Tag Archive for volleyball blocking

Tracking block and defense improvement

One of the things we focused on with the Midwestern State team as the Lone Star Conference season progressed was improvement in our block and defense. Our block timing was poor. That meant not only few blocks, but also few digs. Though we also needed improvement in defensive position and actual digging. We were bottom of the league standings in both categories at one point, I believe.

Per set figures

Recently, I ran some numbers to gauge our progress. I first started with blocks/set and digs/set. Those are the commonly reported figures, so it made sense.

Through the first round of conference matches (10 total), we averaged 1.17 blocks and 11.16 digs per set. Over the course of the first five matches of the second half of the season we averaged 1.57 and 15.47 respectively. That’s pretty good.

Percentages

A coaching friend suggested I look instead at block and dig percentages. Basically, that divides those figures by the total number of non-error attacks (blocked balls excluded from the error count). Since attack numbers can vary from match to match – and five set matches always mess with per set averages – the percentage approach is the better way to go.

For the first half of the season our block percentage was 4.5%. Our dig percentage was 42.1%. That adds up to a total “stop” percentage of 46.6%. For the first five matches of the second half the comparable percentages were 4.9%, 48.3%, and 53.2%. Again, gains across the board.

In each but one of the second half matches our block percentage was higher than against that same team the first time around. The same was true of the dig percentage (different match). Similarly, when looking at the total figure, only one match was worse the second time than the first.

Limitations

While these comparisons tell us the team was more effective in defense the for the first five matches of the second half of the conference season, there is a limit as to how far you can take the analysis. What happens on the other side of the net leading to an attack matters. If you do a better job putting a team in difficulty through tough serves and/or good attacks, you will likely find it easier to block or dig their attacks.

Also, ultimately what you want from your defense is it to generate point scoring. That means it’s worth extending the analysis of something like dig percentage to see how many swings you get from those digs and how efficiently they convert into points.

High school block and defense

This is the time of year when many coaches are problem-solving with there teams. Here’s one of them via a recent email.

Hi, I coach a varsity high school team. We are not very good at blocking. I am wondering if there are drill to work specific timing, and/or what defense would you suggests for weak blockers?

There are a couple of elements involved here. Let me try to address each.

Not good at blocking

Saying you’re not very good at blocking is a little too broad. That could mean we’re a short team, or it could mean we have technical problems. The request for a drill to work on timing tends to suggest the latter is what this coach is worried about. Since I can’t really help a coach with a short team, I’ll talk training ideas.

Unfortunately, timing isn’t a mechanical issue. You can’t break it down into positioning or movement patterns. It’s basically a decision based on judgement of the hitter’s attack. As such, there isn’t a drill to fix it. Players have to develop timing by blocking against hitters, and any drill or game where that happens will do.

The real issue is feedback, which is where coaching comes in. You have to first make the blocker understand they are not jumping on time, and then work with them on reading the cues to improve that timing. For the former, video is a very good tool. Set up your camera (a tablet will do) and either record them or use one of the video delay apps.

Recognition of block mistiming might be enough to fixed the problem, but if it isn’t you have to train your blockers how to judge the timing. That means knowing the hitter’s hitting power, seeing how far they are off the net, and reading the play to know if the hitter is likely to attack aggressively or use a shot.

Defense behind a poor block

The point of back row defense is to have players where the ball is most likely going. It’s a probability game, plain and simple. Yes, there are read based adjustments, but those are based on starting points and general areas of responsibility. This basic idea does not change based on block quality.

What does change, however, is placement of defenders. The block takes away a certain part of the court – or at least it’s meant to do that. The defense then is positioned around it in the areas attacks are likely to go. If your block is ineffective, though, you need to shift your defenders.

So that leaves us with a question: At your level of play, if there were no block, where would the hitters most likely hit the ball?

Answer that question and you have the answer to how to arrange your defense.

Coaching Log – Apr 4, 2016

This is an entry in my Midwestern State volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

It occurred to me that this is the first time I’ve begun work with a team in a Spring training type of situation. In basically every case up to now I’ve started coaching a team at the start of the season. The one exception is when I took over the Devon Ladies halfway through the 2012-13 NVL season in England. It’s in an interesting new situation.

Anyway….

