Coaching Log – Dec 21, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Entering the week we stood top of the table with 24 points having completed our 10 first half matches. The other key match of the weekend was Engelholm vs. Lindesberg, which was won by the home team 3-1. That did not settle things for sure, but it certainly put Engelholm in good position to qualify with 18 points to Lindesberg’s 13. Örebro was also on 18.

The four remaining matches before the Christmas break were Lindesberg vs. Sollentuna on Wednesday, Gislaved vs. Örebro on Saturday, then Hylte vs. Lindesberg and Engelholm vs. RIG on Sunday. If all matches went according to expectations based on prior performance, the seedings for Gran Prix would be 1) Hylte, 2) Svedala, 3) Örebro, 4) Engelholm.

Monday
This was a recovery session after Sunday’s match. After talking a bit about how we played and about Tuesday’s opposition, and dynamic warm-up, the players played a competitive game of volleytennis. I then had them do a bit of target serving. We followed that up with a little bit of work on blocking against live hitters. The players did most of the talking with each other about positioning and movement and the like, though I also talked about some technical elements. We finished up with some serve and pass.

Tuesday
Around midday I got a message from our third OH that she will be leaving the team. She’s been applying to universities. Unfortunately, she didn’t get into one in our area, so will be heading back up north (where she’s from). Not exactly the sort of development we needed given our already thin squad!

The match against Brøndby was played in their main hall where we played two of the matches from the pre-season tournament we won.

Brondby Hall

Things started off a bit rough. We struggled with our passing and made a number of errors in the first set. At the same time, though, we were able to put them under considerable pressure from the service line. The result was an odd reversal of our normal pattern. Instead of siding out well and struggling to score on our serve, we only sided out at 32% and scored at 58%. That saw the score end up closer than probably our play deserved at 19-25.

That pattern held for the second set as well, with the percentages roughly the same. We were more competitive generally, but still lost 22-25.Our passing in those first two sets were 1.86 and 1.46 respectively, which helps explain the poor side-out performance.

Our more standard pattern re-emerged in the 3rd set in line with better reception (2.06). That let us bring our MBs into the attack more, and that was one area where we had a notable advantage. In particular, I talked with with about using movement to essentially beat the other middle to the point of attack, which we generally did well as the match progressed. We ended up winning 25-18.

We got on top of them early in the 4th set, but some further struggles in reception allowed them to claw their way back. We were level at 21-21, but errors on our side ended up costing us and we lost 22-25.

Four missed serves on the set didn’t help. That may not seem like a lot, but we only had 3 in the previous sets combined. We only had 5 aces, but we put them under enough pressure that they were often very predictable and were taking something off their swings or making hitting errors.

I think at least mental fatigue was a factor in our performance after Sunday’s intense battle at Hylte. We made some mistakes we haven’t made in a while and generally struggled – especially in the first couple of sets – in some of the finer skills. Our OH2 in particular didn’t look her same self. Although her ankle seemed fine, no doubt there was a lingering effect there. The team fought hard and had a good spirit (staff from Brøndby actually commented on it to me after the match). We just made too many mistakes.

This match-up was a good one to have for a couple of reasons. One was that it saw us have to play against larger pin blockers, which we haven’t done much in a while. It was something we definitely struggled with, especially in the first couple sets. The challenge was to figure out how we could apply our strengths against weaker points in their block/defense, which largely meant working against their MBs. Our M1 had 22 kills and 6 blocks.

Actually, overall our blocking was fairly solid. We tallied 11 and forced a number of errors and easily dug swings. Admittedly, though, this team was the type with OHs who look to tool the block, which is what we’ve struggled against.

Wednesday
I had spoken with the team after the match on Tuesday about what to do on Wednesday. I didn’t see any need to have an actual training session – though the younger players may have wanted one. Instead, I was good with using our normal weekly team weight-lifting session as a low impact type of recovery session. We agreed on doing it about 2 hours earlier than we normally do.

At the end of lifting I talked with the group briefly about expectations for the break. Mainly that was staying active physically, but also keeping it low impact to allow aching muscles, joints, etc. to recover. We discussed a bit of the calendar moving forward as well. Then I took 7 of them out for dinner. The other two had commitments (one of the Americans has family visiting).

Other results and standings
Wednesday’s loss may have put an Oresund Liga title out of reach at this point. Brøndby is 4 points clear of the pack now with one less match played than Engelholm and ourselves who are both on 10. We’ll need some help and our own victory over them in the return fixture in February to have a shot. Our next match toward the Liga is our first match of 2016 – home against Holte.

On Wednesday Lindesberg easily handled Sollentuna, as expected. That moved them to within 2 points of both Engelholm and Örebro. It probably wasn’t going to be enough to see them earn a spot in Gran Prix, but it assured at least that things would go down to the last day of the first half of the season on Sunday before the spots were finally decided.

On Saturday Örebro played at Gislaved. An outright win would assure Örebro of at least 3rd seed. Anything less would see them a risk of being overtaken and possibly left out in the cold. They managed a tight 3-1 victory to put them level on points with Hylte. The table on the league website indicated them as having moved up to 2nd on the basis of number of wins (8 vs. Hylte’s 7), but there’s been some question as to whether that or set ratio is the actual second tiebreak. The latter favored Hylte and would continue to do so even if they lost 0-3 on Sunday.

That left Engelholm and Lindesberg as the final two from which the 4th and final spot in Gran Prix would be decided on Sunday. The strong edge went to Engelholm as they hosted winless RIG, while Lindesberg faced a daunting road trip to Hylte.

Here’s an interesting scenario. Going into Sunday, Hylte was in a position to potentially decide their semifinal opponent for Gran Prix. A 3-0 or 3-1 win would give them top seed and probably Engelholm as their first round foe. Anything less than that would mean a 2nd or 3rd seed and a match against Örebro. Obviously, a win over Lindesberg wasn’t a sure thing. If they preferred Örebro over Engelholm as their first round opponent, though…

If Hylte did prefer Örebro, they got them. They beat Lindesberg 3-2, meaning we ended up as the top seed. That result also sealed Lindesberg’s fate, keeping them out of 4th regardless of Engelholm’s result. In any case, Engelholm won 3-0, basically as expected.

Here’s the Elitserie table as of the end of the first half.

ElitSerie-Table-122015

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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