An interesting situation is developing in the Lone Star Conference standings heading into the final weekend of the first half of the schedule. It’s turning into quite the muddle in the middle.
Angelo and Tarleton look very likely to take the top two spots. UTPB and Cameron, similarly, are odds-on favorites for the bottom two spots. That leaves seven teams to fight for the six spots left to qualify for the conference tournament.
The head coach was very ill, so I had to take charge of practice. We started with volleytennis as an initial warm-up. After that, we did rotating partner pepper using for different variations for two rounds each (8 total). I would normally prefer to do some kind of over-the-net pepper, but we only had one court available for 15 players. That limitation also prevent us from doing some target serving work I wanted to put in.
After that was a speedball style backrow 4s with rotating setters. We played two games to 10 with each side earning collective points for rally wins. After the first game, I flipped two of the teams.
From there we progressed to a Winners 5s. This time the setters and the MBs were in their own rotation, with the rest in three teams of three. Aside from the MBs, it was still backrow attack only. We played three games of first team to 10, mixing setter/middle combinations each time. Initiation was over-the-net down balls from a coach to the winning team while the losing team subbed out.
The last thing we did was a narrow court (about 2/3rds) Winners 5s. The teams from before we kept. Now, however, we played three up and two back. Initiation was the same as previously. The pace as very high – potentially too high for what I had envisioned. But it did have them in scramble mode a lot.
My main focus for the session was on defensive reading. That’s why I intentionally used drills where there wouldn’t be a lot of fixed defensive positioning around a block, as would be the case in 6 v 6 play. Not sure I achieved that objective as much as I’d have liked.
The head coach was still on limited duty for this practice, but in attendance. We were still on only one court, so repeated the rotating partner pepper as a ball-handling warm-up. Moving forward, however, we talked about adding some kind of consequence for balls hitting the floor with no effort.
Next up was a 3-station rotation. One group did target serving, with another group collecting their balls on the other side of the court. The third group worked on emergency defense techniques.
After that it was all game play. First up, we repeated the 4s back court speedball. This time, though, after a short while we shifted to allow front court swings as well. We were disappointed, however, that during the initial round the players didn’t block. As a result, the attacks were practically unstoppable. We talked to them about the need to problem solve before playing another round. It was a little better.
From there we added MBs to make it 5s, with three permitted front row players. Each team had to sort out how they set that up. There were three rounds of play, with the defense getting progressively better as the players adapted.
We then played four rounds of Scramble, and finished up with one regular game.
The head coach spoke with the team before the start of practice about shifting our attitude about balls hitting the floor. Specifically, it won’t be permitted anymore and there will be consequences if it does. We started once more with rotating partner pepper with a set of lines the consequences for balls hitting the floor with no effort. I suspect the players were a little more unforgiving than we coaches would have been in their counting, but at least we know they are taking it seriously.
Next up was some serve and pass in groups of three as a kind of warm-up. That was followed by a set of servers vs passers games. Servers scored on aces and poor passes. Passers scored on good passes, serves in the net, and back-to-back service errors.
From there we shifted to game play. Once more we began with Speedball style 4s. The first couple games were back row only, then we shifted to allow front row. We then transitioned to a variation on 22 v 22. In this case, teams rotated each time they scored a point. When one team reached 25, the serving side changed, but we continued along from where each team was in their rotation.
Unfortunately, we had some player health issues. One player went to the E.R. before practice with severe stomach pains. Later, during practice, a player with a pre-existing back problem was in a collision diving for a ball. She ended up being taken out of the gym on a back board as a precaution.
We played an away match at Lubbock Christian. They are a member of the Heartland Conference, so part of our Region. Heading into our match, they were 3rd in the standings.
We took a kind of two-part approach to this match. One the one hand, we kept the starters mainly in place to keep working on things. On the other hand, we started our freshman setter (as we did last week) to give her some more experience as a starter.
It ended up being a pretty good match overall. We dominated the first set as the hosts just made an uncharacteristic number of errors. They played much better after that. Meanwhile, our offense sputtered for the next two sets. Our kill % was in the 25% range, which is WAY too low. Not surprisingly, we lost them.
We brought back our starting setter for the fourth set, which definitely jump started the offense. We were up around 40% kills thereafter. That helped us dominate the fourth set. Unfortunately, we made a few too many mistakes in the fifth set, and lost 15-13.
This was by far our best blocking performance. We tallied 15 in total. Most of them were of the hard variety, which is something we haven’t done a lot of to-date. Mainly, that’s been an issue with block timing. We’ve been consistently late.
We had our frustrations in defense, though. This was especially the case in the second and third sets. Positional discipline was poor. It got better in the latter sets, though.
Limited session after the 5-setter the night before with two matches upcoming on Saturday. Essentially, we did the same first few exercises from Wednesday’s practice. Then, instead of running back row 4s we did 2-contacts 4s.
After that, it was on to 6 v 6. This time the game was a variation of Baseball. The at-bat team was the serving side. They served until the receiving side won three rallies (recorded 3 outs). The serving team scored a run for each rally they won. The receiving team did not score. We played 6 innings (rotations).
We actually played a tri-match. First up was Texas A&M Kingsville conference match. They finished 4th in the LSC last season and so far have been one of the better teams among those in the middle.
We flat out played poorly. We had nearly as many hitting errors as they had kills. Add in 12 service errors and 10 reception errors and you have all the makings for a quick 3-set defeat. A very disappointing performance.
The hitting errors and poor passing were, of course, the big issues. Serving, though, was problematic. Most of the misses weren’t bad in terms of missing serves in the net. They were generally missed long. The problem was the timing. They were bad misses from that perspective.
We talked with our setters and pin hitters between matches. The primary subject was improving the setter-hitter communication – both in terms of set location and play-calling. We also talked about the hitters needing to avoid making errors (or being blocked) when the sets aren’t great.
The second match was with St. Edwards. You may recall they were the team we lost to on Saturday of our home tournament. They’ve had a good season in the Heartland Conference so far, sitting in second, just ahead of Lubbock Christian. St. Edward’s also lost to Kingsville in three in the day’s second match, but they were more competitive than we’d been.
We started our freshman setter and used our OHs in a rotation, among other personnel decisions. It ended up being a complete reversal. This time we were the team making very few errors while the other team made loads of them. Our serving and passing were much improved. The result was a fairly easy 3-0 win.
Generally speaking, it was a good week. Yes, the Kingsville match was disappointing. Overall, though, I found myself feeling like we were headed in the right direction – maybe more than has been the case in a couple of weeks. I think some of the things we changed in terms of practice and general focus have been positives.