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Tag Archive for schedule

Pre-conference vs. pre-season

I want to address something that confuses volleyball people outside the US at times.

In professional sports – including volleyball – pre-season preparation includes a certain amount of external competition. They televise and analyze these games in the NFL, for example. In other sports, not so much.

Volleyball is one of those sports.

Professional teams (and non-pros as well) play loads matches during their pre-season which they call friendlies. I watched one in 2015 when I was at Bühl. They hosted a Dutch team. If I remember correctly, they played something like 15 friendlies in 2014. That’s over the course of a pre-season lasting about two months. When I coached in Sweden, we played 5 or 6 friendlies during our month of preparation.

But they don’t count for anything.

Yes, my Svedala team won a pre-season tournament in Denmark. It did not, however, influence any kind of standings or rankings. This is where things are very different for NCAA teams.

In US college volleyball teams play lots of matches before they get into conference play. We don’t call them friendlies, though. We call them pre-conference or non-conference matches (not all happen before conference play) and they count toward our official season. The NCAA permits teams to play on a specific number of dates. Conference matches take up a certain number of those dates. Schools fill the rest with non-conference matches.

Once upon a time, pre-conference matches served the same purpose as do friendlies in the professional game. They helped prepare a team for conference play. Maybe also to give non-starters some playing time – especially when they happen during the conference season.

Then there came into consideration at-large bids to the NCAA championship tournament. Tournament selection committees had to compare teams from all over the country, which saw things like strength of schedule, polls, and eventually the RPI develop. And of course, once you have those things, you get schools aiming to make themselves look attractive to the committee. Generally speaking, teams don’t control their conference schedule. That just leaves their non-conference schedule open to manipulation.

Let me provide an example from NCAA Division II.

At this level the first three rounds of play are regionalized. By that I mean the country has been divided up into 8 regions. Each comprises a group of conferences. From those conferences, a committee selects eight teams to compete in their NCAA Regional tournament. The regional tournament winners then advance to the national quarterfinal round.

The eight teams who reach the regional tournaments do so in two ways. First are the automatic qualifiers. Those are the champions of the conferences in that region. Midwestern State is in the NCAA’s South Central region as part of the Lone Star Conference. The Heartland Conference and the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference are the other two conferences in the region. The winner of each earns an automatic bid to the NCAA regional tournament.

Now that three automatic spots are covered, that leaves five for the selection committee to fill. These are done primarily from the Region’s ranking of teams. The rankings reflect how teams in the region do against each other and how they do against common opponents, among other factors.

So if a team wants to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA regional tournament it must demonstrate its strength relative to other prospective at-large teams in that region. Teams do so by playing non-conference teams within the region. It can also mean playing teams outside the region that demonstrate your level of play in comparison to others.

The bottom line is that non-conference match selection matters for at least some teams. Not only must a team select its opposition well, it must do well against them. This is why we don’t call them friendly, and why we count them as part of our official season. You can compare this whole process to how the CEV ranks countries and teams based on their performance in CEV competitions for consideration toward bid distribution and seedings.

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.