Archive for Volleyball Coaching

Where should you focus your coaching attention during matches?

It’s match time. As coach, what should you do with yourself? That’s what the following coach wants to know.

What have you found to be the most effective area to focus your attention during a match as a coach? I’ve found that it’s easy to get distracted watching the “game” like a spectator. I was just wondering what you smart people focus on or how you are practically spending your time (charting, calling plays, whatever).

For example, as a head coach, do you spend most of your time watching the other team’s defense so you can lead the offense? Or do you spend your time watching your team to see who is doing well or losing points at X, Y, or Z?

I think a lot of us, especially early in our careers, probably found ourselves watching the game like a spectator. As you get more experienced, though, your vision changes and evolves. You learn to take things in even while watching the game as a whole.

That said, there are a couple of ways to get more out of watching from the sidelines.

Focus on your priority

What is the most important information you can provide your team during the match? This should dictate where you focus your attention. Is your team still learning its defensive responsibilities? Then you should focus more on their movement and positioning and not focus much on the other team. Do you need to help your setter with their decision making or your hitters with finding ways to score? Then you likely need to focus more attention on how the opposition is setting up their block and defense.

You may even have situations where you need to focus on just one player. Maybe there is an injury question. Maybe you are worried about their mentality. This usually isn’t something you do for long periods, but it can be very important for the team’s performance overall.

This isn’t to say you can only watch one thing. I’m merely suggesting that you should give more of your attention to that area of the court which will give you the information you need to provide your players.

Taking stats

If you don’t have another source of statistics, then taking at least some of them during a match can be quite helpful. The trick is being able to do so while also giving enough attention to what’s happening on the court. I personally have always struggled when a head coach to also take stats – even end of rally type stuff. I always feel like I’m missing something when I have to turn my attention away from the court, however briefly. You may find it easier.

Regardless, you must decide what information would be helpful during the match and not worry about stuff you could later pull from the video. You also want to make taking those stats as simple as possible, and that you are able to reference and interpret them at a glance.

Delegating

If you are a head coach then maybe you can delegate part of what needs to be watched to someone else – assistant coach, parent, etc. Statistics especially can be delegated quite easily. You just have to provide very specific and clear instructions on what you want collected and in what format you want to see it. For example, if you have someone take serve reception stats, make sure they know exactly how to score each pass.

At some levels assistant coaches are responsible for certain parts of the game. One may watch the block and defense. One may focus on the offense. This allows the head coach to focus wherever they think is most important at the time, while still collecting other information.

Avoiding Overload

One thing to make sure to avoid is overloading your players. This can happen when multiple people are telling them different things. This can also happen when you give the team too many different things to focus on. Players – individually and collectively – can only keep so many things in mind. And the less experienced the players the lower than threshold is. Keep this in mind both as you prioritize your focus, or what you delegate, and in information transmission.

Overload applies to you as coach also. If you try to look at too many things you’ll probably not actually take in anything meaningful. In that case you’re back to being a spectator.

Coaching Log – January 3, 2018

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

It’s been nearly a month since my last update. Obviously, we haven’t been in the gym, but that doesn’t mean things haven’t been happening.

Roster changes

Recall that we did a tryout last month for prospective transfer middles and liberos. As it turns out, one of the liberos was someone already committed to transfer to MSU – as a freshman. Literally that same day she met with a counselor about her schedule for the Spring semester. She’d played a fair amount as a defensive specialist for her prior school – a Division II program in our Region – but opted to transfer for non-volleyball reasons. She was club teammates with of one of our current freshmen, and did well at the tryout, so we felt she’d make a good addition to the team. Even better, she can be with us through second semester to get integrated with the team.

Recruiting

We’ve still been looking to add one or two additional players to our 2018 freshman class. A middle we offered, and thought we’d get, opted for another school. So it was back to work trying to find someone in that position. We plotted out the tournaments we’ll look to attend during this year’s juniors seasons to come and submitted the requisite travel authorization requests.

The first of those tournaments is actually this weekend. Nothing like jumping right into it in the new year!

