Tag Archive for US collegiate volleyball

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.

Coaching Log – September 11, 2017

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

Time for the second week of pre-conference action. We got a glimpse of where teams in the league might be at from the first week’s results, but only to a limited degree. In particular, Tarleton looked quite strong taking down two higher ranked teams. On the other hand, the two New Mexico schools both went 0-4, perhaps unexpectedly. It was against decent competition, though, so maybe not a good indication just yet. This week’s round of matches would help clear the picture up a bit further.

Monday

It was a light, recovery oriented return to the court after the prior weekend’s action. We took advantage of the holiday to do a midday session rather than our normal afternoon one. For about the first 20 minutes we talked about our performance and where we need to go to reach our season objectives.

The session itself was only about 60 minutes long. We did some ball-handling to warm-up generally, then used around-the-world serving to warm-up that part of things. The bulk of the session saw us work on serve-to-reception-to-middle/RS attack. In particular, we wanted to work on slides. They just weren’t where we need them to be.

The last part of practice was back on serving. I introduced the team to the Run & Serve drill. We wanted to do some pressure serving and I have used this drill with several teams over the years. It creates a the obvious pressure of making a serve while also adding the element of doing so immediately after physical exertion.

We adjusted it a little, though. First, we split the team over two courts to make it competitive (who finishes first). Second, we only served in one direction to avoid balls impeding our jump servers.

The initial round the objective was to get the serve in with the requirement that the ball not be higher than the height of the antenna. Not a major challenge for this level of player, but you have to start somewhere. It took one group two tries to finish, and the other three tries.

We did it one more time, making it a little tougher. Again, the serve had to be flat. Now it also had to land in the back third of the court. The same group who won the first time finished this one in just a handful of tries. The other group took several rounds longer. The comments after reflected the the players did indeed feel the pressure of it. One of them was heard to say it was like eight match point serves.

Tuesday

Back to the split sessions once more. We continued to have a serve receive to attack focus that we did quite a bit of last week. This time, though, there was much more focus on serving. We kept track of the servers in terms of both how effectively they were hitting their selected targets and how often they missed their serves.

I think broadly speaking those who did the best were at about 10% errors. The others remained about 20%, so basically what we saw from the weekend. In terms of hitting their targets, it seemed to be below 50%. Not exactly great figures. No doubt more work in these areas will follow.

Wednesday

Although it wasn’t necessarily our plan going in, we put the players under considerable pressure in this session. This came from two exercises.

The first was a high tempo transition oriented drill. We wanted to work on base reset and being stopped in defense and coverage. On one side a team of six was the focus. Their objective was to quickly get back to base and stopped before setter contact each time they attacked a ball over the net. Their objective was to do that five times in a row. Each cycle started with them getting a downball and running the offense. Once that rally was over, the other side had a ball tossed to the setter for them to attack. If at any point the focus team did not do their job, they reset back to zero. There was very little time between rallies, so it went very fast and was very demanding.

The other tough drill was one where we had the OHs attacking against a set double block. Their collective goal was to get to +10. Every good attack away from where a defender would be (including block-out attacks) was a +1. Any balls in or hitting the net or stuff blocks was a -1. Our MBs and RSs did the blocking. It was a frustrating experience for a couple of the hitters.

We finished up with regular games, but shortened. We want to create more of a focus on getting going strong in matches, so we decided to aim to be first to 8 in our games. We’re hoping that helps with the sluggish starts we had to all of our first four matches.

Thursday

This was a travel day as we headed south to Austin for the weekend’s tournament. We did, though, do a bit of a server & pass session when we got into town. It only went about 35 minutes, but was kind of intense. Mainly, we did alternating serve reception in rotations. After that, though, we did a couple of rounds of Continuous Transition and finished with pressure serving.

Friday

Our first match of the day was against Black Hills State, from South Dakota. They are a member of the RMAC, which is one of the three conferences in our NCAA region, making it a meaningful one for regional ranking purposes. In 2016 they finished in 10th, and the pre-season conference poll saw them finishing at a similar level this year.

