Who should be leader on the court?

Leadership is a major consideration for any team. To that end, a coach presented the following scenario.

If my best player is the Alpha, asserting herself, telling people where to go etc. But she isn’t the setter, how do you feel about that. I.e. does the player’s position matter?

Here’s what I personally believe. Feel free to argue otherwise.

The setter should be a leader on the court, but does not need to be the leader. For sure, the setter runs the offense. In that role it is important that they be a leader.

Similarly, the libero is the first ball specialist As such, they have leadership responsibility in the areas of defense and serve reception.

Then there’s the middle blocker. They are generally in charge of the blocking side of things – especially when their team is serving. As such, they are leaders in their own way also.

As you can see, I expect leadership to be shared around. It comes from multiple sources and in different ways. Rarely will you have a situation where only one player is the leader. They may be the vocal leader, and as such the most overt. That isn’t the only form of leadership, however. Nor is it necessarily the most important.

So the answer the question posed, I have no problem with a non-setter being the “alpha”. That is, of course, so long as they are not in conflict with the other leaders and lead in an appropriate fashion (different discussion).

I should note that the above has little to do with who you select for the official team captain. That’s a different type of responsibility. It’s about dealing with the referee, not about dealing with their teammates – though there can certainly be overlap.

Favorite drills/games to practice serve receive?

What are your favorite drills/games to practice serve receive?

I see that question, or a variation of it, regularly.

Drills

Here are a couple of different drills I’ve used, or seen over the years. The names are either what I heard them called, or ones I came up with myself that described them. Feel free to change them if you like.

1-2 Serve & Pass is one that lets at least one of your servers be aggressive, but without the problem of having lots of missed serves or one passer not getting many balls.

If you have a large number and want everyone involved, 2-sided Serve & Pass is an option. I actually prefer the Get-2 variation, though, as it gives weaker passers more reps.

A drill that focuses on individual rather than group passing is 8-Person Serve & Pass. This is something that is good if you have a bunch of players to involve. It is also well suited for a more controlled serving and passing set up as it features one server going to one passer. It’s an extension on the idea of Passing Triplets.

Games

I personally like to make things competitive as much as possible. To that end, I often look to do servers vs. passers games. They do not provided the highly focused individual repetitions of the two drills noted in the paragraph immediately above, but they do offer lots of more game-like ones.

In this post and this other one I wrote about a couple of different ways to think about scoring such games. The trick is to find a scoring approach that is fair for both sides. This is especially true when you do something like pitting your primary passers against non-passers. If you play a more mixed game (passers equally distributed on both teams), then you can use aggregate scoring. Each team has a turn passing and serving. Their final score is the combination of the points they earned in each role. That way, even if there is an imbalance in how points accrue (for example, the scoring tends to favor the passers), both teams will get it when it’s their turn.

Just about anything will work

Here’s something to think about, though. Literally, any drill or game that includes serve reception can be a good way to practice it. You don’t need a new drill for that purpose. You simply need to make sure serve receive is a key focus and gets specific feedback. And realize that the quality of the pass is one big form of that feedback.

To that end, small sided games like Winners, Speedball, and Player WInners offer the opportunity for lots of serve reception practice. Thinking more 6 v 6, there are games like 22 v 22 and 2 in 2 which include lots of team serve reception repetitions – especially if you allow for re-serves on misses.

Game-like reps will always be better than ones that don’t replicate game situations. Even still, to get the most out of them they require focused feedback on the skill. It’s not enough just to let them play.

Coaching Log – December 4, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The end of the regular season doesn’t mean the end of the work! Here’s what’s been going on since my last update. I’ll follow this up with more of a season recap post.

Lone Star Conference Post-Season

The conference tournament took place November 16-18 at Tarleton, the top seed as regular season champions. Here’s the final regular season standings.

Angelo held the tiebreaker over Kingsville to take the #3 seed in the tournament. Similarly, Western NM held the tiebreak over Eastern NM to get the #7 seed.

