Royce Hinton | Posted: 19 Dec 2014 | Updated: 8 Nov 2020

Prematch press conference vs. Penn State

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THE MODERATOR:  We're joined by coach Shawn Olmstead and student-athletes Jennifer Hamson, Alexa Gray and Ciara Parker.

COACH OLMSTEAD:  I want to congratulate Penn State on their victory last night.  Russ Rose has obviously done an outstanding job with that program through what seems like just a long, very outstanding career.

And so we're excited to be able to compete.  It's exciting to think that there's two teams in the entire country that are playing.  And we're one of them.

So we're excited about that and we're continuing to do things that have helped us get here kind of staying in each moment and doing all that we can to keep our schedule as normal as we can and control the things that we can control and just enjoy this opportunity to be here.

And it's just exciting for me to have another day with these kids.

Q.  Jennifer, how would you describe your relationship with your volleyball teammates compared to your basketball teammates?

JENNIFER HAMSON:  That's really hard, because honestly whatever team I'm with at the moment I honestly just  we feel like family and we always work together really well.  And honestly, whichever team I'm on, that's how I feel.

Q.  Alexa, what's it like to play for Shawn?

ALEXA GRAY:  He always expects us to give like 100 percent of our effort, not even just in the games but in practice as well.

And he's very loving.  We all know that he loves us and he has a great passion for the game.  So I think that trickles down to us.

So, yeah, it's just fun playing with him.  And we know that he'll always have our back and we want to play good for him.

Q.  Jennifer, since you've had a lot more coaches than the average athlete in different sports, could you talk about him as your coach?

JENNIFER HAMSON:  Shawn's good, I like him a lot.  He's really competitive, which brings a new edge to our program.  Before we weren't quite as competitive.

He's really competitive and he loves us, kind of like Alexa says, and he's a great guy.

Q.  Jennifer, players your height don't usually make doubledigit digs like you did last night.  Talk a little bit about where you got to be such a good defensive player.  Most people would expect your blocking and hitting was as good as it is, but the digs are a pretty nice bonus?

JENNIFER HAMSON:  Yeah, defense is something that I really love.  I'm not always the best at it.  But it's something I really love and really work hard to get better at.

Q.  Coach, BYU, ever since Carl McGown began tinkering with numbers, was first known for men in blocking and now you've continued the tradition in the women's program.  What are the essential elements that you teach in order to get the blocking that you do from your team, what's necessary?

COACH OLMSTEAD:  Carl did, absolutely, he established so many really, really fundamental and key things in blocking, and it's fun to listen to how Carl got to that kind of point of view, because there is a whole story behind it.

And so for me playing with him, it was firsthand, I got to experience it.  And then he's continued to be a great mentor to me all the time.  These girls know him.  He's there obviously helping with the men's team, so he overlaps a lot of gym time.  And he's willing to hang out with me after a match and talk and watch film or do whatever I need to do in the middle of the week, before a match.

But to get to that question, first and foremost we want to do our best job serving to get the ball off the net.  And I think that's a function of good blocking.  It's not always going to happen that way.  And so then you've got to have good eye work.

I want the kids to really see what's happening.  You're not just watching over there, but you gotta see:  I see that that's a bad pass or it's a little tight to the net.  And what they can run from there.

And then I think there's a huge part of knowing what's going on over there, knowing the tendencies of your hitters, knowing what kind of things that they're going to try to run.

And then of course there's the technical of getting your hands over, great footwork, and all these things are something that we work on every day and do our best to continue to improve on that.  But we believe we've got to be good in other areas as well.

So it's great to be great blockers, but Carl is going to be the first one to tell you that you've got to be better in other areas to be able to win matches.  You can change matches, but you gotta be able to be really good in the other areas.

Q.  Alexa, you guys play in a world of 6'0", 6'2".  But with Jennifer it's 6'7".  Do you sense an intimidation factor on other teams?

