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Coaching Log – November 13, 2017

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

On to the final week of the Lone Star Conference season. There weren’t any major surprises in the prior week’s results, though for our sake we would have liked a couple of them to go differently. In particular, it would have been good if Texas Woman’s had won at Eastern NM. They did not, though. Combine that with our own results and the end result is that we are mathematically eliminated from the conference tournament for 2017.

Interesting to note that 8 out of the 11 teams had a conference record of at least .500.

Tarleton locked in the #1 spot for the regular season, and as a result will host the LSC tournament. Commerce was very likely to end up #2 given they had UTPB at home on Friday and only needed one win to seal the deal. After that, there were a number of different possibilities for how tournament seeding could fall out.

Monday

Our senior setter was back in training, though with a heavily taped ankle. Not surprisingly, that slowed her down, but she was effectively nevertheless. At least offensively, anyway.

Practice featured a lot of competition. We started with Brazilian Tennis, then shifted to a type of 5 v 5 game. It featured a setter, middle, and three back row players. Basically, it was mainly a back row attacking game, with middle attacks included to let our setters and MBs work on their connections. A key feature of the game was dig-or-die scoring. That’s where a team goes back to 0 if they fail to at least touch a ball on defense (or coverage).

After a little time working on our pin attack connections off serve reception, we shifted to a 5 v 5 game. This time, instead of 2-up/3-back as we played last week, we went 3-up/2-back. That put more pressure on the back row players to cover ground defensively. We played a game to 15, normal scoring.

Our final exercise was 6 v 6 play called broken wheel. That is where one side stays in a single rotation while the other side plays through all six of theirs. This time we played it with the sides alternating as the broken one in a certain rotation. An aggregate score was kept for both sides being broken to determine a winner.

Tuesday

It was our last road match of the year, at Dallas Baptist. They came in tied for 4th in the Heartland Conference. They’d won four of their last five matches. Under normal circumstances we would we be considered favorites. Given recent injuries and performances, though, plus being on the road, maybe not so much in this case.

The gym at DBU is apparently a former chapel. It has interesting amphitheater seating on one side. There are more traditional bleachers on the other side.

The went 5 sets. Our senior setter did play, though she clearly had mobility issues. That causes a couple problems with 2nd balls, as you might expect.

The real twist was that our season-long libero all season shifted to OH. She was an All-Conference hitter in 2016, but bad knees forced us to move her. She’d been hitting in practice some, and really tore things up on Monday. The match definitely was an indication of her former talents, even if she couldn’t jump as high or move as fast. Not surprisingly, she fatigued toward the end. Still, she finished with 20+ kills, and 20 digs. In the back row, she played in her normal Position 5, shifting the libero we used in her place (our senior DS) into 6.

Arguably, the match should not have gone 5 sets. Mental errors put us in a hole a couple of times. Defending the right side attack remained a struggle. We fought throughout, though, including at the end of the 5th. We were down 14-12, but took it 17-15. Our other OH also got 20+ kills.

The win means our only non-conference losses for the season were to ranked teams. It’s the first time MSU has done that since at least as far back as we started noting poll rankings in the schedule (2008 or 2009).

Wednesday

Last practice of the season. After watching some video ahead of Thursday’s match, we kept it fairly light – only going a little over an hour on court. The primary elements were an offense vs. defense drill to work on some of the rotations we struggled with on Tuesday, and a narrow court game pitting MB/OH vs. MB/RS. It’s one we played before and had the benefit of encouraging a lot of hitter coverage.

The second round of NCAA regional rankings came out. Unfortunately, our three losses the prior week meant we dropped a place to drop down to 15 from 14 the week before.

Thursday

We hosted Cameron this evening. We lost to them at their place early in the conference season in what we felt was a very poor performance. They had only one conference win since (vs. UTPB) and were winless in away matches for 2017.

We completed the set for Cameron with a strong 3-0 win. Our performance was dominant, making the earlier loss even more frustrating. We hit .313 on the match, our second base performance of the year. At the same time, we held them to just .060. Along the way we tallied 8 blocks and 6 aces to keep us up in the conference rankings in those categories.

Friday

Our final match of the year was against Kingsville. They came in tied for 3rd in the conference standings. We had a decent match against them the first time around, at least after the first set. Their OPP really killed us, though. She was 15 of 29 hitting.

We did slightly better slowing her down this time. Unfortunately, other hitters stepped it up. We had periods where we put them under serious pressure. We just weren’t able to take enough advantage offensively. A few too many hitting errors and not enough kills. Basically, the story of our season against better teams. The final result was a 3-1 loss.

Of course, this being our final home match of the season, it was also Senior Night. We had five of them to honor. That meant spending a chunk of the morning preparing their gifts (framed jerseys).

That’s it

And so ended the 2017 season for MSU Volleyball. It was definitely a major experience. In my next update I’ll provide a recap. I’ll post that one after the dust settles, we find out what kind of awards our players receive, and all that.