Here’s the bracket.

#1 Tarleton State vs. #8 Eastern New Mexico
#4 Texas A&M-Kingsville vs. #5 West Texas A&M
#3 Angelo State vs. #6 Texas Woman’s
#2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. #7 Western New Mexico

Woman’s beat Angelo and WT beat Kingsville in first round upsets. Tarleton and Commerce both advanced. In the semifinals, Tarleton beat West Texas, while Woman’s beat Commerce. Tarleton handled Woman’s easily in the final to secure the conference’s automatic qualification to the NCAA tournament.

In the other conferences in our NCAA region, top seeded Regis won the RMAC tournament. In an upset, however, St. Mary’s won the Heartland tournament, defeating top seed Arkansas-Fort Smith. Although AFS went into the tournament as the #7 team in the Region rankings, the NCAA selection committee decided their loss was sufficient to drop them out. St. Mary’s received the Heartland’s automatic bid as tournament champion, to go along with Tarleton and Regis from the other conferences. The five at-large bids were then split between Lonestar and RMAC, with the LSC getting three places. Angelo, West Texas, and Commerce filled those spots.

Here’s the bracket.

#1 Regis vs. #8 St. Mary’s
#4 Colorado School of Mines vs. #5 Angelo
#3 Metro State vs. #6 Commerce
#2 Tarleton State vs. #7 West Texas

The first three matches all went by the seedings, though Commerce did push Metro State to five sets. The big surprise was West Texas winning in four over Tarleton. In the second round WT beat Metro State. They then faced Regis in the region final. That’s where the run ended, in a 3-1 loss.

Awards

Two of our players were selected for conference recognition. Our senior libero was voted to 2nd team All-Conference. She finished 3rd in the conference in digs/set. You may recall that last season she was also selected to the 2nd team as an OH.

Our senior setter was Honorable Mention All-Conference. She received similar recognition in 2016. This year she finished 3rd in the LSC in assists per set. She was also selected to the Academic All-Conference team. We were actually surprised our senior OH did not get the academic award.

Player Meetings

We met with all the players the week after our season ended. That included the seniors, though in their case it was more about making sure they knew expectations of them moving forward (study hall, grade checks, volunteer hours). Mainly the idea was to do a look back. We plan to do more forward looking and planning at the start of second term.

Roster Changes

Two of the juniors in the team told us during their meetings that they will not return for 2018. Neither were a huge surprise.

One was a defensive specialist who had some ups and downs this year. It seemed like every time she was starting to perform well something happened (injury, illness) to set her back. More than that, though, she’s heading into a senior year where her class schedule looks like it will make it just about impossible to be on the team.

The other is a walk-on setter. She played a lot during her freshman year, but barely at all since. The Argentina trip gave her a chance to play in competitive matches, and she filled in when our senior setter went down with an ankle injury. She was third on the depth chart, with our sophomore setter ahead of her. Despite that, she was never a complainer. Given the playing situation, and increasing demands on the academic side of things, it is not too surprising she’s decided to change priorities.

Recruiting

November features the NCAA early signing period. We had four players sign their National Letters of Intent. One is a setter from Kansas, one was an OH from Texas, and the other two are defensive specialists/liberos, also from Texas.

Four additions may seem like a lot, but in our case it’s just getting started. We’re losing five players to graduation. Add to that the two I mentioned above who will not return next season and you’re up to needing seven to keep the ranks at the same number.

Even before figuring in the additional departures we were planning to probably bring in two more players. One is a transfer MB because we won’t have much experience in that position next season. We were also thinking to bring in a freshman MB to get our numbers in that position up to four. You can get away with three (many pro and international teams do), but we’d feel more comfortable with the additional body – especially if it was a more developmental player.

