Tag Archive for university volleyball

Coaching Log – January 23, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

School is back in session, which means we are back in action!

Roster moves

As I mentioned in my last update, we had a player with major academic issues. We met with her last week. It wasn’t an easy meeting, but we decided that she needs to not be on the roster next season. She’s had two poor semesters on the grade front while in-season. That tells us she struggles to balance school and sports. We obviously want her to graduate. That means she needs to prioritize academics at this point. She can stay involved with the team, though.

On Wednesday we had a prospective transfer on campus for a visit and tryout. She’s a libero who played two seasons at an NAIA school, but wanted a different volleyball experience. She had some good qualities and we decided to bring her into the team straight away. Since she left her last school at the end of last semester, and it’s early enough in the new one here, she can join us for this term.

These moves put us at 11 players for the Spring. Two of them will be pure defensive players, with one other a DS/OH and another a DS/S. We have two straight up setters, three outside hitters, and two middles. There will be no OPPs, so one of the OHs will have to fill that spot when we play matches. We have one more setter on the squad, but in order to be eligible for Fall she cannot be full-time in the Spring.

Recruiting

Myself and our Grad Assistant were down in San Antonio for the Tour of Texas qualification tournament on the 15th and 16th. It was split between the Alamodome and San Antonio Convention Center. Our focus was on seniors in positions we might still want to fill with incoming freshmen, and on juniors for the 2018 recruiting class.

These big multi-day events are always a challenge. Basically, what you’re doing is spending all day on your feet walking and standing on concrete. One day is already enough for sore feet and a stiff lower back. When it comes to two or three days, it just all gets compounded. Plus, we spent about 12 hours on the road traveling to and from.

We looked at A LOT of players, which tends to be the case in these early events. The start of the club season is when players and families usually get going on recruiting efforts. As a result, we get a steady stream of emails from prospective players this time of year. To be honest, most of them simply are not at the level we need. That means a lot of what we do this time of year is culling the list.

Team Meeting

We had our first team meeting of the Spring on Thursday afternoon. We talked about the Argentina trip plan and fund raising. Our athletic trainer gave the team an update on personnel stuff among the training staff for this semester. We talked with them about what we took away from their end-of-season individual meetings, and went over some Spring planning stuff. A feature there was raising the level of expectations across the board. We also talked about some of what we’ll be doing to help further individual development and team cohesion.

Initial Testing

The players went through their initial Spring testing with our strength coach on Friday morning. They tested their verticals and broad jumps and ran a timed mile. They start strength and conditioning work on Monday.

Coaching Log – January 13, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

My last post in this long was more than a month ago now. I’ll be honest. There wasn’t a lot done after that in December. The whole coaching staff attended the AVCA Convention. Mainly we were all enjoying the break and doing our own things. Things got a lot more intense once 2017 hit, though! The last two weeks have been very busy, and next week school starts back up.

Roster Changes

We had another player let us know that she won’t be playing for us next year. It’s one of the red shirt juniors I mentioned in my last update. She’s facing ankle surgery and the timing of when she would have it down (May) is such that she would still be rehabbing by the team the season rolls around. She graduates in May and is looking at grad school elsewhere as we don’t have her desired program here. That combination really makes her decision fairly straightforward, if unfortunate.

The other red shirt Junior I mentioned in my last update will be carrying on with us. She will be a graduate student.

I mentioned one other player previously who was an injury question. It turns out her grades for last semester were very poor (the team generally did quite well). She is now behind the NCAA requirements in terms of credits earned. That means she is not eligible for the Spring. That does not make much of a difference given her injury recovery needs. It definitely is an issue moving forward, though.

Recruiting

There wasn’t much opportunity to ease into the recruiting. I had to go down to the Dallas area last weekend to spend a day splitting time between watching Juniors for the 2018 class and a few Seniors for 2017. That continues this weekend with two days evaluating a long list of prospects. The emails have been streaming in. Mostly it’s the 2018s, but a number of 2019s have emailed as well.

At this point we have two objectives. There are a couple of spots for the 2017-18 team we still need to fill. We are looking at potential transfers for one or two of those positions, but are looking at 2017 graduates for one or two. We want to bring in another middle to replace the freshman who left the team after the season. The lack of an outside hitter in our current sophomore class already had us thinking to bring in a transfer pin hitter for next season. The departing red shirt Junior mentioned above, pushes us further in that direction now. We are also looking for a good libero, either transfer or incoming freshman.

Spring planning

In my last update I mentioned the outcome of the player year-end meetings. The other day we met as a staff to discuss them and start planning. We already met with our strength coach to work out the schedule and plan there, so that’s in place. The tricky thing in the Spring is always player class schedules. We need to work around them to arrange team and small group training and activities.

