For years, my 13 year old has been taught to “get around the ball” to pass, rather than reaching left or right for it.So today, she went to a high-powered libero training clinic where the teacher told her essentially the opposite. It really blew her mind because the instructor just kept on her about it.Is there an absolute correct way to receive a dig or serve, or is this a disputable matter?
Matt’s response I found very appropriate:
My belief is correct passing technique is a combination of footwork and platform. In a perfect volleyworld, the passer wants to move his/her feet so the ball is centered into the stomach. But, because of the geometry of volleyball, the platform must be angled to redirect the ball to the setting area (depending upon where the serve was received).
In general, I wanted my passers to move their feet to get behind the ball, and then keep their arms no wider than their hips to redirect the ball to the setter. Depending on how tough the serve was and how much they were able to move their feet, this would impact how much right or left (from the centerline of the belly button) they moved their arms.
I think Matt’s second sentence hits the mark – in a perfect world. In other words, if the player has time to move and get into a stable passing posture, then you’d probably like to see them pass center-line. It reduces variability, which should improve consistency.
But, the world is rarely perfect
A center-line passing technique, though, goes out the window once serves get tougher. Obviously, that means serves with more pace. They simply give the passer less time to move. Watch top level men’s volleyball. There is just about zero time to move to take the ball center-line against a jump serve.
Importantly, we have to also consider late-moving float serves. It’s all well and good to have the ball centered on your bellybutton. If the ball drops and/or curves away as it’s approaching, though, there’s little you can do to get your body there.
There is also the question of seam responsibility considerations.
Should we teach center-line?
If players eventually have to be able pass away from center-line, does it make sense to spend a lot of time training it? Personally, I think we need to focus much more on platform angle. I see so many issues with that among players at levels where they should be more aware.
I can understand the value of teaching center-line passing to young players, though. The biggest issue you usually get at that level is players not moving. They tend to want to just stand in one place and wait for the ball to come to them. Training them to pass center-line encourages movement – especially at a time when serves tend not to be overly challenging. It also encourages them to not be lazy.
That said, once you have players moving to the ball unconsciously, I think a shift has to be made to focus on platform angle as the key (I won’t get too far into the weeds with the specifics there).
Don’t just take my word for it. When I interviewed Tom Tait for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project he specifically talked about this subject. Not only is Tom the father of Penn State volleyball (men and women), he was a professor of exercise science and coaching. In other words, he knows what he’s talking about. The part of Tom’s interview where he speaks about center-line vs. platform angle is featured in the 2nd Wizards book.
Thinking about the player’s future
Here’s a major issue for us coaches. There is a strong tendency to coach our players based on what works best at our level. In other words, coaching to win matches. After all, our status is closely tied to how our teams perform at our current level (see Coaching youngsters like college players for a discussion this in terms of specialization).
The problem with that, however, is it doesn’t necessarily prepare players for the next level. Are we doing kids any favors if we require them to pass center-line beyond a certain level of introduction? What happens when they reach the level where they face tougher serves?
A topic of fairly frequent discussion in coaching conversations I’ve had in the last six months or so has been serve reception technique. A lot of us were taught some variation on the idea of getting yourself to the ball – perhaps center line, perhaps pass left. Call that the “move your feet” school of passing.
This is a school with deep roots. It basically goes back to the beginnings of forearm passing (no, people didn’t always pass with their forearms, but don’t ask me when that changed). In those days serves were comparatively weak. They were almost exclusively done from standing, so they had an arc and often had little in the way of velocity. In other words, there was time for passers to move – as witnessed by the USA men employing a 2-person serve reception when they won their Olympic gold medals in the 1980s.
Then came the Brazilians. In the 1980s they started doing topspin jump serving. It wasn’t quite to the point you see it today – especially in the men’s game – but it was fast enough to force a change in serve reception to generally having a minimum of three passers, which is what you see today.
Then came the jump float serve. Granted, it’s not as pacy as the topspin version, but the lack of an arc on the ball (because you’re serving from above the level of the net) combined with higher velocities than normally seen from the standing version made for less reaction time. One can often find coaches targeting 40mph+ for jump float serves. At that tempo the ball goes about 59 feet per second – so just under the length of the court. Not a lot of time to react and move.
Now imagine how quickly a strong jump serve gets to a passer – especially considering the broad jump taking them further into the court on contact. How much time do you think a passer has to move their feet.
So, basically we have a fundamental question:
At what point do serves move too fast for passers to use that perfect reception technique that we’ve all been taught?
