Coaching Log – September 25, 2017

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

There were some really interesting results in the conference over the weekend! Most notably, Angelo lost both times out – at Commerce and at Texas Woman’s. That was a stunner. This was the #6 team in the poll losing to two unranked ones, and making many more errors than we’re used to seeing them make. Commerce also beat #14 Tarleton, which means they have to be taken very seriously now. Tarleton managed to beat Texas Woman’s, but not easily.

The other interesting set of results happened in New Mexico. Recall I reported last week that Western NM swept Eastern NM on Tuesday night at Western. Well, on Friday Eastern hosted Kingsville and won easily. Kingsville then went to Western on Saturday and beat them without much problem.

Monday

We started out with a review of the stats from the weekend and a bit of video to look at places we want to improve. That’s mostly to do with block and defense. From there it was a relatively short session with a strong game orientation.

After warming up, we played a continuous out-of-system attacking game. That was largely aimed at working on closing up our block on higher sets. The rest of the time was a serve receive and transition game. The teams switched off serving five balls and we went through all the rotations.

Tuesday

A few players did extra work, but we didn’t have any official practice this day. Instead, the two groups that normally went did bystander training with one of our Associate Athletic Directors. All teams have to do it, and this was the best option we could see.

Some of the other teams in the conference played matches. In a match up of the two teams we just played, West Texas easily beat UTPB at home. The really interesting match, though, was Texas Woman’s hosting Commerce. The former won fairly comfortably, which keeps us all wondering how the league will fall out this year.

Wednesday

Practice was mixed. After splitting out to do serving and passing on one court and attacking with the MBs and RS on the other, we brought it back to 6 v 6. We did the same sort of offense vs. defense we used on Monday, with some bonus points on offer.

The other 6 v 6 work we did was the 22 v 22 game. We put the focus on first-ball kills by giving the receiving team the automatic point if they got an immediate kill. The serving team got an automatic point for an ace or a block on the initial attack. Honestly, we lacked a bit of focus. It probably showed most in fairly poor passing.

At the end of practice we did more pressure serving. This was were things got difficult. They struggled. Frustration was clear. We stopped after several rounds without the team completing the objective. It was the end of our practices slot. We talked about the poor energy and how we needed to learn to push through in these situations. It was like our West Texas match from the prior Friday. To their credit, the captains pushed to continue. That’s what we did, and the energy was much better. They still didn’t finish, as we had to clear the gym. The serves were much better all around, though.

In the sole match of the night featuring conference teams, Angelo faced off against Tarleton for the second time. Recall that Angelo won the first one in a sweep. This time it was Tarleton taking the win, and on Angelo’s home court at that. That gave Angelo three losses, which is more than they had in-conference all of last season.

Thursday

The day’s session started with a scouting report on Friday’s opponent. Then we had a fairly lively session. It wasn’t the cleanest, most focused though. Basically, that’s in keeping with the pattern of the week.

We started with Brazilian 2-ball to get their competitive juices flowing. From there we moved into a 7 v 7 out-of-system game. What that entailed was two blockers on each pin, no MB, and three back row defenders. When a team was on offense, the outside of the two pin blockers peeled off the court, so only the inside ones were attackers. We did this to try to ensure high ball swings against good blocks.

From there, two keep working on serve receive offense, we did a 6 v 6 wash game. Each team received three serves. To earn a big point, they had to win two of the three service rallies. If not, it was a wash. After both teams received, we rotated.

Because we had some players leave for class, we went into backrow 4s after the 6s. We finished up with more of the pressure serving.

Friday

Finally, we had our first home match of the season! We hosted Western New Mexico. They were 7th in the preseason poll. That’s one place below their 2016 final standing. They came in at 1-8 overall, but some of those losses were against good teams, including two in the Top 25. Their size gave us real problems last year, but we should handle that better this season. They came into our match at 1-1 in conference after beating Eastern NM and losing to Kingsville in the first week.

Our match started poorly. During warm-ups our freshman OH injured herself. One more thing in a difficult week (see below). I don’t think she was going to start, but she might have gotten some playing time. She’s played quite a bit up to this point and done reasonably well.

The match was very frustrating. Errors dominated – mainly ours. We lost 3-1. Our players earned 66 points from kills, aces, and blocks. They only managed 51. And yet the scores were 17-25, 25-15, 23-25, and 17-25. There were 15 errors of the service variety, and 27 in attack. Of the latter, 11 came in the final set. So even though we kept them to hitting only .132 – partly with the help of 12 blocks, we only managed .139 ourselves. We failed to keep sustained pressure on them from the service line when they were definitely struggling in reception.

Things could have been very different had we finished the comeback we began in the third set. We fell behind early, again thanks to errors. Things turned around, though, and we narrowed the gap Unfortunately, a hitting error on a 1 v 1 swing on the right ended the set.

All in all, just too many sub-par performances. Our sophomore OH and senior MB both, though, had good nights going, but together accounted for seven of the 11 hitting errors in the fourth set. Our senior libero had an all-together off night in both serving and passing, and while our senior setter had some very good patches, she was uneven in her decision-making.

On the plus side, it was largely fixable stuff. Also, our senior OH, who we put in the O1 position because she’s been doing really well against bigger blocks and had a good week of practice, had a very good match. She tallied 18 kills, picked up 3 aces and 8 digs playing mainly front row.

Saturday

Our second home match was against Eastern New Mexico. They were picked in preseason as the 6th best team. That’s two places lower than where they ended last season. No doubt a part of that move is the loss to graduation of by far their best hitter. They came in at 3-7 overall, and as with Western they’ve played some good teams (three in the Top 25). We split with them last year, with each of us winning on the other team’s court. They defeated Cameron on Friday, 3-1.

We got on top of them quickly in the first set, with the help of good targeted serving. Eastern. It was an easy 25-17 win in the end, but Eastern got better. They took an early lead in the second set, but we kept it close and eventually pulled ahead to win 26-24. In the third set we were generally on the front foot. We won 25-21 to take the match 3-0.

Our passing wasn’t the best, at just 1.84, but we were about 64% siding out. Our serves produced 9 aces against only 5 errors, and we scored at 49%. Eastern is a very solid defensive team, so our kill % was lower than usual, but we kept our errors down to hit for a .233 efficiency on the match. At the same time, our defense was equally stout. We held them to just .142. Our senior OH continued her good attacking play led all hitters with 13 kills on the match.

By the way, we actually had a full squad of cheerleaders at the match. The head coach said it was he first time she can remember that happening. Last year a couple of them would show up and sit in the stands. This time they actually were in full action.

A difficult week off the court

We found out early on Wednesday that a football player injured in the team’s game on Saturday died as a result. It hit the campus hard, as you can imagine. The head coach gave the players a chance to talk through what they were feeling before we got practice started that day. There were a lot of tears. I’ve heard of football players dying on the field, but never from an injury sustained during play.

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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