FORT WAYNE – A few steps off the Gates Center floor, senior Rob Samp was still trying to recover from a rigorous, early-morning volleyball practice.
My knees are shaking right now, we’re working so hard, Samp said.
But why do I keep going? Why does he (nearby libero teammate JW Kieckhefer) keep going? Why did no one stop and quit and walk out that door? It’s because we’ve prepared ourselves mentally for the challenges ahead of us.
Because IPFW has lost four of its top five kill producers from last year’s 13-15 team, the 2013 volleyball season promises to be a challenging one for the Mastodons as coach Arnie Ball begins his 31st season.
He admits things haven’t been the same at IPFW for the last few years, not since the 2007 team won 25 matches and was the NCAA tournament runner-up.
Since then, the Mastodons have had four losing seasons in their last five years, including last year’s team that finished with three consecutive losses.
We’ve maintained the quality of student, Ball said.
Our kids all graduate, but we’ve not maintained the quality of athlete that we’ve had in the past.
He hopes a positive attitude, coupled with hard work, will offset any talent deficiencies.
I look at the Butler basketball team, for instance, Ball said. I think they’re a very talented basketball team, but they’re not nearly as talented as the IU basketball team, but mentally, they’re very strong because they all buy into the system and all buy into the tradition of Butler basketball.
We’re still not as athletic as we need to be, but we have the right attitude, so hopefully we can overcome a bit of that.
Samp, a 6-foot-7 middle, is one of two seniors.
There was a third senior in Elon Fyfield, who had the third-most kills last season, but Fyfield is recovering from a knee injury and will be redshirted this season.
That leaves Samp, fellow senior Anthony Randolph, Kieckhefer, and 6-2 junior Eddie Rivera as part of the group to take charge.
Kieckhefer led last year’s team with 278 digs, and Rivera was second in kills with 240. Graduated senior Ivan Matos led the Mastodons with 325 kills.
We’re not as physically gifted as a lot of the teams in the MIVA, like Ohio State, or the Lewises are going to be, or the Loyolas are going to be, but that’s how we’re going to win ballgames, Kieckhefer said.
Ball expects IPFW to be better, mainly because of the positive mental attitude, and that setter Omar Rivera has gone from being a freshman to a sophomore.
Omar has done a nice job, Ball said. That’s maybe the key to the whole thing. Last year we tried to let Omar set. He was a freshman and we had some issues, but that’s all gone.
And a new season begins.