Coaching Log – Jan 11, 2016

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

Back into competition this week. We played our first Oresund Liga match of the second half on Wednesday (essentially scheduled as a tune-up coming off the break) and then headed up to Uppsala for Gran Prix over the weekend. Most of the rest of the league played a set of Elitserie matches on Tuesday.

Monday
This wasn’t a great session in terms of focus and intensity. It was apparent right away. I had them start with volley tennis and it was ugly. This is normally a pretty competitive game with good rallies, but today that wasn’t the case at all.

After that, I wrapped to spells of target serving (1 to 5, 5 to 1 then 1 to 1, 5 to 5) around a game of back row 3s with fixed MBs blocking and doing the setting.

The remainder of training involved a series of 5 v 5 games. One side didn’t have a front row OH and the other didn’t have a front row OPP (back row setter). For each game one team served every ball. The score started at 18-20 in favor of the serving team on the idea that the receiving team should have a point scoring edge. We played 2 games, flipping the serving side for the second, then I rotated players around. Overall, we probably played 10 games.

The lack of focus really showed up in serve reception. As I told the players afterward, the passing made the servers look really, really good. I said I expected more focus and higher intensity on Tuesday.

Tuesday
We talked scouting for Wednesday’ match before the start of training. After that, told the players we wouldn’t go more than about 90 minutes and that I expected full intensity. The plan was to only do two primary exercises, one to focus on blocking and OH set tempo, and the other to mix serve reception and transition play.

After warm-ups I put the players in the following configuration. Setter, OPP, MB, OH, and Libero on one side. Front row setter, two MBs, and two OHs on the other. One of the back row players on each side was designated server. We did alternating serves. The first ball had to go to the front row OH, but if a rally ensued later balls could go anywhere. The focus for me was watching the positioning of our block, though the setters and OHs working on their tempo was also a key. After 5-7 good serves for each side, I rotated players around.

The other exercise was 6 v 4 using the starting line-up against the rest (the B side had 3 front, 1 back). We started with Rotation 4, which has tended to be the one we’ve struggled in the most. Each sequence had 3 balls. The first was a serve from the 4 side. The second was a free ball to the 4 side. The last was a free ball to the starting 6. To finish a rotation the 6 had to win 21 rallies. We only got through 4 rotations, but that was enough.

Energy and focus were much improved. The starters could have done better in the last part considering, but the intensity was good. The passing was markedly better than it had been the day before.

We found out at the end of training that Engelholm had easily beaten Örebro in their league match. This was a bit of a surprise – not in terms of them winning, but in terms of how lopsided the scores were (18, 11, 20). Lots of hitting errors for Örebro.

Wednesday
The match against Holte was a lot like when we played them the first time around. By that I mean it was a battle and nervy – at least from a coaching perspective. In a lot of ways, it was like going into a match against someone you’ve never seen. Over the break Holte brought in a new MB from Poland where her PlusLiga team folded mid-season (interestingly, the Brøndby coach was on-hand scouting the new addition). They also had back some players who didn’t play us the first time around, and one we did play was in a different position.

We won 3-1, but didn’t make it easy on ourselves. The first set was our best overall, with a 25-22 win. We passed a 1.86, sided-out at 64% and scored at 44%. Passing was pretty much downhill after that.

We got off to a horrible start to the 2nd set, falling behind 0-7 before finally getting going after I took a timeout. We played a lot better from there and clawed back to within 2 by midway into the set, but then had another rough patch that saw us get to down 14-20. Again, we pulled ourselves back into it to eventually fall 21-25. Had our back-up setter not missed her serve (subbing for our M1) to give Holte set point – after which we scored 4 points – we might have been able to get even closer.

We were the ones to jump ahead in the 3rd set, going up 5-1, but they slowly pulled it back, and by mid-set they manged to nose ahead. They eventually got out to a 22-17 advantage. From there, however, we dominated and eventually won 25-23.

Our starting setter suggest before the start of Set 3 that we spin the rotation a bit to get a better our O1 more swings against their small setter. I resisted at that point because we would almost certainly start in the same rotation on Saturday against Engelholm in Gran Prix. As a result, I wanted us to work through any issues we had. I did, however, turn the rotation back 2 clicks for the start of Set 4. I didn’t do this for a match-up, but rather to change things on our side in hopes of not repeating the start of Set 2.

Not sure that really worked, though, as we fell behind 0-4. That eventually saw us down 10-14 and 13-18 before we finally started to legitimately get on top of things. We tied it at 19-19 and eventually won going away 25-21.

Passing in the 4th set was pretty poor – 1.58. We managed a 59% side-out rate, but it was our serving that really made the difference. We had a 50% point scoring rate, thanks in part to 5 aces, which was nearly half of our match total.

Serve reception aside, I wasn’t really pleased with our defense. Positioning was, in particular, problematic (6 playing too shallow, line defender off the line and/or too shallow, etc.), but we also didn’t make digs we should have made. Our block seemed, for the most part, to be pretty well positioned. We only got 6 total blocks, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the story. I think a couple of our servers could have been more aggressive (too soft and loopy).

I was reasonably satisfied with our offense, though I did talk with our setter about play calling. She felt like she didn’t have a very good match in terms of execution, which is probably fair. There were a number of tight sets. One of the things I found myself thinking about afterwards is that we need to have a discussion about hitter audible set calls. They are making the calls, but I’m not sure how much tactical thinking is going into them.