This was a tricky match. Black Hills already had a match under their belt – a 5-set win over fellow Lone Star Conference team UT Permian basin. They definitely gave us some trouble early on. The first set was a close on that we lost 23-25. I think maybe the fact that we expected to win and didn’t played with our psyche some as we had a terrible second set. Also, we were mixing around the line-up a bit, experimenting some with a 6-2 system. We lost 12-25 and hit -.091. After that, things settled out. We won the next two 25-20 and 25-22. The fifth set was tight for a while, but we went on a long right on points and won easily, 15-7.

Overall, we hit .211 on the match. That, though, was seriously lowered by the poor second set. All the others were .225 or better, with the final two sets coming at .385 and .300. The work on serving during the week paid off. We had only 9 errors on the match out of 100 attempts. Our junior transfer DS tormented their serve reception, picking up 6 aces.

Our second match of the day was against the tournament hosts St. Edwards. We played them at our home tournament last year and lost rather disappointingly. They are from the Heartland Conference, with is also part of the trio of conferences comprising our NCAA region. So another meaningful match for the rankings. Last year they tied for 3rd in the conference standings and were picked to repeat that in 2017.

Once more, we had a difficult start to the match. A late comeback put us in position to win, but in the end we came up short at 26-28. We made 12 hitting errors on the set. From there we won rather convincingly, 25-20, 25-17, 25-15. This was one of our better defensive performances as we dug more than half of opponent attacks and had 13 blocks. As a result, they only hit .075 for the match. We only hit .185 ourselves, but if you drop that poor first set it would be .263.

Saturday

The final match of the tournament saw us play Southern Arkansas. They are from the GMAC, and not from an adjoining state, so are not a regional team. In 2016 they finished 10th in the conference, with the preseason poll seeing them come in at 11th this year.

We played a lot of players in this match, and for one whole set went with a 6-2. It definitely led to some sloppy play. In the end, we won 3-1 on scores of 25-20, 25-22, 24-26, 25-17. Honestly, the third set wasn’t really that close. That’s the one we went with the 6-2 on. It took a massive comeback in the latter stages to make it seem respectable.

Our offense was massive in this match, with a .353 final hitting efficiency. That’s the best an MSU team has done in about 10 years. The last set came in at .567, with 19 kills! Our freshman OH had 21 kills, with a better than 50% kill rate (her total of 25 points is tied for 4th in program history since keeping track). In fact, so did our junior transfer OH, who ended up at a .524 efficiency. Our defense, though, was poor. Overall, they hit .206, but that was dragged down by an .077 in the first set. Our blocking was all over the place, which not surprisingly left our defense exposed.

Final outcome

Our 3-0 weekend made us tournament champions, so we came away with exactly what we wanted. It was the first tournament sweep for the program in four years (that one was at home). Obviously, we’d liked it to have been a trio of sweeps, but we did get to see some new stuff that may pay off in the future. Our sophomore OH got some playing time after missing last the initial round of matches due to injury.

Not surprisingly, our players dominated the statistical leaders for the event. While it didn’t include the tally from the final match (played immediately after our last one), it likely was at least very close to the end results. We had three of the top 8 in terms of hitting efficiency, four of the top five in kills/set, four of the top seven in aces/set, and two in the top eight for blocks.

Or senior MB was tops in both efficiency (.389) and kills/set (3.31), as well as holding fourth in blocks (1.38). For that, she rightly was voted MVP. We honestly felt like she should have made all-tournament the previous week, but somehow we didn’t get anyone selected.

Our senior setter earned Setter of the Tournament. Our transfer junior OH was also picked to the all-tournament team.

Pre-conference vs. pre-season

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

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

Volleyball is one of those sports.

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

But they don’t count for anything.

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

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

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

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

Let me provide an example from NCAA Division II.

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching Log – September 4, 2017

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

The 2017 NCAA Division II season is underway!

Player meetings

As we prepared for the first weekend of competition, we did individual meetings with all the players. They were basically a check-in to talk about where each of them was at in their development, how they were feeling about the team, etc. Of course we also talked with each of them about where we see them vis-a-vis playing time.

Monday

After a weekend off, we were back in action on Monday. The players had an early morning weights session to kick things off. Unfortunately, it was also picture day for the team. Pictures were supposed to happen in the 15 minutes before practice. If you know anything about how this sort of stuff goes, though, you know it never takes that little time. We had a 2-hour practice slot scheduled, but I think we only got to go for something like 1:15 by the time the picture dust settled.