 

Coaching Log – November 6, 2017

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

Most of the prior week Lone Star Conference results were fairly predictable. Interestingly, however, West Texas earned home wins over both Tarleton and Angelo. The latter was probably not a major surprise given how poorly Angelo has done on the road this year. Tarleton, though, has looked quite dominant. Commerce beat Kingsville at home, but the latter picked up a win at Texas Woman’s. Woman’s also played a couple of non-conference matches on Saturday. Unfortunately for the conference, Woman’s lost a 5-set match to one of them. Not a good loss.

The results leave the standings looking like this.

Our 13 overall wins is better than the 12 we recorded last year. Further, we’ve reached the 6 LSC wins we accumulated in 2016. That was enough to reach last year’s conference tournament, but obviously it won’t be this year’s edition. To start the week, we had five LSC matches left to make a move, including three this week. We’re done with the New Mexico schools, but had both Texas Woman’s and Angelo ahead, along with Cameron below us.

I figured we need at least two wins, maybe three. Eastern NM had a very winnable match vs. UTPB on Tuesday, but the rest of their schedule featured Angelo and Tarleton away, plus Commerce at home. A win in any of those would be a surprise result. The key match was looking like home vs. Texas Woman’s. TW won the first time around, 3-1.

UTPB is also on the remaining schedule for TW, which seems a likely win. Along with having to go to Eastern NM, they also faced a trip to Western NM. Not good odds for a win there. A home match vs. West Texas is an unknown quantity. WT has some good wins, but their performance away from home hasn’t been very good.

Monday

As usual, we started with the team going over some of the stats from the week prior. Our serve receive passing was a major positive. Of course, we also had to go over some of the less positives. That dovetailed into some video review. We went over two parts of recent matches. One was the second half of the 3rd set against Western, starting when we were up 17-14 through to the 23-25 finish. The other was the 4th set against Eastern. We watched from when we went up 17-11 through to the 25-23 conclusion. The idea was to look at our breakdown points with an eye toward being better in those situations. After that we did a review of our last match against Tuesday’s opposition.

The actual practice only went about an hour. Most of it was dedicated to serve reception to attack, which we’ve done a lot of lately. It started with just serving to a receiving group going up against some block. We eventually shifted to playing out rallies. Much of our focus was on expanding our options in Rotation 1.

Tuesday

We made our final conference road trip of the season to Texas Woman’s. As you can see from the standings, they were just one match ahead of us going in. A win would pull us level. Also, it would give us the edge against Woman’s as the first tiebreak is head-to-head (the recent win at Eastern ensured we also held the tiebreak against them).

Things definitely didn’t go as we’d have hoped. Our offense did quite well. We hit .269 overall, with both MBs, our OPP, and one of our OHs coming in at .300 or better. Unfortunately, our defense didn’t match that. We allowed TW to hit .310 overall. In two of the four sets played we allowed them to register 20+ kills!

Needless to say, the loss put us in a big hole in our quest to qualify for the LSC tournament.

Wednesday

The first set of Division II volleyball regional rankings for 2017 were published. The Lone Star Conference is part of the South Central Region. Not surprisingly, Midwestern State is not in the Top-10. If you scroll down to the bottom you’ll see a list of links to the PDF files for each Region. They are the complete rankings based on the RPI of each team. We currently sit at #14.

Before practice we showed the team a 5-minute video made up of photos from the season thus far. A lot of them were taken during the Buenos Aires trip. It was a reminder of how far we’ve come and all the work everyone has put in. We felt the team could use something like that after the disappointment of the prior evening’s match.

Practice featured a lot of serving. We felt our serves against TW failed to hit our targets well enough. We also did a lot of hitting into a defense with either no block or just a single one. Our middles struggled to close during the match, so we wanted to work on our defense playing in that kind of situation.

Thursday

We had a 2019 prospect in for a bit of a tryout with the the team. A little early perhaps, but a player the head coach wanted to see in our context.

Practice was heavy game play. We started with a competitive version of cooperative cross-court hitting. The idea was in particular to work on defense in a 1-block or no-block situation. We progressed on that team by then shifting to 5 v 5, as we did on Wednesday, with two pin hitters up and three defenders back.

The final game was a wash drill. In this case, the team that won the service rally earned the right to defend against a right side attack. If they won that second rally (initiated by a free ball), they earned the big point. Initially, we didn’t put any additional requirement on things. I didn’t like that the defending team knew the right side attack was coming, though. Too easy for them to put up a solid block. We eventually shifted and said they could only single block that first ball. It would probably have been better if we did something to encourage a right side attack, but not require it to make things a bit more realistic.

Friday

We hosted conference leaders Tarleton and national #14 this evening. Unlike the rest of the conference, they did not have a Tuesday match.

If you told me ahead of time that we’d lose 3-1 I would not have been surprised at the result given the opposition. The path to that result proved unexpected, however. We didn’t start well. Very mental. No composure. We forgot the things we’d just talked about in our scouting. Our serving was much too easy. More playing not to lose than playing to win.