ALEXA GRAY:  Well, yeah, obviously you don't see a tall girl like Jen all the time.  Except for in the Final Four I feel like there's a lot more.  But, yeah, I think some outside hitters are not used to hitting against Jen.  I remember in I think the Florida State game she got like three stuffed blocks in a row.

And it's just something that comes with it, not playing against it every day so it's nice to have.

Q.  Ciara, in terms of opponent hitting percentage, BYU is the top 10 team in the nation.  Some of that is obviously because of the block, but some is because of the back row defense.  Tell us about how you feel about your role on the team and how it contributes to the team's success?

CIARA PARKER:  Well, first of all, the block makes it easy.  Our team is really good at that, obviously, number one in the nation doing that.

So just my role back there is just to give my team the best possible chance to get another serve on the ball and get our offense going.

And, again, with such good blockers, it's easy to set up behind that.  They're big, they're physical, they get good touches.  So it's easy for us back there to just kind of see what's going on around them, get those good touches.  And then we do have big physical hitters that can go compete up there at the net.  We like to give our hitters a chance and we really pride ourselves in just giving 100 percent effort and working hard back there.

And defense is one thing we've really been pushing to improve because our block is so good.  And so, yeah, it's easy to set it behind them but we want to give our hitters a chance to go be big and physical.

Q.  Shawn told us on Tuesday before you left for the airport that you had an outing before the season in which you set some goals, and one of those was to make it here to Oklahoma City.  Tell me about that afternoon, what you remember from it and now that it's come true, just some of the thoughts about it?

JENNIFER HAMSON:  So like we said, we've had these goals from the beginning, and one of our things that we really focused on is kind of one game at a time.  We have these goals in the background, and we let our coaches worry about that, the big goals especially in the beginning of the season because if you don't build a good foundation you can't get here in the end.

But now that we're here, we're really excited.  Still pushing towards that last goal.

Q.  Shawn, from the time you got into volleyball, period, but specifically women's college volleyball, you had to know who Russ Rose was.

COACH OLMSTEAD:  Sure.  Obviously.  Yes.

Q.  Start with thoughts about him.

COACH OLMSTEAD:  I mean, it's remarkable what he's done.  And he deserves all the recognition that he gets in this sport and Penn State's been whatever you want to say synonymous with success at this level and winning national championships and competing year in, year out and those kids go there thinking that.

I understand that.  And so we're excited.  These kids aren't going to back down from a name or from a brand.  They'll compete with anybody.  And they're going to  that's an outstanding program over there, but we're not going to get caught up in that.

Give Russ all the credit he deserves, and I think very fondly of him.  And he's been very complimentary of BYU of Elaine Michaelis, of others that have come before myself.

So we're excited to just match up with him and understand when the ball gets tossed up for the first serve, it's volleyball.  It's not anything other than that.  And so we'll compete that way.

Q.  Have you ever gone to, say, a clinic or listened to him speak or read anything by him, anything that might have been a positive influence on your coaching?

COACH OLMSTEAD:  Honestly, I haven't, no.  And that's not that I've avoided it.  I've been in a lot of different coaches' gyms throughout the country.  I've been in practices and different things and been to different clinics, but no, with Russ, I have not, no.

Q.  Jennifer and Coach.  Jennifer, there's been some talk because of the impact you've had on both

basketball and volleyball that you may be one of the most impactful athletes to ever come through BYU.  How do you wrap your head around that one?  And, Coach, if you could just talk about the overall impact she's had on your program, too?

JENNIFER HAMSON:  Yeah, I don't even know really what to think about that.  I just had the awesome opportunity to play for so many teams.  And I honestly just feel blessed because I played team sports and there are teammates who have contributed to that as well.

So, yeah, contributed to our teammates and the programs we have at BYU.