The abbreviated session ended up being mainly about competition. It started with Brazilian 2-ball. We did a upper-classmen vs lower-classmen game in Buenos Aires that the older team lost. They asked for a rematch, and won convincingly. Of course, now that means we’ll have to do it one more time to break the tie.

After that we did a serving warm-up, then moved on to back row Speedball 4s. From there it was on to what we call Side v Side. That’s a competitive version of the Cooperative Cross Court Hitting drill. We played a series of games to 4 points where only earned points counted (kills, blocks).

The last 15 minutes or so was a 6 v 6 game. We wanted something fast-paced, so coaches initiated balls to the side that lost the prior rally. While that was happening, the winning team did substitutions.

Tuesday

The players’ Tuesday class schedule makes it impossible to do a full team session, at least at any reasonable time of day. Further, we have several Tuesday matches. As a result, we opted to split the team into morning and afternoon groups based on availability. Serving and passing was the major focus of the groups for this week, but mainly with offensive and blocking elements added in. It was a tough day for the passers as the servers were really going at them.

Wednesday

More fitness testing and weights in the morning. We carried elements of Tuesday’s serve reception work in to the start of the day’s practice. First, though, we worked through a couple of elements of our pre-match warm-up. We’re making some adjustments to what we did last year.

The two core element of the session were games. First we did a 4 v  4 out-of-system game to work on that phase of play in terms of setting and hitting. We then shifted to 6 v 6 play to work through rotations.

Thursday

We practiced our pre-match warm-up at the beginning of the session to prepare for the weekend action. After that, we repeated the prior day’s serve/pass/attack drills, then moved on to 6 v 6 to continue working on rotations.

I think the session started out pretty well, but the focus seemed to drift as time went on. Lots of bad errors started to come in to the action. That suggested to me a mentally fatigued group.

Friday

Our competitive season started at Tarleton, our fellow Lone Star Conference team who was hosting a tournament. It’s an event that featured not only relatively short travel (about 2.5 hours), but also an interesting competitive mix.

Our first match of the day was against preseason #23 Rockhurst. The were the champions of the western division of the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) last year, and made the NCAA tournament. To be blunt, we played pretty poorly in a 3-0 loss (-8,-13,-17). You expect to have a tough time against good competition, but we just made too many mistakes and didn’t put them under nearly enough pressure.

The one bright spot was our serve reception. We passed better than 2.00. Also, in working through a few different lineup variations we got to something that seemed to put us on the right track moving forward.

The second match was against Maryville. They too represent the GLVC, but were at the bottom of the league in 2016. We started off poorly, managing only six kills in the first set, but our opponents made a number of errors that kept us in it and we eventually got our noses in front. The remaining two sets we were much more effect, hitting over .300 in both and getting comfortable wins for a 3-0 final result (-21,-21,-18).

Saturday

Our first match of the day was once more a challenging one. This time it was preseason #18 Central Oklahoma. UCO is a member of the MIAA, where they finished 3rd in 2016. The teams above them were Nebraska-Kearny, who we see in a couple weeks, and Washburn, who we played last season. Although they are not part of our NCAA region, UCO counts as regional opposition for us because they are from an adjoining state. That means playing them impacts our regional RPI. None of the others do.

This was a far better match for us than the initial one on Saturday. We had our struggles in the first set, just making a few too many errors. That improved in the second and third sets. Instead, we had UCO under constant pressure in rallies. It very nearly resulted in a win in Set 2. We were up 20-16, but just couldn’t close it out. In Set 3 we rode an 85% sideout rate to a relatively comfortable win. Unfortunately, the final set saw us fall back to making too many errors, so we lost 3-1 (-17, -22, 25-20, -21).

Service errors was a problem for us. We had 21 of them (against 6 aces). Our aggressiveness was rewarded in UCO only passing 1.80 on the match, but all the misses contributed to an overall sideout rate of nearly 70%. In contrast, we passed a 2.26, which was the best of the weekend.

It has to be said, this was probably the best match MSU Volleyball has played in years when you consider the caliber of competition. The energy level was great. We just needed to be a bit cleaner in our execution and to close things out better when we had the chance.

The final match of the tournament for us was against Southwest Baptist. They were the bottom team in the MIAA last year. I figured going in it would be a trap match after the big energy exerted in the first. I was right.

