The IPFW men’s volleyball team has started the second year of what coach Rock Perrotte has described as a three-year development process.
The Mastodons (0-4) face Saint Francis (Pa.) at 7 p.m. today and No. 14 Penn State at 7 p.m. Saturday in their first home matches of the season at the Gates Center.
"When I thought about all this stuff a year and some change ago, before I even started (as head coach), I just pictured a three-year deal," Perrotte said. "After three years that’s when you can start looking at the results because you’re still teaching the young kids what they’re trying to implement in their game. It takes a few years for that."
After falling to No. 8 UC Irvine, No. 4 Long Beach State, No. 14 Cal State Northridge and No. 12 UC Santa Barbara on their season-opening West Coast swing, Perrotte’s knowledge of the team was reaffirmed.
"I learned everything that I probably already knew," he said. "We’re better than what we were last year.
"We have to overcome the size obstacle by working on fundamentals and getting faster. And we have to not be injured, to key players especially."
Outside hitter Tony Price, a Woodlan product, was hurt during the team’s first match against UC Irvine.
"Tony Price went down with an injury in the second set just as we’re starting to find our flow," Perrotte said. "We’re leading, and as soon as that happens, we all go into a panic mode because we’re not as deep as we thought we were."
Nick Smalter is one veteran on the team who has also battled injuries.
"I hurt my ankle two years ago and I came back and it started hurting more," he said. "It got to the point where I couldn’t even jump. It really humbles you. You realize how special it is to actually just be on the team and play and go on all these trips.
"There are so many things you don’t realize when you have to stay back. Just being on the court, being able to practice with the team, it’s just awesome. It’s such a great opportunity."
The recovery process is ongoing for Smalter to ensure he can maintain his presence on the court.
"I’m constantly still doing rehab, still doing ankle stuff," the graduate student said. "It’s just a constant process. I guess when you’re younger, you don’t realize that your body can recover. As you get older, it starts to nag.
"I feel like I’m getting old, and I’m only 22," he added with a laugh.
The resilience is one reason why having a "young" team is seen as a positive for Perrotte.
"I hate the term ‘young team,’ " he said. "We have players who are inexperienced playing high-quality volleyball. I think there’s a big difference. I think being young is an advantage. I think it’s an advantage of resiliency, it’s an advantage of energy and enthusiasm to the gym every day, recovery. That’s all synonymous with youth.
"Inexperience translates to the volleyball court. You don’t know what to do in certain situations, you can tell the veteran plays from the novice plays. Those are the differences."