Our starting setter came down on a foot early during the 2nd set, spraining her ankle. That meant we had to insert our 3rd setter, as our 2nd is out for the season after breaking a finger a few weeks back. As you may recall, our 3rd setter had her own injury issue not long ago thanks to a concussion.

In sports you sometimes see a team rally when a key player goes down. That definitely happened in this case. The team energy went up. Our defense became very focused, likely because they now had to defend behind a smaller block (not that our starting setter is overly tall either). We ended up playing some of the best defense of the season. We did not get our normal 2+ blocks per set (finished with just 3), but we averaged 22 digs per set. It helped us rally back late to win the 3rd set.

We could not hold on to that edge, though. That was thanks in large part to Tarleton playing some of the most ridiculously good defense I’ve ever seen. We attacked aggressively, but they seemed to get a hand on everything. Bodies were flying all over the place to make saves.

Just to make things even more interesting, our 3rd setter took a blow to the face at one point. That had us looking around for who we could possibly have set. Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be serious.

Saturday

It was #23 Angelo coming to town for an early start. We normally play at 2:00 on Saturdays, but because of other events we had to shift it to a noon start. Angelo hosted Kingsville on Tuesday, winning 3-0, then played at Cameron on Friday where they won in four.

We got off to a good start, working our way out to a 16-9 lead in the first set. Pretty much from there, though, it was all down hill. We did a good job limiting their top hitter, but we couldn’t do much about the rest of them. Definitely not the same level of defensive performance as what we put together on Friday. Our serve reception had periods of struggle. The result was a definite struggle to generate much in the way of attack.

Coaching Log – October 30, 2017

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

Many of the Lone Star Conference teams played three matches last week, so lots of results to potentially impact the standings. The most interesting result was probably Angelo beating Commerce 3-0. Here’s how the standings were to start the new week.

Ninth place is just outside the conference tournament places, so we need to make a move. Given the congestion in the standings, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for a team to make a big move in a short time. Obviously, making the tournament is most important, but we’d rather avoid a repeat of last season. We went in as the 8th seed, meaning a first round match up against then #1 Angelo, who hosted the tournament. Tarleton is looking favorite to host this year, and we’ve already played them at their place once.

Monday

After the busy weekend of play, we gave the players the day off from practice. They did lift in the morning, but otherwise we just reviewed video. That started with our normal weekly stats discussion. The interesting observation we made was that our transition hitting numbers were not very good. This was a surprise as we did well in that phase of the game earlier in the season.

In terms of the video review, we began with a review of our home match vs. Western NM. It was one of the real disappointments of the first round. We lost despite earning 15 more points than them by way of kills, aces, and blocks. Watching the match was a combination of refreshing our memory about an upcoming opponent and reinforcing how much better we have played in recent matches.

After watching that video all together, we split the team into groups to watch more recent footage. The middles and setters, pin hitters, and liberos/DSs each watched a set from a different match. They then all came back together to share their observations.

Tuesday

This was our last training Tuesday of the regular season as we have matches on the remaining ones. Back to the split groups. The focus remained on our attack, with a combination of in-system and out-of-system work. There was a lot of serve reception as well.

Wednesday

Practice started with a simple 4-person pepper to work on controlling 3rd ball contacts being sent over the net. We extended this by playing a 2-contact game. By that I mean a team only had two contacts on their side to return the ball rather than three. That forces a lot of “bad ball” situations. Each rally started with a coach hitting a down ball over the net. This was to avoid the players trying to pass serve in an attackable fashion.

Next was a narrow court (about 2/3rds width) 5 v 5 game. We set it up so it was MB/OH vs MB/RS. The side with the RS also had an OH as a third blocker, but not an eligible hitter. The side with the OH attacker had the setter up. Defensively, we then had a middle back and line defender. The intention of these games (we played three games to 10) was to put the attackers in a situation where they faced a lot of good blocks. Thus, it became a major problem solving exercise. How do I score? It also resulted in a lot of hitter coverage work.

We shifted back to 6 v 6 for the rest of the session. First we played 22 v 22. As we did last week, the 2nd ball was initiated at the setter to create an out-of-system play.

The last game was a normal one – sort of. We played a 20-point game where once a team reached 15 points they could only score if they served. In other words, they could not just side out to finish the game. They had to earn “real” points, or break points, or whatever you want to call them.

We did some target serving to finishing the session.

Thursday

We had an early morning practice (6am) before hopping on the bus at 8am for our longest road trip of the season. The session was very much serving and passing oriented, with lots of pass-to-attack work. We only went for about an hour, though. All together, our trip too better than 13 hours.

Friday

The weekend’s first match was at Western New Mexico. We came in never having won their place and never having beaten them in conference play. This is also a team we played poorly against at home. In other words, lots of motivation to want to beat them. They had an away match at Eastern New Mexico during the week, which they lost 0-3.

