NASHVILLE --- Tiger volleyball has four matches left in regular season play. Coach Sutton discusses rotation changes, leaders and gives highlights of sole senior Rachel Henderson's career here at Tennessee State.
We’re now even 6-6 in the Ohio Valley Conference, seventh in the league, what’s transpired between now and the last time we talked?
Well, as any season goes along, we’ve had a lot that’s transpired. I feel like as a team, we’ve definitely grown. We’ve had some ups and downs, we’ve taken some losses, but we’ve had some really big wins. Overall, as the season has went along, we’ve just had to grow as a team, and it hasn’t always gone the way we wanted it to go, but I feel like it has given us a good opportunity to finish conference strong.
You’ve had a couple of rough patches. What is it like as a coach to coach the girls up through those rough patches and look forward to the next game?
Of course, it’s always rough when you’re not winning period, but one of the things I really and truly just try to hone in on is to trust in the process and be disciplined. If we can continue to do that while continuing to instill the technique, the training, the discipline, recruitment, film – everything we’re supposed to be doing on our end, then I know it will all take care of itself. The discipline and trusting in the process, just for us, with the new and young team has been the hardest.
The rotation has changed a bit the past few matches. What enacted that change?
The season went along, people grow, and sometimes we have injuries that happen, which are unfortunate, and in that time, when somebody goes down, you always hope that somebody will step up. Throughout that time, I’ve felt like we’ve had a lot of shift, but we’ve also had a lot of growth. Freshman Aria Holmes has stepped up, and I feel that she’s at the point where she’s ready, and of course she’s a freshman, so they’ll be some lumps along the way, but she’s been doing a really good job for us on the offensive end, and she’s doing a good job defensively, so she has endless talent. I’m just excited to see her on the floor, working hard every day to grow.
Freshman Gina Rivera Ortiz has come in as the libero, following Cherlie Adorno DeJesus, and she’s now ranked 39th in the nation in total digs. Just talk about her journey from recruitment to now.
It’s kind of funny, because I feel like Gina was that kid that was destined to be here. We almost didn’t get Gina because the hurricane happened right when we were recruiting her. She was supposed to come on a visit in the fall, and she couldn’t. They had no flights going out and there was a lot going on over there, and coming on an official visit was not something on her priority list at that moment. We stayed true, and we were 100 percent locked in on her, and told her ‘Hey! We are going to bring you in on a visit. We are 100 percent interested in you, and we understand, so we’ll look to the next semester on that.’ And she believed in us. Just to see how it came together is truly amazing, because she’s a huge asset for us this year. As a freshman, being the libero is a huge role, but it is a role that she welcomes. She’s extremely passionate. She’s extremely disciplined, she’s a great leader, she’s vocal, and she’s seeming to come into her own because she’s a force to be reckoned with.
We have four matches left this season, two at home and two on the road. What are you hoping for?
I’m definitely hoping to win. We started strong and took everyone by storm, but we were still a good team trying to figure it all out. I want us to finish strong. That’s something that we preach a lot. Start fast, finish fast. I definitely hope that’s what we can do this weekend. It’s going to be our senior weekend, and of course it’s going to be emotional, but I want us to thrive off of that emotion.
Senior Day on Saturday. One senior, Rachel Henderson, talk about her growth as a person, as a student-athlete and what she’s contributed to your program.
Rachel was one of our first recruits after I was named head coach here. I definitely feel like Rachel will forever hold a special place in my heart – not just as a player, but also as a person. The recruiting process with her was ‘Are we going to get her in?’ because she was highly recruited and for us to even get a shot at her, I was really excited, but we were able to bring her in. It took her a little time to figure it out because she had a lot of schools looking at her, and we understood that. I wanted her to make the best decision for her, and I just hope and prayed that it was going to be TSU. After she went through her process, she said, ‘Hey coach. What are you guys doing?’ I said, ‘Nothing. Just had practice today,’ and she replied with, ‘Oh. Ok. Well. I’m excited to be a part of the program next year.’ It was just so casual how she committed, but that’s just who she is. Rachel is probably one of the best defensive players that I’ve ever seen play. Just in her tenacity and precision and determination – she’s a huge part of the leadership of this team – on and off the floor. The growth that she’s exhibited this year, I think is, bar none that most I’ve seen out of any student-athlete that I’ve coached to date. I know she’s still growing. There’s so much for her that she has ahead in her professional career, but the determination and the competitive spirit that this kid has, I’m so excited about what she’s going to do when she leaves TSU.