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Coaching Log – September 18, 2017

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

It’s Lone Star Conference time!

The latest AVCA Coaches Poll for Division II saw two LSC teams in the Top 25 – Angelo at #5 and Tarleton at #14. Both of them moved up after playing in a very competitive tournament the prior weekend. Angelo’s only lost thus far was in four to the current #2 team in the country, defending champions Concordia-St. Paul. Tarleton to this point has had the toughest schedule in the conference. Entering this week, they had played all but two matches to-date against currently ranked teams. One of them was Angelo, who beat them rather convincingly in tournament play.

Conference teams also played a number of midweek matches. In most cases they were against teams from the Heartland Conference, which is part of our NCAA region. The LSC teams all but one of them, which is good for our teams’ regional rankings.

Monday

We spent about 30 minutes at the start of practice talking first about how we’re doing in our key statistical metrics related to serving, passing, and hitting, and then about our psychology at the start of sets. Naturally, that ate into our on-court time. This resulted in a shortened session.

Most of the time we were in in two groups. On one court the defensive players worked on digging harder attacks, while on the other the net players worked on blocking. In the case of the latter, a lot of attention was on eye focus (e.g. ball-setter-ball-hitter). Specifically, we need to do a much better job with hitter tracking and block timing.

The split group work took up about and hour of practicing. That left about 30 minutes for the remainder. Most of that was a repeat of the drill we did last week where we went high tempo and had them focused on quick positional movements and stopping before contact. We finished the session with more pressure serving.

Tuesday

Another day for the split groups. Continuing from Monday’s work, we focused a lot on blocking. Each session ran the same sequence of drills. We started with a serving warm-up, then some target work. From there we shifted to serving & passing. As as been the pattern of late, we began with 2-person reception covering the whole court. We use it to ensure the passers continue to work on good movement to the ball since they have to cover more ground.

The progression from there was to 3-person reception, with hitting and blocking added. Half the time it featured MB/OH attack vs MB/RS block, while the other half the time we reversed it. The two attacker options kept the block from cheating, and in some cases forced them to track moving hitters.

Next up was a variation on the Cooperative Cross-Court Hitting drill. In this case we only had one back row player, plus a blocker. The idea was to work on the defense playing around the block in their specific area of responsibility. We made it competitive as well, with teams scoring via earned points (kills and blocks).

The last primary exercise repeated the repetitive transition drill we used the prior week. That’s the one were the 6-player team needed five consecutive plays where they quickly returned to base after an attack, while also being disciplined in hitter coverage. Failure to do so saw the team revert back to zero in their count.

Each group ended with more pressure serving akin to Run & Serve.

Wednesday

We continued working on blocking this session, alongside some serve and pass and defense. Slides, though, were the big focal point. We want to get better running them, and at the same time we knew defensively we’d be facing them from upcoming opposition. Aside from just working on the timing and tempo, we created a game situation which encouraged them. This was in the form of a game where only the receiving could score. Specifically, they could only score if they first ran a slide out of serve reception. They didn’t need a first ball kill, though. They simply needed to win that rally. Whichever team won the rally earned the right to receive. Some good progress seemed to be made offensively. Defense could still use work, though.

Thursday

Back on the road once more. But first, we did a midday practice. We contemplated doing a practice at our destination. The MSU men’s soccer team had a match there that the team wanted to attend, though, so we opted for the earlier practice choice.

We used the opportunity to get some focused attacking done by the OHs and RS. They haven’t had the attention of late that the MBs got. To do so we did some pass-to-attack with targeted swings. The remainder of the session was given over to 6 v 6 play where we whistled on failures in defensive or coverage discipline.

The soccer team won their match, by the way. They left it VERY late, though. When they scored right near the end of the first overtime the whole team ran over to celebrate in front of where we sat in the bleachers. Great scene!

