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Tag Archive for Buenos Aires

Coaching Log – August 29, 2017

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

We’re back from Buenos Aires. I wrote a fairly detailed post about the trip here, but I’ll have a bit more to say about it from a coaching perspective below.

School starts today and our 2017 schedule begins on Friday. As I posted on social media earlier, we have five teams in the preseason AVCA poll Top 25 on the calendar. Two of them are teams we play this coming weekend – Central Oklahoma and Rockhurst.

Pre-season conference poll

In an interesting development, we were picked to finish 9th in our conference in the pre-season voting. That’s worse than our finish last year. The two teams below us are Cameron and UTPB. We beat both easily each time we played them last year.

Angelo was picked to finish 1st, with Tarleton pegged for 2nd place, in line with the pre-season rankings. Angelo lost their All-American OH to graduation, but had some depth last year. They might not deserve #9 in the nation. They probably deserve #1 in the conference at this point, though.

Buenos Aires trip

From a volleyball perspective, the Buenos Aires trip was definitely worthwhile. It presented the players with a number of challenges. The balls were different (harder and lighter) and the training facilities were more limited than what we’re used to and with very different lighting. That forced some adaptations. The first part of our first training session was really, really ugly in terms of ball-handling. Things got better pretty quickly though.

We practiced every day but one, albeit sometimes shorter on the days around our matches. A lot of our focus was on the defensive side of things. That doesn’t mean we didn’t do everything, but the feedback tended to be concentrated on defense.

Getting to face outside competition was very useful. We played everyone on our roster, though not equally. We switched around between 5-1 and 6-2 systems and had fun trying to work within the FIVB rule structure used during our first match against San Lorenzo. All the lineup mixing meant we didn’t have a consistent starting six, but the point was to see how everyone performed and reacted to the circumstances. To that end there were definitely some pleasant surprises – particularly among the newcomers.

We played four sets the first match. The second set was a close 24-26 loss, but the rest were quite lopsided. Not surprisingly, we were pretty tight in the first set. Our serving was not nearly strong enough to trouble San Lorenzo. Overall they sided out 71% of the time. We made quite a new in-the-net service errors and had too many hitting errors overall. The bright spots were in serve reception and blocking. We got 7 blocks to their 4 and passed a respectable 1.95 against a pretty good serving team.

The second match against San Lorenzo also went four sets, but this time we won one of them. They started off with a strong team and beat us pretty good again, but brought in a number of younger players for the second. That’s the set we won, but even then it was tight. We were a bit sloppy. The remaining sets they played a more balanced squad and won comfortably.

Our passing in this match was solid to start, but took a dive especially in the 4th set. We ended up at 1.84 overall. We served a bit better this time, but still not strong enough to really put San Lorenzo under consistent pressure.

The final match we played was against Boca Juniors. We used their gym for our practices. They were down a bunch of players to national team call-up, so we basically just played them in a scrimmage during our last training session. We had to loan them a couple of our pin hitters for the match. It ended up being a 5-set match, which was a great way to end the trip.

They want our players!

One of the more interesting developments on the trip is that both San Lorenzo and Boca Juniors had positive things to say about some of our players. One of them actually said they’d sign our senior setter for their next Metropolitan League campaign starting in March. There were some conversations about doing player exchanges which might carry forward. NCAA rules are a major consideration there, however.

All-Staff meeting

In a complete reversal of my experience with such things, we actually had a meeting of the full athletics staff that ran shorter than the planned time. It was just a bit of an information dump ahead of the new school year. The only thing that really caught my attention was the potential expansion of the Lone Star Conference (LSC) via a merger with the Heartland Conference. That could get the LSC up to 20 teams, which would certainly force changes in the scheduling.

Pre-season concluded

We wanted the players to get moving again on Thursday after all the travel Tuesday/Wednesday, so we had them do weights and a short practice. The latter was mainly about getting a bunch of touches and re-acclimating to our balls.

On Friday we did two sessions for the last time. In the morning we only went an hour. It was similar to Thursday’s session in that we focused on ball-handling and the offensive patterns for the middles and right side hitters. In the afternoon we went longer and almost exclusively competitive.

Mustangs in Baires!

The title of this article ties in with one of the hashtags we used for the Midwestern State University (MSU) Volleyball team trip to Buenos Aires. Baires is apparently how the locals refer to the city, and the school mascot is the mustang. Thus, #MustangsInBaires. We also used #HITM, which stands for history in the making. The trip was the first ever by an MSU sports team, so truly a history making experience.

