Archive for 2016-17 Midwestern State University

Coaching Log – October 10, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Monday

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.

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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.

Thursday

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.

Friday

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.

Saturday

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.

Observations

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.

Coaching Log – October 3, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Now that we’re a couple weeks in, things are starting to settle out a bit in the Lone Star Conference. There are still a couple weeks left in the first half of the season, but some separation has developed in the standings.

Lone Star Conference Standings 9/26/16

One of the really interesting developments of last weekend was West Texas beating Angelo. The latter was looking like they might be far ahead of the pack this year, and were #8 in the Division II poll ahead of that match after having previously beaten a couple of strong teams.

Monday

We did a couple of player meetings, but decided to give the team an extra day of rest after the long travel over the weekend. We did ask them to email in responses to the questions of what they think we’ve been doing well and where we have room for improvement. They were meant to talk about technical/tactical stuff, but that wasn’t always (perhaps even mostly?) the case.

Tuesday

Before practice we talked stats and reviewed film from the weekend. The focus was on block/defense improvements, and getting faster on the quick.

A priority moving forward is getting more out of the right side. It’s not been bad, but it could be better. That was part of the thinking for our first set of drills. On one court, the MBs and OPPs worked on transition attacking, with the former just doing 1s and the latter running a standard 2nd tempo ball to the pin. We had the camera delay on them so they could see the timing. On the other court the OHs worked on serve reception and attacking.

After 15 minutes we switched it up. The OPPs went over to work off serve reception with one of the MBs. The other MBs stayed on the defensive court, with the OHs coming over to work on attacking in transition from off-blocker defense.

We then moved to Bingo-Bango-Bongo. In this case a team had to win three different initiations. The first was a down ball hit by the RS from the opposing team. Second was a down ball from the opposing team’s OH. The third was a free ball. The requirement was that on the first ball they had to set the initial ball to their RS, on the second ball it had to go to the OH, and for the final one it had to go either to the MB or the pipe. After the initial phase they could set anywhere. The idea, especially for the first two balls, was to continue work on the off-blocker defense-to-attack transition.

The last exercise was 22 v 22. This time the second ball for the team who won the first rally went to the setter to create a setter-our situation.

Wednesday

Following up on Tuesday’s talk about getting up earlier on quick attacks, early in practice we had the MBs work on just. That started with the MBs hitting straight off a pass. We did that to bring in the idea of “beat the ball to the setter”. That then progressed to hit off the set. They definitely got faster. Unfortunately, they seemed to revert later when we played 6 v 6. More work is required there.

While the MBs worked on quick tempo, the rest did serving and passing work. After that, we moved into a 5 v 5 game, with no MBs. It was thus a pin attacking game with a major focus on defensive position and pin blocking. This featured dig-or-die scoring (if you don’t touch the ball you lose all your points)

Next up was a 6 v 6 bonus point game. One side earned bonuses on MB quick attack or pipe kills. The other side earned bonuses for kills from the right side of the court, including setter dump.

Finally, we played another set of 5 v 5 games. These were right side vs. left side. Each side was down one of the pin hitters. We played a bunch of mini games to five.

All through the game play we whistled teams for failure to cover their hitters.

Thursday

This day’s practice started similarly to Wednesdays. We continued working on the MBs going faster on quicks as the OHs and liberos did serve and pass to attack. Eventually, we brought the groups together. Then we repeated the 5 v 5 no middles dig-or-die game to keep working on our defense.

After that we spent a fair amount of time playing A side vs. B side, with the latter acting as Friday’s opponent in certain rotations. We finished up with 22 v 22. This time, a first ball quick attack kill won the big point straight away. All second balls replicated OH attacks and went to the defending front row OH to work on that defensive transition to attack.

Friday

Our host for this match was Texas Woman’s. They finished third last season, but had some stuff happen over the Summer and during preseason that probably set them back a bit – including the head coach being removed just before preseason.

This was a gut-wrencher. We twice fell behind by set, but rallied back to bring it back level. In the 5th we got out to what looked like an unassailable 12-7 lead, but then never scored another point and lost. Part of the collapse was passing errors. Part of it was decision-making. All in all, though, it comes down to knowing how to win, which we clearly still struggle with. We were up 23-20 in the 3rd and ended up losing 26-24 as an example.

Generally speaking, our serving and passing were pretty solid. Our MBs were not particularly effective on the night (they faced bigger players on the other side of the net). Our pin hitters, though, were very solid. Overall, we hit a .275 for the match. We just let them hit .288.

Saturday

Texas A&M – Commerce was our opponent for this match. They finished 6th last season and were picked to come in 8th this year in the preseason poll. They’re not a big team, but they are quite athletic and hard hitting.

This was a match of streaks. Both teams were able to score points in bunches. We had the better of it in the first two sets, and jumped out to a 2-0 lead. We were a little ahead in the first part of the 3rd set when one of our starting OHs had to temporarily come off with a leg niggle. Our freshman OH, who’s seen her share of playing time this year, took her place. By the time the starter came back on, though, we seemed to have lost our momentum. The score went from 15-15 to 25-17 in short order.