With the departure of a setter and a defensive specialist, we’re now also thinking about bringing in players to fill those positions. We’re looking transfer for the DS, as we’ll have a senior and two freshmen in that position. For the setter, though, a second freshman would work just fine in all likelihood.

Tryouts

We ran a tryout for potential transfers. It was tricky to fit in. We have to give the players time off after the season ends and cannot do anything inside the last 7 days before finals. Also, we had to use the secondary gym as basketball had the main one all tied up.

I think we had nine total. There were three prospective middle transfers and four potential liberos. A couple others came for next year’s consideration. All were from local junior colleges. We also had a current MSU student come to tryout, but had to put her off because of an issue with her physical.

What you should know before taking an assistant coach position

An up-and-coming coach (I presume) asked the following question.

What are some things you wish you knew or had asked prior to taking your position?

NCAA Division I assistant coaches were the specific target, though most of the response applies across levels.

Your role

For me, the big question that comes to mind is what the head coach sees as my role. Early in my career I was in a position where I was effectively excluded from the practice planning. It was really annoying! I was trying to learn, and here I can’t take part in what I considered a key part of the job. That’s something I would have liked to know ahead of time. Might have made a different decision whether to take the position.

Head coach style/philosophy

I think you also want to try to get as much of a feel as you can with regards to the head coach’s style and philosophy. This can be hard in an interview type situation, or even in a more casual conversation. Ideally, you get to see the coach in action. That’s not always possible, though.

What you’re trying to do is to make sure you and the head coach are basically on the same page in terms of the way things will be run. You are not always going to agree on things. That’s a given. That’s not the same, though, as having completely different perspectives on how things should work. Such a situation will make you miserable.

Off-court duties

This one is especially important for newer coaches. If you haven’t coached in a similar type of environment, you may have no idea what gets done away from the court. There is basically no such thing as the coach who just handle coaching duties – at least not in a paid position. Even juniors club teams have administrative requirements for their staff. That work load gets bigger as you progress up the ranks.

  • What’s the recruiting workload and travel schedule?
  • How much time will you spend covering athlete study hall and tracking their academic performance?
  • Do you have to help with fund raising efforts?
  • Is there any community service or outreach work to be done?
  • Do you have to drive?
  • Who handle’s recording matches and video exchange?

These represent just a few of the things that could be part of the work you do as an assistant coach.

How much longer?

You should also possibly ask about how long the head coach plans to in their position. For some you can probably guess pretty easily. For others, it’s best to at least ask.

Best to at least have some idea what you’re getting yourself into before signing on!

What are your playing for when there’s nothing to play for?

At some point most of us have a season where eventually there isn’t anything to play for anymore. For the purposes of this discussion I mean for example you have been mathematically eliminated from post-season contention. There are other “nothing to play for” situations, but this is probably the most acute one. It’s the situation where it’s easiest to lose the team and see motivation levels plummet.

So what do you do? How do you keep the players – and yourself – motivated to continue training and playing at 100%?

Performance goals

One answer it to have other things to play for. Let me use the 2017 Midwestern State University (MSU) team as an example.

Unfortunately, we knew going into the final week of the season that we couldn’t make the conference tournament. We were three wins behind with only two conference matches to play. Yet, we still had three matches left – a Tuesday non-conference match, then Thursday and Friday conference fixtures.

Since we couldn’t focus on reaching the tournament, we shifted our attention to some secondary goals we defined earlier. One of them was to not lose any of the non-conference matches we played against teams outside the Top 25. According to the records I could see, we hadn’t done that in any season at least as far back as 2008. We needed to win the Tuesday match to achieve that objective, which we did.

Another objective was to get to 7+ conference wins, which we hadn’t done since 2013. We got on that in our Thursday match.

Unfortunately, a third goal we couldn’t quite achieve. We wanted to end with a winning season. We went into our last match 15-15, but came out 15-16. Still, that kept us fighting right through the last day of the season.