We really struggled to get back going again to start the match. The unsurprising result is that we fell behind early in the first set. Our offense was pretty ineffective and we weren’t stopping them. We managed to start to get the engine rolling as the set progressed, but a bit too little, too late, so we lost a close one.

After that, we ended up winning relatively comfortably, though it didn’t always feel like it. We hit .400 in the final set, which pulled our final hitting efficiency up to .195 for the match. That gives you an idea of how enemic our attack was for much of the time. It was our middles who led the charge there. As the match progressed they became nearly impossible to stop. Our freshman went 4 for 5 in the final set. The end result was a 3-1 win (23-25, -19, -18, -14).

For the fourth time in a row we passed better than 2.0 in this match. We arguably made too many serving errors once more (15), but this time we got the aces (13) to balance that out.

Thoughts from the tournament

All in all, the 2-2 record on the weekend is what I expected. I would have liked our first and last matches to have been better ones, but you expect that kind of thing early in the season with as many new players as we’ve got.

The UCO match definitely showed us what this team is capable of. It’s going to be a question of building from there. There are definitely things we need to get better at. I think we could dig hard attacks better than we did. We can vary up our attacks – in particular our OH attacks – more than we did, both in terms of direction and mixing in shots. Obviously, serving needs to improve. I think overall we missed about 19%, which is simply too high.

The thing I did like is how many improvements we made just over the course of the event. The middle connections became better. Our new players definitely learned some good lessons, while our experienced players were very solid and consistent, as you’d hope.

Coaching Log – August 29, 2017

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

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

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

Pre-season conference poll

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

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

Buenos Aires trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They want our players!

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

All-Staff meeting

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

Pre-season concluded

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

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

Coaching Log – August 12, 2017

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

As this post goes to press, so to speak, the team has begun its trip to Buenos Aires. Look for updates – for sure on Facebook and Twitter. I’ll eventually post something here on the blog as well, but I don’t know when. It’ll depend how things go. Definitely look for a comprehensive piece afterwards.

Preseason continued

Last update I talked about what we did through our first four days of preseason sessions. We had already planned to give the team Friday (the 5th day) off. Saturday was going to be back to two session, but we decided to add in a little more rest by dropping the morning session. It definitely seemed to pay off. We heard the players took advantage to sleep in and get some additional recovery.

In Saturday’s session we did target serving for the first time, having the players work on serving seams. We did some work on transition offense on two courts by having attackers self-toss and attack at the block and defense in a controlled fashion. That was a bit ugly, but so be it. We ended with some 6 v 6 play. It was interesting in that to note the serve reception stats were down from what we saw in the first four days. Not sure how much of that was linked to a little rust from the time off and how much might have come from better serving.

Sunday it was back to two sessions. The morning one was more technical work. We did more serving, some serve & pass, and had the setters working to get the tempo and placement right on the outside sets. We also did the Continuous Cross-Court Digging drill for the first time this year. This is something I suggested to work on our dig control as I’ve not been happy with it.

Monday featured an early practice (6-8am) because of the afternoon high school event and the needs to avoid conflicts with player classes. It was not a great session. Very sloppy. We did a combination of control and competitive exercises, concluding with 22 v 22. Honestly, none of it looked great. The only sort of positive was that our transfer Right Side was finally in training, having missed the first week. Not surprisingly, she was up and down between her own rust and having to figure out the court connections with her new teammates.

Tuesday we were off, but we were back in action on Wednesday. We did once more do split groups on Wednesday morning. The first was middles, setters, and right side attackers. They worked on blocking and setter-hitter connections. The second group was the outsides and defenders. Perhaps not surprisingly, they focused ball-handling skills. That work paid off when we had everyone together for game play in the afternoon. The passing was the best we’d seen to that point and the attack was much more fluid. It was, for me, the first time I watched our offense and could see envision where it could be this year.

Thursday and Friday were also two session days. Here, though, we made all the sessions full-team affairs. The mornings had more of a control focus, though with a bit of competition mixed in. The afternoons were straight game play almost exclusively. There’s plenty to be worked on, for sure, but we’re making nice progress toward being the sort of team we want to be this year.

