The difference between the Jerry Wagner in his first two seasons as head coach of the University of Montana volleyball team and the Jerry Wagner entering the 2008 season is simple.
Wagner has a new message for his troops who went 6-10 in Big Sky Conference play, 10-16 overall and failed to make the league's postseason tournament with a seventh-place finish a year ago.
"Good enough isn't going to satisfy us this year," said Wagner, who is 22-31 since taking over the program in 2006. "That's the theme and were going to stick by it."
The Grizzlies, who begin the campaign Friday by hosting the five-team Montana Invitational at the West Auxiliary Gym, are out to erase the painful memories of a 2007 campaign in which UM fell in all five of its five-game matches in conference play. That's what kept the Grizzlies one victory away from reaching their second straight postseason after five consecutive seasons without a berth in the Big Sky tournament. And that's the reason they've spent hours honing their defensive skills this preseason.
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"If you look inside the numbers, we were a good blocking team, but not tenacious enough on defense," Wagner said. "We've focused a lot on ball handling and backcourt defensive play. We spent a lot of time on that in the spring and we're doing it now."
Montana returns five starters from last year, led by a pair of seniors in outside hitter Jade Roskam and Lauren Gustafson, an honorable-mention All-Big Sky honoree. Also returning to the starting lineup is is rock-solid junior setter Taryn Wright, who posted a team-leading 35 aces and was good for 10.87 assists per game last season. Last year's Big Sky Conference Outstanding Freshman Jaimie Thibeault, whose 138 blocks were tops at UM, will be joined by classmate Amy Roberts and her team-high 299 kills from a year ago.
"Jaimie Thibeault and Amy Roberts have certainly matured quickly, not only in their first year, but have shown the kind of second-year response that you hope for," Wagner said.
UM will also receive the help of junior letterwinner Whitney Hobbs, sophomore Stephanie Turner who redshirted in 2006 and didn't play due to injury in 2007, sophomore transfer Brittney Brown and redshirt freshman Paige Nash, who earned the North Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year award in 2006.
Wagner is excited about the potential of his incoming freshmen - Paige Branstiter, Karyn Mockel, Emma Olgard and Brittany Quick, all of whom come from winning backgrounds.
"So far, our freshmen have been outstanding," Wagner said. "This whole crop of freshmen has a common theme - they've all had success everywhere they've played. They've all been crowned champions at one point or another in their careers, so they know what it takes to win. But as far as I'm concerned, there's no time to be a freshman."
Roskam, who has gathered 658 kills, 540 digs and 80 blocks while starting 75 matches in three years, sees the 2008 Grizzlies as a team on the rise and is more than ready to see regular season action.
"We've had an absolutely great fall camp," she said. "I think we're going to some in with the mindset that we know we can take any team in the conference. We've been working our tails off and I think it's really going to pay off."