To have performance goals like this, obviously you need to set them up ahead of time. It’s easier to say, “We still have these goals to work toward” if the players were aware of them before, than if you just pull them out once the main goal is out of reach. Sustaining motivation is easier than trying to create it.

Developmental objectives

There are also non-performance things you can work toward. Stuff on the developmental side of things tends to stand out in this regard. Younger players who haven’t gotten much court time can play. You can work on aspects of the game that you want to see get better for the future. Playing a different type of system is an option.

The one plus to not having anything to play for is that you also don’t have anything to lose. You can take some risks. The important thing, though, is you need buy-in from the team. They need to be convinced that it’s worth putting in the time and effort. If not, the motivation just won’t be there.

Emotional motivations

A third potential area of motivation to get through those final matches is the emotional side of things. They can cover a range of possible thought processes.

  • Bragging rights over our big rival
  • Do it for the seniors
  • Playing spoiler
  • Revenge
  • Have fun!

No doubt you can think of others that might fit in here.

The idea in all of this is that you find a way to always have something to play for or that you’re aiming at. This shouldn’t just be something that comes up at the end of the season. If you can set things up from the beginning of the year, it’s much easier to keep a team’s motivation consistently high all through the campaign.

We’re losing, so let’s change something

Inevitably, when a team is losing there is a call to make changes. That could be in the context of a season or of a match. In this Volleyball Coaching Wizards podcast episode, among other places, Mark Lebedew and I discuss the pressure coaches feel to “do something” when things aren’t going well. So we take timeouts, we make substitutions, we spin the rotation, etc.

Do those things really help, though? Mark’s and other’s research on timeouts suggests maybe not in that case at least.

Regardless, there is always a push to do something different if things are not going well. You could relate it back to the old quote about doing the same thing expecting a different result being the definition of insanity.

There are a few different problems with this mindset, though.

Reversion to the mean

First of all, let’s talk about something statistical. That’s the concept of reversion (or regression) to the mean. Basically, the broad idea is that you are going to see periods of performance that is below average, just as you will see ones above average. Invariably, when outlier performances are seen, the odds suggest something much closer to “normal” will follow.

In the context of this particular discussion, if a player had recently done much worse than they normally do (their average), then it is likely the future performance will show an improvement. That doesn’t mean they’ll do much better than average. They might, but the odds are they will perform somewhere close to how they historically perform. If so, that will look like an improvement compared to their most recent play.

Think about this with respect to a coach yelling at a player following a bad performance. Does the yelling really improve performance? Or is it simply the case of the player reverting back to their normal better level of play? Odds are it’s the latter.

The same is true of making a change because things are going poorly. If the team is performing below its usual level, any improvement seen after a change (timeout, substitution, etc.) may simply be mean reversion at work.

That brings up an important question.

What’s the causality?

Is there something identifiable that is causing the team to lose? Sometimes there is. Your outside hitter got blocked four times in a row and now has no confidence. Your libero seems to have completely forgotten how to pass the ball. The setter keeps making terrible decisions on where to set. Your blocking scheme isn’t taking away the right parts of the court. The opposition is passing your serves perfectly a high percentage of the time.

These are concrete things you can potentially address by making changes. They could include substitutions, a shift to a different scheme, changing service targets, etc.

The point is, if you can pin point the specific problem, then certainly change makes sense. If there is no one cause, though, what’s the point of change?

For example, your team gives up 5 points in a row. The first is a missed serve by your OPP. The second is a shanked pass by the libero. The third is a double contact call on your setter. The fourth is a hitting error by your OH. The fifth is a net violation by your MB.

Is there one cause you can address by making a change? Seems unlikely. And you’re not going to sub out the 5 players who made the errors, are you?

What does the change address?

The point of all this is two-fold. First, there needs to be something specific and identifiable you see in need of correction to justify making a change. Second, you need to have a reasonable expectation that the change you make will result in an improvement.

Let’s use a player substitution as an example.