Obviously, technical development is always a feature of Spring practices. We want to continue developing a winning team culture too, though. Arguably, that’s even more important for this program than the physical work the players do. Top of that list is establishing a higher standard of expectations for both practice and play. At the same time, though, we want to continue to develop the overarching chemistry. The group gets along really well off the court, which is great. They need more cohesion on the court, though.

As a staff we talked about the need for us to set the higher standard of expectations right from the outset and fostering an environment where the players pick up on that and perpetuate it of their own accord. We also talked about being more intentional in our feedback.

We will do our Spring (non-traditional) season after Spring Break (mid-March). That will include three days of competition. Between now and then, we can only do two ours of court time with each player per week (plus 6 hours in other activities). That will be split up between small groups and team work.

Foreign trip

The big development for our proposed team trip to Argentina in the Summer is that the interim Athletic Director has given us the thumbs up to move forward. We got group ticket price quotes and will not put down a deposit. Now the attention turns to fund raising. We estimate a total cost of about $62,500, which is no small amount of money. Thanks to our efforts in the Fall, we already have about $6000.

Naturally, a number of ideas for fundraising activities have been put forward. As you might expect, several are events of one kind or another. What it is going to come down to, though, is soliciting donations. I will keep you posted on what we do.

Coaching Log – December 9, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Overall progress from 2015 to 2016

With the season over and done, it’s time to have a look at how we at Midwestern State did this year compared to last year. In 2015 the team was 6-26 overall, and 0-16 in the Lone Star Conference. They finished 9th out of 9 and did not make the conference tournament. One player was selected to the All-Conference team as Honorable Mention, and one made the Academic All-Conference list. Their region rank finished at 25, with an RPI of .458 and a .553 strength of schedule.

For 2016 we went 12-21 overall, 6-14 in conference play. We finished 8th of 11 teams in the league (two newcomers added this year) and qualified for the conference tournament. Three players earned All-Conference selection (one 2nd team, two Honorable Mention), and one made Academic All-Conference. Our region rank moved up to 20, our RPI ended up at .484, while our strength of schedule was .528.

At least some of the dip in strength of schedule was a function of the conference not being quite as strong this year. In 2015 the LSC had the top three ranked teams in the South Central region, plus the #7. This year we had two of the top three, then #8 and #9.

A major factor in our improvement was getting a couple of players into the team who were medical red shirts as Juniors in 2015. Both were significant contributors throughout the season, though they both also had persistent health issues slowing them down. Even with those two in the side, though, we were inexperienced. In terms of eligibility, we had no Seniors.

Drilling down

Statistically, we had both steps forward and steps backward.

Offense and serving are the two big improvement areas. We upped our hitting efficiency in-conference by 53 points (.163 vs. .110). That was driven almost entirely by a higher kill %. In terms of serving, we improved to 1.56 aces/game from 0.79. That took us from bottom of the league to third best.

Where we slipped was in block and defense, and in serve reception. Our opponent hitting efficiency slipped from .210 to .221. Blocks dropped to 1.27/game from 1.66, and digs declined to 13.76/game from 17.47. Service aces suffered rose to 1.61/game from 1.16.

Now, the block and digs numbers at least partly reflect the fact that in 2015 the team’s offense was poor. That resulted in more transition opportunities for the other team. The digs also, however, along with the passing issues, reflect a meaningful change in the libero position. The two players in that position in 2015 left the team last year. They each averaged about 4 digs/game. This year we had libero by committee. Four different players got meaningful time in the position. That was largely influenced by injuries. The player who got the most time was actually an in-season convert to the position (from setter).

Areas for improvement

Blocking, defense, and serve reception are clearly areas we will look to improve for 2017. We made some good improvements in defense in the second half of conference play. In fact, our dig % in our last 10 LSC matches of 2016 was better than the overall conference dig % for the 2015 team. Still, it’s an area where we feel like we can be much better. We probably need to lower our opponent hitting efficiency by about 60 points to really be competitive with the top teams in the league.

As much as the team hitting efficiency was significantly improved this year over last, that was just the start. We probably need to be 50 points better in that area next year. That will require both a higher kill % and a lower error %. We were at 33% kills this season. The best team (Tarleton) was at 40%, but the other three of the top four teams were at 37%. In terms of errors, we were at 16%. Angelo was tops there at 11%, with the others in the 14-15% range.

The other thing I’d like to see improved is serving. Specifically, I’d like to see us cut the errors down a little bit, while keeping the aces at a comparable level.

