After the weekend’s exertions, and with a match upcoming on Tuesday, we didn’t want to go too hard. We told the team it was basically an “activation” session. By that we meant it was intended to get mentally and physically back after a couple days off.
To that end, we played a couple of variations on volleytennis to start. The players had fun with the competition and it got them moving. After a serving warm-up (including target work) we split them up for a short period. One court worked on serving and passing in game fashion. The other saw the MBs reinforce getting up early and work on slides.
The last part of practice was dedicated to game play. The primary focus was back row play, but after an initial couple of rounds of Speedball style play (4s with front row setters), we added in MBs.
Before practice the players had a team talk in the locker room. The leadership wanted to make sure they group took the right attitude after the disappointing weekend losses. We coaches came in at the end and extended the discussion by looking at how we did statistically and how despite the results, we did get better in certain areas.
We had an away match at Southern Nazarne. They that played in our home tournament (went 3-1), but we didn’t play them then. They are in the Great America conference, which is outside our NCAA region, so it was like a mid-season friendly. It counted toward our overall record, and factors into our strength of schedule part of the our overall RPI, but doesn’t count toward any rankings that matter for our post-season prospects.
This was an opportunity to get some players in and give others some rest. We started our freshman setter. She’s played a few times on a substitute basis, but this was her first time running the offense from the start. We also started our freshman MB, both to give her some playing time (she only came on as a serving sub previously), and to give our Junior MB’s shoulder a rest. Finally, we also started our freshman OH. She’s actually gotten a fair bit of court time thus far, but recently found herself on the bench with our two Juniors fit. The other thing we did was get in a few of our defensive players in back court roles.
We won the match 3-0, though every set was close. Our passing was poor in the first and third sets, but very good in the second. Not surprisingly, we struggled to side out at times. Fortunately, our service game put them under considerable pressure. We scored in bunches, as a result.
Obviously, with all the changes it was probably not going to be a super smooth match. Still, the job got done. It was good for the team to get a win after the recent string of tough losses, and with two difficult matches ahead on the weekend.
We had a couple of major focus points for this practice. One was to improve our defense, especially against the outside attack. The other was to start developing some additional options in attack out of serve reception. We did this initially by splitting the group. One part worked on defense in a couple of ways, partly against coach attacks off boxes. The other part worked on pin hitters and MBs hitting different combinations of sets. Both later progressed into game play.
We were not really satisfied with the practice, and it seemed like the players felt the same. I think part of it for them was there was all the new stuff, which naturally means less success than usual and more frustration. For our part, there were period of concentration lapses leading to really poor play. It’s stuff we need to clean up overall.
The focus here was much the same as on Wednesday – keep looking to improve on defense and to develop more offensive options. After a ball-handling warm-up (4-person pepper variations), and some target serving, we split the team. Pin hitters and defensive players went through an exercise to try to be better positionally on serve receive. Setters and MBs continued to work on the speed and timing of the middle attacks.
Up next was a defense to transition attack drill. The attack side was controlled via a coach on a box hitting from 4. From there, though, we progressed to 6 v 6. In this case the starting side received a serve, defended an attack from 4, then defended an attack from 2. The latter were both off free balls. We kept track of how many points each side won on the serve ball and on the transition balls.
We hosted Angelo State. They won the conference tournament last year and currently sit #12 in the national poll for Division II. Their only conference loss coming into the match was at West Texas in five.
The match was a dud. It was something we could see coming in the warm-up (though you always hope you’re wrong). There was a clear lack of focus and intensity during the pre-match, that carried over into play. We made foolish mistakes and flat out didn’t do our jobs consistently. For a while in the third set it looked like we could put up a fight (we were up 13-11, I think), but then we gave up about 10 points in a row. Just no battle.
If Angelo was simply a dominant team, there wouldn’t be the coaching angst. We didn’t get overpowered. Maybe we would not have won regardless, but we had some opportunities to at least put them under more pressure. We just failed to execute.
There were a couple of good performances. Our OPP had a very solid match. Her numbers weren’t eye-catching, but she did well in both pass and attack. Our M1 also did pretty well on offense. Her timing on quicks has improved quite a bit.
We hosted Tarleton State, who were the top team during the 2015 regular season. Their only conference loss coming in was to Angelo.
The energy and attitude was much improved for this match. We made a couple changes to the official part of our warm-up to give the OHs more reps and to get some more game-like action going. The feedback from the hitters was that they liked it a lot better. Certainly, what we saw in the final phase was better.
We did a lot of things well in this match. Our passing was solid. It was probably our best blocking match of the year in terms of position and timing. This against a team with a lot of moving parts in attack. We kept the conferences most prolific hitter below her kills/set average by more than 1.5. The timing of our quick sets continues to improve.
Unfortunately, our serving was kind of weak. We just didn’t get them out of system enough. We struggled against the slide and right side sets. Also, our set quality was sub-par. Too many times good passes turned into poor sets. The result was a pretty poor attacking match (.105) and a 3-0 loss, though a much closer one than against Angelo.
The thing that is really hampering us at this point is the mental side of the game. We’re just not staying engaged in plays all the way through. The result is we’re just not doing what needs to be done. That might be being in the right spot on defense. It could be failure to get a good transition. It could be failing to react to a tight/over-pass from our reception. We forget to change up the reception pattern after giving up a couple points in a row.
We are physically capable of being competitive with every team. Now we need to get mentally capable of doing so as well.