We never really got the momentum – or belief – back. The fourth set finished with a similar scoreline. Then we fell well behind in the 5th. We mounted a late rally, but only got as far as 15-12.

One of the issues we had in the latter going was bad errors. Several serves were missed in the net. We missed back-to-back (even 3 out of 4 in one stretch). We did not put balls in play that should have been put in play (bad sets, scramble plays, etc.). On the plus side, we saw a better blocking performance. The timing still has a ways to go, but we had 12 blocks on the day, which I think is about twice what we’ve done in any prior conference match.

Observations

One of our biggest hurdles as we try to turn around this program is to develop a winner’s mentality. I think MSU has only had four winning seasons in the LSC in about 20 years. No one in the current team has been part of one of those squads. We’re also young. There’s a lot we have not yet learned about all the little things you have to do in competitive matches to come out on top.

On the plus side, we constantly hear really positive things from folks coming to see us play who’ve seen the team in years gone by. They praise not just what’s happening on the court, but also the attitude and actions of our bench.

Coaching Log – September 26, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Monday

Before practice we had a team talk about both on-court and bench mentality during matches – in particular late in close sets. Just looking to get everyone on the same page in terms of expectations, consistency, etc.

Practice was focused on hitting and blocking. In the former case, it was about the pins making sure they were hitting high, especially out of system. In the latter case it was mainly about timing, as we have consistently been late on our blocks. This is something I showed the players via still frames from recent match video.

After some serving and passing, the first part of the work done was pin hitters against defense. This was done off a serve reception, with the hitters having marked out corner targets to aim at. The second part was a wash drill where one side received a served ball, then had a ball played to the setter to create a setter-out situation. In both cases the first ball had to go to the pin hitter. After that, anyone could be set.

Tuesday

This was the first match against our travel partner, Cameron. This time around we played at their place. We saw Cameron playing at our home tournament. They’re a small team, but a scrappy one. They play good defense and will go fast in attack given the opportunity. Over the weekend they lost in 5 to West Texas (already their 5th five-setter of the season), then got swept by UTPB. The latter was a little bit of a surprise.

img_20160920_174636

We had some struggles at the start of the first set, in particular by way of hitting errors. They jumped out to a 0-4 lead and stayed in front until very late. In fact, they were up 24-20. We fought back, though, and ended up winning 29-27. Our pin hitters scuffled, but our MBs tore it up. One of them went for 8 kills on 10 swings, with three of those kills part of our late comeback.

After that we were basically in control. We hit .324 and .325 in the second and third sets ( .154 in the first). For the match we had 20 more kills than Cameron. At times our offense was a thing of beauty, with players scoring from all across the net. That was against a relatively poor blocking team, however. We’re not a real tall team, but Cameron is notably smaller.

Wednesday

This was a rough practice. The tempo was a little low. That’s not a big surprise given we played the night before. We did some back row attacking and defense work, and serving and passing as part of the early stages. After that we spent time having the pin hitters work on effective tips and roll shots.

When we got into 6 v 6 at the end, though, we had two collisions involving heads. One was head-to-head when two players dove for a ball in the middle of the court. The other was head-to-knee. Crazily, the “head” player in the latter was also involved in the former. She joked the second was on the opposite side of the first, so they balanced out. The knee ended up a bit swollen and sore, but all the heads seem to be fine.

After the second coming together, we called a halt and one of the players joked we needed to wrap everyone up in bubble wrap. On the plus side, the starter we had down with a knee issue was back to basically full participation. Also, our ankle injury player from the first tournament is all the way back in to training. We may eventually get back to full strength!

Thursday

No practice today as we had to get on the road for our lengthy weekend road trip. We jumped on the bus for a 2:00 departure. Six hours later we were at our hotel in Clovis, NM.

Friday

Doing one-night hotel stays when you have an evening match is always a logistical challenge. You have to work around check-out times that are usually hours before you want to head to the gym. In this case, it was noon check-out when the plan was to leave for the match at 4:00pm. Video review, lunch, and study hall in the breakfast area of the hotel filled the time.

This night’s competition was Eastern New Mexico. They were picked to finish 9th in the preseason poll. It was a tough match.They have an OPP who we particularly made note of, though they also had a solid MB and OH. We knew keeping them out-of-system was going to be important.

Western NM

We lost the first 25-21, then won 25-20 in the second, though that was more about ENM making a lot of errors. During the long break we decided to swap libero’s (you can change them set-to-set in college volleyball) to bring in a player who’s been getting time as a serving and defensive sub. Our starting libero just wasn’t playing confidently and wasn’t passing well.

We really struggled in the third set, losing 25-14. We hit negative and allowed them to hit .435. In the latter stages we made a couple of changes. One was to swap setters. Our starter was struggling with accuracy and wasn’t making the best decisions. We swapped out one of the OHs who wasn’t hitting well to bring back in the one who was out due to injury. We also turned the rotation, both for offense and defense (blocking).

That helped turn things around. We hit .286 in the fourth and held them to .098 on the way to a 25-20 win. They were better on offense, but we held strong and ran out 15-12 winners. Not a pretty match, but a good fight.

