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 interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s begin with the Auburn match, a great performance from the team and you personally as well. How do you think the match went?
Colleen Finney: I thought it was awesome. Honestly, I was telling all the girls after the game how easy it felt just because we knew the scout in and out. I really think we did a great job applying the things that we talked about in film or all the tips and tricks they gave us during practice, even the ones days beforehand, and just remembering how we played against them when we were at Auburn a couple of weeks before. I think it was a great application of the things that we already knew about them and also the things that we knew that we were going to have to do to be successful. A great team win, everybody was on it that day. We had all five hitters hitting double digit kills, and I think that was just like a great testament to everything that we’d been putting in for that game.
You had a bit more knowledge about Auburn ahead of time because you were teammates with Bella Bell in high school, right?
CF: She was a year ahead of me. We went to high school together, and it’s actually funny because I’m also friends with the outside on their team and another middle blocker that’s on their depth chart. I was very familiar for that game, so it was very exciting to get that win, obviously, but also I’ve known a couple of them for years.
How did that familiarity help you?
CF: I can even speak back to a couple of weeks ago when we first played Auburn. When we had scouted the team, they’d had a different right side. And when we played them, that was the first time that Bella was playing in that match. I remember, I was saying to them a little bit of the tendencies I knew from back in high school or even throughout the years when I’ve seen her when we go train together back home. I think that sort of helps us to go in the game and be like, okay, we’re not expecting someone completely new, someone has already been familiar with her for a couple of years. So I just remembered the same things when we played them at home.
Let’s talk about one of your signature attacks, the slide kill. How did you develop the move, and what do you think makes it so effective?
CF: Honestly, it is one of my favorite attacks. I think obviously you can see that in the game. I think it’s just a different feel, a different approach when you take a slide attack versus when you’re going in front of a setter, and it’s just a lot more exciting. I feel like you have a lot more control in where you can actually hit the ball and and being able to get around (a blocker).
I love the side attack so much because it makes me feel like I’m really chasing after the ball and I get to go after it and just be very, very aggressive. I don’t think there’s anything different in my approach versus someone else, but I do know that for me when I get on that slide it’s like okay, I’m gonna go up here and I’m gonna go after and I’m going to be able to kill the ball the way I want to.
Mizzou is on a four match winning streak right now. What do you think has been the key to the team’s success?
CF: I really think it’s our focus level and our confidence. Before every practice or even a game we always listen to these mindsets. Recently our mindset has been very, very focused on, your ability to be prepared for a match really boils down to focus levels and confidence. And so we’ve been going into every single practice being like, okay, what are we doing to put ourselves into position and feel good about what we’re doing right now.
So when we get to a game it’s like second nature at that point, because you’ve already done it so many times you feel confident, feel ready to go into the match, just do what you need to do. So I feel like we’ve been really able to dial in on those key aspects, which has really, really helped us.
What have been some of the biggest areas of growth for the team as the season has gone on?
CF: We were talking about this at practice yesterday, because a couple of girls after the Texas A&M match came up to one of our coaches and asked what we’ve been doing to help with coverage and defense because a lot of the balls that they were expected to drop weren’t. We have really been able to dial in on coverage aspects and being able to pick up tips and the junk that has been rolled over.
And I think dialing in on those is so key, because a lot of times, a lot of people are expecting a kill, a hit, something very, very strong and aggressive, but those tips can be killer if you’re not really picking those up or dialing in on those. I think those have been just tremendous and our ability to to actually get those up to the setter perfect.
And where have you noticed the biggest area of growth personally?
CF: Oh, I will definitely say consistency. I think a lot of times in the beginning of the season, I would I think I came into the SEC play hitting .400, and then the next game I was hitting maybe .100. And then I would go up again to .300, and go back down to .100. I was very frustrated with my inability to be very consistent, but I have been very consistent these last couple of matches and just focusing on actual action pieces rather than the stat focus. I hope to continue that throughout this weekend, being able to continue to elevate and keeping my numbers where I want them to be.
Speaking of this weekend, what should Mizzou fans expect heading into the Florida match?
CF: It’s really kind of similar to Auburn and Texas A&M, this is a team that really wants to push tempo. They have a great libero in the backcourt, so being able to play keep away with her, and also hitting towards the setter to get them out of system so that they are not able to run the tempo so fast. Then also that frees our ability to be able to, as a middle, step towards the outside or a pin attacker to shut that down and limit how they can set the middle, or if they can set the middle at all. And another focus is just being able to be really, really good on our serve and pass game.
What would it mean to you and this team to go undefeated during your five match homestand?
CF: That would be honestly just incredible, and a testament to the goals that we set before the season. The first goal (when) we came into practice and we talked about everything was what do we want out of the season, and we said collectively we want to make the tournament. So being able to finish off our schedule strong, I mean, we do have Florida and Kentucky this weekend.
These are very, very good teams. Can we finish our season to put us on a good standing to be like, okay, Missouri has to be in the tournament, there is no other option here. So that would mean everything for us to be undefeated for the rest of our home matches, and just be able to be like, okay, we’re in a great position to make the tournament and selection show.
