Q&A with AU head volleyball coach Barry Goldberg
The Eagle sat down with AU volleyball head coach Barry Goldberg on Monday to talk about the upcoming NCAA Tournament and AU’s history of success on the volleyball court.
Q: Does this [season] feel special in any way, considering the other undefeated seasons you’ve had and the other non-undefeated seasons?
A: I mean, every team is special. It’s special because of the people you work with. We have a new team this year. We have six new freshman on the team, first time they’re going through this. So, for me as a coach, I can’t be ‘oh, okay, it’s just another season,’ because I have people experiencing this for the first time, and hopefully those people who are brand new at this will have more opportunities to do this. We’ve had a lot of people in our program go through the first, second, third and fourth year, and some of them have even had the gift of going to the NCAA tournament all four years of being here, few, not everybody, but some have been able to do that, and it’s a pretty neat accomplishment. For these freshmen, this is an incredibly unique and gifted experience for them, so I’m happy for all these new people, and I’m really pleased with these seniors that have been through this and have taken us through the tournament all these years. They can continue to build a tradition on what they are doing, and it’s special every time you do this for sure.
Q: How does it feel now that this is the 13th Patriot League championship in 15 years?
A: Well, it feels really nice to know that we’ve done this a number of times. We actually won three Colonial championships, went to the NCAA two of those years. The third year we had a disqualification because [of] our school trading conferences, so they wouldn’t let us represent them, but we won the league, so we’ve been quite successful with winning our league now for a number of years, and it feels great to just look back at all these years and all these people that have gone through, and mostly it’s really about the people. The wins are great, the ball could fall on one side of the net or the other, sometime you do this, sometimes you do that, but we’ve had new people all the time, and just to have all these people experience these neat opportunities is just super.
Q: What’s the vibe you’ve gotten from the players? How do they feel about having won this championship and having so many award winners too?
A: Pretty special moments for a brand new player like Carmen Unzue and players like, certainly Hoakalei Dawson, who’s the Libero of the Year here. I thought that, you know, here’s young players coming in, Hoakalei in her second year with us now, [it’s] just so nice that the rest of the league would honor her in particular. And Carmen, brand new player to our team with the Rookie of the Year. Credit our leaders as well, Hoakalei felt really comfortable in a position she had never played before because she had players here like Allison Cappellino, Kristyna Lindovska, Monika Smidova and Sarah Katz. You know, with players like that around you the younger players feel really confident that they can add to this too. Remember, that’s really what you want. Everyone gives a little bit, and it becomes a lot.
Q: You’re obviously a very team-centric coach. But I’m going to make you answer this anyway: if you had to pick one player that has the biggest impact on the team this season, who would you pick?
A: I would say the biggest impact has got to be our setter, Monika. I mean, she’s the Player of the Year, and she’s certainly quite impactful because she is our distributor. She is a lot of the problem-solver. And so, with us being successful, and she’s our lead problem-solver, yeah, she’s the biggest impact of all. Although she might be the biggest impact here, she would be the first one to say- if you look at any of her speeches after she won an award- it’s always, she thanks us as coaches, but she certainly is really appreciative of the other players on the team, the spikers, the receivers, that help her to do what she’s doing.
Q: Switching gears a little bit to the games, again. What do you think was the hardest [Patriot] League game this season to win?
A: Colgate. League season, at Colgate, we were just off balance, it’s a long trip up there. We attacked the ball well in the first game and just lost the handle a little bit there for some time and still battled through and ended up winning 3-2. It was our most competitive match in terms of we were on the brink of getting beaten. And also certainly the Army match there at the end. I thought Army played spectacular. By [how] they played earlier, and how they finished, I thought they played so much better by the end. So, those two matches in particular, the regular season match at Colgate and the home match at the end versus Army, were the two most competitive.
Q: Of the non-league teams that we played, what do you think was the hardest game there?
A: Non-league, I think Florida, here. I mean, we had a great crowd, it was quite an event, we played them really tough. Game 1, Game 2 and 3, they were overpowering to some extent. Game 4, we were right there, about to tie the match, and we mishandled a couple at the end there, but it was a really good, competitive match, with 2,700 fans there screaming- you were there- it was quite the event. Certainly the lead up for us having a successful season, getting ready to compete there with Florida. Now Kentucky, who we’re playing in the NCAA Tournament, they split with Florida during the year. So it’s going to be a good battle here, playing Kentucky.
Q: You have an undefeated Patriot League season, you’re matched up against the University of Kentucky in the first round. Depending on the ranking that you look at- because the NCAA has two different ranking systems- they’re either ranked 19th or 24th.
A: They could be 32nd or 22nd!
Q: What would you say are the keys to beating the Wildcats?
A: The ranking is not a key to beating them. Their players are the key, and their coaching style and their system there that they play are the keys to beating them. And certainly, we have to do a good job serving and passing because that is where a lot of points end really quickly in games. Certainly our attack is gonna be tested- can we attack the ball at a level that’s going to be higher than Kentucky’s level? They have a good defense, we have a good defense. So we’re going to be tested to see our attacking, if it can really take off and continue to attack at the level where we’ve been hitting .270- and if you’re a baseball player hitting .270, you’re helping the team. You’re a good help to the team. And they hit .220, .230 for this year. So, if we can both hit our percentages, we’re going to be good. Now, we had a percentage against our league, they had a percentage against their league. There’s different tests in each one of those teams you’re playing against in those leagues, so we’ll have to see, as time goes on, but I know the attacking and our defense are going to be two keys to this.
Q: How far do you think this team can go? Would you say you have an NCAA Championship in your crosshairs, or do you think that’s a little high-aiming?
A: I think even what we’re doing right now is high-aiming. Winning the NCAA Championship certainly is high-aiming. There’s a lot of good players out there, we will have to really continue to make fast progress in each match. Play a little better- and actually, a lot better- each match. But not unbelievable. We don’t have to make unbelievable plays to do this. We just need to be able to do good things over and over again. And then before you know it, things happen...Because in volleyball, you need 25 points to win a game. And you need to do that three times...You have to be somebody who can go over and over and over again. You have to find different ways to score points. The three ways we score points: blocking, serving, and spiking. Now the other way is they hit it out of bounds, which can happen. But we want to score as many as we can- with that serve, and that block, and that spike. Those are our ways.