May 4, 2005
UCLA Head Coach Al Scates
"We finished winning seven of our last nine matches. We had a bump in the road the day before our playoff game when we lost our starting setter Dennis Gonzalez with a broken finger. But we still managed to go five against Northridge. I don't think anybody that lost their setter the day before the match would have won a game in that playoff situation. But now our two remaining setters have shared court time and are both ready to go. So we finished playing with 17 people this season. We're at least two-deep at every position, which is good because our starting middle blocker Allan Vince sprained his ankle yesterday in practice. I saw him two minutes ago, and he's walking around in a boot, and we'll try him out tomorrow and see what he looks like. But we have two people behind Allan who are pretty good - Nick Sheftic - he's about 6-10 and is a junior - and David Russell, another junior who's played a little bit more than Nick."
(On the setter situation)
"We went with Aaron Dodd in our last match, and he hasn't played since the Dino Cup in October. We thought we'd look at him. The more experienced player is Gaby Acevedo, and we went 10-1 with him, and he's definitely ready to go now. Aaron has gotten a lot better too because we run him with the quick hitters. It's like a quarterback. You give all your reps to your starting setter just before you go into the playoffs, and that's what we did with Dennis, so we weren't prepared for Northridge, even though we did have one day's practice. But we are now prepared."
(On what practices have been like the last week)
"It's been like pre-season out there. We've worked hard, and practices have been really good. It was good to have the break. We've had eight practices now."
(On if he was nervous about the selection)
"Knowing the criteria as well as I do, I told the team in the locker room that we definitely weren't out of this yet. Head to head against every team in the Top 10 with the exception of Ohio State, we held the advantage. Strength of schedule, we were No. 1. Our overall record was third-best in the country, but if you look at strength of schedule and weight that in, we came out well there too. Basically, I thought we had an excellent chance to get in. Apparently, so did the committee."
"I thought we were a final four team all year. We started off fast and we had a great season. The thing about this season is a lot of players have stepped up at different times. We've played 17 different players this year. It's not unusual to play 10 or 11 players during a match. It really doesn't matter who starts with this team. The only guy who has made it through the season uninjured is Paul Johnson, and he's had a great year. Everyone else has shared time. Jonathan's been incredibly hot at times, but other people have too, and different people have stepped up in different matches. I don't know who it's going to be from night to night."
"I'd like to point out that with Gaby Acevedo setting, we beat Pepperdine 3-0 at our place and Long Beach 3-0. He is a freshman, but since the pre-season we've gone 13-1 with him setting. So he isn't exactly a rookie."
(On Penn State)
"Penn State is a great opponent. They outhit us, they outdug us, they outblocked us. The only thing we did was win. And we served better than they passed. That was how we won. However, we are blocking and hitting better than we did when we played them. They're a very good team, they're seeding ahead of us. We're the gutty little Bruin underdogs coming in without our starting setter, and maybe without one of our starting middle blockers. But you know what? We'll just do the best we can tomorrow."
UCLA Senior Quick Hitter Paul Johnson
"I think the season's been a little bit of a roller-coaster. I've never been on a team where it's taken us all 12 guys to get us where we're at right now. It's quite amazing what we've gone through. There isn't a team in the nation that's gone through what we've gone through. Now we're just going to keep on pushing."
"We're totally going to have to prove ourselves. They gave us a second chance, and we have to make the most of it."
(On playing without Dennis Gonzalez)
"We have so many people step up on different nights. It kind of hurts the flow a little with Dennis gone, but Gaby and Aaron have done a great job these last few weeks. There's a little pressure there with losing one of our main starters, but as a whole we'll step up to the challenge as a team.
(On practicing throughout the uncertainty of a selection)
"It was a long week of practice, but we did well, and we improved, and now we've got a second chance."
UCLA Senior Outside Hitter Jonathan Acosta
"Even with our setter out we still can manage to come up with different guys who can step up and play during the matches when we need them the most. That's what Aaron Dodd and Gaby Acevedo did last week in particular. They've been doing it all season in practice, and Gaby when he's gone in there during the season and played he's done a really good job. It was a blow to us to lose Dennis - he's a great setter and a great leader on the court. But the thing about this program, as shown all season and especially now towards the end, any one guy who hasn't had an opportunity to shine all season could just step up at any given moment and do what he has to do to help the team win. I think that's what's going to help us during tomorrow's match and hopefully Saturday's."
"We did face Long Beach three times this season, and twice we beat them 3-0. The last time we played them, they were getting hot, and they played well. I think they are a great team, but I still think we are more deserving of this. In my opinion, we just had a better season than they did. Not to take anything away from them, they're a great team."
"With Dennis out, it will take everyone to step it up a notch. We're not going to get as many perfect situations as we did with Dennis just because the other guys haven't had as many opportunities to practice with the starters as he did. But this is just the opportunity to deal with less perfect situations. Now is the time to do it. The (regular) season is gone. It doesn't matter how many matches we won, how many matches we lost. We have a clean slate and got a second opportunity, and it's all about tomorrow's match."