One coach I spoke with recently joked, “14s.” Obviously, the answer comes down to the quality of the serving.
You can tie in here the idea of using arms vs. legs to add impetus to the passed ball. I’m not going to get into an argument here over which is better. Rather, I will ask a similar question as the one above:
At what point are serves hard enough that you don’t need to add anything to them to get the ball to target?
The answer is probably very similar to the answer to the first question. And at a certain point you’re trying to take something off the ball.
The bottom line in serve reception is the platform angle. It, and only it, will determine where the ball goes. This was a point made by Tom Tait when I interviewed him for Volleyball Coaching Wizards. Along with being the original coach for both the men and women at Penn State, Tom is a long-time professor of kinesiology, so he knows a thing or two about this stuff. Though in this case he speaks in terms of physics and Issac Newton. 🙂
When I was at the HP Coaches Clinic last year, French coach Laurent Tillie caused a ruckus when he suggested a cross-over step and end passing with bent arms. After hearing about this, Mark Lebedew did a review of the French passing in recent international competitions and found that the main focus was on setting and holding a proper platform angle (the cross-over step only happened after the pass).
So while training passers, are we better off giving feedback on the platform rather than the feet?
Serving is the only closed-chain skill in volleyball. By that I mean it’s the only skill which is not reliant on someone else first doing something. Setters need a pass. Hitters need a set. Blockers and defenders need an attack. The server, though, is in full control of their own execution. That allows them to develop a routine before they put the ball in play.
Having a pre-execution routine is something we see in other sports. Baseball is probably the most obvious example for American sports fans because it has so many discreet plays. You can definitely put tennis in the same category, though.
In volleyball, some servers have very simple routines – hold the ball up, wait for the whistle, toss and hit. Others get more involved with a bunch of bouncing and/or hitting the ball. Perhaps the most over-the-top pre-serve routine I’ve ever seen involved a bunch of bouncing with weaving body/leg movement. Not something I personally would have encouraged.
And it doesn’t just apply to the player with the ball – the server or the pitcher. It also applies to the receiver, as Natalie Hagglund (US national team and former USC libero) pointed out in an article once. In fact, hitters in baseball have some of the more ridiculous pre- routines.
In particular, Natalie’s discussion of pre-serve routine focused on keeping things simple.
“Your process should be short, sweet and should be able to trigger some sort of reaction.”
And beyond the process, there’s also the focus. Here too Natalie recommends keeping this limited. If you’re focused on too many things you’ll probably find yourself overwhelmed. This applies to coaches just as much to players, by the way.
Pass is a 3 or 2 (positive pass in DataVolley) = point for passers
Pass is a 1 or overpass, or get aced = point for servers
Missed serve = -1 for servers
The game started at 3-0 in favor of the servers. That allowed the servers to miss a reasonable number of serves.
I set the game up to go to 25. Unfortunately, I quickly realized the game was going to take too long. As a result, when the first group reached 15 (passers in this case), I told the team it was bonus time. Moving forward, aces and 3 passes (perfect) were worth 2 points. That sped things up. It also led to the score being tighter in the end.
I will experiment with this further. One thing to look at is shorter games. So too is going with the 2 point plays from the beginning. Also, I need to think about the number of missed serves to allow for with the starting score. It has to be based on the number of serves made to be more fair based on how aggressive you want to the servers to be.
Along with our Saturday match, the weekend’s Elitserie fixtures included Hylte hosting RIG and Örebro hosting Lindesberg on Sunday. The latter match was the more interesting of the two as it was far more likely to have implications on playoff standings. With both teams virtually assured of 12 points from their four matches vs RIG and Sollentuna in the second half, if either Örebro or Lindesberg is able to win both of their matches against each other – especially if they are 3-point wins – it will put them in position to seriously challenge for a top-3 playoff seed.
We’d have liked to see Lindesberg win 3-2. Alas, after a tight first set, Örebro ran away with a fairly easy 3-0 victory. Hylte also won easily. Basically, that means the standings to start this week had the same order as they did to end the first half of the season. The only difference is that Örebro has played an extra match.
Our Monday practice gym was cold, so I made some adjustments to the session I had in mind to try to make sure the players stayed active and didn’t cool off between activities. We started talking a bit about Saturday’s match, and then a bit about Wednesday’s opponent, Hylte. I had observed that they did some different things with their line-up in their weekend match than they did at Gran Prix. They started the setter in the same position, but they swapped the position of their OHs and their MBs.
