UB volleyball is trusting the process

Early season results aren’t stopping Bulls from continuing its ‘process’

Blair Brown Lipsitz’s main goal in her first-ever season as a head coach is simple: change the volleyball culture at UB.

Coming from Penn State, a perennial volleyball powerhouse where Lipsitz was named the Big Ten Conference Player of the Year and won four national championships, she wanted a challenge. Her goal was to turn around a program that achieved very little during its Division-I run.

But she knew that it would take some time. So she asked her team to trust the “process.” Trust her and her beliefs in turning the team around and to change the culture – turning practices into daily grinds and maximizing effort and talent on every play, practice and game.

One month into the season, Lipsitz said the change is still a work in progress, but everyone is at least buying in. The season didn’t start on a good note for the Bulls (2-12, 1-1 Mid-American Conference), who went winless in their first nine games.

But the team has won two of its past five and is still right in the thick of the MAC at 1-1. The winless start is irrelevant – to make the conference tournament and win a championship, all Buffalo needs to do is win against its MAC opponents.

“The process is still going,” Lipsitz said. “We’re working hard every day … they’re working hard at being committed and dedicated to getting that new culture into the gym.”

The Bulls started the regular season 0­-9, but that wasn’t even the worst of it.

In its first five games, Buffalo won just one set.

“We had some challenges to start the season,” Lipsitz said.

Lipsitz and her coaching staff wanted to make the team their own. The players may not be her recruits, but she wants to work with them everyday as if she brought them to Buffalo herself. The staff strived to make the team realize every play and every motion leads to success. And it finally seems like it’s paying off.

It just took some time.

The Bulls followed their 0-­5 start with four more defeats in a row, but there were promising signs that things would turn around. At the Old Rebel Classic in Oxford, Mississippi, two of Buffalo’s three matches came down to the fifth and final set – although the team still walked out of Mississippi without a victory.

Finally on Sept. 19, the Bulls broke through as they won their first game of the season – a dominating 3­0 victory over Navy (2-13, 0-2 Patriot League) at the Big Orange Tournament in Syracuse, New York.

Freshman outside hitter Valisha Watkins cited the improvement of on­court chemistry – another part of the “process” – as a reason for the Bulls’ recent victories.

“Everyone on and off the court loves each other,” Watkins said.

In the transition, the Bulls had stellar play from their underclassmen. Watkins currently ranks second on the team with 110 kills. Sophomores Niki Bozinoski and Tessa Ooyama are vital contributors, ranking second and third in digs so far this season, respectively.

The contributions of the underclassman have been stellar for Lipsitz and are a component of building the culture from the ground up.

“They’ve been awesome, all of the players have,” Lipsitz said. “Getting players who will be here for years to buy in now is awesome because the next set of players will come in and have people to look up and see what we expect from our players.”

A big factor of Lipsitz’s process is her ability to connect with her players. Vernette glowed when asked about Lipsitz, calling her “the best” and said her proximity in age allows Lipsitz to connect and understand her players better. Just five years ago, Lipsitz was a college athlete herself.

It seems the system is finally being put into fruition. And they may have picked it up at the right time.

The Bulls’ 3-1 conference victory over Toledo this past Saturday was only the team’s second victory of the season. But if the team keeps gelling, it will probably not be the last.

“We just need to continue to work,” Lipsitz said. “The goal moving forward is just getting better every day in the gym, if we can do that, we can win some games on the weekend.”

The Bulls continue MAC play this weekend on the road when they take on Miami Ohio (9-6, 1-1 MAC) Friday and Bowling Green (4-11, 0-2 MAC) on Saturday. Friday’s match is set for 7 p.m. and Saturday’s is set for 5 p.m.

email: sports@ubspectrum.com

Quentin Haynes is the co-Senior Sports Editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on twitter at @Haynes_Spectrum.