Western play much better in this match. We definitely had our chance to take them down. After losing the first, then winning the second set, we were ahead in the later stages of the 3rd, but couldn’t close it out. It was a 3-1 loss in the end. Our middles did well, but could not get it done well enough on the pins. We hit only .136, despite a very good night in terms of serve reception. On top of that, our defense didn’t get the job done, allowing Western to hit .227.

Saturday

It was Eastern NM for the second match of the weekend. After beating Western NM earlier in the week, they also beat Cameron on Friday. After losing our prior match, this was a big one for our chances to make the conference tournament.

We jumped on them well in the first two sets. Our offense – led by our middles – was strong, while our defense held them to sub-.100 hitting. Eastern looked listless, like they didn’t even want to be there. It was a strange thing to see in a home team. They definitely turned that around, though. Our offense wasn’t as potent and we struggled to stop them. The result was a tight loss.

Probably not surprisingly, that gave the opposition some momentum. They used that to jump all over us to start the 4th set, going up 5-0. We managed to rebound, and then to get well ahead. We had a breakdown mid-set, though. A 5-point lead melted away rather quickly, and we let Eastern get ahead going into the later stages. We eventually got back on track, though, and squeezed out the win. I would have been very worried about a 5th set had we lost.

In the end we hit .230, thanks to another strong night from our middles. Our OHs had good moments, but not consistently enough. In parts it was being too conservative and in others it was making bad errors. Once more, our passers did well. So did our servers. We probably missed too many, but we tallied 11 aces and consistently had them out of sorts. That helped us on defense. We blocked them 12 times and they hit only .125 – keeping them below .100 in three of the four sets.

Coaching Log – October 23, 2017

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

The first half of the season is over. Thanks to the weekend results, it looks like at least some stuff is starting to settle out. Other stuff, though, remains a bit muddled. This latter bit was helped by Angelo losing both their matches – each in 5 – on the road at the New Mexico schools. For our own part we would have preferred they won both. It would have kept things tighter in our vicinity.

Tarleton continued to roll, with wins at both the New Mexico schools, and Commerce picked up wins at West Texas and UTPB to firm up their position at #2 in the standings.

A look at the statistics tells the story of our position in the standings. Our offense has not been nearly good enough. While we’re 4th in terms of opponent hitting efficiency, we’re 10th when it comes to our own attacking. Part of the defensive side of things is that our block ranks 3rd in terms of blocks/set. We rank 5th in aces/set, but not helping our offense is that we’ve suffered more aces/set than anyone else.

Last year we managed to get into the conference tournament with 6 wins, but that was by the skin of our teeth. I suspect we need to have 7 or 8 to get in this year given how tight things are in the middle of the standings. That means we need 4 or 5 wins in the second half of the season. Unfortunately, the schedule does not help us in that regard. We have to go to the New Mexico schools, and we also have away matches at Commerce and Texas Woman’s. That’s three out of four against teams we’re battling for a place in the tournament.

On the plus side, we get Angelo and West Texas at home. Neither of them has played all that well on the road. Obviously, we must beat the two teams below us, and we get both of them at home as well.

Monday

As per usual, we started with a look back. In particular, we went over the stats for the first half of the conference season. We talked about where we need to get better (offense), and we talked about where we’ve done well (block/defense). As for serving, we talked about how we can probably get a little more aggressive. One of the observations was that our middles have the highest error % among our attackers with the exception of one. Definitely not what you want to see!

After the statistical evaluation, we took a look at video from our last match against Tuesday’s opponent. Then we spent some time looking at the things we’ve accomplished this year and the things we could yet accomplish. This was from the perspective of history – things either not done in several years or not done at all in program history.

Practice was less than 90 minutes. Our concussed setter was finally back in training. We started them off with a short game of Brazilian tennis, then moved into some pass-to-attack offense off serve reception. Worked on our attack in line with our need to get better in that facet of the game. We allowed the defending side to run middle attacks back in transition as an extension. An out-of-system game followed to continue to work in aggressive attacks in that phase. We wrapped up with a game of 5 v 5 where we played 3-up/2-back.

Tuesday

The first match of the second half of the LSC season was at Commerce. Obviously, as you can see from the standings above, they are doing well this season.Their only two conference losses were away to Texas Woman’s and away to Kingsville.

We didn’t play particularly well against them the last time out. This time was very different. In the end, it was a 3-2 loss, with a 15-13 final set, but it was probably our best collective performance of the season. We didn’t hit for a high percentage (just .154 for the match), but kept them even lower (.123). Our serve was serve was effective through most of the match. Our block continued to cause problems for opposing hitters, and our serve reception was generally solid. We actually outscored Commerce 102-100 overall, and 72-65 in terms of earned points.

So why did we lose? Well, our out-of-system hitting produced a lot of errors. Of our 28 total hitting errors, half happened while out-of-system. Given how well our defense did, we would have been well served keeping those balls in play. There were a couple of patches where they gave us trouble in serve receive.