Saturday

We played Western New Mexico at their place. They were picked 6th in the preseason poll. Like UTPB, they are a new edition to the Lone Star Conference this year. They are also the longest trip for us. In particular, it’s a lengthy trip from Eastern NM as you have to drive from northeast (Portales) to southwest (Silver City), making for a tough back-to-back. We drove part of the way after Friday’s match, which meant getting to the hotel around 1:00AM. We drove the last two hours the next day ahead of a 3:00PM match.

img_20160924_140218

The players didn’t outwardly show signs of feeling the effects of the tough match the night before, the short night’s sleep, and all the travel. They were very loose and lively to start the match. You know there had to be some, though.

WNM is probably the biggest team we’ve played thus far, so we knew there would be some challenges for our attack. We basically kept the squad who finished the match the night before, except for putting back in the starting setter. Unfortunately, we both struggled on offense (.069) and in defense (they hit .407). We lost 25-21.

We made an OH change for the second set as the freshman who played well the night before struggled. Our hitting percentage did improve (.250), but we just couldn’t stop them from scoring (.556).

To boost the defense, we changed setters. Our second setter (a freshman) is stronger in both blocking and defense. That seemed to help. The start was rough, as we went down 10-4, but we managed to claw our way back in gradually. We kept them to only .138, and actually got our only two blocks of the match – one by the new setter. Unfortunately, we made three straight service errors late in the set which may have kept us from at least pushing them to the limit. We ended up losing 25-21 again.

Notes

We drove straight back from the match. It took around 12 hours all together, including picking up dinner and doing a mandatory driver change. I got home just after 7:00AM on Sunday morning. Fortunately, that’s now out of the way.

Coaching Log – September 19, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Monday

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.

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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.

Thursday

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.

Friday

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.

MSU Ligon

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.

Saturday

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.

Observations

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.

Coaching Log – September 12, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Monday

This was a shortish, fairly technical practice. We talked about stats from the weekend, in particular the comparison of hitting effectiveness of different types of sets (see last week’s post). We also gave them some time to write in the journals their thoughts on our generally poor first sets. The plan was to actually talk about it on Tuesday.

We said this week’s focus is making improvements. The blockers worked on getting better net penetration while the liberos and smaller setters worked on defense. After that we mixed players up in a couple of serve & pass and middle transition stations. The setter-middle connection was a big focus for the week.

Next up was the Continuous Cross-Court Digging drill, which we put in for the first time. We had the players hit, which I also did at Svedala. It would have been better to see some stronger swings, but it was the first time running it, so it was fine. The point was to work on control digs better, especially on balls not hit directly at the player. Player hitting creates a higher degree of randomness.

We finished up with 6 v 6 play, with bonus points for an ace or 1-pass for the serving team, and 3-passes for the receiving team.

Tuesday

First up was a session watching video from the weekend. It was an opportunity to focus on a few things, and for the players to confirm that we just need to be better in certain areas. By that I mean no major overhauls are required to get where we want to go. After that we talked about the slow start issue. The general conclusion seemed to be that the 4 minute and 5 minute pre-game segments aren’t getting the job done. Players aren’t feeling physically ready, and if anything are mentally frazzled. Adjustments will be made.

The biggest single focus of practice was the connection with the middles. We played a couple of games where scoring was driven by effective middle attacks (e.g. bonus points for MB kills). More technically, we did some work on digging balls outside the body line, which is something we identified as an issue over the weekend.

One of the more interesting things we did was a dig-or-die back row game.

Wednesday

The focus on the setter-middle connection remained a theme for this practice. After doing some serving to begin, we once more split the team into stations, with one working on serve & pass and the other working on middle attacks. After that, we repeated the dig-or-die back row game as a prelude to playing 6 v 6.

Our starting OPP has to leave early on Wednesdays, so the first game we played awarded bonus points for right side and in-system back row kills. After that, we repeated Tuesday’s bonus game with respect to middle hitter attacks. In particular, because we wanted to develop the slide, we gave two points for a kill on that set.

Overall, we were quite happy with the middle offense. Our freshman setter took a while to lock in on going for the bonus points, but she eventually got there.

Thursday

We started practice off with some 2-touch games as a warm-up. After that, we progressed to our new pre-match warm-up routine for the 4 minute and 5-minute parts. They still needed to get smoothed out a bit, which we hope would happen during the tournament.

The rest of the session was 6 v 6 game play. First we did a game where they were only allowed to set back row in-system, and only the pins out-of-system. After that, we played 22 v 22, with the rule that if a team won the initial rally via a middle attack they immediately won the big point.

Friday

The day’s first match was against Fort Lewis from the Rocky Mountain Conference. Our focus with the team on getting better starts seemed to help. We didn’t have a perfect first set, but we did win, 25-22. We were behind late in the second, but came back to win 28-26, hitting a solid .298 with 20 kills. Fort Lewis failed to recover and we jumped out to a big lead in the third. A slip in focus toward the end, though, allowed them to narrow the gap some, but we still won 25-20. Serving in the match was very solid. We only had 3 aces, while missing 11, but put the opposition out-of-system consistently.

