Before practice we talked with the players about improving how we play on the second day. Now that we’re heading into conference play, it’s not something we can afford. We asked the players for their impressions why we came out flat in our first match on Saturday.
This was mainly a fairly slow-paced session. Aside from the warm-ups and a bit of serving, it was entirely a 6 v 6 practice. The biggest part of that was an offense vs. defense game where the ball stopped after the initial attack. The focus was mainly on serve reception technique, which is something we want to see improved. The replay camera was set so the receivers could look at themselves each time they passed. After that we played an out-of-system game.
In evaluating four of our recent matches I realized that our kill % on perfect passes in serve receive was surprisingly low. It was only 35%, which is a lot lower than most guessed when I asked. Part of that comes from the fact that we’re still developing parts of our attack. Another part comes from the fact that we don’t do a lot of work in practice on perfect pass situations. Many of our games are transition and out-of-system oriented. And even when we’re initiating with served balls, we’re encouraging our players to serve aggressively. As a result, we don’t have great passing in training.
That being the case, we decided to go through the reception rotations one by one. In each rotation the team had to get five first-ball kills out of ten. Any rotations which failed were repeated at the end. It was slow, and low intensity, but something we needed to do to help identify the best options and decisions.
We continued to work on perfect pass offense and problem rotations, but at a much higher intensity level. As a warm-up, we did a down ball version of the Cooperative Cross-Court Hitting drill. The players did a serving warm-up after that, followed by a serving and passing game.
After that it was 6 v 6 play. First up was a variation on the Bingo-Bango-Bongo game. In this version a team received a free ball. If they won it, they received a down ball from the opposing Zone 4. If they won that, they received a final ball through Zone 2. Winning all three balls earned the team a point. If at any point the team lost a rally, the other team received a free ball to restart the sequence. Thus, it was basically a near-continuous play game. In all cases, the balls were initiated by the opposing team. By that I mean if a free ball was required to go to Team A, we tossed a ball to Team B to send it over. If no one won a point for too long, we rotated players around. Otherwise, we made the switches at each point win.
We then played 22 v 22, and focused on Rotation 1 and Rotation 6. Those are the problem ones up to this point. A team automatically won the big point on a first ball kill, either off serve receive or in transition.
Class schedules cause us to lose players late in this practice. That being the case, we finished playing Winners 5. It featured fixed setters and three teams of four. Each team had a middle, who attacked front row. The other three were back row only players.
The main part of practice was 6 v 6 playing first a wash game, then a standard game with bonus points. In the case of the former, the game featured alternating serves. To win a big point, a team had to win two rallies in a row. We played 3-point games and went through four different rotations. In the last game the bonus points were for off-speed shot kills when in-system. It’s something we don’t do enough of, so we want to start encouraging it more.
After practice (and showers for the players), we had a sports psychologist come in to talk with the team. He went over some personality-based communication stuff, cycling back to his work with the squad in Spring. The majority of the time, though, was focused on mindset elements.
This was our first Lone Star Conference match. We hosted the University of Texas, Permian Basin (UTPB). UTPB is a new member of the conference this year. The coaches and sports info folks picked them to finish last in the league this year in the preseason poll. We were picked to finish second to last, so this was a match-up of the two teams least expected to reach the conference tournament.
We won 3-0. The first set was pretty straight forward. We let them creep back up late, but won 25-19. Our offense wasn’t great (.161), but there’s was worse and we had four aces. The second set was more challenging. They got on top early, with a 5-1 lead. We clawed back fairly quickly, but it nip-and-tuck from that point on, and we didn’t really get on top of them until the very end for a 25-23 win. Our hitting wasn’t any better, and their offense improved some.
The final set started off like Set 2 with them putting pressure on us – particularly in reception with a few tough serves. They were ahead 9-13 at one stage. After that, though, we ran away with it to win 25-16. We hit .304 on the set, despite getting blocked number of times, while they hit .000.
It was the best match of the year so far for our MBs. Both hit over .400. As a team our kill rate was 47%, which is solid. Just made a few too many errors, though, so only ended up at .198 for the match.
Nice to get the first conference win under our belt after the team went 0-16 last year.
In our second match of the week we hosted West Texas A&M. They ended up 4th in the preseason poll, after a 7th place finish in 2015. This is a team that dominated the LSC for several years before running into injury issues last season.
This was a winnable match, but we were lacking on the mental side of things. One of our issues with previous Saturday matches was not coming out with good focus. That showed up in poor serve receive passing. In this case, though, that wasn’t the issue. We passed a 2.11 for the match, which was one of our best on the year so far. We had them under pressure as well, as they only passed a 1.75. The mental issues this time were on other areas. Several balls didn’t get played on defense because players weren’t expecting the ball. Balls to be set fell between players. We made some poor decisions.
As the opposing coach said after the match, both teams had pucker spells. We ended up going down in four: 25-21, 26-24, 26-28, 25-18. The result might have been different had we managed to hold on to a 20-16 lead in the second set.
Funny match. Neither team could stop the other very well out of serve receive the first set. Then in the second, neither team could sideout very well.
A nice bright point in the match was the play of our freshman OH. She’s been mainly used as a back row sub so far, but had to start this weekend because our red shirt junior is sidelined with an injury. She was probably our best hitter on the match overall.
One of the positives of the seasons so far has been the recognition by just about everyone internally how far the team has come. We got some external affirmation of that this weekend. One of the opposing coaches said to us after the match, “You guys are going to be f—ing good!” It’s a funny thing to get that kind of external comment. Internally, our tendency is to see developmental needs.