Beyond that, though, it just came down to timing. We missed a really poor serve into the net at 7-7 in the 5th. At 9-8 our freshman middle hit a quick just inches wide. Even after that, we came back from 11-8 to take a 13-12 lead. After Commerce sided-out, though, our senior DS, who otherwise passed well on the night, had a serve go right through her hands to set up match point.

Wednesday

The head coach had to be away from campus at that time, so I got to attend the bi-weekly (I think) athletic luncheon in her place. Basically, it’s a group of the older supporters of MSU Athletics getting an update on things from each of the in-season sports. I told them about our recent performances and what we were looking forward to for the upcoming weekend.

We watched some video before practice as part of our prep for Friday. The first part was looking back on our first time playing West Texas. The second was looking at their match from Tuesday night.

Practice itself focused on out-of-system attacking. We did three main activities. The first was a repeat of the pass-to-attack vs. a defense type work we’ve done a lot of lately. From there we moved on to a continuous 3-up/2-back game. The ball was initiated at the setter to force an out-of-system first attack. From there the rallies proceeded normally. Lastly, we played 6 v 6 with bonus points for out-of-system kills.

While we definitely worked on necessary things, the concentration could have been better. But for the day after a tight 5-set match on the road, it wasn’t horrible.

Thursday

Out-of-system attacking continued to be the big theme. After warming up with a spirited game of Brazilian tennis, we got right into it. The first drill was a dig-set-attack exercise. A ball was initiated at a wing defender. The dig was then set to one of the pins by the other wing defender, and was attacked from there. An elastic was run between the antennae to encourage the hitters to swing high.

We followed with a repeat of the 3-up/2-back game from Wednesday. After a few rounds of serve receive to attack, when then played 22 v 22 to finish up. To keep working on out-of-system hitting, we initiated the second ball to the winning side’s setter.

All in all we were pretty happy with how things went. We saw some strong swings.

After practice the team did some community service time at a local middle school. We then had Homecoming activities in the evening.

Friday

We hosted a tri-match this day. The first was the return match against West Texas. They came in at 7-5 in conference after beating Eastern NM earlier in the week.

We finally broke the streak! MSU had not won against WT in 34 tries before this match. Not only did we win, we won 3-0 in convincing fashion. Our offense wasn’t stellar (.175), but we did the business in serve and defense. We tallied 8 aces and they only hit .082.

Our second match of the day was against Newman, from the Heartland Conference. They were picked 4th in the pre-season voting after finishing 2016 tied for 3rd. They played West Texas before playing us. The result was a 3-0 loss without much challenge after the first set. That followed a loss Thursday night at Lubbock Christian (making them 3-4 in conference).

Unfortunately, we did not quite repeat WT’s earlier performance. We struggled mentally. The result was some not so great play – poor decisions, failing to make adjustments quickly enough, etc. To their credit, Newman fought us hard and gave us fits defensively. They hit .236 for the match. Fortunately, we hit .291. Our middles both hit near .400. The final result was a 3-1 win, but it was really tight until the fourth set.

The Newman win put up to 7 non-conference victories for the year. That’s better than the 6 we got last season. It’s also the most since 2013, and the first time since then that we’ll having a winning non-LSC record.

Saturday

We played UTPB for the second time. They lost a 5-setter to Western NM on Wednesday. They also lost a 5-setter at Cameron on Friday night.

In the early stages we had our struggles. UTPB has a couple of powerful attackers and it took us a while to come to grips with them. I mean that both in terms of choking off their opportunities through serving pressure and in our blocking. In the end we won comfortably, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

Offensively, we did OK. Our hitting efficiency was just below .200. Our servers tallied 7 aces and our block got 9 stuffs That contributed to UTPB only hitting .061. Interestingly, our big OPP got no blocks. They basically set away from her. Our OHs put in a pretty good performance there, though, taking part in 5 blocks on that side of the net.

Coaching Log – October 16, 2017

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

The weekend results could probably be said to be in our favor. Eastern NM and Western NM both lost two – each to Commerce and Texas Woman’s. That put them on 4 losses each with Angelo and Tarleton upcoming this week. Not matches they’d be expected to win. Cameron and UTPB also lost their weekend fixtures, to keep both at the bottom of the standings. Interestingly, Kingsville was pushed to 5 sets by UTPB, then lost in 4 at West Texas. That sees both Kingsville and WT also sitting on 4 losses.

Here’s the league standings as we head into the final week of the first half of the season.

Monday

We started with the usual stats talk that we normally do on Mondays. On the plus side, our defenses is performing well. We’re among the top teams in the league in terms of opponent hitting efficiency. Our block is a definite factor there, as we entered the week 3rd place in the LSC rankings in blocks/set. Unfortunately, we have struggled mightily in attack. Over the weekend we managed a measly 21% kill rate, and for the conference season so far we stand 10th of the 11 teams in hitting efficiency. That’s not the sort of thing that earns a team many wins.