Friday

The first match of our 2017 LSC season was away to West Texas A&M. They finished 6th in the league in 2016 and were voted in at 5th in the pre-season conference poll. They went 4-0 in their opening weekend tournament at home, but were only 1-3 last weekend. That could have been influenced by having to change plans late. They were supposed to play in Florida, but had that event cancelled due to Hurricane Irma. That forced a scramble, which resulted in them playing in a tournament in Illinois.

Of note, WT is one of the two schools where video challenge is supposed to be available this year. It wasn’t ready for our match, though.

Definitely not our best match. Based on post-match comments, we just never had the right mindset. It showed. Too much feeling of the pressure to win and not enough fun. It showed up for sure in our serving, which simply did not put enough pressure on the opposition. Way too many ended up in 6. We also seemed to feel like we had to do more than just the simple things, resulting in too many errors – especially early on. Midway through the 2nd set we did get our noses in front, but could not hold it. That was our only real opportunity.

In the end we hit an anemic .153 (by our potential). We let them hit .243. Just let them run in-system too much. There weren’t a lot of bright spots, but our freshman OH did get 12 kills and hit for a reasonable percentage. Also, our libero grabbed 23 digs.

We also played Nebraska-Kearney the same day. They won the MIAA last year and came in at #6 in the latest poll. West Texas arranged for both of us to play them. Obviously, we did not expect to win this one. We agreed to play it to help our strength of schedule. As with playing the other ranked teams, it could factor in to our chances of making the NCAA tournament. Naturally, that only happens if we have a good season.

This match was much more free and fun. We weren’t shy about going after them. They’re obviously a good team, and they handled us in the first two sets, but we definitely put them under pressure in the third. They actually were up on us 18-13 in that set, but we came storming back. We had two serves for set point, but ended up going down 26-28.

Our senior MB had a very good match. She hit .538 and picked up a trio of blocks. We also got some other players court time. Our current second setter ran the offense in the final set. Our freshman RS was a serving sub. She was instrumental in our comeback. Our sophomore OH also got some time as she continues to ramp up after an early season injury. She performed well enough to earn the start on Saturday.

Saturday

UT Permian Basin was the second LSC match of the campaign. They finished 10th last year, and are expected by the voters to finish there again this year. It is worth remembering, though, that their 5-set comeback win at the end of last season allowed us to reach the conference tournament. We saw them at the St. Edward’s tournament when were were there. They went 1-2 overall, beating Southern Arkansas, but falling in 5 to Black Hills, and in 4 to the hosts. They also lost on Tuesday in 4 to Lubbock Christian among that day’s LSC-Heartland match-ups. On Friday, though, they beat Cameron in their conference opener, 4-1.

Honestly, although it was a comfortable 3-0 win in the end, this one was too see-saw. We were clearly the better team, but gave up runs that let UTPB close the gap a couple different times. For example, in the first we were up 12-5, then saw them fight back to 13-12. Then we were up 20-14, and let them get it to 22-20. In the third we led 23-18, but let them get it to 23-21. Only in the second set did we run away with the game.

Our first set hitting percentage was only .211, but we were much better after that to end the match at .298. We kept them to just .109. Our junior OH hit .535. Our freshman MB, who has struggled lately with her connections, went for a solid .429, and our senior MB grabbed 5 blocks.

Interestingly, UPTB employed a triple block against the latter when we were in-system in serve receive. Obviously, they did their scouting and saw that she is a leading attacker for us. The problem is we are not so one-dimensional as that. That strategy left big space for our pin hitters, which we exploited ruthlessly.

In other news

On Wednesday we reached the end of a drawn out saga related to one of our freshmen middles. Because she failed a class during the final high school term, she came up a half year short of meeting the NCAA’s core requirements for eligibility. That made her a “partial qualifier”. Basically, this means she is eligible to practice, but cannot compete and cannot travel (she missed the Buenos Aires trip and hasn’t been with us for our two tournament trips). This applies to her whole first year. It’s kind of like an academic red shirt situation. The NCAA basically forces student-athletes in this situation to focus on their school work. We hoped to get the NCAA to reverse the ruling, but in the end our efforts were for naught.

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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