Suzy makes several hitting errors. Do you sub her out and put Jane in?

Presumably, Suzy is the better player since she’s the starter. If you see something in Suzy that suggests the errors have an underlying cause (e.g. she is not exhibiting her normal on-court personality and/or movement), then you have a case for swapping players. Alternatively, if she is facing the sort of block that gives her trouble and Jane tends to deal with that situation better, there’s a reasonable case for a sub.

If, however, Suzy looks like she’s playing how she normally does, and there isn’t something in the match-up working against her, you don’t have cause for change. Think about it. Odds are Suzy will play in the future close to her normal level. Similarly, the odds are that Jane will also play close to her normal level. Since Suzy’s normal level is higher than Jane’s, chances are she will be the better performer.

The bottom line

Change for change’s sake is foolish and short-sighted. If you put in a less skilled player or adopt a strategy with lower odds for success simply because you feel like you need to change something, chances are you’re just going to make things worse.

If you truly want to help your team do better, look for the cause. It won’t always be obvious. You may have to filter through layers to find it. Pinpointing causalities is one of those coaching skills that develops with time and experience.

If you can figure out what’s amiss, then by all means address it. If you can’t, then any change you make is basically rolling the dice with the odds tilted against you.

What if certain matches didn’t count toward the RPI?

In the Pre-conference vs. pre-season post I talked a bit about the RPI – the Rating Percent Index. This is something the NCAA uses to help determine the teams selected to the championship tournament. In a way, though, it can really constrain teams.

NCAA tournament selection

At all three levels of play – Divisions I, II, and III – there are certain teams that qualify automatically by winning their respective conferences. The rest of the teams, however, are at-large selections. Basically, that means the best of the rest.

In Division I volleyball the at-large selections have no geographic constraints. At the Division II and III levels, though, the championship tournament starts regionally. That means the at-large selections are all made win regions.

For example, in Division II the South Central Region is one of the eight regions. It comprises a total of 33 teams from three different conferences at this writing. The winners of those conferences are the automatic qualifiers. Five at-large teams are selected to complete an 8-team NCAA regional tournament. The winner of that tournament then moves on to the 8-team championship finals.

So how does one become an at-large selection to the NCAA tournament? That’s where the RPI comes in. The selection committees use the RPI as one of their tools to help them rank teams. For that reason, it has become a major focus for teams with NCAA tournament aspirations. It factors both into whether a team can make it as an at-large selection and to tournament seeding.

Scheduling to the RPI

The RPI comprises of three elements. The first 25% is your winning percentage. The more you win, the higher your RPI. The next 50% is the winning percentage of your opposition, while the final 25% is the winning percentage of your opposition’s opposition. What that means is a team’s strength of schedule is very important.

Yes, winning is important. If, however, you just beat up on a bunch of weak teams, it won’t do anything to help you in the RPI department. Your RPI is 75% weighted toward the strength of your opposition. This is why you hear about teams picking their non-conference opposition with an eye toward their strength of schedule (you can’t do anything about who you play in conference).

A problem with the RPI

One of the problems with the RPI system is that every match counts the same. It provides no flexibility to schedule matches you can use to give non-starters some experience. Or, for that matter, to give a team a couple of early season matches to find their feet. If you play teams that are not very strong, they pull down your RPI. If you happen to lose to them, it’s even worse!

In theory, the NCAA selection committee can factor this sort of thing into their considerations. But let’s be honest. Are they really going to drill down into individual match rosters to see who played and who didn’t? Seems unlikely.

What if ….

What if teams could designate certain matches as ones they didn’t want to count toward their RPI? That would give them more flexibility in scheduling. They wouldn’t have to be so conscious of always playing the best quality opposition they could, and they could be more experimental with their line-ups.

There would have to be some constraints on this of course. For example, it doesn’t seem right that one team could designate a match as not counting toward their RPI, but the other team still counted it. Also, would you make it so conference matches all had to be counted?

