Coaching Log – December 9, 2016

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

Overall progress from 2015 to 2016

With the season over and done, it’s time to have a look at how we at Midwestern State did this year compared to last year. In 2015 the team was 6-26 overall, and 0-16 in the Lone Star Conference. They finished 9th out of 9 and did not make the conference tournament. One player was selected to the All-Conference team as Honorable Mention, and one made the Academic All-Conference list. Their region rank finished at 25, with an RPI of .458 and a .553 strength of schedule.

For 2016 we went 12-21 overall, 6-14 in conference play. We finished 8th of 11 teams in the league (two newcomers added this year) and qualified for the conference tournament. Three players earned All-Conference selection (one 2nd team, two Honorable Mention), and one made Academic All-Conference. Our region rank moved up to 20, our RPI ended up at .484, while our strength of schedule was .528.

At least some of the dip in strength of schedule was a function of the conference not being quite as strong this year. In 2015 the LSC had the top three ranked teams in the South Central region, plus the #7. This year we had two of the top three, then #8 and #9.

A major factor in our improvement was getting a couple of players into the team who were medical red shirts as Juniors in 2015. Both were significant contributors throughout the season, though they both also had persistent health issues slowing them down. Even with those two in the side, though, we were inexperienced. In terms of eligibility, we had no Seniors.

Drilling down

Statistically, we had both steps forward and steps backward.

Offense and serving are the two big improvement areas. We upped our hitting efficiency in-conference by 53 points (.163 vs. .110). That was driven almost entirely by a higher kill %. In terms of serving, we improved to 1.56 aces/game from 0.79. That took us from bottom of the league to third best.

Where we slipped was in block and defense, and in serve reception. Our opponent hitting efficiency slipped from .210 to .221. Blocks dropped to 1.27/game from 1.66, and digs declined to 13.76/game from 17.47. Service aces suffered rose to 1.61/game from 1.16.

Now, the block and digs numbers at least partly reflect the fact that in 2015 the team’s offense was poor. That resulted in more transition opportunities for the other team. The digs also, however, along with the passing issues, reflect a meaningful change in the libero position. The two players in that position in 2015 left the team last year. They each averaged about 4 digs/game. This year we had libero by committee. Four different players got meaningful time in the position. That was largely influenced by injuries. The player who got the most time was actually an in-season convert to the position (from setter).

Areas for improvement

Blocking, defense, and serve reception are clearly areas we will look to improve for 2017. We made some good improvements in defense in the second half of conference play. In fact, our dig % in our last 10 LSC matches of 2016 was better than the overall conference dig % for the 2015 team. Still, it’s an area where we feel like we can be much better. We probably need to lower our opponent hitting efficiency by about 60 points to really be competitive with the top teams in the league.

As much as the team hitting efficiency was significantly improved this year over last, that was just the start. We probably need to be 50 points better in that area next year. That will require both a higher kill % and a lower error %. We were at 33% kills this season. The best team (Tarleton) was at 40%, but the other three of the top four teams were at 37%. In terms of errors, we were at 16%. Angelo was tops there at 11%, with the others in the 14-15% range.

The other thing I’d like to see improved is serving. Specifically, I’d like to see us cut the errors down a little bit, while keeping the aces at a comparable level.

Player year-end meetings – structure

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve run individual meetings with the players to wrap up the season. Before I get into some of what came out of it, let me share with you the questions we asked. We gave them to everyone so they could think about their answers beforehand. Some came to their meetings with stuff actually written down.

They were:

  • What does the team need to do to get to the next level?
  • How can the coaching staff help the team reach the next level?
  • What do you as a player need to do to help the team get to the next level?
  • What can the coaching staff do to help you make that/those improvement(s)?
  • How can the coaching staff help you get the most out of your experience as a student-athlete?

That last question was mainly aimed at off-the-court, non-team type of stuff. Think academic support, facilities, travel, and things like that.

For each player we also came up with some things we wanted to make sure got talked about. They were a mixture of what we saw of them this year and thoughts on development moving forward.

We had a sheet for each player where the head coach made notes during the meeting. The players reviewed and signed the sheets at the end. We then gave them a copy.

Player year-end meetings – outcomes

I won’t bother with individual level stuff here. Instead I’ll focus on the common themes that came up from a team perspective. Two of them were the related areas of expectations and accountability. These things came up in different ways, but the general idea was the same. The team needs to set and maintain higher standards and expectations for themselves – individually and collectively – if we’re to step up our competitive level. Players need to be held accountable when they don’t meet those expectations – by the team as well as the coaching staff.

Leadership was the other major theme. Part of this had to do with the accountability element mentioned above. Leaders within the team are needed to make sure the group is at least meeting their level of expectations. There are other elements of leadership, though, and they came up as well.

Departures

We had two players tell us they needed to leave the team. One of them was a red shirt sophomore libero/ds with back injury issues. She was told by the doctors that it will take maybe three years for her to rehab her way back to even being able to get back into a regular workout level of health. The other was a freshman middle who felt like she needed to be able to focus more on the academic side of things.

There may yet be others added to this list. We have two players who graduate this year, but both who have eligibility remaining. They have some decisions to make about their respective futures. Both were all-conference this year, so they’d be big losses. There’s also another with an injury question.

Incoming players

We had four incoming freshmen sign letters of intent in November. One is a middle who was the best blocker in her Texas high school district. As noted above, that’s definitely an area of improvement need for us. One is an opposite who also earned district honors. Her high school and club background isn’t the strongest, so we feel like she’ll have a steeper developmental curve. The third is a lefty opposite who doesn’t have the same physical gifts as the second player, but who is much further along as a volleyball player. The problem there is she’s recovering from a Summer ACL injury, though it sounds like her rehab is progressing very well. The fourth is a local area OH who is very athletic and a multi-sport all-district competitor. She isn’t the tallest player in the world, though.

Recruiting

We had four players come to campus for an evening tryout last week. Three were liberos and one was a middle. Whether any of them come is yet to be decided. Between our losses and our need to strengthen certain positions, we are likely to bring in at least two more players. Obviously, that means we’re still looking and evaluating – both high school players and prospective transfers.

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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