Player year-end meetings – structure

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve run individual meetings with the players to wrap up the season. Before I get into some of what came out of it, let me share with you the questions we asked. We gave them to everyone so they could think about their answers beforehand. Some came to their meetings with stuff actually written down.

They were:

  • What does the team need to do to get to the next level?
  • How can the coaching staff help the team reach the next level?
  • What do you as a player need to do to help the team get to the next level?
  • What can the coaching staff do to help you make that/those improvement(s)?
  • How can the coaching staff help you get the most out of your experience as a student-athlete?

That last question was mainly aimed at off-the-court, non-team type of stuff. Think academic support, facilities, travel, and things like that.

For each player we also came up with some things we wanted to make sure got talked about. They were a mixture of what we saw of them this year and thoughts on development moving forward.

We had a sheet for each player where the head coach made notes during the meeting. The players reviewed and signed the sheets at the end. We then gave them a copy.

Player year-end meetings – outcomes

I won’t bother with individual level stuff here. Instead I’ll focus on the common themes that came up from a team perspective. Two of them were the related areas of expectations and accountability. These things came up in different ways, but the general idea was the same. The team needs to set and maintain higher standards and expectations for themselves – individually and collectively – if we’re to step up our competitive level. Players need to be held accountable when they don’t meet those expectations – by the team as well as the coaching staff.

Leadership was the other major theme. Part of this had to do with the accountability element mentioned above. Leaders within the team are needed to make sure the group is at least meeting their level of expectations. There are other elements of leadership, though, and they came up as well.

Departures

We had two players tell us they needed to leave the team. One of them was a red shirt sophomore libero/ds with back injury issues. She was told by the doctors that it will take maybe three years for her to rehab her way back to even being able to get back into a regular workout level of health. The other was a freshman middle who felt like she needed to be able to focus more on the academic side of things.

There may yet be others added to this list. We have two players who graduate this year, but both who have eligibility remaining. They have some decisions to make about their respective futures. Both were all-conference this year, so they’d be big losses. There’s also another with an injury question.

Incoming players

We had four incoming freshmen sign letters of intent in November. One is a middle who was the best blocker in her Texas high school district. As noted above, that’s definitely an area of improvement need for us. One is an opposite who also earned district honors. Her high school and club background isn’t the strongest, so we feel like she’ll have a steeper developmental curve. The third is a lefty opposite who doesn’t have the same physical gifts as the second player, but who is much further along as a volleyball player. The problem there is she’s recovering from a Summer ACL injury, though it sounds like her rehab is progressing very well. The fourth is a local area OH who is very athletic and a multi-sport all-district competitor. She isn’t the tallest player in the world, though.

Recruiting

We had four players come to campus for an evening tryout last week. Three were liberos and one was a middle. Whether any of them come is yet to be decided. Between our losses and our need to strengthen certain positions, we are likely to bring in at least two more players. Obviously, that means we’re still looking and evaluating – both high school players and prospective transfers.

Looking back on my job search thinking

Volleyball Coach

I recently found myself reading the post I wrote at the start of my 2014-15 job search. It was interesting to revisit my thinking at that time.

This was December 2014. It was my third year at Exeter. I had in mind the completion of my PhD and likely the end of my time in England. There wasn’t much chance I’d be able to stay there in a primarily coaching capacity. The timing was such that my main focus was on US college coaching jobs. They were the ones opening up at the time, though I also had professional jobs in Europe in mind. I had to wait until later to go after them.

I definitely expected to end up back in college volleyball at that time. While I knew it would be a challenge given my long time away, I felt like I had a decent set of credentials. I could go back as an assistant coach, but I figured at that point I was better suited for a head coach position. When it came to looking at a professional job, I thought it would be the other way around. I figured I’d probably need to be an assistant somewhere first to learn the ropes in that structure.

It’s funny how things played out!

Expectations vs. Reality

Although I applied for a long list of both head and assistant positions, I barely got a sniff at any US coaching jobs at that time. There was one phone interview for a school in Texas (coincidentally). That’s as far as it went, though. It was such a poor response that I very seriously thought about non-coaching jobs.

As you probably know, I ended up getting a professional job as a head coach in Sweden. I didn’t really understand at the time I wrote that old post how few assistant coaching opportunities there were for non-locals (or at least non-EU). Outside of the very top leagues (and clubs) the only real opportunities were as head coach for foreigners, and I didn’t have the right passport. I also wasn’t very well connected to hear about potentials positions.

Of course things didn’t play out exactly as I planned in Sweden at Svedala. The team had one of the club’s best seasons, but I was cut loose early in the second half of the campaign. Fortunately, I already had some pokers in the fire, and was shortly thereafter hired at Midwestern State where I am now. I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d end up an assistant in Division II, but that’s where I am.