We started MSU team Spring Training on Wednesday after the team got back from Spring/Easter break. The schedule we’ve got worked out looks like this:

Monday and Wednesday: 6:30-8:30am team practice
Tuesday: 6:15-7:30am team weights, 7:30-9:00am group practice 1, 11-12:30 group practice 2
Thursday: 6:15-7:30am team weights, 4-5:30pm team practice, 6-7pm pool workout
Friday: 6:30-8:30am team practice, 12-1:30pm weight training group 1, 2-3:30pm weight training group 2

Thursday’s are actually a bit of a mix. That day is impacted by some different other activities going on. I’ll speak about them separately as they occur.

Wednesday
We decided to have blocking as a focal point in this session. That meant doing some station work during the first half of the practice where we had the front row players blocking in a rotation by position. This wasn’t against live hitters, though we did have an assistant setting the ball so they would have the timing element and basic set placement to work with. I was running this court and was basically using the exercise to evaluate where they were at with their footwork and to have them focus on getting good penetration – shooting the hands over rather than going straight up and then (maybe) pressing.

Generally speaking, the footwork was solid. There was one player using swing block mechanics for a very short move (maybe half a step) that I had her change to just a simple slide/shuffle. Other than that, though, I didn’t see any major issues with their movement. There was a bit of floating going on by one or two of them, which seems to be always the case.

We then had them face live hitters in game play. That’s where some developmental needs surfaced. Mainly that had to do with block positioning, though I did provide feedback on some hand stuff as well.

While I was working on the blocking station the head coach was running the others through some serving, passing, and a bit of defense on the other court. I didn’t really get to see any of it, though.

Straight after practice I had to spend 2.5 hours going through new hire orientation. Fun times!

Thursday
The day started early with the team doing weights, and then a suicide test where they had to do 5 timed suicides with about 30 second breaks in between. The target times were 23-24-25-25-25 seconds. This was all run by the strength coach. He then administered a punishment to the on-campus freshmen in the form of having to do another 5 suicides because of tardiness to a session with him.

We did a team training in the afternoon – but only 75 minutes. We continued working on blocking, this time with the pin blockers starting off going 1-on-1 against assistant coaches hitting in their approach line. The idea was to get the blockers focusing on their positioning. We later added the middles. Behind the block we had defenders working on reading the hitters and positioning around the block. We finished up working on a couple of rotations ahead of our tournament on Saturday by playing the 22 v 22 game.

In between the morning and afternoon activities we had a bit of drama. One of the defensive specialists announced that she was quitting unexpectedly – at least in terms of timing.

Friday
We had a prospective recruit visiting and playing in with us. Lovely early wake-up for her and her parents!

After doing some small-sided game play to begin practice, we split off the setter and middles to do some block-transition-attack work on one court while everyone else worked on serving and serve reception. After that, we returned to 22 v 22 to do the four remaining rotations, then wrapped up with a regular game.

Saturday
We played in a Spring tournament at Oklahoma Baptist University. That’s about a 2.5 hour ride from MSU. We went in style.

2016-04-02 07.08.12

The format was basically an hour per match, inclusive of 10 minutes of warm-up time. So call it about 50 minutes of play per match. That basically translates to two full sets and part of a third.

The competition was St. Gregory’s, Northwestern Oklahoma State, and then the host team. St. Gregory’s is an NAIA school playing in the Sooner Athletic Conference. The other two are NCAA Division II teams who play in the Great American Conference. The latter is generally a weaker league than the Lone Start Conference were we play.

Our first match was pretty comfortable. St. Gregory’s finished low in their league last season and we handled them pretty easily. We played a 5-1, rotating our 4 defensive specialists and our two OPPs. Our two OPPs also can play MB, so we gave each some time through there as well.

The second match we shifted to a 6-2, but not a “legal” one. Basically we had our setter go back to 1 each time she rotated to the front row, and then subbed OPPs. The first set was a bit rough, and we lost by a large margin. We turned that around in the second set, though, for a comparable win. We then won a close short third set as well.

The last match, against OBU, was the toughest. We went back to the 5-1 to start. The first set was a bit rough. In particular, we got stuck in a rotation (which happened in the first set of the second match as well), and never quite got back to level terms. We changed to the 6-2 for the second set and performed a bit better. Arguably, we should have won, but gave up a late lead. The short third set was kind of poor, the players were clearly tired and lacking focus.