Travel: Wichita Falls, TX to Buenos Aires, Argentina

The trip started with a 6am bus departure from campus to DFW airport. There we boarded a flight to Miami to connect on to Argentina. We had a bit of a delay before our second flight, but otherwise the trip was without meaningful incident. We arrived in Buenos Aires at a bit after 5am and were to our hotel by a little after 6am, if memory serves.

Day 1 in Baires

Fortunately, we were able to get everyone in rooms within an hour or two of our arrival at the hotel. That let everyone get a nap before lunch at noon. Afterwards, we headed off to the La Recoleta area for some exploration. We had a couple locals to help as guides that day. The group split up and went in different directions. Mainly, it was a lot of shopping at the outdoor market and getting coffee at one of the area cafes. Some of us also managed to have a look around the famous cemetery.

We walked to La Recoleta from our hotel a short way from the Obelisk. Coming back, we had the first of many experiences using the local public transportation. In this case, it was the subway (Subte). Someone with a step counter figured we walked 8-9 miles that day. I know I felt like it!

Day 2 – The work begins

Our first full day in Baires began with breakfast in the hotel. Then it was off to take a city bus to practice. There was some question as to whether we’d get everyone in that time of day (about 8:30am), but it worked out. We traveled to the Boca district where Boca Juniors has its training facility. There we did some strength work before shifting over to volleyball. The facilities weren’t really set up to accommodate our numbers, but the players worked out alternative exercises.

The big challenge of the day was trying to get used to the different balls. While the ones they have are similar in style to those we play with back home (Molten), they have a little bit of a different feel and play somewhat lighter. The first hour of practice was ugly! ๐Ÿ™‚

There was some down time after lunch. Then it was off to the Puerto Madero area for a bit more exploration and dinner. That added to our mileage count, for sure, but the sights were great and the food fantastic.

Day 3 – Tranquile

We kept things fairly chill on the third day, knowing we had our first match the next night. There was again morning practice, but we kept the afternoon activities limited. The players were allowed to go for coffee and/or shopping within 5 blocks of the hotel, in the company of a member of the staff. We were all back to the hotel by 7:00 for a team video review session, followed by dinner and a relatively early night.

Day 4 – First match

We did a short practice at Boca in the morning, after a later start to give the players a bit more rest. Some errands were run in the afternoon, but mainly it was quiet time ahead of our match.

The trip to the match was definitely an adventure! We took the subway, and it was rush hour. A lot of people live in Buenos Aires. Let’s just say the players got real friendly. ๐Ÿ™‚ It took us like 90 minutes to make the full trip, which was not what we planned.

San Lorenzo hosted us that evening for an 8:30 start (matches start late in Argentina). Along with Boca, they are one of the two strongest clubs in Buenos Aires. That means they have some very strong players. We knew going in we would be up against some very tough competition and that’s indeed what we got! Two of San Lorenzo’s hitters had as much power as I’ve ever seen in a female attacker.

We played the match using FIVB rules. Mainly, that means we couldn’t use nearly as many subs as we normally could. We ended up using a decidedly non-traditional approach where sometimes we ran a kind of 6-2 and others we used DSs for our RS players.

Four sets were played in total. San Lorenzo won them all, as expected. Mostly the scores were like 25-15, but we did have a tight second set of 26-24. The difference, of course, was in the errors. We missed a lot of serves – many of which landed in the net. And when that wasn’t the case, we gave them a lot of lollipops all too often. Our block did a decent job, but you can imagine the end result when facing talented attackers.

Day 5 – Continuing the learning

We did another morning practice at Boca, then at lunch in their cafeteria. Interestingly, females are not usually allowed to eat there. It’s only for the boys soccer players in the Boca academy. Something about not wanting the boys distracted.

After lunch we toured La Bombonera, their soccer stadium.

We also got to go inside Boca’s competition gym.

Then we went around the local neighborhood and to nearby Caminito. Mostly, that means shopping. After the late night before, it was a pretty tiring day. We ate a dinner of pizza and empanadas, then did a video review session from the previous night’s match. It was good for the players to see what they did, and what San Lorenzo did as well.

Day 6 – Second match

After a later wake-up, it was back to Boca for another pre-match session. Before we got started we were able to take a joint photo with the Boca men’s and women’s teams who were also training. I got to make yet another trip to the stadium to pay the previous day’s lunch bill.

That night it was back to San Lorenzo for our second match. Originally, the plan was to play Boca. Unfortunately, we they were short on available bodies. So instead we played San Lorzeno again. This time we did it using NCAA rules. It gave us a chance to practice the sort of changes we will probably make during our season. Interestingly, the San Lorenzo coach has apparently argued to increase the number of subs they are allowed to use in the league here.