Just something I thought worth thinking about. I’d love to hear some thoughts on the idea. Feel free to share them in the comment section below.

Coaching Log – November 13, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

On to the final week of the Lone Star Conference season. There weren’t any major surprises in the prior week’s results, though for our sake we would have liked a couple of them to go differently. In particular, it would have been good if Texas Woman’s had won at Eastern NM. They did not, though. Combine that with our own results and the end result is that we are mathematically eliminated from the conference tournament for 2017.

Interesting to note that 8 out of the 11 teams had a conference record of at least .500.

Tarleton locked in the #1 spot for the regular season, and as a result will host the LSC tournament. Commerce was very likely to end up #2 given they had UTPB at home on Friday and only needed one win to seal the deal. After that, there were a number of different possibilities for how tournament seeding could fall out.

Monday

Our senior setter was back in training, though with a heavily taped ankle. Not surprisingly, that slowed her down, but she was effectively nevertheless. At least offensively, anyway.

Practice featured a lot of competition. We started with Brazilian Tennis, then shifted to a type of 5 v 5 game. It featured a setter, middle, and three back row players. Basically, it was mainly a back row attacking game, with middle attacks included to let our setters and MBs work on their connections. A key feature of the game was dig-or-die scoring. That’s where a team goes back to 0 if they fail to at least touch a ball on defense (or coverage).

After a little time working on our pin attack connections off serve reception, we shifted to a 5 v 5 game. This time, instead of 2-up/3-back as we played last week, we went 3-up/2-back. That put more pressure on the back row players to cover ground defensively. We played a game to 15, normal scoring.

Our final exercise was 6 v 6 play called broken wheel. That is where one side stays in a single rotation while the other side plays through all six of theirs. This time we played it with the sides alternating as the broken one in a certain rotation. An aggregate score was kept for both sides being broken to determine a winner.

Tuesday

It was our last road match of the year, at Dallas Baptist. They came in tied for 4th in the Heartland Conference. They’d won four of their last five matches. Under normal circumstances we would we be considered favorites. Given recent injuries and performances, though, plus being on the road, maybe not so much in this case.

The gym at DBU is apparently a former chapel. It has interesting amphitheater seating on one side. There are more traditional bleachers on the other side.

The went 5 sets. Our senior setter did play, though she clearly had mobility issues. That causes a couple problems with 2nd balls, as you might expect.

The real twist was that our season-long libero all season shifted to OH. She was an All-Conference hitter in 2016, but bad knees forced us to move her. She’d been hitting in practice some, and really tore things up on Monday. The match definitely was an indication of her former talents, even if she couldn’t jump as high or move as fast. Not surprisingly, she fatigued toward the end. Still, she finished with 20+ kills, and 20 digs. In the back row, she played in her normal Position 5, shifting the libero we used in her place (our senior DS) into 6.

Arguably, the match should not have gone 5 sets. Mental errors put us in a hole a couple of times. Defending the right side attack remained a struggle. We fought throughout, though, including at the end of the 5th. We were down 14-12, but took it 17-15. Our other OH also got 20+ kills.

The win means our only non-conference losses for the season were to ranked teams. It’s the first time MSU has done that since at least as far back as we started noting poll rankings in the schedule (2008 or 2009).

Wednesday

Last practice of the season. After watching some video ahead of Thursday’s match, we kept it fairly light – only going a little over an hour on court. The primary elements were an offense vs. defense drill to work on some of the rotations we struggled with on Tuesday, and a narrow court game pitting MB/OH vs. MB/RS. It’s one we played before and had the benefit of encouraging a lot of hitter coverage.

The second round of NCAA regional rankings came out. Unfortunately, our three losses the prior week meant we dropped a place to drop down to 15 from 14 the week before.

Thursday

We hosted Cameron this evening. We lost to them at their place early in the conference season in what we felt was a very poor performance. They had only one conference win since (vs. UTPB) and were winless in away matches for 2017.