We reviewed video of our weekend attacks with the players. In particular, we identified a few key places where we feel we can make improvements. Overall, though, it was mainly about taking more aggressive swings. Our hitters seem to have been more tentative in recent weeks. Need to get back to the high and hard swings that featured in our attack earlier in the season.

Practice focused on these things, though it was a fairly short and low intensity affair. Our medical issues continue to mount. Our 2nd setter still has her broken finger in a cast for a couple more weeks. Setter #3 was waiting for clearance to play after her concussion. Of course, our freshman OH remains out long-term due to her knee injury. For this particular session we added our senior MB with shoulder issues. On top of that, our junior was out sick.

We began with some servers vs. passers, then shifted to a more attacking focus. The rest of the session featured a variety of games aimed at stimulating aggressive attacks. We made some good progress in certain areas.

Tuesday

We took a break from conference play with a home match against Lubbock Christian. They finished 2nd in the Heartland Conference last year and came in to the match 4th in that league. We played them at their place in 2016, losing a close 5-setter. This was one of the non-conference matches we play to help influence our NCAA South Central Region ranking, since Heartland is part of that Region with ours.

This definitely wasn’t a pretty match. Both sides made their fair share of errors and gave up runs of points at times. That led to a split during the first two sets, both of which were only decided by two points. In the first we allowed them to come back after getting a large lead. In the second it was us who came back, but could not finish it off. From there, though, we coasted to relatively easy wins.

Our defense was again solid, holding LCU to just an .076 hitting efficiency. They only scored on 23% of their swings and we tallied a dozen blocks. Our service game was solid generally, though we could have made fewer errors. We had three players rate 2.0 or better and we scored better than 60% of the time when each served.

Offensively, we were better than in recent matches. We got kills on around 35% of our swings. Our freshman MB had a really good match, hitting .643, while our senior OH lead all hitters with 19 kills. We could have done with a few less errors as our efficiency was a bit below .200, but you could see we were trying to make the improvements we talked about on Monday.

Wednesday

After the match the night before, we didn’t want to go to hard in practice. We started with video review. Each of the coaches took a position group – MBs, OHs & RS, DSs – and went over clips from the LCU match. I was with the MBs. We focused on timing. It made timing issues very clear for them. They could easily see the difference between their good swings and their less powerful ones. The pin hitters also focused on timing with respect to their sets, keeping to the theme of the week.

Practice itself focused on those pin hitting timing elements. Basically, we just did serve receive to attack vs. a block and defense. As a second phase, we added an attack to also work on things from the transition side of things. All together we were on the court not much more than an hour.

Thursday

We carried on in this practice the themes for the week. That means working on offensive timing and getting back to aggressive attacking. We started off with Brazilian tennis as our warm-up. From there we shifted into an out-of-system game to work on high, hard swings. We shifted from there to more in-system work using the same type of pass-to-attack drill we did Wednesday. That rolled into 6 v 6 action.

We started with a variation on 22 v 22. In this version we gave a team a win big point if they scored on a right side attack during the initial rally. We also whistled any rally dead and awarded a point to the other team if there was a failure to cover. Otherwise, it was normal rules. After a couple of games of that, it was on to a standard game with a bonus. If a team turned a cover ball into a successful attack, they got a bonus point.

All in all we were quite pleased with the attacking play. Definitely more aggressive than we’ve seen in recent times.

Friday

We did an early practice before hopping on the bus. Most of it was carry over from the work we did earlier in the week – namely focusing on attack timing and aggressiveness. We started with Speedball back row 4s as a kind of warm-up. After that we did a hitting drill initiated by a serve where our OHs and RSs had to attack areas of the court successfully with netting. Basically, that was about reaching high and staying away from hitting to Zone 6.

Next up we did rotation-based receive to attack. We made it competitive by splitting the team into 3 groups of passers and hitters and giving them four serves in each rotation. Group with the most kills (not playing the ball out) won. This was followed by full 6 v 6 play in a repeat of Thursday’s 22 v 22 variation. We wrapped up with some servers vs. passers.

We left campus at about 10:00am for the long trip south. All together it was about 11 hours. That, though, included a stop for an early dinner at the home of one of our seniors who lives along the way. Always nice to get a home cooked meal during your travels!

Saturday

The last match of our first time through the conference was at Kingsville. They finished 3rd in 2016 and were picked to repeat that in the preseason voting. After defeating Cameron on Friday, they entered our match at 5-4 in LSC play.

All in all, while we lost 3-0, I was not overly dissatisfied with our performance. The first set wasn’t great. In particular, we just could not stop their offense. After that, though, we definitely stepped things up. Sets two and three were both quite tight. Our serving gave them problems and we were attacking more aggressively than we’ve done. We got our kill % back above 30%, though still need to push that even higher to have real success.

That said, the annoying thing is that we continue to have stupid “Who’s ball?” type of moment. We’re more than 20 matches into the season if you count the ones we played in Argentina, and there are still times when dumb stuff happens because of confusion about responsibility or players simply failing to do their jobs correctly.

