CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - First-year head coach Travis Filar has had a tremendous impact on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga volleyball program in just the first few months he has been in the Scenic City. On Thursday, he looked back at the progress the team has made this spring and how he is looking forward to the team coming back together in August.
"My overall thoughts on the spring were very positive," said Filar. "We definitely improved as a team and individually. Some of the improvements that we made were in our discipline, court movement and defensive play. Another couple of areas that we focused on came at the service line and with our passing game."
One of the first items on Filar's agenda was to create some core values for the team. The number one priority was to create a family atmosphere.
"Our kids were excited about becoming a family and they really cherished that becoming a part of the program," said Filar. "We did that in the gym, in the weight room and even when we were out into the community."
Two of the other core values that have been expressed throughout the spring have been we are competitive and we are present by staying in the moment.
Filar is a firm believer in communication at all times on the court. It is a quality that often times can be overlooked, but when a team executes it perfectly, then the sky is the limit because everyone is on the same page.
"At first, the challenge to the team was that I want you to talk the whole time," said Filar. "I know what you are saying at first might be right or wrong, but right now it is important to just talk volleyball. It all started with two questions: what is happening on your side of the net and what is happening on your opponent's side of the net.
"When you start to communicate as a team, everyone has to be tuned in, aware and ready for what is going on. That really helps you stay at a high level of play and is crucial for our success. When we are engaged and tuned in with our minds and voice through communication, then our level of play increases."
The entire team made progress during the spring, but there were a few players that stood out in the eyes of the head coach. Three individuals have emerged as leaders. Senior middle blocker Ellie Kuhn (San Antonio, Texas) and juniors outside hitter Meagan Ernd (Munster, Ind.) and libero Paula Passmore (Merrit Island, Fla.) were announced as team captains.
"There is a lot of improvements being made by everyone, but Andrea Johnson was someone that rose to the challenge after starting off slowly," said Filar. "She made some improvement skill wise, but it was more of her communication, effort and energy that changed as the spring progressed.
"Christina Teter was a player that was solid throughout from day one to the end of spring. She has a chance to have a breakout year for us in the fall."
With all the progress that was made, Filar also saw room for improvement and his main concern was the energy level of the team dropping as the spring wore on. He believed that part of it had to deal with the fact that the team was short a couple of players with injuries and at times there was not a lot of competition.
"What we did was challenge them at the end of the spring and told them that competition at every position is what we are striving for, but it is going to take some time to build depth," said Filar. "Thus, if you have someone that is not pushing you, then need to focus pushing yourself and one way to do that is by working on the numerous mental aspects of the game."
A lot of the team has the opportunity to continue building this family atmosphere as some players are from around the area and a couple of the out of state players are going to be around for parts of the break. Filar knows that the summer is a time to relax, but he challenged the team to continue working hard this summer, so they can continue progressing in the fall.
"My last challenge yesterday [May 4] to them in our team meeting was to not waste a day this summer," said Filar. "Take advantage of everyday they have to get better, strong and work on mentally preparing to comeback. Think about the process that we are going to go through in the fall."
Another item on the summer schedule for volleyball are three camps set to run from July 11-16 and all the information can be found via the brochure link at the top of the page.
The first is a two day all-skills camp for ages 10-14 and covers all skills including a break down of individual skills, situational drills and tournament competition. A three-day high potential camp is designed for experienced high school and club players that emphasizes fundamental skill by creating a better understanding of how individual skills impact volleyball. Concluding the week is the Little Mocs Camp for ages 5-10 and it is an opportunity for the younger kids to get excited about volleyball.
"We want to create an atmosphere where kids want to play volleyball starting at a younger age," said Filar. "These camps allow us to reach out to the community of Chattanooga and beyond. We are excited to get the camps rolling. This is something that I am very passionate about as a college coach because I like to see young players excited about the game of volleyball."
Filar wrapped up the interview talking about his excitement about starting fall preseason camp in August, when the team comes back together and prepare for starting the season.
"We have nothing but high expectations," said Filar. "We are going to continue working on coming together as a family. The players that are returning and the ones we are adding are going to allow our team to compete at a really high level. The practices will be intense and very competitive. The newcomers that are coming in will bring a really good skill set at their respective positions."
In changing the culture of the program, Filar knows that it is a process that is not going to happen overnight, but through the hard work that the team has shown this spring and with some determination anything is possible. The Lady Mocs head coach is a firm believer that the program is on the rise and once the foundation has been built, then championships could be on the horizon.