High school event hosting

Monday and Tuesday we hosted I think 15 high schools playing in the opening matches of their seasons. Mostly it was varsity play, but we had a few JV and freshman fixtures mixed in as well. The deal we made with the teams was that they would cover the cost of officials, we would supply line judges and score table personnel, and we would keep the gate plus concessions.

That might not sound like a great deal for the schools, but consider a couple of things. First, a number of our alumnae are coaching at local high schools, and this event is a fund raiser for our program. Second, it’s a chance for these kids to play in our coliseum, which they might otherwise not get. We did host a high school playoff match last year (one which featured one of this year’s freshmen), but otherwise it’s not something we can often do.

Between the gate, concessions, and t-shirt sales (mainly pre-sales to teams) we netted about $6000.

Buenos Aires trip prep

After Saturday’s practice we had a team meeting. It was mainly just to go over some team stuff, but we ended it talking about trip details. Primarily, that had to do with packing and non-volleyball clothing selection. Our itinerary was still a developing thing in terms of some of the event details along the way. I did on Monday, though, send out to the players what I had to that point.

Recruiting

A 2018 prospect was on campus Friday for a visit. She’s from a state where high school season hasn’t started yet. That means she could play in with the team. NCAA rules prohibit “tryouts” during a prospect’s season.

Obviously, we won’t get much recruiting done while on our trip. Though one of the clubs in Buenos Aires has brought up the idea of player exchanges. A formal university exchange program is a necessary component for something like that, though.

Coaching Log – August 4, 2017

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

Preseason is underway!

We started our preseason training on Monday, after doing compliance and team meetings on Sunday. Technically, this isn’t preseason, actually. Rather, it’s pre-trip training. The NCAA allows 10 days of practice before an overseas trip. We leave on the 12th, so starting on Monday gave us 10 days plus two days off before we leave.

Today is actually one of those days off. We’ll take the second one on Tuesday. We’re hosting a high school tournament of sorts that day, which I get more into below.

We’ve done four days of split sessions. In the mornings we’ve done group sessions. Three of the players are attending Summer classes, each at different times. That mandated splitting things up in the morning, but we did full-team sessions in the afternoon. Morning sessions were no more than 90 minutes, while the afternoon ones went two hours.

For the first couple of days we had two focal points for the morning sessions. The first group comprised the middles and setters. They were largely about getting the timing of the middle attacks down, though that included a fair bit of work on footwork and movement patterns. We also worked on blocking. The second group was made up of the pin hitters and defensive specialists. They focused a lot on ball control and out-of-system play.

The afternoon sessions were of a different sort. For one, they featured a lot of competition. I’ll speak more on that in a moment. As you might expect, they were also our chance to see what the team looked like playing together in different ways so we could see where we needed to prioritize our work.

Some of what we did was cooperative, especially early in the sessions as part of ball-control oriented warm-ups. The competitive stuff was often less than 6 v 6. That allowed us to look at different elements of play.

On Wednesday and Thursday we turned our attention mainly to the defensive side of play. Our morning groups focused a lot on offense vs. defense, working through the structure of our play. We then carried that over into more full-team action in the afternoons. It definitely paid dividends.

Thursday was a tough one for the players. They were very obviously feeling the effects of the three previous days. As a result, we made things a bit lower intensity in the morning sessions. In the afternoon we kept things slower by playing regular games. This was the first time doing so – and playing on our main center court – so it let us see things in new ways.

Competition leader board

I mentioned doing a lot of competition in our team sessions this week. A big focus for us this year is really developing a winning mentality and generally competing harder. In support of that, we decided to keep track of wins among the players. By that I mean every time a player is part of the winning group in a competitive exercise, be it a point based game or a goal-oriented activity, they get a tick mark next to their name on our white board. We want to see who the winners are, and to incentivize a winning mentality.

Admittedly, it’s not always easy to keep track of winners and losers. We have three MBs and oftentimes we have them rotate around so they don’t get overly fatigued. This is especially so in the faster paced games. Unfortunately, that means they aren’t part of any single team. I think we’ve decided to keep track of how many points are won by the team they are currently in and see who has the most at the end.

Missing one

We actually haven’t had our full squad up to this point. Our transfer RS is away this week on a family trip. We knew about it when we signed her. It’s not the greatest situation in the world, but there you have it. She’ll be back with us on Sunday or Monday and we’re including her in the team meeting type stuff remotely.