Reaching the tournament has been mentioned as a goal in several of these interviews. Now that you’re getting closer, are you thinking about anything beyond making the tournament itself?
CF: I would love for us to keep progressing onward and upward, but I think we have a good focus of being able to stay in one game at a time. And so right now, yes, at the end of the day we’re trying to make the tournament, we really want our RPI to be in a good position to make the tournament. But we have Florida and Kentucky this weekend, are we gonna be able to focus to beat Florida and Kentucky or are we going to be worried about the games down the line and thinking about the tournament, or how the predictions say we could play Creighton and stuff. That’s later, we have to worry about the things that we have right now in order to get to where we want to be.
All but two players from this year are expected to return next season. How do you think this team has gotten to know each other more throughout the year, and do you anticipate that continuing to improve through the offseason?
CF: Oh, 100%. I talked to Dawn when I transferred here, she’d always said that our first priority was establishing relationships. She’s a brand new coach, we have a brand new roster, we have four freshmen, we had a bunch of transfers coming in. These are all new people playing together, can we gel well, how do we get that?
It all boils down to personal relationships. I think we do a great job with having good connections on and off the court. All of us hang out with each other. We go to each other’s apartments, go to dinner or concerts and music festivals and stuff. I think that key aspect will continue to grow next year, and I’ve already seen it with our National Signing Day coming in. I think every girl on the team has reposted all the new girls that are coming in and being able to accept them when they come on our visits and talking with them, and making sure we’re keeping that relationship going.
Circling back to the two graduating players, Dilara Gedikoglu and Lauren Forbes, how would you describe them in a few sentences, and what have they meant to the team?
CF: I’ll start with Dilara. She is just competitive, she’s driven. I think she has this competitive fire that you don’t see very often, and some people they, just got it or they don’t, and Didi has it. Sometimes when she’s on the court, it just gets me fired up to be around her. Her energy is very contagious when she’s on, and I love that aspect of her, competitiveness and her confidence with our team. At the end of the day, when Didi goes up you know she’s about to really try to go after it. I think that’s something that was awesome, especially with freshmen or people that are lower than depth chart, being able to look up to that and be like, okay, that’s what I need to be able (to do) to get to where I want to be at.
And then Lauren is honestly one of the most genuine souls I’ve ever met in my entire life. She’s very, very kind. She was actually my host when I came on my visit. She has been nothing but a pure angel and nice and kind. I think sometimes, even when we’re very frustrated, having a good positive person like that is a very very important aspect to a team, especially when we’re going through good and bad days. So I love the both of them. Very different people, but I think both of them bring very, very good energy to this team.
Let’s talk about your experience in the transfer portal. What led to your decision to seek out a new team?
CF: Clemson was actually my dream school. My mom went there, my older sister, and my twin brother still goes there. I love Clemson and I went there, but I was looking for something different. I graduated early in three years and decided to take my chances with the transfer portal. So many people in my family have gone to Clemson and so many people from my hometown had also gone to Clemson that I kind of wanted to make a name for myself and be able to go experience life in a different area that I was not used to.
And I remember even the first day I got here I was like, well, I’m very, very far from home, did I make the right decision? And I say to people all the time, I think I made the greatest decision in the world. Not only do I get to navigate life as a woman in a new area and be able to learn things on my own, not be so dependent on my parents or my family or anything, it’s just a very exciting time to be at Mizzou, Mizzou volleyball, and be able to end my last two years off with a bang. That’s something that I wanted to do for myself.
With this being your first time living outside of South Carolina, was that a big adjustment for you? What has been the biggest difference you’ve noticed between here and South Carolina?
CF: It definitely was an adjustment. When I got here, I definitely searched for Publix on my Apple Maps and there is no Publix around here. I had to quickly learn what HyVee was and all the other grocery stores, and that there was no Exxon or anything, but these are materialistic things that I couldn’t find.
I honestly love Missouri. I think there’s a lot of great things that you don’t really hear about coming from South Carolina. Maybe the biggest adjustment is just that my parents used to come to every home game, and I do miss that aspect and how they used to bring my puppies and stuff up when they would come and see me. Other than that, honestly Missouri has been a very welcoming home, and I’m very glad to be here.
You mentioned your family and Clemson. I found an article on their athletics website which said your mother and sister were at Clemson when they won all three of their national championships in football. Should Mizzou fans expect a national championship next season?
CF: I hope so, I think Mizzou football has been killing it. I’m very excited about that program, and I think they’re doing great things. Hopefully they’ll get a championship next year, that would be awesome.
What was the biggest change going from the ACC to the SEC?
CF: Definitely level of play. I think (in) the SEC, the level of play was just a lot more significant. The ACC obviously has great teams like Louisville and Pitt and teams like that, but I think overall there’s a lot better teams and there’s a lot more teams, that is one thing that I had to get used to. In the ACC, we also had travel buddies so you knew exactly what the travel schedule was gonna look like, and I think SEC was a little bit different in that way.