Other stuff

There’s never a time when nothing’s going on, especially while school is still in session. The week after our tryout was the last week of classes – and the last time we were all going to be in the office at the same time for a while. We started putting together the Spring semester schedule, continued to do academic monitoring, and dealt with gear. Of course there was plenty of recruiting stuff to do, particularly with the juniors season starting to get rolling.

Increasing player intensity in practice

What are some ways you get your team to pick up the intensity more in practice?

This is a question that comes up among coaches on a regular basis. I think there are two primary ways to accomplish this.

Up the tempo

Perhaps the easiest way to increase training intensity is to raise the tempo of your activities. Generally speaking, you can do this by increasing the pace at which balls are entered in or shortening the time between rallies. The latter is something I wrote about in Washing to increase scrimmage intensity. When you add a new ball in as soon as a rally ends, it naturally increases the tempo. The players don’t have any time to drop their intensity back down, so it stays at a higher level.

Add competition

Adding competition to your practice can definitely make things more intense. And it doesn’t even have to be strictly a volleyball game. Sometimes you can use seemingly silly things to get the players competing and having fun. That ups the intensity, and oftentimes it carries through the session. Two games like this which immediately come to mind are Amoeba Serving and Brazilian 2-ball. They aren’t the most complicated games in the world, but players get into them.

Don’t let it drop

Having increased the tempo and/or added competition to you practice, make sure you don’t then put in something that will bring the intensity crashing back down. For sure there will be carry over from one intense activity into whatever comes next. If, however, that following exercise is something like a serving and passing drill, it’s all going to fade away.

You will have a hard time sustaining intensity when individual technique is the main focus. It just doesn’t work that way, so plan carefully. I favor putting the lower intensity stuff first, then building up as the session goes along.

Give them a purpose

Going beyond what you actually plan into your practice, you should also consider what the players are thinking. They are much more likely to be invested, and thereby intense, if they understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. It helps them focus, and focused players tend to be more intense players.

Looking back on the 2017 season

The NCAA women’s volleyball season is official over. Champions at all levels have been crowned. Seems like a good time to look back on the 2017 season with respect to MSU Volleyball to see how we did.

You can look back to my last in-season log entry to see how we ended the year in the Lone Star Conference (LSC). In this post I’ll take a look at things in more detailed fashion, and also look at the historical context of our performance.

The Rankings

We finished 16th in the NCAA Division II South Central Region’s RPI rankings, out of 33 teams. That’s up from 20th in 2016. On the Pablo ranking (available at Rick Kern), we ended the year at 115 out of 297 in Division II, a 12 spot improvement. In case you’re interested, we came in at 469 out of 1297 in the Pablo composite NCAA/NAIA all divisions ranking. We landed at 98 in the Massey Ratings, up from 143 in 2016.

2017 Team Statistical Performance

Let’s first look at how MSU compared to the rest of the LSC statistically. Here are the final team conference-only stats for 2017.

Our offensive performance lines up really well with where we finished in the league. We simply did not score enough in attack. We were a solid team on defense, and quite good when it came to serving and blocking. Unfortunately, that only gets you so far. At the end of the day, you have to put the ball away when you get the opportunity.

The biggest issue there was our low kill rate at just 31.5%. Could we have made fewer errors? Sure, but at 15.4% our error rate was not particularly high. It was within 1% of most of the teams above us, and better than some. By comparison, the Kill % for Tarleton was 39.4, Angelo and Kingsville were in the 37s, and everyone else other than Western NM was in the 34s. As you can see from our standing in terms of Opponent Digs and Opponent Blocks, we simply hit the ball at their defenders too often.

Year-over-Year Comparison

Offensively, we were basically at the same level in 2017 as we were in 2016 when our Hitting Efficiency was .163. Our 9th in that category this year is the same as it was last year, though we did move up one place in Kills/Set.

Looking at our offensive positions, it’s a mixed bag. We definitely got more production out of our middles – 3.7 k/s as compared to 2.9 k/s – and they hit for a little better efficiency. Our pins were less productive, however. The OHs might have had a slightly higher hitting percentage, but were a down a fraction in kills/set. The big drop was in the OPP position. We went from 2.35 kills and .174 efficiency to 1.03 and .069.