After that, I had them down continuous cross-court digging. That was something I hadn’t planned, but inserted for the “keep warm” factor. After that, we did some hitting and blocking with pin hitters going 1 v 1 against pin blockers. After doing a bit of Winners 3s, we finished up with a few 7-point games of left side vs right side.
We had two extra players on-hand – ones I’m hoping will be a fixture on Tuesdays from now one. They’ve both been with us several times before, but not on a consistent basis. Having them will definitely help doing more full-team type work – especially on what will often be the training before a match in the weeks ahead.
We had an opportunity to look at some video from Hylte’s weekend match, so spent a bit of time talking scouting. It wasn’t a lot of new stuff, though. More a reminder, seeing as we’ve played them 3 times already this year.
After warm-ups and pre-hab, I split the group over two courts and had them do a 3 v 3 cooperative back court game. The first part was just a warm-up extension, but after a few minutes I made it competitive in that the first court to get to 10 consecutive good pass-set-hits won.
From there we had the pin hitters on one court working on their directional hitting. I had a couple of blockers in place for them to work around. On the other court, the MBs were working on their attacks.
I then brought the groups together to do hitters against blockers and defense. Basically, this was the same thing we did last week where the block and defense were working on their positioning and reading and the hitters were working on their audible calls. They did play out the rallies.
From there we progressed to 6 v 6 play. I made about even teams and we played a variation on the 2-in-2 game. Instead of it being 2 serves and a point scored only if a team wins both rallies, otherwise it was a wash, we did alternating serves until a team won two in a row. That sees points scored more quickly. I had the games be to 4 and we went through four rotations.
Lastly, we played a regular 25 point game. This was A team vs B team, so to speak. It ended up being 25-15. There were some good rallies, but I think I probably won’t do that again. Just too lopsided.
I was really happy with what I saw of our defensive play. That facet of our game has really come along lately.
Let’s just say this wasn’t our best performance. During the first two sets we both served and passed serve poorly. The third set was much improved in both respects, but through the whole match we were constantly playing from behind. It was a tight affair, with no more than a 3 point margin in any given set, but we lost 0-3. That’s our first home league loss and the first time we didn’t get at least a point.
In the final analysis we came out ahead in terms of blocking, we had more aces, and we passed better. Our kill % was at the 40% level we’ve been working toward reaching. Our sideout percentage was high, but there’s was just a little higher. We simply made too many mistakes – particularly in the areas of attack and serve. In the case of the latter, not only did we miss nearly 20% of our serves, but they often came at bad times. The fact that we saw a similar issue against Sollentuna, I’m worried that we’ve fallen back into old habits.
Our O1 didn’t have her best match, which hurt us. We are heavily reliant on her scoring for us. This is something I feel like we need to remedy. We’re predictable. That’s fine against lesser teams, but against the better ones it means we’re constantly facing a bigger, better formed block. It’s going to take some of our other hitters stepping up to ease that pressure – and some better sets.
One player was missing because she needed to work. We also had a shortened time slot for training due to a floor ball match being played immediately afterwards. Given the early start and long ride for Saturday’s match this probably wasn’t a bad situation.
After warm-ups and prehab, I had them do some serving. We then did a cooperative cross-court team pepper. I made a few adjustments, though. In this case, the setters and the defenders were fixed. I had the two OHs and MBs rotate between front row and back row. One of my MBs defends in 6, while the other defends in 5. The OH played in the same position as the MB when in the back row. I allowed for both attacks through 4 and in the back row in this variation.
From there we went through the rotations. Because my OPP was missing, I had my back-up setter play in her position. The team received serve and attacked, then defended and transitioned against an attacked ball through 4 from me on a box. Not something I normally like doing, but I had to deal with the constraints.
We finished with back row Winners 3s.
We were on the road at about 6:40 for our trip up to Örebro.
The team was in pretty good spirits and energy going into the match. Unfortunately, the serving issues we’ve been having of late showed themselves again. We missed 11 serves in the first two sets, which prevented us from really taking hold of the match at certain times. We won the first set 21-25, but lost the second 25-19.
Serving improved in the third set, but our passing started to break down as that game when along. We jumped out to a big early lead – 14-4, I believe – but got stuck at a couple of points and ended up letting them back in. A combination of poor reception and not taking key chances eventually saw us lose that one 31-29.
The four set started of badly. I think we went down 6-0 based mainly on bad passing. We eventually recovered and were level on 8-8, but never could quite get on top of them. They ended up winning 25-19.