The second match of the day was against Dallas Baptist from the Heartland Conference. This was the team, going in, we thought would be our strongest competition. On the day, at least, they probably were the better of the two teams. We rolled out to a pretty easy first set win, 25-16, keeping DBU to -.050 hitting. There was a LONG officials delay at the start of the second set, which may have impacted our performance somewhat. Things got a bit sloppy and we ended up losing 21-25. Things turned around in the third, though it was still tight. We managed a 25-22 win. Our serve was really on form in the fourth set, and we rolled to a pretty easy 25-19 win.

Saturday

The first match of the day was againstĀ  St. Edwards from the Heartland Conference. Unfortunately, this was not a good match. We didn’t come out well. It was quite a bit like last weekend in terms of passing poorly and making a lot of mistakes. We managed only six kills in the first set, against seven hitting errors. Things improved dramatically after that. We won the second set, but it remained a struggle the rest of the way and we lost in four.

Our final tournament match was vs. Southeastern Oklahoma State from the Great American Conference. In stark contrast to the first match, we jumped on this team with a relentless assault from the start, hitting .438 in the first set with 19 kills. Things cooled off considerably in the second set, but our block/defense kicked in to allow us to win. The offense returned to form in the third with even better defense, and we won going away.

Observations

The Rocky Mountain and Heartland Conferences are both part of the Division II South Central Region. That also includes the Lone Star Conference, which is the one we play in. That means our matches against those teams counted toward our regional rankings. At this writing, the first set of regional rankings for the year have not been posted. They will eventually be updated here.

We didn’t really do much in the way of video prep for this tournament. We showed the setters some footage of three teams, but that was it. We’ll do more moving forward.

All in all, it was a good tournament in terms of our development. In particular, the middle attack was much improved. It’s a long way from being where we want it to be, but the progress was clearly evident.

That’s it for the pre-conference action. Now on to Lone Start Conference play!

Coaching Log – September 5, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Preseason has ended. School’s started. Now the real fun begins!

Monday

We started by getting the players to think about their own personal objectives and values. This will feed into the goal setting they do in conjunction with their upcoming individual meetings.

Practice began with a 4 v 4 cooperative downball, then jumping attack, drill. That was followed by target serving, after which we split the primary passers and the setters and MBs. The former did serving and passing with a specific focus on seam management. The latter focused on transition patterns for the middles.

We went on from there into a couple of 6 v 6 games. The first continued work on transition play. One team was given a pair of free balls to initiate a controlled attack to the other side (diggable balls). That was followed by a serve by the attack-receiving team. We kept track of how many off the attack-receive points were won by that team. If they then won the serve rally they would get that rally point, plus the other points. Otherwise, they got zero. That means they could earn between 0 and 3 points. After the serve rally the sequence was repeated for the other side, then both teams rotated. We played to 15.

The other 6 v 6 game was a standard one, but with a bonus. We gave them 3 points for winning a rally lasting at least 4 trips of the ball across the net. Unfortunately, only one rally went long enough for a bonus. It was a really good one, though.

Tuesday

We started with narrow court cooperative 2 v 2. There were four players on each side which swapped in and out each time the ball crossed the net. The first objective was 8 consecutive balls back and forth with good 3-touch execution, finishing with a down ball. They then moved up to doing 6 reps with a jump-and-swing.

From there we progressed to competitive 4 v 4 play – still narrow court.

Next was 5 v 5 v 5. One team of 5 served both sides. They got a point for aces and 1-passes, but lost points on missed serves. The other teams set up with 3 back row players and two front row. Initially, that was MB + RS vs. MB + OH, but we did a second round with just pin hitters. The two teams on-court earned points from rally wins, and the winning team received the next serve. The teams rotated through and cumulative points were kept.

From there we shifted to 6 v 6, using a version of bingo. Each team had two ways to score bingo points, which we changed halfway through the game. We kept two scores – one for bingo points, the other for normal rally points. The latter defined game length. The most combined points won.

The next game was 6 v Sixes. That’s where one side is fixed and receives every serve. The other side rotates players through on each new serve, based on the server’s position. That was played for time before mixing up the players on the fixed side.

Lastly we played dig-or-die. That’s game where points are scored in normally fashion, but if a team fails to at least touch a defensive or hitter coverage ball, they lose all their points. Rallies start by alternating down balls over the net. A front row/back row switch is made about halfway through.

Wednesday

We started practice by going through our pregame warm-up routine. We’ve done this a couple times now, but just wanted to make sure things go as smoothly as possible come Friday’s first official matches. Of course, the pregame warm-up is rather long, which means it ate into practice time. We played 6 v 6 almost the whole rest of the session, though.

In a continuation from what started on Tuesday, we shuffled around variations of what might be the weekend starters. I kept hitting stats to look both at individual hitter performance and to take a collective view with respect to setters.

Thursday

We traveled to Topeka, KS for our first road trip of the season. After a quick meal upon arrival in town, we had an hour long court session at hosts Washburn University. Unfortunately, one of our players got an ankle injury during the session. That’s the first of the year, so far.