Overall, I think we were generally happy with how things went. Obviously, there were plenty of things that we want to get better at, but it was a decent day in terms of how the team played. A couple of players really put in good performance as well.

I was told OBU would generally rank as a middling team in the Lone Star Conference.

A reasonable hitters on boxes vs blockers set-up

I’ve never been a huge fan of blocking against hitters on boxes. My big problem with it are that the way these drills are often run is that they very often eliminate the read/react element of things and/or operate at a tempo that isn’t very game-like. This version is perhaps the best I’ve seen, though. In having a live setter working off a pass, the blockers are forced to try to read and react. Plus, the tempo of the attacks is pretty much game speed.

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Now, that said, there is still a big short-coming. It’s one that is tough to get around with hitters on boxes. I’m talking about the lack of a hitter read for the blockers. They basically know exactly where the hitter will attack the ball, so there is no reading of that. In other words, it trains the blockers to simply go to a spot, which is a problem I see all the time.

That being the case, as much as I think this is a better version of blockers vs. hitters on boxes than most, I would still be inclined to only use it infrequently to work on very specific things (penetration, communication, movement, etc.).

Coaching Log – Jan 18, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

This week saw our focus shift back to Elitserie play, with our first league match of the second half on Saturday. That meant getting locked in on grabbing one of the top 3 spots for playoffs so we’d have the opportunity to choose our first round opponent. It seems likely that the top 2 seeds will come from ourselves, Hylte, and Engelholm. That would mean the other needing to hold off Örebro for third, which may not be easy given their schedule advantage.

Even before Gran Prix, I made a decision the prior week that I was going to change the way we did dedicated serve reception training. We were 6th in the official team passing stats, and were third best at GP. I was observing that things would be pretty good the first few minutes, then tail off. I decided that from now on, I would only do short, focused exercises and make them competitive. Basically, I’d do servers vs. passers. Each server would get X balls (maybe 5) and the passers would have to average 2.0 or better to win. This struck me as keeping things more focused (on both ends).

Monday
After playing 10 sets in less than 24 hours sandwiched between van trips of 10 hours on Friday and 8 on Sunday, I wasn’t going to do any training. I did want them to do something physical for recovery purposes, though, so I opted for a team lift (normally done on Wednesday).

Before the lift I had a team meeting to talk about our path forward. I told them ahead of time that I was going to have each player contribute their thoughts on how we can keep working on getting better, can be better than Engelholm and Hylte, who are clearly our two big rivals this season, etc. I told them that I would have them share their thoughts one-by-one in age order. I decided to go this way so that all the Swedish players would have their say before the Americans. The latter tend to dominate team discussions because of personality and experience.

Here are the main things that came up in the discussion:

  • The desire for more game-planning
  • More work on technical passing
  • Being less up and down in our play
  • Having a better understanding of defensive positioning and communication with the block

On the game planning, I brought up the Engelholm away match from back in October. We did a lot of game planning the week leading up, including having some guest players in to play the part of the opposition’s big OPP. I came away from the match, though, feeling like we’d focused too much on them and it contributed to us freaking out under pressure in the match. I explained to them that was why I’d backed things down to providing annotated video (which they were expected to watch) and having discussions based on them. The focus has been more on how we attack them rather than how we defend against them.

One of the players did comment that we should keep in mind that just like we’re game-planning, so too is the other team. The important thing is being able to make adjustments, which I feel like we do fairly well.

The funny thing about the game-planning request is that it came right after I’d just gotten done saying I wasn’t going to spend much time focused on our next opponent. By that I mean I want us focused on our own play rather than worrying about what they’re doing. We need to take a bit of time to get things on our side of the net cleaned up, especially with two important matches coming up next week.

Not surprisingly, given prior discussions, there was a fair amount of talk about doing more drills. Players always want more “reps”. The argument, “We came up doing drills,” was once more put forth. Of course just because you’ve done something in the past doesn’t mean it was the best thing to do then, or the best thing to do moving forward.

Interestingly, one player actually seemed to speak in favor of the game play focus we’ve had to-date. She made the comment that what she’s heard from other teams is that we make plays no one else makes. It was something she attributed to all the playing we’ve done.