COACH OLMSTEAD:  Yeah, I mean, I'll answer it because I'll always be a straight shooter.  I'm not going to avoid it because Alexa and Ci, they're outstanding athletes, they know I love them.  But you can't deny that this kid  give me a break.  Look at what the kid's done.

There is no debate.  When you sit down and you lay it out, there's been so many great athletes at BYU.  And myself included in terms of that group.  But for a kid like her, when you sit back and think that this kid from August 1st until  what does basketball end, I don't know.  Depends on how far you go.

But it can go until when she was making it in the Sweet 16, they were probably in the middle of March or end of March, and this kid's traveling year around and she's an outstanding student.

So put any resumé against hers, it's outstanding what she's done.  But I love her answer, because she's been surrounded by great teammates.

But the kid is  to a T knows exactly what she needs to do every day.  She's got things prioritized correctly.  She knows where she's gotta be at certain times.  And she'll never let you down.  And there's multiple times when she was going back and forth, that I had to go, Jen, you're not practicing today.  She'd get pissed she's like no, I don't like that.

She actually told me I don't know, years ago she said, Shawn, leave me alone with that.  I'll tell you when I don't want to do something.  But can you leave me alone, hey, Jen, do you want to go light today?  She just finally said just leave me alone and let me do my thing.

So, okay, go do your thing.

Q.  Penn State's been here, this is kind of old hat for them.  No one expected you to be here but you guys look so relaxed.  There's a vine on Twitter going around, Alexa, you just doing the impromptu dance when the camera is on you.  How do you be so relaxed and rise to the moment and act like you've been here?

ALEXA GRAY:  It's like the best experience I've ever had.  Like this has been my childhood dream, so I'm just trying to soak it all in.  I don't need to be uptight because I'm not an uptight person.  I like to have fun.  So I'm not going to just stop what I'm doing just because we're in a higher level game.

Q.  How does Coach Olmstead help you be relaxed?  What does he do to keep you guys levelheaded and not freaked out about any moment?

ALEXA GRAY:  He grows a 'stache.


Q.  I have a variation on that question.  He pointed out that people didn't expect BYU to be here.  If you guys hadn't beaten Nebraska, then this Final Four would be the four teams here all the time.  If people are not from the Intermountain West or even the West, they might think BYU has little or no volleyball tradition.  Is that true about your school?

CIARA PARKER:  I would say definitely not.  I think that on the men's side especially they're always very competitive, very good.  And they bring a good  they're good representatives of BYU in men's volleyball.  And then our program, the work that we put in and that Coach Olmstead and Heather and Dave have put in have helped us to get to this prominent level that we all wanted to be at.

So I don't think that BYU, if we hadn't made it this far would have been considered a volleyball program that's not really prominent.  I don't think that at all, because we know how much work we put in and every team across the country does put in a lot of hard work and time.

But it's special because we're here and we do know what we wanted to accomplish and we're here doing that.  And so I just think both on the men's and women's side, just that there's a good volleyball tradition.  We have a good following everywhere we go.  We all love the sport.

So I think that BYU, the coaches, the staff, have done a good job of making the program, both men's and women just an outstanding program.

Q.  Coach, does it go beyond that?  It seems to me there are things that were developed in Provo, perhaps by Carl McGown, that are now in place, what, how far?  How far do his concepts extend in terms of the teams that are using it elsewhere?

COACH OLMSTEAD:  I mean, you know from up in your area, there's a huge kind of almost cultlike following of Carl.  But let's not discredit what Elaine Michaelis has done.  Elaine has been outstanding.  And I think overall  don't quote me or quote me because I may be way off  but I think in terms of wins in the NCAA history I think we're four or five.  That's pretty remarkable.

I've got to be right on it, maybe off one number, but Carl has been involved with the sport.  He worked with my dad when my dad was playing, and he's been involved in almost every Olympic game and so there is, there's been an outstanding group of BYU players that have gone through and then gone on to become outstanding head coaches.