Our defense was where we really got better. We massively improved in Opponent Hitting Efficiency, going from .221 to .183. Our block was a huge factor there, as we increased our Blocks/Set by nearly 1 whole block. We jumped from 10th to 4th in that category. We also were better in digs, improving to 16.17 from 13.76 and moved up to 7th from 9th.

At the individual level, the first thing that really jumps out is the production at our libero position. In 2016 we didn’t have anyone above 2.63 digs/set. This season our libero finished at 4.81. Not surprisingly, there are also some dramatic improvements in blocking. In the OPP position we went from 0.48 to 1.02. Our MBs in 2016 were at 0.61 and 0.54. This year it was 1.21 and 0.86.

Historical perspective

While the program still has a way to go in becoming what we all think it could be, and this season didn’t meet expectations in some ways, it still had some good things happen with respect to the history of MSU Volleyball.

  • First ever foreign trip.
  • First time beating West Texas after more than 30 failed attempts.
  • Most overall and conference wins since 2013.
  • The 4-match win streak we had early in the season was the longest since 2013, and the longest away from home since 2011.
  • This was the first season since at least 2008, when national rankings started to be noted on the schedule, that our only non-conference losses were to ranked teams.
  • The set we took off of Central Oklahoma was the first we’d taken from a ranked team since 2014 and the first against a non-conference ranked team since 2011.
  • Season Blocks/Set were 6th highest on record, Total Blocks the 8th highest, and our 2.20 Blocks/Set in the LSC were the most since 2010.
  • Our 2nd place position in the LSC in Aces/Set was our best position since 2007
  • The 4th place our top OH held in the LSC Kills/Set ranking was highest for an MSU attacker on record (2004 the first available).
  • Our setter’s 3rd place in conference Assists/Set was the best ranking for an MSU player since 2008.
  • Our freshman MB’s 1.21 Blocks/Set in the LSC was the most for an MSU player since 2005.

We can add in the fact that our combined total of 27 wins over the last two seasons is the most since the 2010 and 2011 campaigns. We need 14 wins in 2018 for the best 3-year total since 2008 to 2010.

Thoughts on the season – big picture

Generally speaking, I am satisfied with the season. Was it disappointing to miss out on the conference tournament? Of course.That fact that we did so is a good lesson in how things you have no control over can decide your fate. We had more wins this year than last, but finished one place lower in the standings.

At the same time, though, it’s also a lesson in how you need to perform every time out. Had we won a couple of those matches we lost early in the season due to really poor performances, our season could have ended very differently.

I think one of the issues we had early in the conference season is that we were too focused on outcome.In particular, I think there was too much pressure to win. That may sound a bit odd on the face of it, but stick with me.

The idea of reaching the NCAA tournament had taken hold in a lot of minds. It’s something the program hasn’t done since 2007, so obviously it’s a major goal. The problem, though, is only 3 or 4 teams from the conference make the NCAA tournament. We were a team that barely made it into the top 8 of the LSC in 2016. It’s not such an easy thing in a competitive conference to move up 4-5 spots from one year to the next.

So there was all this internal pressure to win at the start of the LSC season. This was in a group of players with no history of being in that kind of situation, and thus no real tools to handle it. It’s something we’re working on, but it takes time and experience. On top of that, the players are sick of losing – especially in conference. That can lead to playing not to lose rather than playing to win. I think we definitely had issues with that over the course of the season.

The combination of those two things made for some notable ups and downs in mentality. This wasn’t helped at all by the death of an MSU football player early in the season. That threw everyone for an emotional loop. These are young people who haven’t had to deal much with that sort of thing yet in their lives.

All in all, though, I think the season represented pretty good progress. We finished #16 in the NCAA South Central Region rankings, out of 33 teams. That’s up from #20 in 2016, and #25 in 2015. Importantly, we kept improving – and wanting to improve – right up to the end. That was definitely not the case in 2016 where we basically just survived the last couple of weeks of the season.

Thoughts on the season – the details

In any season there are areas which go well and those that don’t. The 2017 was no different in that regard.