Also, as much as they want more drills, they agreed with me that the way we’ve been doing serving and passing up to now needs to change. They liked the idea of making it quick and competitive. I suggested for the more individual aspect of passing, we could do it as part of our ball-handing warm-up. They liked that idea.

The fact of the matter is that at this point things are almost certainly going to have to be more “drill” oriented. I put that in quotes because I’ll still look to make things as game-like as possible.

The reality of the situation, though, is that our numbers and schedule are going to mandate some adjustments. As compared to the first half, the training-to-competition ratio is a fair bit lower. We have 12 matches in the next 8 weeks, as compared to 26 training slots. And with fewer bodies, it will be harder to do lots of game stuff as I’d normally like. They players need to stay fresh for our matches – of which the majority will be very competitive by the looks of things.

There was some talk about being more situationally aware. The example used was not missing our serve when our strongest line-up was at the net. It also extended, however, to hitters being more aware of their blocking match-up as part of my desire to get more effective when they call audibles.

A comment was made about being more positive in our huddles. The thought was that perhaps part of the reason we’re a bit up and down is that we have a tendency to focus on what we’re not doing well rather than on how we can increase our application of what’s working. It was felt that maybe that brought the team down rather than allowing it to sustain momentum. I understood this to be more an issue of the players talking with each other, but there may also be stuff said by staff.

At the end I posed a question to the group on serving. I’ve noticed that we have a tendency to perhaps get overly target locked on a particular passer we’ve identified as weak. The result can sometimes be better than expected passing because of relatively easy serves. I asked them how they felt about the idea of starting matches off taking more of a “best serve” approach (the players go with their best serve regardless of target), and then, if we identify someone passing poorly that day, really narrowing in on them.

Tuesday
This was a heavy talking session. The main developmental points discussed in Monday’s meeting were the core priorities – serve reception, block-defense, and transition offense. The bulk of the time ended up getting spent on defense against attacks through 2 and 4. We went slowly. Blockers were focusing on proper positioning while defense was working on positioning around the block and reading the hitter.

We spent time after that basically flipped around with blockers against hitters, but no defenders. This was to work on the hitters making better audible decisions. The blockers were told to vary their starting position so the hitters would have to look at them before making a set call.

After that, I ran them through some 6 v 5 which started with serves to get some full game play in. We wrapped up with Winners 3s, back row attack only.

Wednesday
Apparently, Monday’s team weight training session was somewhat limited by the mass of folks in the fitness center motivated by New Year’s resolutions to get fit and/or lose weight. As a result, the players made a decision after Tuesday’s training to have a second team lift in their normal time slot. So basically the normal Wednesday schedule was followed.

We continued the work done on Tuesday in terms of working on block-defense and hitter audibles. I turned the order around, though, so hitter set calling got more attention. One of the things we talked about was the MBs giving the OHs more information on what they were doing so the latter could anticipate what would be called by the quicker hitters.

We also continued the serve reception work with the servers vs. passers game. Cooperative back row “team pepper” featured in the warm-up stages.

Friday
I was hoping to have an extra player, but it didn’t work out. That kind of limited things in terms of getting something like full game-play in. That was disappointing, but in many ways I was looking at Saturday’s match as a kind of live-fire training session.

After pre-hab, serving, and ball-control work at the outset, I had the players do some blocking technical work against hitters on boxes. I’m not a huge fan of that because it takes out much of the read aspect involved, but the focus was more on penetration and hand position. And in any case, a later exercise involved attackers essentially going against a team without a MB. That meant 1 v 1 swings against the pin blockers, with the defense in behind to work in their reading.

In between we did the Continuous Cross-Court Digging drill as a defensive preparation. I was actually pretty pleased with what I saw. Players are starting to expand their defensive range.

After the hitters vs. defense exercise, we played back court Winners 3s for the remainder. That was enough jumping and swinging, even though we finished in less than 2 hours all together. Even the players didn’t feel the need to do anything extra when I offered the opportunity.

Saturday
The day started with an early train ride up to the Stockholm area for the match against Sollentuna. The original plan had been to fly up and train back on Sunday, but in the end the cost decided that it was rail both ways (though still with a Saturday overnight stay).

Sollentuna’s men’s team had a home match as well, so our start was a bit later than usual at 5pm.

Sollentuna

We finally got a 3-0 win when our turn came. The first two sets we won comfortably. After getting out to a good lead in the third, though, we let them back in and only managed to win 27-25.