Friday

Our first match of the day was against Pittsurg State from the MIAA. They were second from bottom last year, so not the strongest of opposition. We got off to a slow start, losing 25-18. We made a personnel adjustment at outside hitter going into the second set, and proceeded to win the next three sets rather easily: 14, 13, and 15. After a very weak start, our offense came on very strongly, with a hitting efficiency in the last two sets about .400.

The day’s second match was against hosts Washburn, who finished 4th in the MIAA last season and ended the year #18 ranked. This year they start #16 in the polls. In other words, a tough match. The first set reminded me of the Exeter women against Northumbria in the 2014 BUCS semifinals. We just got totally blitzed, 25-6.

The players recovered well, though. They were more aggressive and confident, in particular in serve. We didn’t get any aces, but we went from serving 1.2 in the first set to serving just shy of 2.0 in the latter two. It totally changed the complexion of the match. Washburn still won in three, but the last two sets were 25-19 and 25-23. We could have actually won the third. We went from hitting -.217 to .297 to .361 while taking them from .625 to .314 to .135. The loss of the third was probably because we had a few too many service errors (7).

Saturday

It was an early start, with our first match at 9:30 against Emporia State. They finished #8 in the MIAA last season. We felt we could win this one based on what we saw the day before. Our start was poor, however. We didn’t pass well at all in the first two sets (both below 1.8), so of course we didn’t hit well either. In the second set we were only 24% in sideout. The result was a pair of losses, 25-17 and 25-13.

We swapped setters for the third to give our freshman a chance. Things turned around from there. We won the next two sets fairly easily, 25-16 and 25-19. Unfortunately, we struggled a bit in the 5th, and lost 15-10.

The final match was against Missouri Western, who finished 5th in the MIAA last season. They are a solid team (received votes in the Coaches Poll), though not quite at Washburn’s level. We returned to the prior starting setter to begin, but once more suffered from a poor first set. After that, we put the freshman back in. We didn’t serve nearly aggressively enough in either set. As a result, they sided-out easily. It was 93% in the second set! We lost the first two 15 and 14.

Serving was much better in the third set. Our defense and block performed much better as a result. We still lost the third, 25-23, though, because of a few too many attack errors.

Observations

First let me talk about the competitive level. Obviously, we will not really focus on stuff like RPI this year as we rebuild the MSU team. Still, four matches against teams in a strong conference (4 teams currently ranked, and one just outside the Top 25) can’t help but provide an RPI boost. That’s unlikely to impact us at all in terms of this year’s post-season. A year-over-year rise in the overall rankings is the sort of thing external evaluators like to see.

Now to talk about the offense. One of the major observations on Friday was the massive difference in performance between when we spread the attack and when we did not. In both matches the vast majority of balls in the first set went to the outside. Not surprisingly, they struggled to be effective. Once we shared the ball around better, the OHs were much more successful.

Our biggest offensive issue was in the middle. At times it went well, but too often the connects were just off. Some of it was hitters not going fast enough. Some of it was inaccurate sets. Slides, in particular, were just not on at all. This will need work.

We also needed to get the right side more involved on Saturday.

Passing wasn’t bad overall for the tournament, but especially on Saturday we had too many 2-passes an not enough 3s. Defense was solid when we got teams out of system, though we need to do better digging harder balls outside our body line.

Bottom line is we got exactly what you hope to get out of your first tournament – to try a few things, see how the team performs in different situations, and get a clearer view of your developmental needs. Importantly, I think the team saw what sort of things they need to do to be successful. Now we just have to reinforce that.

Coaching Log – August 29, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Monday

The day started with weight training.

Our theme for the day was block/defense. Specifically, we wanted the players reading, reacting, and going for the ball.

The morning session started with cooperative cross-court hitting. That progressed to backrow 4s played Speedball fashion. We then had them do some target serving for the first time, after which the passers did a sever & pass session while the MBs and setters worked on their connection. Next was some hitters vs. blockers. We finished with two games. One was an out-of-system game where we had two pin blockers in 2 and 4 on each side, plus back row players in 1 and 5. Sets had to go to the pins, so there was always a firm double block. We finished up with 6 v 6 having each side serve 3 balls before rotating. A team got a bonus point for a first ball sideout.

As has been typical, we did a lot of game play in the second session. We did, however, have one servers vs passers game where we focused the camera on the passers for instant feedback.

The day ended with a team discussion about season goals. They came up with a group of outcome goals (where we ended the season), as well as several process goals (things we will do along the way to get there).

Tuesday

We started the morning session off with a serving warm-up and then some zonal target work. After that, they played a competitive version of the cross-court hitting drill. We did some servers vs. passers games, and also a Neville Pepper like game where the fixed team tried to score via back row attacks. It probably wasn’t the best way we could have done that, all things considered.

We did a pair of 6 v 6 games to finish. The first used a combination of normal rally scoring and points for passes. Teams earned points for winning rallies, as usual. They also earned points for serve reception passes – 2 for a 3 pass, 1 for a 2 pass. He’s the catch. If they were aced, their accumulated pass points went back to zero. The game was played to 25. The final game featured bonus points for digs (or free/down ball passes) to target.

Between sessions we had Picture Day. Yay!