We completed the set for Cameron with a strong 3-0 win. Our performance was dominant, making the earlier loss even more frustrating. We hit .313 on the match, our second base performance of the year. At the same time, we held them to just .060. Along the way we tallied 8 blocks and 6 aces to keep us up in the conference rankings in those categories.

Friday

Our final match of the year was against Kingsville. They came in tied for 3rd in the conference standings. We had a decent match against them the first time around, at least after the first set. Their OPP really killed us, though. She was 15 of 29 hitting.

We did slightly better slowing her down this time. Unfortunately, other hitters stepped it up. We had periods where we put them under serious pressure. We just weren’t able to take enough advantage offensively. A few too many hitting errors and not enough kills. Basically, the story of our season against better teams. The final result was a 3-1 loss.

Of course, this being our final home match of the season, it was also Senior Night. We had five of them to honor. That meant spending a chunk of the morning preparing their gifts (framed jerseys).

That’s it

And so ended the 2017 season for MSU Volleyball. It was definitely a major experience. In my next update I’ll provide a recap. I’ll post that one after the dust settles, we find out what kind of awards our players receive, and all that.

 

Coaching Log – November 6, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

Most of the prior week Lone Star Conference results were fairly predictable. Interestingly, however, West Texas earned home wins over both Tarleton and Angelo. The latter was probably not a major surprise given how poorly Angelo has done on the road this year. Tarleton, though, has looked quite dominant. Commerce beat Kingsville at home, but the latter picked up a win at Texas Woman’s. Woman’s also played a couple of non-conference matches on Saturday. Unfortunately for the conference, Woman’s lost a 5-set match to one of them. Not a good loss.

The results leave the standings looking like this.

Our 13 overall wins is better than the 12 we recorded last year. Further, we’ve reached the 6 LSC wins we accumulated in 2016. That was enough to reach last year’s conference tournament, but obviously it won’t be this year’s edition. To start the week, we had five LSC matches left to make a move, including three this week. We’re done with the New Mexico schools, but had both Texas Woman’s and Angelo ahead, along with Cameron below us.

I figured we need at least two wins, maybe three. Eastern NM had a very winnable match vs. UTPB on Tuesday, but the rest of their schedule featured Angelo and Tarleton away, plus Commerce at home. A win in any of those would be a surprise result. The key match was looking like home vs. Texas Woman’s. TW won the first time around, 3-1.

UTPB is also on the remaining schedule for TW, which seems a likely win. Along with having to go to Eastern NM, they also faced a trip to Western NM. Not good odds for a win there. A home match vs. West Texas is an unknown quantity. WT has some good wins, but their performance away from home hasn’t been very good.

Monday

As usual, we started with the team going over some of the stats from the week prior. Our serve receive passing was a major positive. Of course, we also had to go over some of the less positives. That dovetailed into some video review. We went over two parts of recent matches. One was the second half of the 3rd set against Western, starting when we were up 17-14 through to the 23-25 finish. The other was the 4th set against Eastern. We watched from when we went up 17-11 through to the 25-23 conclusion. The idea was to look at our breakdown points with an eye toward being better in those situations. After that we did a review of our last match against Tuesday’s opposition.

The actual practice only went about an hour. Most of it was dedicated to serve reception to attack, which we’ve done a lot of lately. It started with just serving to a receiving group going up against some block. We eventually shifted to playing out rallies. Much of our focus was on expanding our options in Rotation 1.

Tuesday

We made our final conference road trip of the season to Texas Woman’s. As you can see from the standings, they were just one match ahead of us going in. A win would pull us level. Also, it would give us the edge against Woman’s as the first tiebreak is head-to-head (the recent win at Eastern ensured we also held the tiebreak against them).