Serving was a big factor in both when doing well and when not. We ended up with 19 aces against 12 errors. Our two OHs each had 6 aces, and every starter had at least one. Now, that’s not a bad ace to error ratio at all. The problem was, a number of our misses came at bad times – after timeouts, when the other team had scored points in a row, etc. In particular, we started the second set by missing 3 out of our first 4 serves. That was something we’ve not had problems with for the most part in a while, which suggests either overly aggressive serving or a lack of focus.

Serve reception was better than average. Our pass rating was about 2.09. It was a bar bell type of distribution, though. The stats indicate 13 aces against out of 60 passes. That is much too high a percentage, but we had a lot of very good passes as well.

One thing I wasn’t pleased with was the set distribution. Our M2 and our OPP needed to have gotten more sets. I realize from a “want to win in 3” perspective that others were more likely to get kills, but this was a chance to spread the ball around and build depth in our attack that was missed. This relates to what I feel was a coaching mistake on my part in terms of substitution use.

We spent the night in Stockholm, with everyone basically given the night free. Then it was a 9:21 train back in the morning.

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
Leaders Brøndby played a pair of Oresund Liga matches on the week. The first was a Danish league fixture vs. Amager on Thursday which counted toward both competitions. They won that 3-0. The second was a Saturday match against Gislaved. That one also ended 3-0. Those were the only two for the Liga this week.

The January schedule, in fact, is light. Only two more matches left on the month. Svedala doesn’t play it’s next match counting toward the Liga until February 10th.

The two wins sees Brøndby well clear of the pack at the top of the table. At this point, they are going to be very hard to catch. They are on 20 points while we only have 13 and Engelholm is on 10 (one fewer match played). Their remaining matches are against the stronger teams in the league – Holte, Engelholm, and ourselves – so it’s not a sure thing yet. We and Engelholm can only get to 22 points, though. That means if we both drop another match or Brøndby gets a 3 point win, they will be champions.

Coaching Log – Jan 11, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Back into competition this week. We played our first Oresund Liga match of the second half on Wednesday (essentially scheduled as a tune-up coming off the break) and then headed up to Uppsala for Gran Prix over the weekend. Most of the rest of the league played a set of Elitserie matches on Tuesday.

Monday
This wasn’t a great session in terms of focus and intensity. It was apparent right away. I had them start with volley tennis and it was ugly. This is normally a pretty competitive game with good rallies, but today that wasn’t the case at all.

After that, I wrapped to spells of target serving (1 to 5, 5 to 1 then 1 to 1, 5 to 5) around a game of back row 3s with fixed MBs blocking and doing the setting.

The remainder of training involved a series of 5 v 5 games. One side didn’t have a front row OH and the other didn’t have a front row OPP (back row setter). For each game one team served every ball. The score started at 18-20 in favor of the serving team on the idea that the receiving team should have a point scoring edge. We played 2 games, flipping the serving side for the second, then I rotated players around. Overall, we probably played 10 games.

The lack of focus really showed up in serve reception. As I told the players afterward, the passing made the servers look really, really good. I said I expected more focus and higher intensity on Tuesday.

Tuesday
We talked scouting for Wednesday’ match before the start of training. After that, told the players we wouldn’t go more than about 90 minutes and that I expected full intensity. The plan was to only do two primary exercises, one to focus on blocking and OH set tempo, and the other to mix serve reception and transition play.

After warm-ups I put the players in the following configuration. Setter, OPP, MB, OH, and Libero on one side. Front row setter, two MBs, and two OHs on the other. One of the back row players on each side was designated server. We did alternating serves. The first ball had to go to the front row OH, but if a rally ensued later balls could go anywhere. The focus for me was watching the positioning of our block, though the setters and OHs working on their tempo was also a key. After 5-7 good serves for each side, I rotated players around.

The other exercise was 6 v 4 using the starting line-up against the rest (the B side had 3 front, 1 back). We started with Rotation 4, which has tended to be the one we’ve struggled in the most. Each sequence had 3 balls. The first was a serve from the 4 side. The second was a free ball to the 4 side. The last was a free ball to the starting 6. To finish a rotation the 6 had to win 21 rallies. We only got through 4 rotations, but that was enough.