After Wednesday’s experience, we opted for a chartered bus trip option to the match this time. Some of the players were horrified by the driving of the buses through the rush hour traffic, but everyone made it in one piece.

San Lorenzo started with a fairly strong lineup and the score of the set was similar to the ones from the prior match. That said, I think we played better generally.

In the second set, their coach made wholesale changes. He made ample use of the more generous subs to use a lot of younger players. I think there were four who made their debut in the first team. Some were very young – like 15 or 16. We ended up winning the set, but it was a bit of a struggle at times.

In the remaining sets they did more mixing of older and younger players. It gave them a bit of an advantage, especially with us mixing our lineups around. In the end we fell 3-1. The energy was very good throughout, though. The players really enjoyed the singing post-match by the local supporters. Excuse the sideways video. Not my doing.

Day 7 – Tango

We had another morning practice this day to keep working on things. That meant another trip to Boca. It was a bit drawn out by the fact that we needed to get the bus from a different place than usual. Also, for the first time on the trip it was raining a bit.

Practice wasn’t the day’s big event, though. That was the tango lesson the team did later, and the dinner & show we attended. The team learned a few tango steps during a session that lasted a bit over an hour. We all then moved downstairs from the dance studio to the restaurant. It was located in the San Telmo area of the city. The show was a mixture of dancing and signing. There was a bit of crowd participation in both. One of the players, who did quite well in class, was brought up on stage when members of the audience danced with the performers.

The players seemed to enjoy the experience, though things ran rather late. You could see them flagging at the end. We Americans just aren’t acclimated to the later hours.

Day 8 – Off Day

Sunday was a rest day. Everyone had a chance to sleep in. We didn’t come together until 11:00 when we headed over to the Palermo area. That’s definitely the high rent district, as witnessed by the US embassy being there. We were not allowed to take photos by the gate, but we did so from across the street with the building (and the flag) in the background. We wandered through one of the parks there and had some lunch.

The second stop was a return to La Recoleta. Remember we were there on Day 1. The players wanted to a chance to revisit the Sunday market stalls, and most of the group didn’t get to see the famous cemetery the first time around.

From there, it was back to the hotel for dinner and a relatively early night.

Day 9 – Back to work

It was a holiday Monday in Argentina, so we were not on our normal practice schedule. Instead, we had a 2pm – 5pm slot at Boca. We got together as a team at 11:00 for another video review session to look at the second San Lorenzo match. After that, it was lunch, then off to training.

Practice followed weights and was perhaps the best of the trip in terms of competitiveness, energy, and focus. Afterwards, we stopped near Casa Rosada (Argentina’s equivalent to the White House) and took photos of the area.

In the evening, we had 8:00pm dinner. The rest of the time we left for the players to start packing for the next day’s departure.

Day 10 – Last day in Argentina

We once more had morning practice at Boca. This final one was a twist, though. We did a sort of mixed squad scrimmage with the available Boca players. We loaned them a pair of pin attackers to fill in for national team call-ups. It was a good match. We went five sets because that’s how the match played out, not just to get five sets in. Boca won the first and third. We won the second and fourth. The fifth set they won fairly easily in the end.

As was our pattern, we swapped lineups around throughout the match. Could we have won? Perhaps. But our focus was on giving every player court time, and for a couple time in different positions.

After lunch we took the afternoon off to nap and get ready to check out. The hotel allowed us to stay in our rooms until 6:00pm, which was really helpful. We actually had everyone out at 5:00 so we could do a team meeting before our 6:30 departure for the airport.

Our flight out of Buenos Aires was at 11:15pm. Another overnight flight for the trip back!

Day 11 – Return to Wichita Falls

After a brutal pair of flights (uncomfortable and I slept very little), we reached campus at the end of a 2-hour bus ride. We were quite excited to see the school’s big bus roll up at the airport. Then a big cheer went up as we turned into campus.

The Day After

The President of the university came to team practice the day after we returned. So too did the Athletic Director. Yes, we had team practice.ย And weight training. We wanted to get the team moving again and to get used to our balls once more.

Conclusions

Did everything go perfectly? Of course not. But that’s actually partly the point. A trip like this is about taking people out of their comfort zones and letting them overcome a new set of challenges. So it’s not a big deal that some parts of the trip could have been better. It went well enough with no major issues.

The point of the trip was to give this group of players a collective experience. It was the sort of experience that can be a foundation for years to come. The players all now have a common set of memories they can share for years.

They also got to see a very different type of volleyball – both in terms of play and atmosphere. That is stuff they can use immediately this season.

I talk more about this trip with respect to what we did on the volleyball side of things in my coaching log. I’ll also write a separate piece about the organization. Maybe it will help you plan your own event.