

‘Purple Saturday’ live updates

UE’s fall Homecoming Saturday was a busy one sports-wise.

In action today:

The UE men’s basketball team routed Division II Illinois Springfield.

UE’s women’s basketball team knocked off USI in an exhibition game.

Creighton beat the UE men’s soccer team to claim a MVC regular-season title.

Click below to continue reading for a look back at all the day’s updates.

Continue reading

UE men aiming for MVC regular-season title

Mike Jacobs

Even with the UE men’s soccer program’s history – twoFinal Fours and  11 NCAA tournament appearances overall – it’s never won a regular-season Missouri Valley Conference championship since joining the league in 1994.

“So really, as proud of a tradition as there is, this is really uncharted territory for us,” said coach Mike Jacobs.

The Aces, who took the MVC conference tournament title in 1996 and finished runner-up on two other occasions, can earn a share of the league’s regular-season crown at 7 p.m. Saturday when they host nationally-ranked Creighton at Arad McCutchan Stadium.

A win would tie UE (9-6-1, 3-1-1) and Creighton (13-3-2, 4-0-1) record-wise as well as give the Aces the No. 1 seed in the MVC tournament with the head-to-head tiebreaker.

With a loss, UE slides to either third or fourth in the final league standings, depending on results of other matches this weekend, and misses out on a quarterfinals bye in the MVC tournament this week in Peoria, Ill.

Senior captain and forward Jesse Sharp and senior reserves Robert Randant and Gavin Chura get the Bluejays, ranked 16th in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, in their last collegiate home match.

“To finish like this, with the opportunity to play a big game in front of a big crowd, in a de facto regular-season championship game is pretty exciting,” Jacobs said.

Fans can use a ticket stub from either the men’s or women’s basketball exhibitions earlier Saturday to gain free admission to Saturday’s men’s soccer match.

UE last beat Creighton, a perennial MVC power, in 2004.

Senior midfielder Jose Gomez leads the Blue Jays as a top returner from a team that in 2011 advanced to the College Cup semifinals, soccer’s version of the Final Four. Gomez has 16 points total this season to tie teammate Timo Pitter, and TopDrawerSoccer.com named Gomez its national player of the week on Oct. 15 after he posted six points – on four assists and a goal – in consecutive road matches.

“He’s definitely one of the top playmakers in the country, and for us a lot of what they do goes through him,” Jacobs said. “He accounts for a lot of their offense.”

Freshmen Faik Hajderovic (five goals and five assists) and Mark Anthony Gonzalez (four goals and one assist) lead an even-keeled UE offense. Nine different Aces have scored goals this season.

Sophomore Eric Teppen has started every match in goal for UE. He has a 1.31 goals against average with 64 saves and five shutouts.