Interestingly, the Midwestern job wasn’t the only one for which I was offered an interview. I also got called about doing one for a Division III head coaching position. By that time, however, I had already started at MSU.

What did line up

In that old post I talked about the sort of position I wanted, given the opportunity. It was one where I could build something – or at least be part of doing so. That’s something which never changed. It remains true today. It’s a big reason why I am at MSU. The situation here is all about rebuilding a program. I may not be the head coach, but I still have the opportunity to make a meaningful impact.

You can follow my progress in that regard via my Coaching Log entries.

 

Coaching Log – November 21, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

The regular season is done. Here’s the final Lone Star Conference standings.

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It’s interesting to look back at how that compares to the preseason poll

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There were definitely some surprises in there. On the positive side, Eastern NM has to top that list. Can’t imagine anyone had them ending up as high as fourth. Commerce is in there as well. And of course MSU surprised some folks. Clearly, based on the vote tally, we were not expected to do much of anything.

The biggest negative surprise must be Woman’s, though an August coaching change and pre-season medical issues for a big part of the team always suggested some struggles. Cameron is the other one in that category. I’ll be honest that they surprised me. They were a much smaller team than I remember from when we played them in the Spring.

So here’s what the conference tournament bracket looked like.

lsc-tournbracketNotice that while Commerce was listed ahead of Eastern NM in the above standings, with both teams tied for 4th, it was Eastern who was given the #4 seed. The teams split their two matches, which is the first tiebreak. The second one looks at the best win for each team. Eastern just beat Angelo on the final Friday of the season, so they take the higher spot. Not that it really matters as they play each other either way.

Interestingly, if we were able to get by Angelo, our second round match would be against one of the two teams above us we beat this year.

Monday

We had a team talk before practice to go over some logistic stuff for the week ahead. We also talked mentality for the tournament – namely “It’s a new season.” We had all the players share their view on something each was proud of for the team this season.

Practice started with a ball-handling warm-up. That progressed to a serve and pass exercise that focused on seams for both servers and passers. We played back row and front row 4s before finishing with a 6 v 6 game. Because we wanted on defending an in-system offense out of serve receive we did a new exercise. The teams alternated receiving an easy serve (ball chipped in by a coach). To get a point a team had to win two rallies in a row. They could then earn a bonus point by serving and winning that rally as well.

Tuesday

Our probably final full practice of the season was a good one. We started with team pepper. After that, we did hitters vs defense to put on the court stuff we talked about before practice with respect to defending Thursday’s opponent.

Next up was a 6 v 6 game. Every rally started with a ball to the setter, creating a setter-out situation. A team had to win two of those in a row to earn a rotation. If they failed to win a rally, the other side started the sequence. The idea was that it would be a race to complete all six rotations, though we also kept a regular score (rallies won). If a player hit the ball into the net or was stuff blocked out-of-system, their team had to back up a rotation.

Basically, that was a near continuous play game. The only brief breaks were went a team rotated.

We finished with a regular game featuring bonus points. Teams got a bonus for aggressive serves into the seam, for perfect passes, and for getting kills on shoots (31s) when the ball was passed off the net. That made things go relatively quickly.

Wednesday

We traveled to San Angelo ahead of the start of the conference tournament on Thursday. In the afternoon we did a 55 minute practice. In the evening we attended the awards banquet. We had three players voted for all-conference – two honorable mention and one 2nd team. Last year’s team only had one honorable mention. We also had one selected for academic all-conference.

Thursday

As the 8th place team we faced 1st place Angelo in the final match of the first round – the 7:30pm start time. The result was basically as expected. We lost 3-0, with each set 25-16. Personally, I felt like we played them closer than that. Our commitment to defense was perhaps the highest of the season, which was great to see. We just lacked a bit in our execution in places. That’s not something you can afford when you’re the #8 playing the #1.

And thus did our season end.

Angelo went on to beat Tarleton in the tournament final, to no one’s surprise.

Moving forward

With regular practice and play over, I’ll shift away from the normal weekly updates. We will start back up with the players in limited hours (8 hours, only 2 on-court) next semester. In March we will begin our Spring (non-traditional) season when we get to practice regularly for a few weeks and play in some tournaments. Between now and then I’ll provide updates as I feel there are interesting things to report.

Coaching Log – November 14, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

It’s down to the last week of the regular season. Angelo clinched the title with their win over us last week. Every other place remained up for grabs, as you can see from the standings.

