By: Robert Jamieson
After what has proved to be an up and down season for Xavier volleyball this year, head coach Mike Johnson continues to focus on the growth of his team.
Every team goes through tough losses, but Xavier has seen more than its share during this young season.
The Musketeers were 0-3 in five set matches before entering Big East play, which included the two matches leading up to Xavier’s inaugural Big East match against Butler.
For Johnson, these matches only provided opportunities for his team to grow.
“I think that even though we did drop some tough matches, we were still seeing a lot of the growth in our players that we needed to be seeing. For us right now it’s just about getting better, especially on the defensive side,” he said.
Growth in this area will be especially important if Xavier wants to find more success in close matches and against better opponents.
Xavier showed the growth that Johnson was hoping for out of his squad last Friday night.
After trailing two sets to one with a third set score of 25-13, Xavier fought back to take the match in five sets.
This was Xavier’s first five-set victory of the year, and while it may not have been the most fundamentally sound match of the year, a win like that can go a long way for the team’s confidence.
While Johnson is pleased by how his team has grown so far this season, he knows that continual development will be key for the team to reach the goals it has set for the season.
“We want to stress growth and getting better every day, but this is easier said than done,” Johnson said.
“As we have seen in our matches this year, the margin for error is really small but we believe that we are really close.”
Johnson and his team aren’t shy about the goals they have set for their season.
“We want to win the Big East and earn an NCAA Tournament bid. We believe that we have the team to do it and we check up on these goals constantly,” Johnson said.
He isn’t exaggerating either. Johnson sets team goals and personal goals for his players. He said these aren’t just considered goals to his team but standards.
“We have a plan in place here and it’s our job as coaches to make sure that our players follow it,” Johnson said.
For a long time Johnson has had a strong desire to teach, and he is accomplishing this through his coaching.
He doesn’t simply show his players what to do but makes sure they understand why and when.
“Every one of our players responds a little differently to different learning styles, and as coaches and teachers it is our job to figure out what is the best method for each of our players,” Johnson said.
While Johnson holds a high standard for his players, he holds an even higher standard for himself, adding how he tries to follow the motto of the late John Wooden, a former coach for the powerhouse UCLA Bruins basketball team in the 1960s-70s.
“If they haven’t learned, then you haven’t taught,” Johnson said.
This is Johnson’s fourth season at Xavier, the first time that he has spent four years in any position.
This has allowed him to form a special relationship with the seniors on his team, who are a part of his first four-year graduating class.
“It’s a little different with them because we got to see them come in as little snot-nosed freshman and grow to the tremendous players and people that they are today.” Johnson said. “It’s been pretty special.”