Welcome back to Over The Net, the weekly interview series with players and coaches from Mizzou Volleyball that’s taking place over the next few months.
This week, I talked with Sierra Dudley, the freshman setter who was named SEC Co-Freshman of the Week for her efforts in the matches against Alabama and Ole Miss.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How does it feel to be named SEC Co-Freshman of the Week?
SD: It’s definitely really cool. It’s not something I expected coming out of the week because there’s tons of really great freshmen playing in the conference, but it’s definitely a confidence boost for me knowing that all my hard work that I’ve been putting in has been paying off.
Speaking of hard work, you had 60 assists last match in the five set victory over Ole Miss. Did you feel more tired than usual after that one?
SD: I was talking about that this morning with one of our nutritionists. I was expecting to, but I think my adrenaline was just running so hard at that point that I was just ready to go. Of course, after the game when I kind of crashed a little bit, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, that was a long game.’
How do you think the team did in that match?
SD: I think we started off a little bit slow, and it wasn’t one of our prettiest wins, but a win is a win, and we pulled it out. We kind of had to grit our way through that match a little bit and just keep fighting for every single point, so I think it showed a lot about even when we’re not playing our best, what we can do to still ensure that we come out with a win.
What should Mizzou fans expect heading into the Auburn match?
SD: I think we’re definitely going to go in there and fight hard. In an away match against a top-25 ranked team, it’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to prepare all this week and we’re gonna go in there and fight and give it everything we have, and definitely make it a good game.
How has the adjustment been for you playing a starting role as a freshman in the SEC?
SD: It’s definitely a lot faster than anything I’ve experienced before. The sets are faster, the swings are faster, everything is just at a faster pace. But I think that as time goes on, I’ve kind of gotten more used to that and learned how to play with it, and I’m definitely more comfortable there now.
How do you think the team has done so far this season, and how do you think you’ve done so far?
SD: I think that we are definitely improving every single week. Every single day at practice, we work on something and I feel that just on that day, we get so much better at whatever our focus is. I think that we’re just putting it all together slowly, and when we finally get everything to mesh and come together, then we’re gonna be really, really good. Personally, I’m just working to try to get better. There’s a few things that I’m really trying to work on and focus on for the next few matches to try to get my hitters the best ball possible.
What are one or two things the team is really going to focus on improving throughout the rest of the season?
SD: I think as a team, one of the main things that we work on a lot is covering. We do a lot of drills every single day at practice to work on covering because it’s one of those things that when it becomes a habit, it’s a lot easier than when you’re trying to intentionally remind yourself to do it each time. So we’re really working to commit that to memory and make it become a habit so that way we can move on and focus on other things. I think second to go with that is just our blocking. As we’ve been working on covering, we’ve also been working on that block, different types of blocking and just making sure we’re really pressed and over the net and allowing our defense to work around the block so they know exactly where they should be.
What would you say has been your biggest strength so far this season?
SD: I’m a communicator on the court. I love to communicate with my hitters, communicate with my passers, go up to people between points and kind of figure out where their head is, in between sets, during timeouts, things like that. I just love to talk to people and make sure that they’re feeling good and confident about themselves. I think that as I said, it’s pretty important to make sure my hitters are in the right headspace.
What is something that you’re really looking to improve on as you continue into conference play?
SD: I definitely want to keep getting better at my blocking because in a conference like the SEC, there’s going to be lots of big hitters, and as a setter who’s a freshman and on the smaller side compared to some of these hitters, I know that people are going to target my blocking. So I’ve definitely been working hard on that already, and I’m gonna keep working to make sure that my blocking isn’t one of my main weaknesses.
Speaking of the attack, Janet deMarrais had a really, really good week. Were you a little bit surprised that she didn’t get one of the SEC weekly awards?
SD: I think Janet worked really hard and I definitely would not have been surprised if she did get it. But I talked to her after that, and we just agreed that it means that she’s got to go out there and do the same thing this week. That means that during the Auburn game, she’s going to give it her all and try to go for it this week.
As the season continues, what are your personal goals, and what are the team’s goals?
SD: One of our main team goals is to try to make it to the tournament. We’ve talked about the things we have to do in order to get there, and we have a list on our whiteboard that we look at before every practice of things we need to hit in order to have a good likelihood of making it to the tournament.
For personal goals, I really just want to keep getting better each day and keep improving. As a freshman, I still have four years left so I’m gonna keep looking to get better and put my hitters in the best situations possible. That way, when we get against these really good teams, I can put them in good situations to be successful.
What is written on the whiteboard?
SD: On our whiteboard, we have our team motto which is LFG: love the game, family, grit. We talk about that a lot. One of the main things we talk about on the whiteboard is grit, relentless effort going for every single ball, really giving it our all, never giving up on a play.
One of our other things we have written on the board is sisterhood. We talk a lot about being more than just teammates, being sisters. So really being there for each other, trusting each other, knowing that we have each other’s backs, and I think when you maintain that level of trust, you really can get to a whole new level.
Putting aside the matches themselves, what was the most enjoyable SEC road trip for you so far this season?
SD: During our Texas A&M trip, we had a little bit of extra time on one of the nights because we had flown in early, and we got to carve pumpkins. We all had our pumpkins in the team room and we did competitions, carving little faces in the pumpkins. We listened to Halloween music and that was super fun. Later that night, we were staying in a hotel right across from the football stadium, so we got to see all these students camping out and trying to get football tickets, and it was just a really cool experience.
