Archive for Volleyball Coaching

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, even if they are captain. 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 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.