As noted, we started off serving poorly, but we passed pretty well – 2.00 and 2.14 in the first two sets. Serving was improved in the latter two sets – at least in terms of misses, but passing plummeted – 1.55 and 1.57. Basically, our Libero and O2 completely lost the plot. They combined for 9 aces or overpasses and recorded 22 1-passes.
Not that this was our only issue. A big problem was a lack of kills from our attackers. The setter did a pretty good job distributing the ball and getting lots of 1-on-1 situations, but we couldn’t put the ball away. Our O2, OPP, and M2 had kill percentages of 17%, 18%, and 7% respectively. This is a major issue. We need at least one of them to step up and produce because otherwise our O1 and M1 are just going to face bigger and more well-formed blocks, making them less and less effective.
This was a recove
Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
On Tuesday, Engelholm won 3-1 over Amager in the Oresund Liga. That drew them level with us on 13 points, but into second on set differential. Here’s the current table:
There isn’t another Liga match until we host Amager the first week of February. That same week, Brøndby will host Engelholm in a match with major championship implications.
In the Elitserie, RIG also hosted Sollentuna on Wednesday in a battle of the bottom two teams. As was the case in the first half, Sollentuna came away with the win. Sollentuna was also in action on Saturday, making a trip down to Gislaved. As expected, the home team won 3-0.
One of the things I started doing while coaching at Svedala was incorporate more competitive servers vs. passers games. I discussed that in this log entry, Basically, I put the three primary passers (Libero plus the two OHs) out receiving against the rest of the team. Each server gets 2 serves. The goal of the passers was to average a pass rating of 2.0.
For example, let’s say I have 7 servers. At 2 balls each, that’s 14 total serves. To average a 2.0 the passers need to collect a total of 28 passing points based on the rating of each pass.
We played the game probably half a dozen times the first week I used it and the passers won all about one of them. That struck me as unusual given that on the season our passing average is below 2.0 and our team is one of the best in the league at serving.
Thinking about that, I realized what was happening. In my scoring I counted a missed serve as a 3-pass. In determining the match stats, though, missed serves are not counted.
Should we count missed serves toward pass ratings?
That led me to wonder a couple of things.
First, if missed serves counted as 3 points, what would the equivalent be of a 2.0 average pass rating? I don’t want to have the missed serves not count because I want the game to apply to the servers as well. If they can just go back and let it rip with no consequences it doesn’t help their development.
Second, if we include missed serves into our team passing rating for matches, what would our target rating be? Most teams say 2.0 on the 3-point scale when excluding missed serves.
That second point has me really wondering. One of the things I talk with my teams about is setting up serve reception not just to put our best passers in place to take the first ball, but also to put the opposing server under some pressure. Give them a different look. Make them aim for a small area of the court if they’re targeting a specific passer. Give the appearance of something being open or not open. That kind of thing. Missed serves should really factor into looking at serve reception effectiveness from that perspective.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Entering the week we stood top of the table with 24 points having completed our 10 first half matches. The other key match of the weekend was Engelholm vs. Lindesberg, which was won by the home team 3-1. That did not settle things for sure, but it certainly put Engelholm in good position to qualify with 18 points to Lindesberg’s 13. Örebro was also on 18.
The four remaining matches before the Christmas break were Lindesberg vs. Sollentuna on Wednesday, Gislaved vs. Örebro on Saturday, then Hylte vs. Lindesberg and Engelholm vs. RIG on Sunday. If all matches went according to expectations based on prior performance, the seedings for Gran Prix would be 1) Hylte, 2) Svedala, 3) Örebro, 4) Engelholm.
This was a recovery session after Sunday’s match. After talking a bit about how we played and about Tuesday’s opposition, and dynamic warm-up, the players played a competitive game of volleytennis. I then had them do a bit of target serving. We followed that up with a little bit of work on blocking against live hitters. The players did most of the talking with each other about positioning and movement and the like, though I also talked about some technical elements. We finished up with some serve and pass.
Around midday I got a message from our third OH that she will be leaving the team. She’s been applying to universities. Unfortunately, she didn’t get into one in our area, so will be heading back up north (where she’s from). Not exactly the sort of development we needed given our already thin squad!
Things started off a bit rough. We struggled with our passing and made a number of errors in the first set. At the same time, though, we were able to put them under considerable pressure from the service line. The result was an odd reversal of our normal pattern. Instead of siding out well and struggling to score on our serve, we only sided out at 32% and scored at 58%. That saw the score end up closer than probably our play deserved at 19-25.