Coaching Log – October 9, 2017

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

The Lone Star Conference standings weren’t really all that much more clear after the weekend’s results. Notable was West Texas losing to both Western New Mexico and Eastern New Mexico. Also, Kingsville dropped a pair of 3-2 matches at home to Angelo and Tarleton. At 5-1, Tarleton topped the league going in to the new week, and is in a strong position given who they’ve beaten already. Below there, the next eight teams are within 2 losses of each other.

Monday

Strictly video for the team today – aside from morning weight training. We broke the team into three groups and they watched footage from different matches we’ve played so far. It was on them to critique themselves – positively and negatively – with an eye toward how we can get better.

Tuesday

Back to split team training. Both groups did basically the same set of exercises. A big focus was on improving our middle play. We also did some work to diversify the offense a bit. This was all done in the context of serve receive and defense transition.

A number of the teams in the conference played non-conference matches this night. They all won, which was good.

Wednesday

We started the session with split group work. While the OHs and DS worked on some serve & pass, the MBs, RS, and Setter first did some blocking, then worked on offensive connections. A 6 v 6 game followed. In this case, only the pin hitters could attack, and they had to swing cross-court. Every time a rally ended we gave the winning team a down ball, but mixed players around every so often. That kept them from wearing down in what was definitely an up-tempo game. We played to 25, then switched it up so the attacks had to be line – or line/6 – for another game.

After that we did a kind of offense vs. defense game in rotations. On side served every ball. Initially, they played first to three points based on simple rally wins. The receiving team could not rotate until they won one of these mini games. To make it a bit tougher, after a while we shifted to wash scoring. After the initial serve rally, we initiated a free ball to the serving team. One team had to win both rallies to earn a point. The games were still to 3 points.

Thursday

We did a session of maybe 1 hour and 40 minutes before hopping on the bus to start are weekend road trip. We did a lot of serve and pass interspersed with 6 v 6 play. For the first part of practice we only had one middle, so we needed to give her some breaks.

We did two versions of game play. One was a variation where one side received free balls and attacked at a defending team. The defensive side got 2 points for a stuff block and one point for a good dig-set-attack sequence. They didn’t need a kill, just a good swing beyond the block. We went for time, then flipped the attacking side. There were two total rounds, with the team accumulating the most points as defenders winning (offense got no points).

The other game was the wash drill I mentioned above from Wednesday’s session. We focused on the rotations in receive that featured our freshman MB. That was to keep working on developing her connection with the setter on different sets. Also, she continues to need to improve her spacing.

Friday

It was back on the road for a match against defending league champions Angelo this day. They came in 3-3 in conference. Despite that record, they clearly represented a significant challenge. They were #16 in the national poll and featured the best offense in the conference by the numbers. What we found out during warmups was they had three players who were either starters or regular contributors out due to injury. That shifted them from primarily a 6-2 offense to a 5-1.

We should have been able to challenge them, but we came up short. At times we hardly looked like we’d ever played together before. We served them well, and had them scrambling often, but just couldn’t take the chances we were given. Our offense was pathetic, hitting at just .053 in terms of efficiency.

Saturday

Back to Tarleton for a match-up with last year’s runners-up. They came in at #15 in the national poll. Here too we discovered the opposition had suffered a key injury. Their All-American OH sustained a foot injury the night before in their win over Cameron.

We came in with a MUCH better attitude and took the match to them. In particular, our block made a big impact. We had 5 or 6 in the first set alone, and ended up with 13 overall. Despite the fact they had more than double our kills in the first set, we pulled off the win. After that, though, it was down hill. Offensively, we were even more impotent than we’d been the night before. Both our middles hit negative. This is definitely a major concern, though we were pleased to see that our starting OPP is getting more aggressive in attack.

Coaching Log – October 2, 2017

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

The uncertainty of where teams rank in the Lone Star Conference remains after more interesting weekend results. One of them was Cameron beating Western New Mexico on Saturday after Western beat us Friday. Angelo grabbed wins at both West Texas and UTPB, so there are no longer any winless teams. That loss by West Texas means every team also has at least one loss. Very interestingly, Kingsville beat both Commerce and Texas Woman’s at home.

This is setting up for a VERY interesting LSC season!

Every team has played at least four matches now. Statistically, we rank 5th in hitting efficiency and 3rd in opponent efficiency. We’re 4th in kills/set and 1st in opponent kills/set. In terms of blocks, we are currently 6th in our per set average, and 1st in opponent blocks. For serving, we are 2nd in aces/set, though we’re 8th in aces suffered. We’re 4th in digs/set and 7th in opposition digs. All in all, not a bad. We can certainly get better, but it suggests a competitive team.

Monday

We again started the session with a stat review. Then we moved on to talk about the next evening’s opposition. Once we got to work, there were two major focus points. One was better spacing for our Middles on their quick attacks. The other was minimizing errors without getting too conservative. We focused on the latter via the scoring system we used.

First up was an out-of-system game (first ball initiated to the setter). Errors resulted not only in a point for the other team, but also a point deduction for your own side. We played that one to 15.