Our afternoon session was a somewhat shortened one. We had the players play Brazilian 2-Ball tennis (something my Svedala team did regularly), then had a Servers vs. Passers game. That was followed by an out-of-system game. We finished up playing an old-school sideout scoring game to 15 to put a bit of onus on siding out.

The day ended with a Fall Sports Kick-off event which combined volleyball with the two soccer teams.

Wednesday

The day started with weight training. We had no morning training as the team did some youth work in the community. In the afternoon we scrimmaged at a local junior college. Not surprisingly, the results were mixed given it was our first external competition and we used a variety of line-ups. The teams split the four sets played, though we held the edge in points.

On the plus side, our serve reception was solid. It wasn’t the 2.3 the team targeted as their goal, but it was a respectable 2.15. And it was consistent. I think only one of our primary passers was below 2.0, and even then just barely. To be fair, the other team didn’t serve all that aggressively, though they were solid in terms of targeting.

In the mixed category was our offense. The sets to the MBs were a bit erratic in height and tempo, though we still high for a high efficiency. Over all we were at about 40% kills, which is good, but were were also at about 20% errors, which is not so great. Some of that was poor decision-making, but some of it was just being aggressive. We’ll take that as this stage. Actually, the fourth set really pulled the hitting numbers up. In Set 1 we hit about .125. It was a little over .200 in Set 2, then dipped back down to about .165 in the third. In the last set we were just shy of .400. Overall, one of our OHs hit .400 for the match, which is great. We also ran an effective back row attack.

In the could be better category was our defense. Mainly, that was about block placement and reading/anticipation. Things, especially in terms of the block, got better as the match progressed. We need to get much better in picking up the cues from the other side of the net and adjusting, though.

Thursday

We started the morning session with a discussion of the Wednesday match. We wanted to see how the players felt they did, not just in terms of their play, but also in terms of the off-court attitude and energy. Of course we also talked about taking what we learned and moving forward.

The session itself had reading and anticipation of the main themes. We used Brazilian 2-ball once more as a first warm-up activity. After that, it was some target serving. Then we split into two groups. I took the setters and middles to work on slide and 1-ball connections, which were an issue in the scrimmage. The rest did serving & passing games. They then played back court 2 v 2 (half court – 8 simultaneous games). After that it was 6 v 6. First, we played a game where one side was only allowed 2 contacts (3 if it was a really scramble) to increase the speed at which balls came back at the 3-touch side and to encourage more anticipation. We finished with a straight 15-point game.

The afternoon session started with work on our pre-match warm-up routine. We did part of it before Wednesday’s scrimmage, but wanted to smooth out the rough spots in especially the full court portion (NCAA women do a 4-4-5-5-1 protocol). After that it was all game play. We repeated the 2-contact game from the morning with a change in it’s structure. I like the effect it seemed to have on getting the team to read better and anticipate more. We’ll probably keep doing it.

We also did a kind of controlled entry initiation game. The idea was to replace coaches on boxes hitting at players to start transition play with live hitters to make things more game-like. It’s something we need to iron out a little bit, but it could be be useful to work on transition play. We ended with a normal game to 25.

Friday

The day started with weight training once more.

The first session was a little slow in the early phases. We had them do some short-court games to start, then shifted to doing a bit of technical work on blocking. The main focus there was wing blocker positioning. Competitive cross-court hitting was next to bring in game play, and that progressed into some offense vs. defense. We finished with a regular game, but with the players getting whistled for not getting to defensive base, leaving too early, and/or failing to cover their hitters.

The final session of pre-season was all about competition. We put the players into two teams and played a series of games (though the three middles shuffled around, as we’ve had them do the whole time).

Saturday

No training. The players had to attend mandatory Life Skills sessions during the evening.

Sunday

Off day.

Observations

I think overall we’ve been pretty pleased with how things have gone up to now. There was a little bit of an internal conflict flare up midweek related to playing time and fitness tests, but it seems to have been smoothed out. The group ended the week full of energy and positivity. Obviously, we’re a long way from where we want to be. There are a lot of rough patches in our play that need to be sanded down, which is to be expected in what is still a pretty young team. We can see the glimpses of what we’re capable of, though, and some of it is really exciting.

Coaching Log – August 22, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

This probably won’t be the most detailed of weekly entries. Normally, I’d be filling in my thoughts and observations as the week went along, but all my spare time last week was taken up watching Olympic volleyball!

Our general schedule on training days was to have one session in the morning that finished at 11:00, with a second in the afternoon finishing no later than 5:00. Start and stop times varied from day to day based on what we were doing and how long we planned to run the sessions.

NCAA Division II rules permit no more than 6 hours of activity per day, with at least three hours break between physical sessions. Additionally, you are allowed only 5 hours of physical activity.

Sunday

This was basically a meeting day. We met with the team for about 2 hours to start the process of defining the program and team identity. It was a process we coaches guided via the questions we asked. Beyond that, however, it was the players doing the thinking and talking. The players were broken up into groups of three, then brought back together to share what they talked about.

We went from the meeting to dinner at the house of a local player. Then it was back to campus for the players’ Compliance meeting. After that, they picked up their practice gear.

