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Coaching Log – October 2, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The uncertainty of where teams rank in the Lone Star Conference remains after more interesting weekend results. One of them was Cameron beating Western New Mexico on Saturday after Western beat us Friday. Angelo grabbed wins at both West Texas and UTPB, so there are no longer any winless teams. That loss by West Texas means every team also has at least one loss. Very interestingly, Kingsville beat both Commerce and Texas Woman’s at home.

This is setting up for a VERY interesting LSC season!

Every team has played at least four matches now. Statistically, we rank 5th in hitting efficiency and 3rd in opponent efficiency. We’re 4th in kills/set and 1st in opponent kills/set. In terms of blocks, we are currently 6th in our per set average, and 1st in opponent blocks. For serving, we are 2nd in aces/set, though we’re 8th in aces suffered. We’re 4th in digs/set and 7th in opposition digs. All in all, not a bad. We can certainly get better, but it suggests a competitive team.

Monday

We again started the session with a stat review. Then we moved on to talk about the next evening’s opposition. Once we got to work, there were two major focus points. One was better spacing for our Middles on their quick attacks. The other was minimizing errors without getting too conservative. We focused on the latter via the scoring system we used.

First up was an out-of-system game (first ball initiated to the setter). Errors resulted not only in a point for the other team, but also a point deduction for your own side. We played that one to 15.

The second game was a normal one. In this case, though, if a team made an error their score reverted to 0. We played to 8.

Tuesday

This was our away match against our travel partners, Cameron. They came in 1-3 in conference and 3-8 overall. After finishing bottom of the league with only one win in 2016, Cameron replaced their coach. The preseason expectations, however, were for more of the same in 2017. They did, though, just beat Western NM on Saturday.

Interestingly, unlike most teams running a 5-1 offense, Cameron have been employing a formation where the MB leads the setter rather than trailing. It’s a formation that lacks some flexibility in serve receive. That can be overcome, though, if you have the right mixture of personnel. It definitely gave us something different to look at and deal with.

This was a very disappointing match, resulting in a 3-1 loss. In many ways it was similar to how we played on Friday. Against a team where we really just needed to hit basically half a court with our serves we missed 11 – several at bad times. Our offense hit at a season-worst .106 efficiency thanks to being at basically 20% errors. Our middles combined to hit negative. Mentally we were just all over the place with how we played and our decision-making. It was extremely frustrating to watch.

Wednesday

We meant for this session to be a shorter one, but it didn’t really end up that way.

Before practice we made the decision to go right into things without much in the way of “warm-up” activity. That was to get them out of their comfort zone and to make them realize they can play without everything being just so. That’s not to say we made them play without any warm-up, of course.

We started them off with Brazilian 2-ball tennis. As usual, the energy was high and the players were competitive. From there we jumped into 6-v-6. We repeated the “back to zero” game from Monday.it took a while for one team to finally get to 8. Missed serves were definitely a killer. Unfortunately, while blocking our second string setter suffered broken pinky finger.

Then things got tough. We did an offense vs. defense exercise we’ve done a couple times before. It’s one were the defensive side needs to demonstrate discipline in movement and being set before contact and covering their attackers. We keep feeding balls into the setter on the attacking team until the defenders reach their goal. The first few rounds went fairly well. Then we hit a bad one. It went on and on and on. Players on both sides were exhausted, which just make things harder and harder. There was a serious mental breakdown on the defensive side. We had a long group chat after about how we have to fight through that sort of situation and beat the drill.

We finished up with a last 6 v 6 wash exercise. One team received a serve. If they won that rally, the serving team attacked an out-of-system ball at them through Position 4. If they also won that, they had another OOS ball hit at them from Position 2. Winning that rally earned them a point. If the lost a rally anywhere along the way, the sequence restarted at the serve. Our major focus for this last exercise was middle hitter spacing on quick attacks, to continue a theme for the week.

Thursday

After a scouting report session ahead of Friday’s match, we began the session with the competitive version of the cooperative cross-court hitting game. We included our middles as blockers to give them some work on better closing their blocks. Offense vs. defense followed, with a focus on middle/left attacking vs middle/right blocking. The last bit of game play was a standard 6 v 6 using “bank your points” scoring.

Unfortunately, we didn’t make it all the way through the game. Our third string setter took an elbow to the head that sidelined her for the remainder of the session. She was eventually diagnosed with a concussion. We wrapped things up with some pressure serving.

Friday

Back home for our next conference match, this time against Texas Woman’s. Preseason voting put them at 8th this season, one place ahead of us. They came into the match at 2-2 in the LSC and 4-8 overall. Several of those losses, though, were against strong teams. In their prior match they lost in four to Kingsville.

This match was night and day different from Tuesday. The energy was far, far better. No uptight start to the match for a change. We played a very clean, efficient match. Our serves kept them under constant pressure, with six aces against 8 errors. We made only 9 hitting errors in 98 swings, and got a solid 37 kills for a .286 efficiency. By contrast our opponent hit only .104. Not surprisingly, we won 3-0.

This was MSU’s first victory over TWU since 2010, and the first at home since 2009.

Saturday

Commerce was the foe this day. They were picked to finish 4th in the preseason poll after coming in 5th in 2016. They entered the match at 3-2 in the conference and 7-7 overall after beating Cameron the night before. We saw them the first week of the season at the Tarleton tournament where they played the same schedule we did. Their results were comparable. They defeated Cameron 3-1 on Friday.

Unfortunately, we did not repeat the performance of our previous match. Commerce came in ranked top in the conference in blocks/set, and for sure that prowess played a part in the match. We had our troubles offensively, only hitting for a .114 efficiency. The biggest issue, though, was a lack of fight. We didn’t have any, really, until the third set. Had we made fewer hitting errors in that frame, we might have extended the match. As it was, we ended up going down 3-0.

The only bright spot was that our middles both hit pretty well and got their share of digs. That’s a part of our game that needs to reassert itself if we’re to improve going forward.

Additional news

You may recall that during warm-ups before our first home match of the year our freshman OH went down with a knee injury. She did a lot of damage, including tearing her ACL. So she’s done for the year. On the plus side, her spirits are good and reports about her rehab pre-surgery and prospects for recovery after are quite good.

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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