Switching to academics, you have a bachelor’s in philosophy from Clemson. What led you to choose philosophy?
CF: When I was in high school, I took an AP research class, and my teacher at the time used to teach philosophy books. That was the first time in my life where I really felt like, oh my gosh, I can’t wait to go to school tomorrow to be able to talk about the topics that we talked about in our book. I can’t wait to read and even write a paper about what I’ve talked about, because I finally feel like I’m reading something that actually can apply to my own life or values that I value. I loved talking about that. So when I came to Clemson I was like, Oh, this is (an) easy (decision), I’ll be a philosophy major. And I loved being a philosophy major.
Now you’re going for a master’s in business, two fairly different degrees, I would say. What led to the decision to get a business degree, and what are your plans for after your volleyball career?
CF: I graduated last December, and in the springtime to supplement the transfer process, I got a certificate in athletic leadership. That’s because I kind of knew I want to go into sports one day. I eventually want to go to law school, but to satisfy the two years that I had in between I said I don’t really know if I really want to do law school and play volleyball at the same time. I know some people that have done, it but I’m not Superwoman, I don’t think I have it in me right now.
A lot of people I was talking to in the internships that I’ve gotten, they were saying it would be great for you to get a good foundation in business. I feel like even if I didn’t go to law school at the end of the day, I’d have a good foundation and be able to do a bunch of different things with that. It has been very different, these accounting classes and finance classes are very, very new to me. But I really think it’s been interesting being able to learn some things that I did not learn in my undergrad, and also getting a feel for, okay, I’m about to be adulting very, very soon, and can I actually learn some key aspects and pick up some good tidbits here. So I think that’s been great.
Do you know which particular area of law you’d like to practice?
CF: A dream position of mine would be to be as general counsel for a professional team. I did get an internship for the last few years with the NBA Summer League, and I think I would love to be general counsel for an NBA team or an NFL team. I haven’t really figured that out yet. But I’m hoping maybe I’ll get an internship when I finish up here just before law school, and so that will be very, very exciting.
It’s still several years in the future, but have you started to look at any law schools?
CF: I think it’s gonna boil down to when I actually take my LSAT and what type of scholarship opportunities there’s going to be. Law school is very expensive, and I’m looking to get as much return on that as possible. But I would love to be in a big city just because I think that’s where a lot of good professional teams are. I would love to be in a place like Miami, whether that’s University of Miami or FIU, just to be in the area that I would like to work in.
If someone was going to visit your hometown of Blythewood, South Carolina, what would you want them to know?
CF: I would want them to know Blythewood is a very, very small town, and when I was younger, I don’t think I really got to appreciate it as much as I did when I got older. But now every time I go home it’s just very peaceful. There’s a lot of outdoor activities to do right by my house. There’s a horse farm, you can go ride horses, and sometimes I go in my backyard and just go sit in a hammock and read a book. It’s very peaceful, and you’ve got the water. The older you get, the more you appreciate it because you just want some silence and to just relax some days, and not just just to talk to everybody. So I love the peace and quiet you get.
Do you have a favorite memory so far from this season?
CF: During the Texas A&M match, we prepped the entire week on this one attack that we knew their number nine right side (Logan Lednicky) was gonna do. We prepped that every single day in practice, and Didi (Dilara Gedikoglu) blocked her. After she blocked her she went up to Dawn and gave her a high-five, literally walked off the court, gave her a high-five, and came back. I think that was awesome because we knew how hard we had been working on that one specific attack, and for her to get that was just awesome for her to see. It was like the fruits of our labor really came into fruition in that moment.
Is there anything you want to say to Mizzou fans?
CF: Thank you guys so much. The other day I saw the Mizzou volleyball post about how we had a 240% increase in fans, and I think that’s also a testament to the winning culture that we’ve been having these last five games. The fans have really been great at supporting us, and after the games when we sign autographs it means everything to me when these young girls are coming up to us and saying how much we inspire them. Even on my worst days that makes me feel good about myself because it’s like, you know, this is more than just volleyball itself. We’re actually able to impact the community and hopefully be able to impact a young girl who might be in our position one day to grow up and be able to play at Mizzou, and I think that it’s so much more than just wins and losses on the table. The community in Columbia is really supporting us, supporting Dawn, our coaching staff, and wants us to succeed, so I think that’s awesome. I’m very, very grateful.
And then is there anything we haven’t talked about, anything you want to say before we wrap up?
CF: We were talking about the fan increase but I think volleyball, women’s volleyball in particular, is the future of sports. I think we’ve seen it with the Nebraska program and how they were able to sell out a football stadium. And you know, we’ve had a 240% increase here.
Women’s volleyball is on the rise, and I can really see it going places that people don’t expect out of women’s sports all the time. And I think people should just be able to keep buying into our culture, being able to buy into our program, even long after I’m gone, or being able to support girls in the sport. There’s so much more future here than people realize, and being able to invest in women’s sports.