Things definitely didn’t go as we’d have hoped. Our offense did quite well. We hit .269 overall, with both MBs, our OPP, and one of our OHs coming in at .300 or better. Unfortunately, our defense didn’t match that. We allowed TW to hit .310 overall. In two of the four sets played we allowed them to register 20+ kills!

Needless to say, the loss put us in a big hole in our quest to qualify for the LSC tournament.

Wednesday

The first set of Division II volleyball regional rankings for 2017 were published. The Lone Star Conference is part of the South Central Region. Not surprisingly, Midwestern State is not in the Top-10. If you scroll down to the bottom you’ll see a list of links to the PDF files for each Region. They are the complete rankings based on the RPI of each team. We currently sit at #14.

Before practice we showed the team a 5-minute video made up of photos from the season thus far. A lot of them were taken during the Buenos Aires trip. It was a reminder of how far we’ve come and all the work everyone has put in. We felt the team could use something like that after the disappointment of the prior evening’s match.

Practice featured a lot of serving. We felt our serves against TW failed to hit our targets well enough. We also did a lot of hitting into a defense with either no block or just a single one. Our middles struggled to close during the match, so we wanted to work on our defense playing in that kind of situation.

Thursday

We had a 2019 prospect in for a bit of a tryout with the the team. A little early perhaps, but a player the head coach wanted to see in our context.

Practice was heavy game play. We started with a competitive version of cooperative cross-court hitting. The idea was in particular to work on defense in a 1-block or no-block situation. We progressed on that team by then shifting to 5 v 5, as we did on Wednesday, with two pin hitters up and three defenders back.

The final game was a wash drill. In this case, the team that won the service rally earned the right to defend against a right side attack. If they won that second rally (initiated by a free ball), they earned the big point. Initially, we didn’t put any additional requirement on things. I didn’t like that the defending team knew the right side attack was coming, though. Too easy for them to put up a solid block. We eventually shifted and said they could only single block that first ball. It would probably have been better if we did something to encourage a right side attack, but not require it to make things a bit more realistic.

Friday

We hosted conference leaders Tarleton and national #14 this evening. Unlike the rest of the conference, they did not have a Tuesday match.

If you told me ahead of time that we’d lose 3-1 I would not have been surprised at the result given the opposition. The path to that result proved unexpected, however. We didn’t start well. Very mental. No composure. We forgot the things we’d just talked about in our scouting. Our serving was much too easy. More playing not to lose than playing to win.

Our starting setter came down on a foot early during the 2nd set, spraining her ankle. That meant we had to insert our 3rd setter, as our 2nd is out for the season after breaking a finger a few weeks back. As you may recall, our 3rd setter had her own injury issue not long ago thanks to a concussion.

In sports you sometimes see a team rally when a key player goes down. That definitely happened in this case. The team energy went up. Our defense became very focused, likely because they now had to defend behind a smaller block (not that our starting setter is overly tall either). We ended up playing some of the best defense of the season. We did not get our normal 2+ blocks per set (finished with just 3), but we averaged 22 digs per set. It helped us rally back late to win the 3rd set.

We could not hold on to that edge, though. That was thanks in large part to Tarleton playing some of the most ridiculously good defense I’ve ever seen. We attacked aggressively, but they seemed to get a hand on everything. Bodies were flying all over the place to make saves.

Just to make things even more interesting, our 3rd setter took a blow to the face at one point. That had us looking around for who we could possibly have set. Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be serious.

Saturday

It was #23 Angelo coming to town for an early start. We normally play at 2:00 on Saturdays, but because of other events we had to shift it to a noon start. Angelo hosted Kingsville on Tuesday, winning 3-0, then played at Cameron on Friday where they won in four.

We got off to a good start, working our way out to a 16-9 lead in the first set. Pretty much from there, though, it was all down hill. We did a good job limiting their top hitter, but we couldn’t do much about the rest of them. Definitely not the same level of defensive performance as what we put together on Friday. Our serve reception had periods of struggle. The result was a definite struggle to generate much in the way of attack.