Monday

The day started with a fitness test – the first part of a 3-part test. This part was the suicide test. Players had to run 5 total suicides with a minute’s break between the two. The objective was to run the first in under 23 seconds, the second in under 24, and the final three in under 25. A player was considered to have passed if their total time was no more than one second over the total allowed time.

Our morning session focused on game play. We did a series of small-sided games to give the players a chance to start the process of working together. It was also a chance for use to do some initial evaluations.

In the afternoon session we started to work on skills – in particular serving and passing.

After the afternoon session we spent about 30 minutes continuing Sunday’s work on team culture.

Tuesday

This day the players did the second of their fitness test parts. This one was a three element jump-rope exercise. The requirement was to do 155 rope skips in a minute. They also had to do 55 cross jumps. Those are ones where you cross your arms over in front of you (left hand on right side, right hand on left side). The final element was 30 double-unders where the player spun the rope under their feet twice on one jump.

Our strength coach introduced the players to a set of pre-hab exercises to be done once or twice a week. The different positions were provided with their own plans.

We had the setters and liberos/DS’s come in early for the morning session to work on individual skills. I ran the setters. My main focus was to take a look at their mechanics and start the process of making corrections where necessary. Later in the day we put the setters together with the OHs to work on the tempo of the outside sets.

The rest of the day was spent working more on individual skills in the morning, and more team stuff in the afternoon. Competitive opportunities were incorporated throughout, however. They came either through competitive drills like servers vs. passers, or via actual games.

Wednesday

This day started with the last part of the fitness test, which was the timed mile run. The objective was 7 minutes. The players were allowed to run it either outside (2 laps around the building) or inside (11 laps around the coliseum stands).

One of the things we identified as a developmental need in the team was being more intentional on first ball contact. To help with that we played a 2-touch game with four players a side. It seemed to have a real impact.

This day we also spent time with the setters and MBs working together on middle sets. There was more serving and passing, of course, to include taking passing stats throughout. As in prior days, lots of competitive opportunities.

In the evening we had a team dinner hosted by a local friend of the program. She had the players watch the following video, with a bit of a discussion afterwards.

Thursday

Not surprisingly, there were some heavy legs and tired bodies for the morning session. Focus was a bit of a struggle for at least a handful of players during the first half of the practice when the tempo was a bit slower. That mostly picked up as things got more game oriented and up-tempo, though.

We continued working on serving and passing, naturally. Our defensive focus increased this day as well. That included blocking, which we’d started working in prior days.

We also worked on hitters attacking the block. This was mainly done via a game where we used extra antennae to create outside attacking zones. Points could only be scored through them.

We gave the players an extra hour between sessions this day, then spent nearly the whole afternoon session in 6 v 6 play.

Again, we spent about 30 minutes continuing our cultural work. That basically wrapped up what we wanted to do in terms of the broader themes.

Friday

The day started with the first weight training session of the year.

The MBs and setters got to do some work together again in the morning session, while the rest worked on serving and passing. This time the focus was mainly on transition attacking.

Another thing we worked on collectively was running faster back row attacks. Importantly, we also worked on running back row attacks only in-system and forcing the ball to the pins when out-of-system.

We continued to collect passing stats off serve reception. On this particular day, however, we encouraged more aggressive serving by allowing players to re-serve if they missed their first attempt. This looked to have a very meaningful negative impact on the passing numbers. Obviously, from a serving perspective that’s exactly the point.

Saturday & Sunday

Days off.

Observations

The first week with a team is always a mixed bag. Some things are better than expected. Some are worse. We were pretty happy with the general level the players were at in terms of their play. That reflects, I’m sure, the fact that many of them were in the area over the Summer, getting some playing time in together. They did a lot of small-sided game type stuff, as far as we were aware.

Of course when you play mainly 3 v 3 and 4 v 4 then the nuances and higher precision of 6 v 6 play won’t be there. Not surprisingly, that’s what we saw.

There are plenty of things we need to work on and sharpen up. We’re in the process of looking at our priorities and seeing where we want to focus our primary efforts. One of the things we’re really pleased with, though, is how competitive the group is. They love to play and they love to compete!

Coaching Log – August 12, 2016

This is the first entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2016-17 school year at Midwestern State University. The players officially report tomorrow, though they have all been around for most of the last week. Many of them were here most or all of the Summer, during which time they worked with our strength coach.

My last log entry came back at the beginning of May, shortly after we finished Spring practices. The end of our time in the gym did not mean the end of the work, though! In this post I will share with you some of what I’ve been doing over the last three months. I figure it might be of interest to those who don’t have college coaching experience.

From here on out I’ll probably just do weekly log entries. Doing them daily would be a bit much. As with my Svedala log, I’ll think posting them on Monday after the weekend’s matches makes the most sense.

Recruiting

I mentioned in my last entry that we had six prospective recruits on campus during our last week of Spring practices, and that one of them in the 2017 class committed. Three others committed in the weeks following. These are verbal commitments. Nothing official can be done until November.

My only recruiting trip during the last three or so months was to the North Texas regional bid qualifiers in the Dallas area. We were still looking for a strong OH in the 2017 class, so I watched that group in the 17s qualifier. Then I spent a day looking at 2018s in the 16s qualifier to start ramping things up in that class.