From a playing perspective, the major objective we had coming out of the 2016 season was better defense. Our block was poor and we didn’t dig nearly as many balls as we felt we should. We made defense the top priority for our off-season development. We definitely were much better in that arena this year. The one area we persistently struggled in, though, was defending against the right side attack.

The offense for me was a disappointment. We just never could get that going the way we wanted. Part of it was a decided lack of any real right side threat. We might have been able to get more there with a personnel change, but it would have meant significantly reducing our blocking presence. In any case, that’s a change we really couldn’t have made until later in the season given who was available and the progression of player development.

The other trouble area was the second OH position. The two players who took turns there struggled with their consistency and made far too many errors in attack. We were not helped by losing our freshman OH early on to a knee injury. She would have at least challenged for playing time.

One thing I like a lot is that our senior players went out on their best season at MSU. I mean that both in terms of team and personal performance. Our attacking players had their most kills and their best hitting percentages this year. Our defensive players had their most digs this year. And our setter had her most assists (and digs) this season. You expect that to be the case, but it doesn’t always work that way.

Looking forward

It will be an interesting situation for the program moving forward. Next season we will only have two players with more than a single season’s experience at MSU. Everyone else will either be 2017 or 2018 freshmen or transfers. One the one hand that means little in the way of experience at our level of competition. On the other hand, though, it also means none of the baggage left over from the teams that finished last in the LSC in 2014 and 2015. In a way, now is when the real future for MSU Volleyball is shaped. That’s pretty exciting.

Can players learn to read on defense, or is it an innate ability?

Is reading something you can teach players? That’s the basis of a question asked by a fellow coach.

So I’ve been thinking about this one for a while: can you teach a player how to read on defense or is it a natural ability? I feel like no one ever taught me to read; I was just naturally good at it. For those of you that say you can teach it, what drills/tools do you use?

My initial response is that there is no such thing as a natural ability to read the game of volleyball. Reading in a sport is entirely contextual in nature. There may be experience from other sports which help, and certainly visual acuity plays a part, but in order to translate what you see into some kind of understanding of what’s coming you need knowledge and experience.

So, to my mind, what someone sees at “natural” reading ability probably has more to do with visual ability than actual contextual understanding. I’m happy to hear evidence to the contrary. Lacking that, though, I’d definitely say players can learn to read better. And even if there is a natural element, you can still improve it.

That being the case, what can we do to help players read better?

Provide visual cues

Reading is all about picking up the visual cues. That starts, of course, with paying attention. I once had a conversation with a team about reading – specifically about what they were looking at on the other side of the court. One of them, in what was clearly a moment of revelation, confessed that she’d just been watching the ball. Obviously, that’s not nearly enough.

So what are the players looking at? What should they be looking at?

On a gross level, they need to understand the situational context. Is the setter front or back row? Where are the hitters located? What is the quality of the pass? These are the sorts of things that allow you to narrow the range of possible actions by the opponent.

At a more micro level, what is the hitter’s line of approach? Where is the ball relative to the attacker’s hitting shoulder? Is their approach fast or slow? Where’s your block? How fast is the set? Will your middle close in time? How far off the net is the set?

Players need to constantly watch and look for the cues that will tell them what’s coming next. Your job as coach is to teach them what those cues are.

Putting them in the situations

You can teach the players what to look for, but they will only really learn to do that if you put them in position to do so. As I noted in The two purposes of drills and games, that means putting them in the proper game context and having the right platform for getting them the feedback they require.

The first part of that is pretty easy. There are all kinds of games and drills that can create the context you need. The trick is to get the right feedback. To do so, you probable need to have a very similar view of the action as the player. For example, if you’re working with your defender playing in Position 6, you likely need to stand behind them so you can see what they see. It’s really hard to provide feedback to them if you don’t know what’s in front of them.

That said, an alternative to standing behind them is placing a camera there. This can be an excellent way to give the player feedback. If you use video delay or otherwise can rewind and let them see things again, they can actually have a second look.

Changing the dynamic

There’s an element to the first part of the section above that I think needs to be addressed. Sometimes you need to take players out of their normal pattern to get them to expand their reading capacity. Among young players especially there is a tendency to play their “spot”. They go to a position on the court and just stand there waiting for the ball to come. No real reading involved. Why? Because that’s where Coach told them to be.

