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

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

Penn State – Behrend2-1
Saint Vincent1-3
Penn State – Altoona0-1

Perhaps the most interesting result from last week was Saint Vincent beating Thiel 3-1 on Sunday. As you may recall from the pre-season poll results, Thiel was picked to finish above SVC.

Recall that Hilbert had to postpone their first 3 conference matches. That’s why they hadn’t played yet.

Altoona was scheduled for 4 conference matches this week, so they too were playing catch-up.


As usual, had 8 guys for this session. I’d given the guys the assignment over the weekend to scout Wednesday’s opposition. Specifically, I told the pins and setter to focus on how we should attack them, with the middles and liberos looking at the defensive side of things. We talked about that stuff at the beginning of practice. After that, the training was mainly in the form of a kind of 4-corner structure – two front row pins, two back row defenders. Part of what I wanted to do was to give our starting libero some added setting reps in setter-out situations. Beyond that, I also wanted to work on pin block positioning and defenders digging hard swings. We’ve had our issue making those kind of digs, though we’re improving.


Back to the full squad. As a result, I repeated the 4 v 5 version of 22 v 22 I’ve done before. That’s the one where the setter was always on the receiving side. So basically, I was working on parts of different rotations. I made a scoring adjustment, though, to increase the focus on a couple of things. An ace, a block, or a first-ball sideout earned an big point straight away. Because of that, I actually started the score at 20-20 to accommodate the easier scoring.


Penn State-Behrend was the opposition, requiring a 90 minute ride to their campus in Erie, PA. The final result was a 3-0 win, the first there since 2017. A big focus for us going it was our play intensity, and the guys generally did a good job of keeping that up. There was a dip here and there, but they usually fixed it pretty quickly.

We won the first set fairly comfortably, 25-20, hitting .435 to their .136. In the second set we also hit .400, but they improved their offensive performance to tick up to .273. They had us actually down 19-16, but we rallied back to eventually win 25-23. Things got a bit sloppy offensively in the third set, with 9 hitting errors seeing us only go for a .135 efficiency. Fortunately, the other side only managed .086. We were in chase mode for most of that set, and at 24-23 with us serving I thought we were about to lose. A big block leveled it for us, though. Then we went on to win 27-25.

I should note that this match would most certainly have had a different complexion where they not down their #1 MB. He took a hit to the head during their prior match and wasn’t suited up for this one. That resulted in them shifting from a substitution based 6-2 to a 5-1 with two setters splitting front row and back row duties. This moved a MB who was playing OPP back into the middle. We generally had a real mismatch over there.


In preparation for Saturday’s match we worked on a couple of specific things. There were two rotations I thought we could do a better job with in reception, so we did some work there. I also spent a bit of time with the team defending against our big OPP as we’d be seeing a similar type of hitter in the next match


Penn State-Altoona was our guest for this match. This was their 4th match of the week after they’d picked up pretty straightforward wins against Thiel and Hilbert sandwiching a 5-set loss to Hiram. Their top attacker – and one of the leading scorers in the conference – is one of their OPPs. He’s a 6’6″ Brazilian. They run a substitution-based 6-2, however, so he only plays in the front row.

Perhaps ironically, it was their 6’2″ other OPP who had the best numbers for them on the day, going 9 for 10. He was literally the only attacker on their side of the net to hit positive, however. Not surprisingly, we won 3-0. It was a pretty well-rounded performance. Our offense took a bit to get going, starting at .091, bumping up to .182 in the second set, then upping it to .308. Our serving game was on throughout, though, racking up 7 aces against 10 errors. Probably most meaningfully, we had by far our best blocking match with 11.

Looking ahead

We have three matches on tap for this week to finish up the conference regular season. The first two are against the bottom two teams in the league, Hilbert and Thiel respectively. Saturday we face up against Geneva, one of the stronger sides.

At this point we essentially need one more win to assure ourselves of qualification for the conference tournament. That would get us to at worst 4-3, with head-to-head tiebreakers against the two Penn State schools.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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