Speaking event

Saturday was the speaking event I’ve been working on putting together for the last couple of months. We had a number of no-shows, so the attendance could have been higher, but it was still a very positive event. The city’s mayor attended with his family. The university’s president had some very positive words to say about the work we’re doing, as did the Athletic Director. Danielle Scott’s speech was very well received, and she was featured in an interview on local TV.

High school event

As I noted briefly above, next week we host an event for local area high school teams. They come to our gym to play their first matches of the year. This is the second time running the event. Last year it was a 1-day affair featuring I believe 8 teams. This year we have I think 14 teams and the event is spread out over two days.

Recruiting

We got some good news on Tuesday. Our #1 OH target for 2018 verbally committed. That makes it two of our top choices. The other was a setter. Unfortunately, a couple weeks ago one recruit let us know she will go elsewhere, but we soldier on.

Coaching Log – July 7, 2017

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

Anyone who thinks college volleyball coaches have Summers off has no idea! This is a particularly intense off-season for me. I’m the lead on all the stuff for the Argentina trip. On top of that, the head coach has mostly been out of pocket the last few weeks. First she was off getting married. Then last week she was running our camps. Now she is away for her honeymoon.

Let’s just say it’s been an intense period.

Here’s what’s been going on.

Recruiting

Not a lot going on here in terms of active recruiting. We are, of course, getting a steady stream of prospect emails to evaluate. We’re just not doing anything off-campus at this stage. We have offers out to four 2018 prospects. One was recently accepted, so the Class of 2022 is already starting to form! Hopefully, we’ll get more commitments in the weeks ahead.

Freshman stuff

There’s always a bunch of stuff for incoming freshmen – and transfers – to do. They have to make sure everything is submitted to the NCAA Eligibility Center. There is Orientation to attend and class registration to do. In our case, most of them will take Summer II classes as a jump start. Doing so gets them on campus early and allows them to work with our strength coach. That’s alongside the other players who are in the area over the Summer, helping them integrate.

Buenos Aires planning

This has been a huge source of stress and sleepless nights!

The biggest issue is that we’ve had to rapidly accelerate our fundraising efforts because of organizational bureaucratic requirements. We thought we had some time, but in order to get the official travel authorization we have to show sufficient funds in our account. That’s meant a scramble to get that lined up in a matter of days rather than weeks. It will happen, but not without some contortions.

We’ve also been trying to work through a contract thing with Boca Juniors, who will host us for our practice sessions. They sent us a contract to sign, which I did. The university, however, needs Boca to sign an addendum. Unfortunately, the people at the club with the authority to sign that addendum are not present, and won’t be until July 16th. Reaching the point of understanding the delay on their end was crazy. Our contact planning things for us is currently on vacation in Europe, so he’s been long-distance middle man. It took having a Spanish speaker here talk to someone at Boca to finally understand what is holding things up.

Of course the organization of things in Buenos Aires isn’t all that is going on. Travel preparations are underway. That means things like passports and immunizations and getting the ticketing done. Plenty of details to finalize on our end as well.

Speaking Event

I mentioned in my last entry that we arranged for 5-time Olympian Danielle Scott to come speak on campus. Here is the graphic we had developed.

That was meant to be a major part of our fundraising efforts, but now it’s looking less important from that perspective. Not that we don’t plan on raising money from it. We definitely do. It’s just that the accelerated fundraising need I mentioned before takes some of that pressure of this event. We can now angle it to be at least as much about community engagement.

As you can see, it’s only a few weeks until the event. That means on top of all the stuff for the Buenos Aires trip, I have organization of this to do as well. We’re doing the event in our coliseum, so I’ve had to arrange for that to be set up. We need food, which means catering. Of course we need bodies to fill all the seats. We’re aiming for 300+, so this is no small production.

Other stuff

We found out as we started our camp that the lines for the courts in our main gym were re-done a little off. The main central court is fine, but we have a 2-court configuration we use for practice and when we’re running tournaments. The court ended up about 2 inches too wide. The folks who redid the floor seem to have used the marker as the inside edge of the sideline rather than the outside edge. Ooops!

I’m not sure if that can be repaired straight away or if we’re just going to have to use tape until it can get fixed later.