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

Monday

I had 8 bodies for the session, though one had to leave an hour in for work. I had them start with a 4 v 4 back court game as a warm-up. After that the focus was on out-of-system attacking vs. a full block. My assistant initiated a ball to a player in 1. Then either a libero or a middle in position 5 took the second ball and set a pin hitter. I mixed up the hitters and blockers and let them play out any rallies that developed (the blocking side had 1-2 defenders).

After the one guy had to leave I had them do a variation on the flip-switch concept to work on serve & pass. Then it was back to more hitting and blocking, with defenders. Essentially, it was variations on OH vs. OPP in a 1-on-1 situation. We finished up with a couple minutes of free aggressive serving.

Tuesday

Back to our full complement of 9. I used this session to work on a couple of rotations we didn’t side out in particularly well during our first match. Also, a couple where we struggled to score when we served. In the latter case I created a kind of server + 3 blockers situation against the rest of the team on offense. The serving team had to score at least 4 times out of 10 to get out. For the reception rotations, I mixed things around in a 4 v 5 or 5 v 4 fashion to work different parts of the offense and reception for each rotation. The receiving team had to win the at least 5 out of 10 rallies.

Wednesday

We hit a bit of a speed bump this day. One of the guys missed his covid testing (remembering we have to test 25% of the squad and coaches each week). The result was an automatic week out of volleyball activities. As he’s one of my middles, this necessitated a cascade of line-up changes for our match on Friday, as well as for the following Tuesday.

The guy I had moved from MB to OPP moves back into the middle. One of the OHs moves to OPP. My top libero, who did get a set at OH in our first match, moves to that open spot. That leaves our second libero to take the starting job there, which he too got to play in our first outing.

Unfortunately, I was also missing my other MB for the session. I worked on the three line-ups where the OPP-turned-MB will be front row as best I could, though.

Friday

Home match day!

We were up against Division II Daemen, whose head coach, Don Gleason, spent a year as an assistant at Medaille back in the day. As a basis for comparison, I’ve got one guy who’s 6’6″, then four guys in the 6’2-6’4″ range, a 5’10” guy who’s normally a libero but had to play OH, and a 5’9″ setter. Daemen has three guys listed at 6’6″ – two of whom are pins – two more at 6’5″, and a 6’3″ setter. In other words, it was a mismatch.

I wanted that, though. I like my teams to face early-season challenges, and this was certainly one of those. In this case, I fully expected us to lose 3-0. The question was what kind of fight and aggression we’d show, and what we’d be able to take away for future use.

Everything seemed to be going to plan in the first set. We started things off really well, jumping out to a 5-1 lead. We ended up having some offensive struggles – hitting -.176 on the set – and fell victim to some strong serving in the latter stages. The result was a 25-16 loss, with the last 6 points coming on their serve).

The second started a lot like the first one ended. We gave up the first 9 points, three by ace. From that point on things were much more competitive. We were essentially even up through the next phase, though that still meant we were down 21-10. Then we had a serving run. Our OPP on the night had 7-point run that got us to 21-18. It featured an ace, a block, and three kills – two of which came from our libero-turned-OH. We ended up losing 25-19, but the fight in the guys was clear. The offense improved to go for a .389 efficiency, though Daemen hit .667.

There were a few runs of points for both teams in the early stages of the 3rd set that ended up balancing out. Daemen’s last lead of the set, though, was at 13-10. We got our noses ahead at 15-14. From there it was nip and tuck until we eventually pulled out at 26-24 win. We attacked at .421 with them coming in at .348.

The 4th set was pretty even in the first part as well. When Daemen took the lead at 15-14, though, they held on to and eventually won 25-19. Our offense sputtered to a .077 efficiency.

My AD – who was at the match – texted me later saying she was sure I was disappointed at getting the L, but that the guys played well. My reply was to say seeing as I expected a 0-3 night, pushing Daemen to a 4th set and having the guys put in a good fight actually made it feel like a win! 😀

On the negative side, we definitely had some inefficiencies in our team play that cost us points. Little things, but the kind of stuff that can really hurt you against good teams. I think at times the hitters were trying to do too much, which led to errors. I also want to see us perform better in block and defense, though we out-blocked Daemen (4 to 3), and I think our defense did improve over the match.

On the plus side, our service pressure was much better than what we had in our first match. We cut our errors way down (13 this time vs. 21 last time), and 9 of those came from just two guys. We didn’t get a ton of aces (5), but definitely caused them a lot of problems. There were also a number of positives in the offensive performance, especially when our key pin hitters focused on attacking at a high point. And, of course, the intensity and fight were really good.

Looking ahead

From this point on we have 2 matches per week scheduled, with our first conference (AMCC) match coming up on 3/13. Last year the standings looked like this at the time the season got shutdown:

Geneva 5-0
Penn State – Behrend 4-1
Penn State – Altoona 3-2
Wittenberg 3-2
Hiram 3-4
Medaille 2-3
Thiel 1-4
D’Youville 0-5

Wittenberg has moved to a new conference and D’Youville moved up to Division II this year. Hilbert and St. Vincent (PA) take their place to keep us at 8 teams.

Thus far, Geneva has been by far the most active in pre-conference play, having notched 8 total matches. Hiram, like us, is on 2. Behrend and Thiel have both played one. The remaining three teams have yet to compete in any matches.

As you can probably imagine, there’s a lot of uncertainty at this stage about how teams are going to shape up. Some teams are clearly under-strength. Beyond that, who knows what might happen with positive covid tests and just the general injury/illness issues that can happen during any season.

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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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