Before practice we had a team talk about both on-court and bench mentality during matches – in particular late in close sets. Just looking to get everyone on the same page in terms of expectations, consistency, etc.
Practice was focused on hitting and blocking. In the former case, it was about the pins making sure they were hitting high, especially out of system. In the latter case it was mainly about timing, as we have consistently been late on our blocks. This is something I showed the players via still frames from recent match video.
After some serving and passing, the first part of the work done was pin hitters against defense. This was done off a serve reception, with the hitters having marked out corner targets to aim at. The second part was a wash drill where one side received a served ball, then had a ball played to the setter to create a setter-out situation. In both cases the first ball had to go to the pin hitter. After that, anyone could be set.
This was the first match against our travel partner, Cameron. This time around we played at their place. We saw Cameron playing at our home tournament. They’re a small team, but a scrappy one. They play good defense and will go fast in attack given the opportunity. Over the weekend they lost in 5 to West Texas (already their 5th five-setter of the season), then got swept by UTPB. The latter was a little bit of a surprise.
We had some struggles at the start of the first set, in particular by way of hitting errors. They jumped out to a 0-4 lead and stayed in front until very late. In fact, they were up 24-20. We fought back, though, and ended up winning 29-27. Our pin hitters scuffled, but our MBs tore it up. One of them went for 8 kills on 10 swings, with three of those kills part of our late comeback.
After that we were basically in control. We hit .324 and .325 in the second and third sets ( .154 in the first). For the match we had 20 more kills than Cameron. At times our offense was a thing of beauty, with players scoring from all across the net. That was against a relatively poor blocking team, however. We’re not a real tall team, but Cameron is notably smaller.
This was a rough practice. The tempo was a little low. That’s not a big surprise given we played the night before. We did some back row attacking and defense work, and serving and passing as part of the early stages. After that we spent time having the pin hitters work on effective tips and roll shots.
When we got into 6 v 6 at the end, though, we had two collisions involving heads. One was head-to-head when two players dove for a ball in the middle of the court. The other was head-to-knee. Crazily, the “head” player in the latter was also involved in the former. She joked the second was on the opposite side of the first, so they balanced out. The knee ended up a bit swollen and sore, but all the heads seem to be fine.
After the second coming together, we called a halt and one of the players joked we needed to wrap everyone up in bubble wrap. On the plus side, the starter we had down with a knee issue was back to basically full participation. Also, our ankle injury player from the first tournament is all the way back in to training. We may eventually get back to full strength!
No practice today as we had to get on the road for our lengthy weekend road trip. We jumped on the bus for a 2:00 departure. Six hours later we were at our hotel in Clovis, NM.
Doing one-night hotel stays when you have an evening match is always a logistical challenge. You have to work around check-out times that are usually hours before you want to head to the gym. In this case, it was noon check-out when the plan was to leave for the match at 4:00pm. Video review, lunch, and study hall in the breakfast area of the hotel filled the time.
This night’s competition was Eastern New Mexico. They were picked to finish 9th in the preseason poll. It was a tough match.They have an OPP who we particularly made note of, though they also had a solid MB and OH. We knew keeping them out-of-system was going to be important.
We lost the first 25-21, then won 25-20 in the second, though that was more about ENM making a lot of errors. During the long break we decided to swap libero’s (you can change them set-to-set in college volleyball) to bring in a player who’s been getting time as a serving and defensive sub. Our starting libero just wasn’t playing confidently and wasn’t passing well.
We really struggled in the third set, losing 25-14. We hit negative and allowed them to hit .435. In the latter stages we made a couple of changes. One was to swap setters. Our starter was struggling with accuracy and wasn’t making the best decisions. We swapped out one of the OHs who wasn’t hitting well to bring back in the one who was out due to injury. We also turned the rotation, both for offense and defense (blocking).
That helped turn things around. We hit .286 in the fourth and held them to .098 on the way to a 25-20 win. They were better on offense, but we held strong and ran out 15-12 winners. Not a pretty match, but a good fight.
We played Western New Mexico at their place. They were picked 6th in the preseason poll. Like UTPB, they are a new edition to the Lone Star Conference this year. They are also the longest trip for us. In particular, it’s a lengthy trip from Eastern NM as you have to drive from northeast (Portales) to southwest (Silver City), making for a tough back-to-back. We drove part of the way after Friday’s match, which meant getting to the hotel around 1:00AM. We drove the last two hours the next day ahead of a 3:00PM match.
The players didn’t outwardly show signs of feeling the effects of the tough match the night before, the short night’s sleep, and all the travel. They were very loose and lively to start the match. You know there had to be some, though.
WNM is probably the biggest team we’ve played thus far, so we knew there would be some challenges for our attack. We basically kept the squad who finished the match the night before, except for putting back in the starting setter. Unfortunately, we both struggled on offense (.069) and in defense (they hit .407). We lost 25-21.
We made an OH change for the second set as the freshman who played well the night before struggled. Our hitting percentage did improve (.250), but we just couldn’t stop them from scoring (.556).
To boost the defense, we changed setters. Our second setter (a freshman) is stronger in both blocking and defense. That seemed to help. The start was rough, as we went down 10-4, but we managed to claw our way back in gradually. We kept them to only .138, and actually got our only two blocks of the match – one by the new setter. Unfortunately, we made three straight service errors late in the set which may have kept us from at least pushing them to the limit. We ended up losing 25-21 again.
We drove straight back from the match. It took around 12 hours all together, including picking up dinner and doing a mandatory driver change. I got home just after 7:00AM on Sunday morning. Fortunately, that’s now out of the way.