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With the help of Rand, Tigers coming together at the right time

Sept. 15, 2011

CLEMSON, SC — When Jolene Hoover scheduled her Clemson Tigers to play in the Campus USA Credit Union Invitational in Gainesville, FL earlier this month, she did it with the hope it would benefit her young volleyball team from a confidence and experience standpoint.

But, when the Tigers dropped three matches to Jacksonville, No. 9 Florida and No. 3 Southern Cal, she worried it might have derailed their confidence.

“When you do that, and play teams like that, you hope you get something positive out of it,” the Clemson coach said. “I wish we could have competed a little bit tougher with them. I wasn’t sure we were going to get the benefit that we had planned.”

It has turned out, she has gotten just that. Thanks to Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Furman, the Tigers have won four straight matches since their trip to Florida, including a 3-0 win over archrival South Carolina in Charleston on Sept. 9.

Clemson (8-3) followed the win over the Gamecocks with a 3-1 victory over Winthrop and then a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the College of Charleston. The win over the Cougars allowed Clemson to win the College of Charleston Classic.

“Beating South Carolina was a great win for us,” Hoover said. “It got lost because it was in that tournament setting. It was the first one of the tournament and then you move on, but that was a big win for us.

“Beating the College of Charleston in the fifth game and coming back on their home floor was also big for our confidence. We are making some plays at critical times, and I think that has been huge for us. I think you saw some of that carry over into tonight [Wednesday].”

It’s definitely carried over for middle hitter Alexa Rand. The junior has been dominant for the Tigers in the last four matches, especially in the wins over College of Charleston and Furman. Wednesday she tallied 11 kills in 18 attacks, while also blocking six attacks and producing two digs.

All this following her career-high 18 kills against the College of Charleston last Saturday on her way to being named the MVP of the College of Charleston Classic.

“She is in the middle so we are trying to run a lot of quick things to Alexa,” Hoover said. “She is up quick and ready with her arm back ready to go. The setters have found her and she is doing a really nice job for us.

“I think the last two matches, she has not had a hitting error and that is pretty big for a hitter.”

Rand says the increase in productivity is due to the amount of reps she is getting in practice.

“We have two setters so you have to know how to hit off both of them,” she said. “There has just been a lot of practice hitting back-and-forth between those two.”

As for the team’s overall success lately, it comes from having a positive attitude. The Tigers set out not to allow the shortcomings down in Florida get to them, but instead paid attention and learned from the mistakes they were making in those matches.

“We have been working a lot on the little things, like the technical parts of the passing and stuff like that,” Rand said. “It is just really coming together for us and we are just working really hard.

“We all just support each other. Everyone raises their level of play when we are all working together.”

With the ACC season starting Friday night at home against Georgia Tech at 7 p.m., Clemson’s level of play will have to increase a little bit more. All six of the Tigers’ last six matches against Georgia Tech have gone to a fifth set. No one expects that to be any different on Friday.

“Every year it is a battle with them,” Rand said. “We have gone five sets every time we have played them in the last six matches. It is always a battle. We know they are going to be good. It’s a fight and we will have to play for every point like it is the last.”

Or, just continue playing the way they have been.

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