The other broader issue I brought up with them during the match was that the energy level wasn’t where we normally play at. Our M1 at one point during a break specifically addressed body language and facial expressions and how we needed to fix them. The way we play with joy and passion is a key factor in our success so far, and something often commented on by those who see us in action.

Since we didn’t have a proper training coming up before Gran Prix, I took a minute after the match to speak with the team about the performance, which I don’t normally do. It was positively focused, though, and brief. I just complimented them on the big comebacks in the 3rd and 4th sets, telling them to file those away for use in the future when things get a bit rough.

We found out late that evening that Engelholm and Hylte were both in the process of signing new American OHs. These were anticipated moves. The timing was such that it would be really tight getting all the paperwork done in time for Gran Prix, but it might have been possible. Hylte’s signing is Kelsey Fien from Nebraska, who will be a big presence at the net, but is going to be a question in terms of back row play as she didn’t play back row in for the Huskers. Engelholm’s signing is Erin Fairs from Louisville.

Separately, Lindesberg has brought in a new setter – a Dutch player named Lydie van Deursen who played in the States for 2015 NAIA National Champs Columbia. Lydie’s last season at Columbia was in 2014, though.

Friday
Uppsala is a lengthy drive, which we started at about 10am. The plan was to stop for lunch along the way, and then to have an hour of court time after we got up there to shake off the effects of the long drive, with dinner following. That is what happened, but not on the time line expected. What was expected to be a 6-7 hour trip turned into a 10 hour haul due to snowy weather, road conditions, and dodgy tires on one of our vans.

We found out Thursday that Fien got her clearance to play for Hylte. I got to peak in on Engelholm’s training when we were waiting for our own upon arriving in Uppsala and saw Fairs working in with the first team as O1. Looked like she’d been cleared as well.

Saturday
We were given an 8:45-9:30 serve & pass slot ahead of our 12:30 match. The first semifinal between Hylte and Örebro started at 10:00. Hylte won 3-1, with their new player in the line-up – though I doubt they’d have needed her.

Gran Prix 2016 program 2016-01-10 08.00.16

Our match was definitely the more competitive of the two. Engelholm  did indeed start their new OH, and I’d have to say she made a difference. She was more solid in passing and defense then the player she replaced, and more potent in attack as well. Their big OPP was the still the main offensive threat, but especially early in the match we were able to limit her impact and force a number of hitting errors.

We traded set victories with us taking the first and third fairly comfortably, and them grabbing the second and fourth in closer fashion. In the end, they held us off to take the fifth 15-13. Arguably, there was a bad call by the R1 toward the end of the fourth set that might have cost us that one. I was at a bad angle to see the play, but others told me it was a bad call. Even still, you have to win by 2, so one single play wasn’t the difference in winning and losing.

I was asked by our club chairman for a comment on the match. After a bit of thought, I said the two teams could have been said to be quite even in the first half of the season, having split our regular season matches by equal 3-2 scores. Arguably, they made a significant upgrade to their team. The fact that we fought them very close without a similar upgrade of our own means we’re doing some good things.

I think the biggest thing we could have done better was decision-making, particularly in the offensive side of play.

By the way, this was the first time in my coaching in Sweden and Denmark that we had line judges.

Sunday
Our loss on Saturday meant a 9am match with Örebro to compete for the tournament bronze. Personally, I was happy to have a chance to play them given we haven’t seen them since the first week of the season. In a sense, it was like playing someone new. It was also an opportunity to reinforce the comparative strength of the southern group vs. the northern one.

All that said, anyone who’s ever been in a position to play for 3rd place after a heart-breaking loss in a semi knows how tough it can be to get motivated. Combine that with the early start and you get a 25-12 drubbing like we took in the first set. We passed horribly and our serving was lackluster resulting in them having about a 75% sideout rate. After the side change, the line judge on that side of the court asked me before the new set where our fighting spirit was. I told him apparently it was still in bed.

The second set didn’t start off much better. I think I called timeout at 3-8 and was pointed with them. I said something along the lines of asking them if they wanted to play like crap for another set and a half. Things didn’t get a whole lot better from there until we 10-19 down. Then the switch got flipped, or something. We scored the next 10 points and ended up winning 30-28. Our attack got in gear and we started digging more balls.

The next two sets were both one-sided. We couldn’t hold on to the momentum and lost 25-17. After that I turned the rotation to put our O1 going across the front from the beginning and we ran away 25-15 winners. The funny thing is in both those sets we passed a 2.0. The difference was in the 3rd we sided out at 50% and scored at 25% and in the 4th we sided out at 75% and scored at 54%.

I kept the 4th set rotation to start the 5th and we got out to an early lead, but then allowed them to get ahead in to the side change, 8-6. They eventually got to up 10-8, but then we ran off six straight to go up 14-10. We finished 15-12.

They have to keep learning the lesson of having to play with good energy and spirit and attacking aggressiveness to succeed.

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
The other two Elitserie matches from Tuesday went basically as expected. Gislaved and Lindesberg beat RIG and Sollentuna respectively 3-0. Those results didn’t alter the table at all. Engelholm’s win, however, drew them into a tie with us on 24 points, but we retain top spot on sets.

Our win over Holte moved us up to 2nd in the Oresund Liga table. We’ve played more matches than the teams above and below us, however.

Engelholm ended up winning Gran Prix with a 5-set victory over Hylte. One of the sets they won was 25-5. We had already left by then, but I was told it was 16-0 before Hylte finally scored. Wow!

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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