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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.