Penn State Head Coach Mark Pavik
"For us to be here this year, it's just a continuation of our growth, and it builds on last year. Playing at Pauley I imagine is like playing the World Series at Yankees Stadium. With all of the heritage here at UCLA, it's a great experience for all the players. I think we're in a position where we can do some damage."
(On the atmosphere at Pauley Pavilion for the championships)
"The NCAA's bring out both the local fans and the supporters of each team, and it also brings out the followers of the game. We always get great fans who know the game of volleyball. There are always great crowds. Being at the Final Four is always intense. I expect it to be loud, very loud. It's an experience I wish every student-athlete would have."
(On what to draw from the loss earlier this year)
"We can draw on some things from that game. Obviously, we couldn't pass a lick against them. It's always good to go against a team you've seen before. It's nice that the players already know the surroundings so that the team can just worry about the match. It's a double-edged sword because Al and his guys have had a chance to see us and prepare for us. I think it'll be a good game and that we have a great shot."
(On what lineup they will face)
"We can see any combination out there. They have so many guys. You always know that UCLA serves tough, they are going to be a tough block. No matter who is in there, they are going to be effective. It doesn't matter who they play. I think we'll be OK."
(On UCLA being an underdog)
"It's funny how the underdog has been winning for the past two weeks. It's tough to call UCLA, with all of its, heritage an underdog especially when they beat us 3-0 on this floor earlier this year. But, all of that gets thrown out the window. I think it'll be a great match. All of the teams that made it here have a legitimate shot of winning the national championship. Rally scoring magnifies that."
Penn State Junior Neil Meerstein
"This is my third time here, and like Coach said, we're just happy to be here playing at Pauley Pavilion. I'm really excited about being able to play, and I can't wait until Thursday night."
Penn State Senior Keith Kowal
"We made huge strides this year. We had two tough five-game losses this year, but those made us better. We've grown so much this year and just have been getting better. It's my last go-round, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to play UCLA here at Pauley."
(On if this is the best team he's played on)
"Yeah, this is probably the best team that I've been a part of in my time at Penn St. The best part of this team is the chemistry that we've had. We've worked really hard together and have had the same common goal, to win a national championship. The biggest difference is maturity. Last year the guys weren't used to the atmosphere, but we've made huge strides this year. The maturity level has really risen this year."
(On the last go-round at the NCAA championship)
"I enjoy the atmosphere. I think all competitors love to have the added pressure of national television and big crowds. As a competitor I want to be in these situations, I'd always like to have a chance at a national championship."
Pepperdine Head Coach Marv Dunphy
"Obviously, we're happy to be here. We've had a pretty good year. In the league that we're in, in the old days, there were two groups of teams - teams you can handle and teams you have to prep for. Now, as far as our staff's concerned, we prep for every team, much more than we have in the past. We did a pretty good job of going from match to match, and we hope it continues. We qualified by winning the league to host the MPSF tournament and get a bye. We went one at a time and we're here, and hopefully we'll continue that."
(On comparing this team to teams past)
"Every team every year establishes its own identity. This team has its own identity. We've won lots of close games and lots of close matches. That's a sign of a good team, a tough team, when you win close matches over time. We played five or six that went five, and we won all of those. We did it by siding out. We've been a pretty good side out team."
(On freshman Jonathan Winder)
"He was good coming in, and he got better. We've had a bit of history of young players coming in and carrying big loads. We don't redshirt too many kids. A few years back, Sean (Rooney) was in the same boat. So was George Roumain. As a setter, Jonathan has had an even bigger load than a hitter. He's carrying a big load, and he's carried it well."
(On having a sense of urgency to win this year)
"We know how many championships we've won and when we've been here and not won. I'm aware of that. I wouldn't put any more pressure on myself or the team than what's already there. The pressures I've always felt as a coach comes when you're sitting down and wondering if you've done the things you need to do to compete for and win a national championship. Once I've done that, I feel okay. Obviously, every red-blooded coach and athlete wants to win it all. I don't know if urgency is the right word. Once you get to the post-season, everyone wants to win. So put me in that category, I guess."
Pepperdine Freshman Setter Jonathan Winder
"We had a good year and we've been in the positions we wanted to be in. Now we've got to take care of business again. It's another clean slate and everyone is 0-0 now. First team to win two games wins."
(On the pressures of contributing as a freshman)
"I feel like I fit in pretty well. The coaches haven't put too much pressure on me, and I don't feel that much pressure to get a lot of things done because we have so many other players who can do so much."
(On adjusting college play)
"I've learned so much from the coaches. You've got to know the opposing team so much more than you would in high school. The problems I've had throughout the year are trying to make a perfect set or a perfect play where I was the one siding out instead of letting my teammates like Sean or Andy side out. I've had to learn just to make an easy set, a hittable ball for them."
Pepperdine Junior Middle Blocker Andy Hein
"We're happy to be here. We had a really good year. There are three other really good teams in the tournament with us. I think that whoever comes out on top will be the best team."