We have a couple of players we’re talking with to round out the 2017 class. We’ve also had some issues develop with a couple of those who already committed.

Camps & Clinics

We ran three MSU-linked programs.

The first was what we called an academy program that was run with a fundraising focus (though the coaches working it were paid). Basically, it was a clinic series that went 1.5 hours a session, three nights a week for four weeks. It ended up being mainly attended by 11-14 year-olds.

We also ran two camps. They were both 3-day commuter deals (not overnight). The first was for pre-high school ages, with the second for high school players. We didn’t really have it initially in mind to make the latter a recruiting camp, but it kind of worked out that way. Our three incoming freshmen all attended, as did three of our four committed 2017 players, along with a handful of other potential recruits. That made for one pretty good court and one with a much lower standard. We’ve already started talking about how we might adjust things for next year.

Sitting Volleyball

It’s worth mentioning that we had several members of the USA sitting volleyball program at our first camp for the afternoon session of the first day. It was something I arranged with the North Texas region. They gave a demonstration, taught some skills, got the kids playing, and generally made it a great experience. We invited some of the area high schools and folks from outside the university (I called the local VA clinic).

Planning a foreign trip

Since we expect to have a strong incoming freshman class next year to go along with what should be a group of returning players capable of having a good season, we decided to try to do an overseas trip next Summer. Including the freshmen requires working around NCAA restrictions, but it looks doable.

As much as I am always up for a trip to Europe, that isn’t a realistic option for us. Too expensive, especially that time of year. Plus, the big time change is problematic when you’re talking about a trip that probably at least overlaps with our preseason – meaning it would be very close to the start of our season. Jet-lagged players would not be a good thing.

On top of that, we decided to take more of a training camp approach. By that I mean staying in one place rather than doing a tour. That reduces the amount of travel and bouncing around. Not only does that add a bunch of logistical stress, but it also means more fatigued players.

So what did we decide?

Since I have coaching friends with lots of contacts there, I suggested Buenos Aires. The head coach really likes that idea. If we can go and stay in one place and make arrangements with local clubs to train and compete, we don’t need a tour company. That will save a bunch of money.

I wrote up a proposal for the trip to go to the Athletic Director. In it I figured we would be looking at a cost of somewhere around $2000 per person. Now we need to get that fund raised!

Season prep

Of course, no Summer goes by in college volleyball that doesn’t include a lot of administrative work to get ready for the upcoming season. Our schedule was mostly set, but there were some little tweaks, and refs had to be confirmed. We had to arrange hotels and put in travel authorization requests. And we had to make sure the incoming players took care of all their academic and medical requirements.

A bit broader, we also did a lot of thinking and planning about things around the team. I’m talking about community outreach and developing support for the program. Of course, that’s an on-going thing. We did, though, need to put some plans in place for events and activities during the season.

High School kick-off event

The local area high schools started their competitive season on Tuesday. Some of the local area coaches are MSU alumnae, and the idea got put forward to host several matches in our gym as a fundraiser. We would get the gate receipts and concessions.

We ended up hosting a total of 11 matches between our two gyms. Two were freshmen, two were junior varsity, and the rest varsity. I think in total 10 schools attended.

It ended up being a long day, but it went quite well. There was some grumbling about ticket prices (which we didn’t even set), but it sounds like otherwise people really thought it was a good event – including the local media. There’s talk about making this an annual thing. And we managed to raise a chunk of money.

Thinking about the team

From a volleyball perspective, probably our biggest single effort went into evaluating and updating the team handbook. Part of that was going through what we want to do in terms of systems of play. We didn’t really need to make a lot of changes there.

The bigger thing was looking at the culture side of things. We did a lot of talking and planning in that area. Developing a championship culture at MSU is very much a work in progress. The head coach is only going into her second season here and it’s been a long time since the program had a winning record. Last year they went 0-16 in conference.

We saw a lot of growth in the Spring. The team will definitely be better this season. I believe they had 19 on the initial roster last year. There were only 16 on the season-ending roster, so already the process of weeding out those who didn’t fit with the new attitude had begun (2 quit, 1 cut). Since then, one graduated and six others won’t return.

That means we have nine returning players. Of that group two were on red shirts last year and one was sitting out a mandatory year following her transfer, so only six have played for the current head coach. Among that group only five played in more than half the team’s sets 2015.

We’re adding two former players back to the roster. One was a 2-year starter before leaving the team (she’s back as a grad student). The other was on the team in 2014, but not in 2015. A freshman JUCO transfer joined during the Spring. Plug in the three incoming freshmen and you’re up to 15.

Getting the picture as to why we think we need to dedicate a lot of focus on developing the right team culture?

By the way, continuing the culture development process is part of the motivation for the foreign trip mentioned above.

Journal book

The head coach had the team do some journaling last year, but wanted to make it better this time around. In the end, we decided to combine the team handbook with the journal. The new spiral bound book we put together includes a section on the team rules and stuff. It also features an area where the players can write things down related to team and personal goals, etc.

The bulk of the book, though, is pages for daily and weekly journal entries. There are also pages for writing down scouting report info and notes. I’m curious to see how it gets used.