The second game was a normal one. In this case, though, if a team made an error their score reverted to 0. We played to 8.

Tuesday

This was our away match against our travel partners, Cameron. They came in 1-3 in conference and 3-8 overall. After finishing bottom of the league with only one win in 2016, Cameron replaced their coach. The preseason expectations, however, were for more of the same in 2017. They did, though, just beat Western NM on Saturday.

Interestingly, unlike most teams running a 5-1 offense, Cameron have been employing a formation where the MB leads the setter rather than trailing. It’s a formation that lacks some flexibility in serve receive. That can be overcome, though, if you have the right mixture of personnel. It definitely gave us something different to look at and deal with.

This was a very disappointing match, resulting in a 3-1 loss. In many ways it was similar to how we played on Friday. Against a team where we really just needed to hit basically half a court with our serves we missed 11 – several at bad times. Our offense hit at a season-worst .106 efficiency thanks to being at basically 20% errors. Our middles combined to hit negative. Mentally we were just all over the place with how we played and our decision-making. It was extremely frustrating to watch.

Wednesday

We meant for this session to be a shorter one, but it didn’t really end up that way.

Before practice we made the decision to go right into things without much in the way of “warm-up” activity. That was to get them out of their comfort zone and to make them realize they can play without everything being just so. That’s not to say we made them play without any warm-up, of course.

We started them off with Brazilian 2-ball tennis. As usual, the energy was high and the players were competitive. From there we jumped into 6-v-6. We repeated the “back to zero” game from Monday.it took a while for one team to finally get to 8. Missed serves were definitely a killer. Unfortunately, while blocking our second string setter suffered broken pinky finger.

Then things got tough. We did an offense vs. defense exercise we’ve done a couple times before. It’s one were the defensive side needs to demonstrate discipline in movement and being set before contact and covering their attackers. We keep feeding balls into the setter on the attacking team until the defenders reach their goal. The first few rounds went fairly well. Then we hit a bad one. It went on and on and on. Players on both sides were exhausted, which just make things harder and harder. There was a serious mental breakdown on the defensive side. We had a long group chat after about how we have to fight through that sort of situation and beat the drill.

We finished up with a last 6 v 6 wash exercise. One team received a serve. If they won that rally, the serving team attacked an out-of-system ball at them through Position 4. If they also won that, they had another OOS ball hit at them from Position 2. Winning that rally earned them a point. If the lost a rally anywhere along the way, the sequence restarted at the serve. Our major focus for this last exercise was middle hitter spacing on quick attacks, to continue a theme for the week.

Thursday

After a scouting report session ahead of Friday’s match, we began the session with the competitive version of the cooperative cross-court hitting game. We included our middles as blockers to give them some work on better closing their blocks. Offense vs. defense followed, with a focus on middle/left attacking vs middle/right blocking. The last bit of game play was a standard 6 v 6 using “bank your points” scoring.

Unfortunately, we didn’t make it all the way through the game. Our third string setter took an elbow to the head that sidelined her for the remainder of the session. She was eventually diagnosed with a concussion. We wrapped things up with some pressure serving.

Friday

Back home for our next conference match, this time against Texas Woman’s. Preseason voting put them at 8th this season, one place ahead of us. They came into the match at 2-2 in the LSC and 4-8 overall. Several of those losses, though, were against strong teams. In their prior match they lost in four to Kingsville.

This match was night and day different from Tuesday. The energy was far, far better. No uptight start to the match for a change. We played a very clean, efficient match. Our serves kept them under constant pressure, with six aces against 8 errors. We made only 9 hitting errors in 98 swings, and got a solid 37 kills for a .286 efficiency. By contrast our opponent hit only .104. Not surprisingly, we won 3-0.

This was MSU’s first victory over TWU since 2010, and the first at home since 2009.

Saturday

Commerce was the foe this day. They were picked to finish 4th in the preseason poll after coming in 5th in 2016. They entered the match at 3-2 in the conference and 7-7 overall after beating Cameron the night before. We saw them the first week of the season at the Tarleton tournament where they played the same schedule we did. Their results were comparable. They defeated Cameron 3-1 on Friday.

Unfortunately, we did not repeat the performance of our previous match. Commerce came in ranked top in the conference in blocks/set, and for sure that prowess played a part in the match. We had our troubles offensively, only hitting for a .114 efficiency. The biggest issue, though, was a lack of fight. We didn’t have any, really, until the third set. Had we made fewer hitting errors in that frame, we might have extended the match. As it was, we ended up going down 3-0.

The only bright spot was that our middles both hit pretty well and got their share of digs. That’s a part of our game that needs to reassert itself if we’re to improve going forward.

Additional news

You may recall that during warm-ups before our first home match of the year our freshman OH went down with a knee injury. She did a lot of damage, including tearing her ACL. So she’s done for the year. On the plus side, her spirits are good and reports about her rehab pre-surgery and prospects for recovery after are quite good.

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.

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.