So a few of the names that come to mind are Hugh McCutcheon at Minnesota, Kevin Hambly at Illinois, Jason Watson at Arizona State, Rob Browning at Saint Mary's, and  am I missing any?  I'm sure I might miss some here or there.  But look at all those guys came through BYU and there's been a handful of others, a lot, actually.

And I'm pretty sure  I don't want to get in trouble  but I think Russ was this close to going to BYU.  You can ask him.  But I think he was like that close to going to BYU to get a doctorate degree or someone's nodding yes.

And then something changed.  I think Penn State said we want you to be the head coach now.  So he stayed.  But he was going there.

But both men's and women's programs, remarkable.  Like I said Elaine, all the wins Elaine's gotten and what Carl started from just nothing.  He's a professor at BYU to go and take that men's program to continually being one of the best programs in the country, played in the last two Final Fours, I think, and, it's due to the great athletes that have come through BYU, the great coaches and the way they've represented the school well.

Q.  Jennifer, I know you have a younger sister who plays volleyball as well.  Do you think that she's going to be better than you when she gets to college, and do you think she'll follow in your footsteps and go to BYU like the rest of your family did?

JENNIFER HAMSON:  I hope she's better than me, honestly.  I really want the best for that kid.  She's so funny and she works really hard at what she does.

But she hasn't decided what she's doing.  And I don't know if she's going to follow in my footsteps or not.  But I just hope that she does what makes her happy and what makes her be the best she can be.

Q.  Let's talk fans for a minute.  You had a really vocal fan group there yesterday.  We talked to some folks who said they drove all night to make it.  Can you each all talk about who might be here cheering you on and what it's like having that sort of support here?

ALEXA GRAY:  My sister is here and attended BYU and my aunt from Canada, they flew here yesterday morning.  And I know all my family back at home were yelling at the TV screen as well.  We got some pretty like fiery parents on our team.

CIARA PARKER:  My parents, my grandparents came, my little sister, and I have a little brother at home who is actually special needs.  So he couldn't make the trip but he's staying with family at home.  They're all cheering us on.  We have fans everywhere.  Like Alexa said, we have fiery parents that really get the fans going over there and we love it.

JENNIFER HAMSON:  Same with them, my family's here and absolutely love it.  And I think almost every kid here has a family that's coming and supporting us.  So it's really fun.  They're really fiery.

Q.  Which parents are the fiery ones?

CIARA PARKER:  Amy Boswell's mom is very  she gets it going.  (Indiscernible) husband is pretty loud.

Q.  Coach, I understand there was a selfie in the locker room last night.  Were you more Brad Pitt or Bradley Cooper in that Oscaresque selfie?

COACH OLMSTEAD:  I think I'm as handsome as Brad Pitt, but Bradley Cooper is kinda cute too.

Q.  He had the facial hair
COACH OLMSTEAD:  Let's say I'm a mix between the two.  You want the selfie?  I can send it to you.  I sent it to Holly Rowe.  She asked for it.

Q.  It's going viral.  Jennifer, serious question, I mentioned the intimidation factor earlier, as you grew and got taller, did you feel  I don't know if pressure is the right word, but did you have a sense of I want to make sure I'm as good as I can be, the height notwithstanding?  Did any of that factor into your drive and motivation?

JENNIFER HAMSON:  Kind of, I guess, honestly.  Being tall, you get noticed a lot.  So we always talked about it as a family.  People are going to be watching you whether you like it or not.  So you kind of need to be a good example and stuff and figure out who you are and be that type of thing.

And honestly, and I've always had teammates just look up to me and I've always looked up to them as well.  And it's one of those things where you just try to do your best in the situation that you're given.  And I think height gives an advantage in some things, and I've tried to take advantage of those.

Q.  What's the hardest item of clothing to buy as a 6'7" gal?

JENNIFER HAMSON:  Pants.  They're hard to find.

THE MODERATOR:  Thank you.

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