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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.