In order to change that mentality you have to put the players into a different situation – one where they can’t just play “their position”.

A great example of this is doubles (2 v 2) and other related small-sided games. You can also do it in a larger context by expanding players’ area of responsibility. For example, you can play a 5 v 5 game where it’s 3 front row and 2 back row players. That type of situations requires defenders to cover more area, encouraging them to get better at reading.

You can also flip that around for the block and play 2-up/3-back. Now it’s the blocker who need to cover more area.

In the Spring of 2017 one of our main priorities for the Midwestern State team was to upgrade our defensive capability, especially in the area of reading. We did a lot of sand doubles, small-sided games, and the type of 5 v 5 I mentioned above. As noted in the last section, though, it’s not just about putting them in situations that encourage reading. You also need to consistently get the players good feedback.

The two purposes of drills and games

An online debate in the volleyball coaching community got me a little bit fired up. I avoided getting involved, but came away from it needing to make an observation. It’s a very simple realization, if you think about it. The problem is I don’t think a lot of coaches really do that.

So here goes.

There are two purposes to any drill or game used in a training context. The first is to provide the players the opportunity to execute a given skill or tactic. The second is as a vehicle through which the players can receive feedback on said skill or tactic.

It’s really that simple.

These are the two considerations when deciding what drill or game to use in a practice. Does it give the players sufficient execution opportunities (reps), and does it allow you to give them the necessary feedback?

The reps

This tends to be where the debates about skill development in volleyball happen. There is a camp strongly advocating for game-like training – what’s called random training. The game teaches the game, as they say. Carl McGown was one of the very early advocates for this approach, based on the science of motor learning. USA Volleyball strongly carries that torch these days.

Despite the research, though, there are many coaches who still favor what is sometimes referred to as technical training. That is what is more formally called blocked training. It’s basically getting reps in a controlled environment. Think something like setting off a tossed ball.

I talk about blocked vs. random training in the Going beyond maximizing player contacts post. You can see there some of what the motor learning research says and why it strongly favors random training. That said, McGown did acknowledge the value of doing a limited number of blocked reps before moving on to randomized ones.

Putting all that stuff aside, let’s think about what exactly we are trying to do as coaches. We are trying to maximize player performance in the context of a game situation. As such, doesn’t it just make sense to replicate in practice as much as we possibly can those types of situations?

If you’ve ever been in a situation where your players don’t do in games what they do well in practice – and I certainly experienced this early in my career! – then it’s probably because your training context is wrong.

Digging a ball hit by a coach on a box is not the same as digging a ball hit from a live hitter. Passing a served ball by yourself is not the same as receiving serve as part of a 3-person reception pattern, especially if you also have to think about transitioning to attack. They may look the same, but that misses the underlying mental processes which are so important to motor learning.

Does that mean sometimes the reps are going to be ugly? You bet. Get over it. It’s part of the process, as I noted in Climbing Mistake Mountain and in What percentage of reps should be good? They will get better with time.

Feedback

I’ve written about the importance of feedback in the post You don’t need a new drill, so I won’t go too far with it here. I just want to touch on the need for it, which is a place where coaches can fall short. Those who take the game teaches the game approach can sometimes fall victim to just letting them play and a “figure it out for themselves” mentality.

For sure, players get a lot of feedback from what happens during play. Their pass either goes to target or doesn’t. Their serve either goes where they want or not. The result of a swing provides a hitter with useful feedback. While that may be enough for an experienced player, though, it’s less so for younger, developing players. They can lack the knowledge to coach themselves, especially when trying to work on something new.

It is really important that you continue to provide players with feedback even during game type exercises. Obviously, you can’t do it the same way you can during more blocked type drills where you can stop after every rep. That means you can’t always give instant feedback. You still have to find a way to make it work, though, preferably without bringing the whole session to a halt.

The bottom line

So the bottom line in all this is that when you develop your practice plan you have to think about a couple of things. You should have a clear set of priorities to begin with, of course. From there it’s a question of figuring out how to get the players executing what you want them working on in the best possible context. Then you figure out the best way to give them the required feedback.

Simple! 🙂

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.