This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2020-21 season.

Here’s how the conference standings stood heading in to the week.

Hiram5-0
Geneva4-0
Medaille3-1
Penn State – Altoona2-3
Penn State – Behrend2-3
Saint Vincent2-4
Thiel1-5
Hilbert0-3

Assuming all the upper five teams won their remaining matches against the lower three, this is the picture (remaining matches against the top 5 in parenthesis):

Hiram 6-0 (GEN)
Geneva 5-0 (HIR, MED)
Medaille 5-1 (GEN)
Penn State – Altoona 3-3 (PSB)
Penn State – Behrend 3-3 (PSA)

At this point, the only potential scenario for us to take the #1 seed for the tournament would be for us to beat Geneva and Geneva to beat Hiram. That would create a 3-way tie where we all beat each other. The first tiebreaker would be set differential between the three teams. Technically, the next tiebreaker is which team has the best win, but that wouldn’t apply in this case since we’ve all beaten the two Penn State teams. So we’d move to overall set differential, then overall point differential.

So plenty to be decided in the final week!

Monday

In the afternoon I found out one of our OHs earned himself Conference Player of the Week honors for averaging 5.0 kills and 6.33 points per set in last week’s two wins. That gave me an opportunity to submit him for National Player of the Week, which is a personal first (that I can remember). Not that I figured he’d have any real chance of winning it. Those sorts of things tend to go to players in the better leagues.

It was home against Hilbert in the evening. As a first year reinstated program (it had been cut a few years ago) with a very limited roster featuring a couple of guys new to the sport, they were not good. Ours was their 4th match of the year, having played 3 last week. Not surprisingly, we won easily in three, banging out a school record 25 aces in the process.

The win locked up a spot in the conference tournament for us at no worse than the 3rd seed. It ensured we’d have no more than 3 losses. One of the Penn State teams would likely also end up on 3 losses, but not both since they had to play each other. That means the loser would be out, and we’d have the head-to-head tiebreak against the winner.

Tuesday

Had 8 for the session. Unfortunately, the guy missing would have been key to some rotation-specific work I’d have liked to have done. Instead, I ran a fairly basic session, keeping the next day’s match in mind. After doing a bit of Speedball to warm-up, I had the guys do some specific serving, which we haven’t done in a while. It gave them a chance to work on individual stuff. We then did some serve & pass. For that I gave the passers the specific objective of getting their passes higher, which was a bit of an issue on Monday. Next up was a few minutes of hitting lines specifically meant to work on attacking line from the pins.

The rest of the session was 4 v 4 play. Most of it was via a series of 15-point games. I set them up with 2 front row pin hitters with back row players in 1 and 5. Zone 6 was out of bounds. We did it continuous play style with my assistant giving a free ball to the side winning the rally. To finish up we played a more standard serve-initiated 4 v 4 game. The big wrinkle I introduced, though, came when one team was getting a big lead. At that point I instituted “the freeze” featured in some beach volleyball events. That’s where after a certain point (in this case 20) a team needs to win from serve to get a point.

Wednesday

Next up was the penultimate match of the regular season, once more at home. The opposition was Thiel. They’re the team I saw being best of the rest (meaning the 3 teams not contending for a post-season spot), but that doesn’t seem to have worked out. Interesting considering they won the conference tournament a couple years back.

As expected, we won 3-0. Definitely not the dominating service performance from Monday’s match as we only tallied 4 aces. We more than made up for it in attack, though, as we hit .405 on the night.

The result ensured that we will have our first overall winning season since 2016. It also ensured our best conference campaign since then.

Aside from our match, the other one of interest was Hiram vs. Geneva. Having watched some of Geneva’s recent play, I gave the edge to Hiram going in. I was routing for Geneva, though, based on the scenario I outlined above. Alas, Hiram pulled it out 3-0. The first couple of sets were close (22 and 23), but the third was a 25-13 blowout. That essentially locked up the regular season title and tournament #1 seed for Hiram, as they only had Hilbert left.

Friday

Last practice of the regular season. I worked on a pair of rotations in reception, then did a couple of rounds of 4 v 5 focused on pin attacking and blocking. Later that evening I got word from my assistant that he’s been forced to go into isolation due to clock contact with someone who tested positive for covid. That was bad because it meant he had to miss our match on Saturday, and the full extent of the AMCC tournament.

Then things got worse.

He tested positive. That shut the whole program down. Our Saturday match got canceled and our season effectively ended.

One glimmer of hope

There is one possible way out of shutting down. That was if my assistant’s PCR test (the positive was from one of the rapid tests) comes back negative. He was due to find out by Monday. We all also had to test Sunday evening (one guy early Monday) for contact tracing purposes. If the PCR comes through negative and all our tests do as well, we avoid the shutdown. In that case, the conference has said we’ll play Saturday’s match on Tuesday because it was to determine tournament seeding. Then we’ll start the tournament. So here’s hoping!

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Men's & Women's Head Volleyball Coach at Medaille College, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy (formerly Charleston Academy). His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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