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Our participation in the conference tournament was in the balance as we were tied with Texas Woman’s. Although the standings show Midwestern above Woman’s, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head. We lost both times we played them, so they actually started the week in pole position. We, therefore, needed to win at least one more match than they did to qualify for the tournament.

So what were the prospects? Not super. Our schedule featured a home match against the bottom team and an away match at the current #3 team. Woman’s was on the road at West Texas and UT Permian Basin. Their odds of winning at WT were small. UTPB maybe not as much. The lost to them in 5 the last time, but Woman’s was down one of their best hitters at the time.

Monday

Defense was a big focus for this session. We watched video of our play from the weekend. We highlighted some good stuff offensively, but also some shortcomings on defense. Positioning was part of that. We also talked about our blocking. That stuff was carried over into practice.

We started with a 6 v 6 team pepper with a specific focus on defensive movement for back row attacks. After that we played a target serving game. From there it was a progression to an out of system game. That allowed us to work on some positioning elements, while also continuing to develop that area of play. We finished with 6 v 6 play.

Tuesday

This was our last home match of the season, and Cameron was the visitor. This is a match we viewed ourselves as strongly favored for based both on Cameron’s record and our earlier performance against them.

That ended up playing out. The Cameron players really didn’t have a lot of fight in them, especially as the match went along. We weren’t as efficient on offense as we could have been, which ended up leading to several long rallies. That resulted in our digging 70 balls, which was second most for a 3-set match in the conference this year.

After our match we hosted a playoff match between two of the local area high schools. One of the teams actually featured one of our committed incoming freshmen. Her team won in five in front of a good, enthusiastic crowd. Part of the revenue match is supposed to go to our program.

Wednesday

This was a pretty low energy session. It picked up toward the end, but generally the focus level was below expectations. We once more began with a 6 v 6 team pepper, though slightly modified from the one we did on Monday. With a review of the stats from our last match against Friday’s opposition in mind (we served very poorly), we repeated Monday’s serving competition next.

After that, we move into hitters vs. blockers. Mainly that meant the OHs. This was all done off serve, and things went badly. The servers really took the passers apart. There were very few in-system balls for the setters to set as a result.

Our last planned exercise was 22 vs. 22. The bonus element was saying if a team got a first ball kill on a tip or shot they automatically won the big point. The play was somewhat sluggish, so after a couple of rounds we just finished with some 4s play.

Thursday

This was primarily a travel day, as we had an 8-hour trip ahead of Friday’s match. We did stop along the way to do a short practice at the high school of one of our players, however, to take a break from the bus. That was followed by dinner at her home before getting back on the road and finishing the trip.

Friday

The final match of the regular season saw us playing at Kingsville. They handled us relatively easily the first time around as we struggled considerably in serve receive and served poorly.

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Serving was much better this time around, though we still has some issues in serve receive. We got aced 9 times in the first two sets, which obvious puts a team under pressure. The funny thing is we hit .481 and .290 in those sets. Part of that was that we passed well when not getting aced. Another part was our hitters keeping their errors down. Unfortunately, we struggled to stop their offense as they hit .458 and .351 respectively. Both sets ended 25-19 against.

The third set was very evenly matched. Both teams struggled a bit on offense, hitting in the .100s. We just couldn’t take advantage of a few key opportunities to score, and ended up losing 25-22.

Saturday

On Friday evening, Texas Woman’s lost to West Texas. That left it to their match at UTPB on Saturday to determine the 8th spot for the conference tournament. If they won, we’d end up tied in the standings, but they would take the final place by way of the tiebreak.

I followed the match online via the live stats. Woman’s won the first two sets. I figured we were probably toast at that point. UTPB came back and won two tight sets to send it to a fifth, though. The final was a nail-biter. Woman’s had a couple of match points, but ended up going down 22-20.

Observations

Time to prepare the team to take on Angelo at their place for the second time in two weeks!

As an aside, the other MSU Fall sports have had pretty successful season. Cross Country and Women’s Soccer both won their conference championships. Men’s Soccer was regular season champion, but lost in the tournament final. Both soccer teams have made the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament. Nationally ranked Football lost their last game of the year to only managed a 2nd place finish in conference.

Coaching Log – November 7, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Just two weeks left in the regular season and things are still working themselves out in the Lone Star Conference. Most of the results went as expected, but there were a couple of interesting ones. Top of the last was Cameron getting its first victory of the year against Western New Mexico. The other was Commerce winning at Kingsville. Angelo continues to roll along and started the new week #10 in the Division II poll.

lsc-103116

Unfortunately, our losses against Eastern NM and Western NM (especially the latter), probably reduced our chances of moving up from 8th place to near zero. Western doesn’t have any easy matches left, but play four of their last six at home. We probably need them to lost almost all of them to have a shot at jumping into 7th.