That pattern held for the second set as well, with the percentages roughly the same. We were more competitive generally, but still lost 22-25.Our passing in those first two sets were 1.86 and 1.46 respectively, which helps explain the poor side-out performance.
Our more standard pattern re-emerged in the 3rd set in line with better reception (2.06). That let us bring our MBs into the attack more, and that was one area where we had a notable advantage. In particular, I talked with with about using movement to essentially beat the other middle to the point of attack, which we generally did well as the match progressed. We ended up winning 25-18.
We got on top of them early in the 4th set, but some further struggles in reception allowed them to claw their way back. We were level at 21-21, but errors on our side ended up costing us and we lost 22-25.
Four missed serves on the set didn’t help. That may not seem like a lot, but we only had 3 in the previous sets combined. We only had 5 aces, but we put them under enough pressure that they were often very predictable and were taking something off their swings or making hitting errors.
I think at least mental fatigue was a factor in our performance after Sunday’s intense battle at Hylte. We made some mistakes we haven’t made in a while and generally struggled – especially in the first couple of sets – in some of the finer skills. Our OH2 in particular didn’t look her same self. Although her ankle seemed fine, no doubt there was a lingering effect there. The team fought hard and had a good spirit (staff from Brøndby actually commented on it to me after the match). We just made too many mistakes.
This match-up was a good one to have for a couple of reasons. One was that it saw us have to play against larger pin blockers, which we haven’t done much in a while. It was something we definitely struggled with, especially in the first couple sets. The challenge was to figure out how we could apply our strengths against weaker points in their block/defense, which largely meant working against their MBs. Our M1 had 22 kills and 6 blocks.
Actually, overall our blocking was fairly solid. We tallied 11 and forced a number of errors and easily dug swings. Admittedly, though, this team was the type with OHs who look to tool the block, which is what we’ve struggled against.
I had spoken with the team after the match on Tuesday about what to do on Wednesday. I didn’t see any need to have an actual training session – though the younger players may have wanted one. Instead, I was good with using our normal weekly team weight-lifting session as a low impact type of recovery session. We agreed on doing it about 2 hours earlier than we normally do.
At the end of lifting I talked with the group briefly about expectations for the break. Mainly that was staying active physically, but also keeping it low impact to allow aching muscles, joints, etc. to recover. We discussed a bit of the calendar moving forward as well. Then I took 7 of them out for dinner. The other two had commitments (one of the Americans has family visiting).
Other results and standings
Wednesday’s loss may have put an Oresund Liga title out of reach at this point. Brøndby is 4 points clear of the pack now with one less match played than Engelholm and ourselves who are both on 10. We’ll need some help and our own victory over them in the return fixture in February to have a shot. Our next match toward the Liga is our first match of 2016 – home against Holte.
On Wednesday Lindesberg easily handled Sollentuna, as expected. That moved them to within 2 points of both Engelholm and Örebro. It probably wasn’t going to be enough to see them earn a spot in Gran Prix, but it assured at least that things would go down to the last day of the first half of the season on Sunday before the spots were finally decided.
On Saturday Örebro played at Gislaved. An outright win would assure Örebro of at least 3rd seed. Anything less would see them a risk of being overtaken and possibly left out in the cold. They managed a tight 3-1 victory to put them level on points with Hylte. The table on the league website indicated them as having moved up to 2nd on the basis of number of wins (8 vs. Hylte’s 7), but there’s been some question as to whether that or set ratio is the actual second tiebreak. The latter favored Hylte and would continue to do so even if they lost 0-3 on Sunday.
That left Engelholm and Lindesberg as the final two from which the 4th and final spot in Gran Prix would be decided on Sunday. The strong edge went to Engelholm as they hosted winless RIG, while Lindesberg faced a daunting road trip to Hylte.
Here’s an interesting scenario. Going into Sunday, Hylte was in a position to potentially decide their semifinal opponent for Gran Prix. A 3-0 or 3-1 win would give them top seed and probably Engelholm as their first round foe. Anything less than that would mean a 2nd or 3rd seed and a match against Örebro. Obviously, a win over Lindesberg wasn’t a sure thing. If they preferred Örebro over Engelholm as their first round opponent, though…
If Hylte did prefer Örebro, they got them. They beat Lindesberg 3-2, meaning we ended up as the top seed. That result also sealed Lindesberg’s fate, keeping them out of 4th regardless of Engelholm’s result. In any case, Engelholm won 3-0, basically as expected.
Here’s the Elitserie table as of the end of the first half.