Energy and focus were much improved. The starters could have done better in the last part considering, but the intensity was good. The passing was markedly better than it had been the day before.

We found out at the end of training that Engelholm had easily beaten Örebro in their league match. This was a bit of a surprise – not in terms of them winning, but in terms of how lopsided the scores were (18, 11, 20). Lots of hitting errors for Örebro.

Wednesday
The match against Holte was a lot like when we played them the first time around. By that I mean it was a battle and nervy – at least from a coaching perspective. In a lot of ways, it was like going into a match against someone you’ve never seen. Over the break Holte brought in a new MB from Poland where her PlusLiga team folded mid-season (interestingly, the Brøndby coach was on-hand scouting the new addition). They also had back some players who didn’t play us the first time around, and one we did play was in a different position.

We won 3-1, but didn’t make it easy on ourselves. The first set was our best overall, with a 25-22 win. We passed a 1.86, sided-out at 64% and scored at 44%. Passing was pretty much downhill after that.

We got off to a horrible start to the 2nd set, falling behind 0-7 before finally getting going after I took a timeout. We played a lot better from there and clawed back to within 2 by midway into the set, but then had another rough patch that saw us get to down 14-20. Again, we pulled ourselves back into it to eventually fall 21-25. Had our back-up setter not missed her serve (subbing for our M1) to give Holte set point – after which we scored 4 points – we might have been able to get even closer.

We were the ones to jump ahead in the 3rd set, going up 5-1, but they slowly pulled it back, and by mid-set they manged to nose ahead. They eventually got out to a 22-17 advantage. From there, however, we dominated and eventually won 25-23.

Our starting setter suggest before the start of Set 3 that we spin the rotation a bit to get a better our O1 more swings against their small setter. I resisted at that point because we would almost certainly start in the same rotation on Saturday against Engelholm in Gran Prix. As a result, I wanted us to work through any issues we had. I did, however, turn the rotation back 2 clicks for the start of Set 4. I didn’t do this for a match-up, but rather to change things on our side in hopes of not repeating the start of Set 2.

Not sure that really worked, though, as we fell behind 0-4. That eventually saw us down 10-14 and 13-18 before we finally started to legitimately get on top of things. We tied it at 19-19 and eventually won going away 25-21.

Passing in the 4th set was pretty poor – 1.58. We managed a 59% side-out rate, but it was our serving that really made the difference. We had a 50% point scoring rate, thanks in part to 5 aces, which was nearly half of our match total.

Serve reception aside, I wasn’t really pleased with our defense. Positioning was, in particular, problematic (6 playing too shallow, line defender off the line and/or too shallow, etc.), but we also didn’t make digs we should have made. Our block seemed, for the most part, to be pretty well positioned. We only got 6 total blocks, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the story. I think a couple of our servers could have been more aggressive (too soft and loopy).

I was reasonably satisfied with our offense, though I did talk with our setter about play calling. She felt like she didn’t have a very good match in terms of execution, which is probably fair. There were a number of tight sets. One of the things I found myself thinking about afterwards is that we need to have a discussion about hitter audible set calls. They are making the calls, but I’m not sure how much tactical thinking is going into them.

The other broader issue I brought up with them during the match was that the energy level wasn’t where we normally play at. Our M1 at one point during a break specifically addressed body language and facial expressions and how we needed to fix them. The way we play with joy and passion is a key factor in our success so far, and something often commented on by those who see us in action.

Since we didn’t have a proper training coming up before Gran Prix, I took a minute after the match to speak with the team about the performance, which I don’t normally do. It was positively focused, though, and brief. I just complimented them on the big comebacks in the 3rd and 4th sets, telling them to file those away for use in the future when things get a bit rough.

We found out late that evening that Engelholm and Hylte were both in the process of signing new American OHs. These were anticipated moves. The timing was such that it would be really tight getting all the paperwork done in time for Gran Prix, but it might have been possible. Hylte’s signing is Kelsey Fien from Nebraska, who will be a big presence at the net, but is going to be a question in terms of back row play as she didn’t play back row in for the Huskers. Engelholm’s signing is Erin Fairs from Louisville.

Separately, Lindesberg has brought in a new setter – a Dutch player named Lydie van Deursen who played in the States for 2015 NAIA National Champs Columbia. Lydie’s last season at Columbia was in 2014, though.