Monday

After the weekend’s exertions, and with the match upcoming on Tuesday, we had a light session. We did some serve & pass. Then we worked a little on a new option for one of our serve receive rotations, which has had some problems. Lastly, we had them play some 4s. All together it was about 75 minutes.

Before practice we did video on the upcoming match. We also talked about some stats I developed. One of our biggest focus areas of the last few weeks has been defense. One part of that was getting our block timing corrected as we were late very frequently. The other part was improving positioning and reading, as well as digging the ball and having a stronger mentality about keeping the ball off the floor.

The stats I did compared our performance in the first half of the conference season to how we have done through the second half to-date. I calculated block and dig percentages. By that I mean I calculated the number of non-error attacks (excluding blocked balls) by the other team. I then divided blocks and digs by that number to get a percentage.

Up to this point we played five matches in the second half of the conference schedule. In all but one, our block percentage was higher than when we played those same teams the first time around. The same was true for dig percentage (different team, though). I also added blocks and digs to come up with an overall defensive percentage. In only one instance was that number lower the second time around. In three cases it was 10 points higher.

Tuesday

We played Texas Woman’s at home. Like our Commerce match two weeks prior, this was a chance to reverse a tough 5-set loss the first time we played them. Things didn’t go to script.

This was a really disappointing performance. We lost 3-0 despite holding the other team to hitting below .100 as we only managed to hit .041. We only got kills on 23% of our swings, which is incredibly low. Our serving and passing wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad. The one issue we had with the serving was bad errors. At one point in the third set we missed three straight in the net. Hard to get much going when you do that.

After the match we ended up having a long meeting in which we collectively talked about the vibe on the court and how we can get things turned around to finish the season strong and positive.

Wednesday

We actually didn’t train for very long this day. Much of our practice time slot was dedicated to video review. We watched some of the prior night’s match to look at things both offensively and defensively. In the case of the latter, there wasn’t a lot of negative to point out. A little bit of positional stuff and some movement bits, but in line with what we’ve seen in the numbers, we’re definitely doing better. In terms of the offense, we talked quite a bit about the purpose of what we’re looking to do in attack. There were a number of questions, which isn’t a real surprise given how poorly we’ve generally been on offense of late.

Once it got to practice, we only really did one set of exercises. On one court the head coach worked with the passers on some technical elements. On the other court I initially had the Middles. A major focus was on spacing to allow them to be able to attack different angles. Later the OHs came over to work on the tempo of their sets as well. This has been a major breakdown of late.

Thursday

We watch video on our prior match against Friday’s opponent before practice. This was a shift from our prior scouting where we focused on recent matches. Partly, this reflected the fact that there wasn’t likely to be much change in opposing personnel or playing style from the last time we played. Mainly, though, we wanted to look at the things that worked on offensive and how we could be a bit better defensively.

Practice itself was something of a progression. We started with some 3 v 3 over-the-net pepper – first with down balls, then back row swings. After some target serving work, it was on to an out-of-system setting and hitting exercise, and then Side-v-Side, a competitive variation on Cooperative Cross-Court Hitting. We ran the latter to continue the prior day’s work on outside set rhythm. From there we shifted to 6 v 6 play.

This was one of the more positive and energetic recent sessions. It seemed like a good prep for the weekend’s matches.

Friday

We played at Tarleton. Our home match against them was one of our better performances.

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The return fixture was pretty good as well. We lost 3-0, and the scores didn’t really flatter us, but offensively we were much improved. Unfortunately, they really did a number on us with a couple of tough servers. They also played really good defense. I think the team came away feeling much better than in other recent performances, while also knowing where we need to be better.

Saturday

We were at conference leaders Angelo.

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When we played them the first time it was a poor match. This time it was much better. We still lost 3-0, but we continued to perform at a higher level. We made a defensive change for this match. All season we’ve played with our OHs defending in middle back (6). For this match we shifted one of them to left back (5). She ended up with 18 digs. This is something we may expand heading into the final week of the season.

Observations

Tuesday’s match could end up being a “what could have been” moment for the team. We’ll have to see when the dust settles at the end of the conference season.

Coaching Log – October 31, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

There were some interesting results in the prior week’s matches. One of the more interesting one was Tarleton losing to Commerce, a team we had just beat. Another was Eastern New Mexico beating Kingsville. That’s good in terms of demonstrating a high degree of competitiveness and parity among a large part of the conference. Unfortunately, neither of those results helped us.

Here’s how the standing sit going into the new week.