(On the differences between this team and past teams)
"I think the team unity is especially good this year. It's the way we pull together at the end of games and we play together, make the big plays. It's not just one guy making the big play for us. We'll have five guys on the court touching the ball in one rally. The whole team comes together and pulls together. We rely on each other more so. That's what we have to do in close games."
Pepperdine Senior Outside Hitter Sean Rooney
"We've trained hard this season and worked hard in the regular season to win the conference. We played well also to win the conference tournament. At this point, we're just hoping our training will take us through playing against these tough teams, and we'll be ready for them."
(On having a sense of urgency to win a national title as a senior)
"Anytime you come to the Final Four you want it just as bad as anyone does. This is my last chance at it, and I'd like nothing more than to go out with a championship. But I want it for all of our guys, our whole team, regardless of what class they are."
Ohio State Head Coach Pete Hanson
"Obviously we're excited to be here. This is a great opportunity for us. It's been four years since we've been at one of these, and it's nice to be back. We're looking forward to the challenge of playing the number one team in the country. It's going to be fun competing in this environment. You've got four of the best teams in the country playing volleyball, and it's going to be a great tournament."
(On the atmosphere of the NCAA Championships as opposed to the regular season)
"Clearly, the stakes are higher. You try to put your team in these situations throughout the course of the season, and they experience a little bit of that in the conference playoffs where the stakes go upwards. We had the pressure last year of being the number one seed, and we didn't make it past the semis. You always remind the guys that those are the experiences you want to draw on and learn from and get better at. We don't have everybody from that team with us this year, we've had new faces join us, and that becomes a real challenge to integrate the new parts with the old parts and then getting through where they get the experience and confidence and ability to play through those situations and tough spots. The question is - how do we have our youngsters deal with it? You just try to keep them relaxed and focused on things like it's still a game of volleyball. The net's still eight feet high. The court is still 30x30. We just have to do the things we're capable of doing. We can't control what Pepperdine is going to do, or Penn State or UCLA. We have to be in control of what Ohio State can do. That has to be our focus or mantra tomorrow night or Saturday if we get that far."
(Assessing Pepperdine and Sean Rooney)
"You can certainly start there and more than likely end there. But clearly they've got five other guys. Jonathan Winder has come in and had a huge impact as their starting setter. Andy Hein's game has gone to another level. John Parfitt is playing well. John Mayer set for them last year and now is hitting opposite, I think he got second-team All-MPSF. That says a lot about the quality of his game when he can change positions and still have a great year like that. And of course, Tom Hulse, their other middle blocker. They're solid from top to bottom. We'll have to be hopefully as solid and scrape together points when we've got those opportunities. But clearly, Sean Rooney is the guy that stirs the drink for them."
(On drawing on the experience from 2000 when the team upset Pepperdine and faced UCLA in the final)
"That was a whole different group of guys. None of those guys are still around. We've tried to stay in the present with these kids. These are the guys who put in the time and effort in the last 3-6 months. If some of those guys were in town and could stop in and talk about it, we would have done it. One of the juniors from that team stopped in, and I think he imparted a few words to the guys. The biggest thing is to go out there and be relaxed and play and make the best of our opportunities."
Ohio State Junior Outside Hitter Mark Greaves
"We're really excited to be here. This is my third season but my first chance to play in the Final Four, so I'm very excited about the opportunity. I'm looking forward to an overall good team effort out there. We're excited to play Pepperdine and we'll just give it the best we can."
(On playing in Pauley Pavilion)
"I've never had a chance to play here before. It looks pretty comparable to our gym at home. It's a bigger facility, and we've had a chance to play in bigger arenas this year, like at Ball State, different teams in our conference. I don't see it as being too much of a problem to adjust to the atmosphere out there. It will be a little bit different with the aura and the different things that go with being around a championship. Playing on a sport court will be a little bit different. Most of us haven't done that in a while. The size of the arena should not be too much of a problem to get used to."
"There may not be a whole lot of people out there who believe we can do it, but I think this team believes we can do it, and we're going to go out there and give it our best shot. Pepperdine being the number one seed, the odds may not be in our favor right now, but we'll go out there and do what we can."
Ohio State Freshman Setter Daniel Mathews
"We've been working hard all season. We came out here prepared, and we knew it was going to be a challenge, but I think that with our hard work all season, we're prepared to meet it. That's what we're out here to do."
(On Pepperdine's Sean Rooney)
"Having a player like Sean Rooney brings a certain dynamic to a team that you might not otherwise have. He's a go-to guy and carries a lot of the load for Pepperdine. But at the same time, we have some quality players on our side of the net who will have to step it up a little bit and carry that load for us."
(On whether the team is just happy to be here)
"It's been a long season. I certainly would not say that it's enough just to say we're glad to be here. This is a goal we set out to make at the beginning of the year, and now that we're here, we're going to do our best to make the most out of it. I speak for the whole team when I say that."