Friday
Uppsala is a lengthy drive, which we started at about 10am. The plan was to stop for lunch along the way, and then to have an hour of court time after we got up there to shake off the effects of the long drive, with dinner following. That is what happened, but not on the time line expected. What was expected to be a 6-7 hour trip turned into a 10 hour haul due to snowy weather, road conditions, and dodgy tires on one of our vans.

We found out Thursday that Fien got her clearance to play for Hylte. I got to peak in on Engelholm’s training when we were waiting for our own upon arriving in Uppsala and saw Fairs working in with the first team as O1. Looked like she’d been cleared as well.

Saturday
We were given an 8:45-9:30 serve & pass slot ahead of our 12:30 match. The first semifinal between Hylte and Örebro started at 10:00. Hylte won 3-1, with their new player in the line-up – though I doubt they’d have needed her.

Gran Prix 2016 program 2016-01-10 08.00.16

Our match was definitely the more competitive of the two. Engelholm  did indeed start their new OH, and I’d have to say she made a difference. She was more solid in passing and defense then the player she replaced, and more potent in attack as well. Their big OPP was the still the main offensive threat, but especially early in the match we were able to limit her impact and force a number of hitting errors.

We traded set victories with us taking the first and third fairly comfortably, and them grabbing the second and fourth in closer fashion. In the end, they held us off to take the fifth 15-13. Arguably, there was a bad call by the R1 toward the end of the fourth set that might have cost us that one. I was at a bad angle to see the play, but others told me it was a bad call. Even still, you have to win by 2, so one single play wasn’t the difference in winning and losing.

I was asked by our club chairman for a comment on the match. After a bit of thought, I said the two teams could have been said to be quite even in the first half of the season, having split our regular season matches by equal 3-2 scores. Arguably, they made a significant upgrade to their team. The fact that we fought them very close without a similar upgrade of our own means we’re doing some good things.

I think the biggest thing we could have done better was decision-making, particularly in the offensive side of play.

By the way, this was the first time in my coaching in Sweden and Denmark that we had line judges.

Sunday
Our loss on Saturday meant a 9am match with Örebro to compete for the tournament bronze. Personally, I was happy to have a chance to play them given we haven’t seen them since the first week of the season. In a sense, it was like playing someone new. It was also an opportunity to reinforce the comparative strength of the southern group vs. the northern one.

All that said, anyone who’s ever been in a position to play for 3rd place after a heart-breaking loss in a semi knows how tough it can be to get motivated. Combine that with the early start and you get a 25-12 drubbing like we took in the first set. We passed horribly and our serving was lackluster resulting in them having about a 75% sideout rate. After the side change, the line judge on that side of the court asked me before the new set where our fighting spirit was. I told him apparently it was still in bed.

The second set didn’t start off much better. I think I called timeout at 3-8 and was pointed with them. I said something along the lines of asking them if they wanted to play like crap for another set and a half. Things didn’t get a whole lot better from there until we 10-19 down. Then the switch got flipped, or something. We scored the next 10 points and ended up winning 30-28. Our attack got in gear and we started digging more balls.

The next two sets were both one-sided. We couldn’t hold on to the momentum and lost 25-17. After that I turned the rotation to put our O1 going across the front from the beginning and we ran away 25-15 winners. The funny thing is in both those sets we passed a 2.0. The difference was in the 3rd we sided out at 50% and scored at 25% and in the 4th we sided out at 75% and scored at 54%.

I kept the 4th set rotation to start the 5th and we got out to an early lead, but then allowed them to get ahead in to the side change, 8-6. They eventually got to up 10-8, but then we ran off six straight to go up 14-10. We finished 15-12.

They have to keep learning the lesson of having to play with good energy and spirit and attacking aggressiveness to succeed.

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
The other two Elitserie matches from Tuesday went basically as expected. Gislaved and Lindesberg beat RIG and Sollentuna respectively 3-0. Those results didn’t alter the table at all. Engelholm’s win, however, drew them into a tie with us on 24 points, but we retain top spot on sets.

Our win over Holte moved us up to 2nd in the Oresund Liga table. We’ve played more matches than the teams above and below us, however.

Engelholm ended up winning Gran Prix with a 5-set victory over Hylte. One of the sets they won was 25-5. We had already left by then, but I was told it was 16-0 before Hylte finally scored. Wow!