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We are in a good position to qualify for the conference tournament. We have two matches left against teams below us in the standings – though one of them beat us earlier. The tricky part is trying to move up the table so we can avoid Angelo in the first round of the tournament. Help from others will likely be required. Plus, we need to grab a couple of wins against teams above us. This week provided a pair of opportunities to do that.

Monday

Our big focus on the day was serve receive. We dedicated about the first half hour to the pin hitters and defensive specialists passing, especially in the combinations used in matches. It was fairly standard serve and pass, then added in a hitting element. After that we went straight to full 6 v 6 play. We worked on some new offensive options for serve reception.

Tuesday

This was basically a totally competitive practice. We split the team in half and played a series of 25-point games. The first was Speedball style 4s (fixed setters, others flipping through in 3-player units). We played the back row attack only until one team reached 10 points, then switched to allowing front row swings. The second game was 5 v 5. Since it was two teams rather than three, the teams just used player rotations. Finally, we played a straight up 6 v 6 game.

Before practice we met with the team to talk about some things in what is normally our video review time slot (when not playing). After Monday’s practice we gave them some homework. They were told to watch this Club World Championship match. Their homework was to make observations with respect to the players in their position. We had them share those observations at this time. They did a pretty good job with it.

Wednesday

We did a sort of Halloween themed session. The wrinkle was we gave the players an assignment to pick a superhero that they could personally relate to on some level. They only had about 24 hours to come up with costumes, but they did a pretty good job.

We were again in our secondary gym for this practice. That allowed us to use two courts, so we split out the passers and the middles. The former did serve & pass by rotation. The latter worked on middle sets. While it wasn’t the only focus, we dedicated a fair amount of attention to our 31s to get them on a more consistent fast tempo.

After that, it was all game play. That started with winners 4s. Initially it was back row attack. Then we shifted to allowing front row attacks. We continue to use these small-sided games because they have a clear positive impact on our defensive play, as well as on our offensive thinking and decision-making.

We then finished up the two rotations not done in Monday’s 6 v 6 work. Finally, we played a 6 v 6 game in which we put the hitters on one team and the setters and defensive players on the other. They had fun with it. The hitters won, but it was tight.

Thursday

We had a prospective recruit practice with us, so the session was a combination of exercises to allow us to watch her and to prep for the upcoming matches. We started with the rotating partner pepper we’ve done a few times lately. After that was a serve and pass game that incorporated middle attacks in the point scoring.

The rest of practice was competitive games. We started with 4s, both back row only and then anything goes. From there we progressed to 5s. The last game was the modified version of 22 v 22 we used before where teams rotate when they score a big point. This time we gave a team a big point if they scored a first ball kill on a 31.

With Homecoming on Saturday, the team took part in the annual bonfire event in the evening.

Friday

We got Eastern New Mexico on the return leg. They have had some good results recently, so came in with some confidence. As you may recall, we fought back against them for a 3-2 win at their place last month.

This was a disappointing one. All through the first set we could see the potential in our offense to really do some damage. We passed relatively poorly, but still managed to hit .226. Unfortunately, we didn’t put them under enough pressure – especially from the service line. As a result, they hit .323 and we lost 25-17.

We got the serve kicked in to gear in the second set, and made it much tougher for the other team to run their offense. They only hit .116. We got off to a good start with our own offense, and got out to a good lead. We couldn’t hold it, though, making a number of errors down the stretch. We ended up hitting only .026 and lost 24-26.

Things didn’t improve at all in the third. Our serving was OK, but passing remained erratic. Our setting was inconsistent (which was the case throughout). We only managed 6 kills and hit .029 on the way to a 25-19 loss.

It seemed to me that whereas in prior matches there seemed to be a tightness against good teams, this time we looked a little over-excited. A lot of errors came from over playing the ball in certain ways.

Saturday

Two matches were on tap for the day. The first was Western New Mexico. They handled us rather easily at their place the first time around. It was definitely a different story this time.

Our offense struggled in the first set (.018), but we kept them from really getting going too, which resulted in a narrow 26-24 loss. Just too many hitting errors on our end. In the second we cleaned that up and took a 25-17 win. Back to lots of errors in the third, resulting in a 25-13 loss, but then another reversal in the forth for a 25-20 win. In the fifth we let them get out to something like an 8-2 advantage with another poor run in the attack. We managed to claw back to I think about 9-7 with a good serving run, but that was about it. In the end we lost 15-8.

That was tough. We played some really good defense, and both served and passed well. We just didn’t quite get it done well enough on offense. It wasn’t strictly about hitting errors. A lot of times we simply didn’t score when we had the chance.

