NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The theme for the 2016 volleyball season was “don’t you dare”.
Maybe it should have been, “dare to let them be yourselves”. For Coach Brandon Rosenthal and his staff it was a matter of being willing to step back and let the players be themselves.
“I had to step out of the way and allow them to do their thing and they did it,” Rosenthal said. “I had to not worry about the last play. I had to give them very succinct information and then I had to get out of the way instead of micromanaging.
“If somebody made a mistake on the last play that was not important. It was always about what we needed to do moving forward. I allowed everybody to do their part – players and assistants.”
One of the collateral results of the approach by Rosenthal and his staff was a calmness among players on the day of a match. He saw no reason to raise the nervous tension level.
“It was a matter of we had done it before and on game days is where that experience paid off,” Rosenthal said. “This team was very good at learning from experiences.”
One thing Rosenthal learned was there was no need for fiery speeches in the locker room during the break after set two.
“This was not a big `rah, rah’ team,” Rosenthal said. “They didn’t need me to give a `rah, rah’ speech. They just needed information.
“In some sense if you watched them in the locker room mid-match they were pretty boring. In pregame they weren’t boring at all. They were very relaxed and very much into their dancing and singing.”
Rosenthal just completed his 14th season and he rates this team as one of his most unusual, as well as one of his most successful.
The Bisons finished 22-8, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Rosenthal earned ASUN Conference Coach of the Year honors. Sophomore outside hitter Carlyle Nusbaum was named ASUN Player of the Year and ASUN Tournament Most Valuable Player. Senior setter Kayla Ostrom received ASUN Scholar-Athlete of the Year for volleyball for the second straight season.
“This team played with so much confidence, probably the most confidence we have ever had,” Rosenthal said. “They played all year long with it. It came from each of them individually.
“The moment never really got too big for them. There were a lot of names thrown their way, both teams and individuals, and they were not afraid. They just went out and did what they needed to do.”
While it was the type of season most teams would be more than happy to call their own, there were ups and downs on the way to the ASUN regular season championship with a 14-2 record and the ASUN Tournament title. They headed into the NCAA Tournament with a 12-match win streak, losing 3-0 to host Kansas State in the first round.
“There were stumbles against Kennesaw State and Florida Gulf Coast, but they were two of the three best teams in the conference,” Rosenthal said. “I think when the dust settled after those losses they knew as a team what they had to do.
“We knew we could control some of our own destiny by taking care of our business. We had to beat Kennesaw State on the road. We had to beat Florida Gulf Coast on the road.”
Ostrom spoke for most of the players when she called this one of the most satisfying seasons she played due to the challenges the team faced. Rosenthal agreed with her assessment.
“When you look at it in the moment there were a lot ups and downs,” Rosenthal said. “But we only lost two matches in conference. We lost to Kentucky, Louisville, Western Kentucky and Texas.
“I have always said if we should win we will win. There are probably three or four matches we lost that we legitimately had a chance to win.”
Every team has expectations and there are always unexpected happenings as well. One thing Rosenthal has tucked in his “surprises” file for 2016 is how quickly the team gelled.
“It was not a surprise how well we played at our first tournament at Pepperdine, but it was a pleasant `wow’,” Rosenthal said. “Then we followed it up with winning our own tournament.
“There was a sense it was going to be a special year. But like Kayla said it was even more special because we did have to go through some challenges.”
Ostrom, right side Taylor Racich and middle blocker Katie Bradley all finished their careers.
“Kayla and Brad led by example,” Rosenthal said. “Kayla had a huge impact on our program on and off of the court. She pushed the limits.
“Katie was the ultimate team player. Taylor came in from Pepperdine to play one year and she made an immediate impact. Their quiet example is going to be difficult to fill.”