Coach Tom Hilbert is always competitive, but practice this week has been particularly intense.
The Rams have been pushing hard all week preparing for the Coors Invitational this weekend at Moby Arena. After losing two of three games to open the season last weekend in the Hilton Classic, Hilbert has been extremely vocal about what the Rams must improve on.
No one is surprised, nor is anyone complaining.
“It’s been intense,” said junior right side hitter Tonya Mokelki. “You practice how you play. We know what we have to focus on and we need to do it better.”
The Rams (1-2) will play three matches this weekend, the first against Wake Forest today at 7 p.m. They then face Florida Atlantic at noon, and James Madison at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
None of these three teams have played yet this season. Wake Forest and Florida Atlantic, like the Rams, advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2006.
But the Rams aren’t thinking about the competition. They’re thinking about themselves.
“It doesn’t really matter how good those teams are,” said sophomore outside hitter Jamie Strauss. “All that matters is how we play.”
The Rams had an inconsistent start to the season in the first three matches. Good points were often followed by mental mistakes. They had 25 hitting errors and 15 service errors in Friday night’s loss to Texas A&M alone. For a team that prides itself on keeping balls alive, it was a disappointing beginning.
“We’ve got to keep our errors down,” said Mokelki. “We just need to keep the ball in play and make the other team play. We gave away too many points.”
Strauss said some of those mistakes might have been a result of the eight newcomers this year, including six freshmen. But she thinks having a few matches under their belts should cure the problem.
“We can’t be nervous,” she said. “We have a lot of young players, but they’ve all had a weekend to play.”
Mokelki agreed with her teammate.
“People were definitely nervous last weekend,” she said. “We should be over that now. We’ve got to focus on being competitive.”
Unfortunately for the Rams, time is running out to sort through their concerns. After this weekend, the Rams have a road trip to play against California, Pepperdine and American. After that, it’s straight into conference play, with the Rams opening against preseason MWC favorite Utah on Sept. 16.
“We don’t have time to settle into our roles,” said Strauss. “It’s important we take things seriously because we don’t have long to get it right. Conference play is soon.”
The conference play could be all the more reason for practice to continue being as intense as it has been. When asked about the team’s goals this weekend, Mokelki summed up the feeling of the week.
“We have to win,” she said.
Staff writer Jeff Dillon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.