The second match of the day was against Southern Nazarene to complete the non-conference portion of our schedule. We played it right after our other match. In hindsight, scheduling this one was a bad decision. Neither our starting OPP nor our leading OH could play. That meant we couldn’t rotate players around, especially at OH. The fatigue was clear. The players fought hard, but we lost 3-1.

Observations

Before Saturday’s first match I talked a bit with our Associate Athletic Director. He was at Friday’s match and made an observation. He said the team on the court didn’t look like they wanted to be there. This is in stark contrast to the bench. They were lively and engaged. I told him it’s something we’re trying to figure out. It seems like the players have less fun out there since conference play started. Whether that’s because they put more pressure on themselves or what, we don’t know. The head coach spoke with them about that before Saturday’s first match. Things did look better. I think we need to keep working on it, though, especially given the tough upcoming schedule.

Coaching Log – October 24, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

And so began the second half of the conference season!

Here’s how the Lone Star Conference standings were at the turn.

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Most of the prior week’s results were basically true to form. The one surprise was UT Permian Basin beating Texas Woman’s (in 5). That was a good result for us as it kept TW from moving onto level terms with us.

We have some work to do in the second half, though. While it’s no guarantee, beating the three teams below us in the standings likely gets us into the conference tournament. Ideally, however, we want to be in no worse than 6th position by season’s end. That would get us away from Angelo and Tarleton in the first round.

Monday

It was a relatively short session, not very high on the intensity scale. We did some station-based ball-handling work during the first 25 minutes. Mostly it was over-the-net pepper, but we had a couple of defense stations mixed in as well. From there we shifted to a serve & pass game.

The core of practice was an offense vs. defense exercise. The offensive team was in reception and had to score two points in a row – basically meaning a kill. If they got a good attack, but not a kill, it was a wash. If they lost the rally, they went back to zero. Much of what we wanted to do was work on running our OHs on some different types of sets.

That carried over into a wash game to finish. Every rally started with a serve. Whoever won the serve rally got a setter-out ball. A team had to win both balls to score a point. If, however, a team won the initial rally via an OH kill from something other than a set to the pin, they automatically won the point. We played a game to 10.

Tuesday

Round 2 of conference play began with a chance for redemption against Texas A&M Commerce at home after suffering that loss from a 2-0 position a couple weeks back. This match went eerily similarly to the last one.

We won the first two sets, 23 and 21. Then we completely laid an egg in the third – at least for the first half the set – and lost 25-17. We took the opportunity to give our starting setter and one of our OHs a bit of a break during the latter stages of the set. The fourth was tighter, but we lost that one as well, 25-22. That set was just two teams hammering on each other as we had 16 kills and they had 20. The fifth set was pretty sloppy. We were a little less so, though, as we hit .087 compared to their -.094. The end result was a much needed 15-9 win.

Both of our MBs were over .300 in their hitting percentages. We had five players with double-digit digs and four with double-digit points. For the first time in a long while, our point scoring percentage was at 50%. Unfortunately, our sideout percentage was also at 50%, which is a few points below our usual rate.

Wednesday

This was a low jump session for the players after Tuesday’s match.¬†We were in our secondary gym, which allows us to do two courts, but with limited service area – especially on one side. We started them off with 3s pepper over the net with the third contact a down ball. On one court the down balls went cross court. On the other, they were hit straight. We did four rotations of that. After that, we did target serving.

Next up was Continuous Cross-Court Digging. We had the hitters amp things up and swing more aggressively. It was some much needed work on digging harder hit balls. That’s an area of developmental need for the team.

After that it was some servers vs. passers games. In this variation the servers got points for hitting target zones, but lost points for serving to 6, missing in the net, or missing back-to-back serves. The receiving team scored points for good passes. One game comprised each team having a chance to serve and receive, combining their points for an aggregate score.

The last part of practice as Speedball style 4s – first back row only, then anything goes.

Thursday

This was a travel day. The players lifted in the morning, but no practice.

Friday

We were on the road against UTPB.

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The match went basically as expected. We won relatively easily 3-0. The good thing was we saw improvement from the first time we played them. Back when we played in our gym we hit .198, had two blocks, and 27 digs. This time we hit .257, had 6 blocks and 47 digs.

Saturday

West Texas was the opposition for this match.

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Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep the string going. Our passing broke down. Naturally, that meant our offense sputtered. Plus, we were against a good defensive team. The result was sub-.100 hitting for the match. We didn’t do a particularly good job of stopping them either, as they hit .273. Not surprisingly, it was a fairly one-sided match. On the plus side, we got 7 blocks. That’s well above our season average from a per set perspective.

Observations

The West Texas match is the second in as many weeks where we had a major break down in serve reception. Clearly, that’s something which needs attention.