Who did you think had the best pumpkin?
SD: I really liked Sarah White’s pumpkin. I don’t remember who she worked with, but she just free-handed it, no Sharpie, no pencil, nothing. She just went for it with the knife and it came out pretty good.
What did she carve on the pumpkin?
SD: She carved a spooky face. It had lots of teeth and some very intense looking eyes.
Recently, the athletics department announced they would be presenting an athletics facilities master plan. If you could make one change to the Hearnes Center, what would it be?
SD: Honestly, making it more accessible to people that might have disabilities or might be elderly, because a lot of my teammates have said they’ve had grandparents coming to the games and they’ve struggled to get up and down the stairs in order to get closer to the court to watch the game. That’s something we’ve kind of talked about as a team. So I would love to make it more accessible to those people, so that way they can come to the games and they can come closer to the court instead of standing up near the top because maybe they aren’t able to make it down the stairs.
How are you liking the classes here at Mizzou so far?
SD: I love it. It is very challenging, and definitely a big change being in these lecture halls with 300 people compared to just classes of 20 or 30. But so far, I’ve found all my professors still find ways to stay engaged even with that big of a group of people and still ask questions, let us ask questions during class, which is very, very nice.
You are majoring in Biomedical Engineering. What led to your decision to choose your major, and what do you enjoy about it?
SD: I’ve always been super interested in science and math. Specifically, I’d say the medical field has always interested me, but I was never 100% sure if I wanted to go to med school or not. I didn’t want to make that commitment so young without really knowing where I wanted to be in four years. So biomedical engineering was super interesting to me— prosthetics, artificial organs and things like that.
I figured it was a good compromise between going pre-med or staying in a math-based pathway. Now I get to take the science-based classes that I would if I was in med major, but I also get to keep the math part of it, which I really enjoy. And then it’s very versatile, so if I decide I want to go to med school when I graduate, I can still do that.
About halfway through the first semester, do you have a better idea of which career path you want to take, or are you getting in those basic classes and trying to figure it out?
SD: I would say I’m definitely still deciding. I haven’t gotten to take a lot of the higher level classes that I feel will help me yet, but I have really been enjoying my basic engineering classes. I wasn’t sure if I would like my gen eds for engineering, but I have been really enjoying some of my computer design classes, which is a nice surprise.
How has the academic adjustment to college been for you?
SD: I was a little bit worried going into college, knowing that I was going to be in-season while also taking pretty challenging classes. Throughout high school, I definitely tried to challenge myself with APs and dual credit classes so that way it wouldn’t be a big shock when I got to college, especially my senior year. I know a lot of times in senior year people take easier classes so they can leave early, come in late, things like that. I never did that. So I feel like it was kind of just a steady increase in difficulty instead of going from being super easy to all of a sudden super hard, and in-season at the same time.
Let’s talk a little bit about your recruiting process. What led you to Mizzou?
SD: My recruiting process was definitely very unique because I had an injury that caused me to be out during the main time period that I would have been recruited in, but it worked out perfectly because I wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than where I am right now. It also worked out because Dawn was coming into Mizzou right as I was looking to finish up my recruiting process, so I was able to get in contact with her and it worked out perfectly.
In high school, you won the state title your junior year. What was it like to win a state title?
SD: It was definitely one of a kind, and it was super special to do it with my teammates. At that point, it was definitely the most rowdy environment I had played in. There’s full stands, lots of people screaming. We were playing about an hour and a half from my school, but we were playing only 15 minutes from the school we were playing against, so they had a huge student section and a big crowd. That was something I thought was a little bit nerve-wracking, but it was fun to have the energy that was created in that gym, and then to go and win that game was just super special.
How do you like Columbia so far? Do you have a favorite place to go or thing to do?
SD: Columbia is just the perfect size, because you have everything you could ever need. All the stores you could need, we have a mall, we have a downtown, we also have more nature areas, but it’s not too big to the point where you feel overwhelmed or that you’re in a big downtown area. As far as my favorite spot, I have actually gone multiple times now since the summer to hike in Devil’s Icebox. That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, because being from South Carolina, we don’t have caves. And so seeing that cave and how cold it got as you got down there was super neat. I’ve had to go back multiple times.
Lauren Forbes mentioned Devil’s Icebox last week. Have you ever hiked there with her?
SD: I have not. Maybe I should now that you’re saying that.
You’re from Spartanburg, South Carolina, near Charlotte. I know there’s a big debate over barbeque in the Carolinas. Are you a Western Carolina barbeque person, or are you an Eastern Carolina barbeque person?
SD: I’m probably going to offend a lot of South Carolinians and North Carolinians by saying this, but I actually do not like barbeque. I’ve never been a barbeque person. I’m not a big wings person.
As we wrap up the interview, is there anything you want to say to Mizzou fans?
SD: I just want to thank all the Mizzou fans for the support we’ve been receiving this season. Each game we hear more and more people coming. We get all these youth volleyball teams coming, families, even alumni that have been coming back, and I think their support means a lot and creates a lot of energy for us, and I’m happy that we’ve been able to pull out some wins for them too.