This is an entry in my Technical Director’s log for the 2018-19 season.
We had three sessions last week. Unfortunately, the team’s head coach could not attend because of an illness issue. So I was more heavily involved than usual. We did the usual ball-handling and skill development stuff. Our major focus, however, was working on line-up options for the weekend tournament. I reported in the last log entry our player issues.
The player who had surgery was obviously still unavailable. Since we already played a whole event without her, that wasn’t a big issue. We didn’t have one of our starting middles for the first day of upcoming tournament, though. In the end we used our second string right side in that position. We also explored a line-up which put our setter opposite our middle (set and blocked out of the middle when front row). While it was totally fine as far as offense and block went, we weren’t happy with the added complexity of serve receive and defense – at least not in the short term.
We played in the Palmetto Regional Championships last weekend. Yes, it’s really early for having them. Something to do with a cascade effect from the Superbowl and its effect on the dates for the Big South national qualifier in Atlanta. It’s a strange thing, but there you have it.
The structure of the tournament featured three final divisions – Open, Power, and Club. It started with just Open and Power, but Club came into play starting on Day 2, and included low finishers from Day 1. There were 46 teams overall. Open started with 24 teams, but dropped to 16 after Day 1. Power began with the remaining 22 teams. Eight teams dropped from Open into Power, but then 14 teams moved to club, so it ended up as a 16-team division.
We were the #8 seeded team entering the tournament on Friday. That gave us the #1 seed in our 3-team opening pool. The other two teams were the #9 and the #24. We played the latter first. The top two would stay in Open and play for the Region’s bids to Nationals. The bottom team would drop down to Power.
I felt going in that first match was one we really needed to win. Given our missing personnel, it was always likely to be a challenge when we played the second one – a team theoretically very close to us when we were at full strength. A further concern for me was that we were coming off playing in Open at the Orlando national qualifier. That meant a BIG drop in competitive level, which can create a trap type of situation where team end up under-performing due to lower intensity, less focus, etc. On top of that, we have a team that struggles to attack aggressively on a consistent basis due to fears of making mistakes. That, plus the personnel issues, had me worried.
As it turns out, I was right to be worried. We lost the first set 19-25. The second set was a 25-19 reversal, so things were looking up. That was even more true when we went up 8-3 in the third (best of 3). The wheels came off, though, and we ended up losing 13-15. We then went on to lose the second match as well, so down to the Power division we went.
On Saturday we played in a 3-team pool as the second seed. Not why we were #2, but there you go. The first seed was the #17 ranked team in the Region, while the third and fourth seeds were #28 and #34 respectively. We had a 27-25 second set in our second match, but aside from that we won all three matches convincingly. That isn’t to say we didn’t continue to be inconsistent with our attacking aggression, but we weren’t punished for it.
As the top team in our Day 2 pool we entered the Power division gold bracket on Sunday. We were alongside the other three top pool finishers in a 4-team bracket. Our first match was against the Region’s #13 ranked team, while it was #19 vs #20 in the other semifinal.
The first set of our semi was definitely a challenge. The offense sputtered and we missed serves we really didn’t want to miss. We squeaked out a 25-23 win, but that was thanks to a long service run by one player starting at something like 18-22 down. The team clearly drew some confidence from that win, as we easily won the second set 25-17.
In the final we played the #19 team. Both sets were back and forth during the early stages, but once the scores crossed into double digits the other team just couldn’t hang with us. They each ended 25-18.
Thoughts and observations
First, I should note that the middle who missed the first day of the tournament definitely made up for it when she got back in the lineup. She had easily her best tournament of the year and was a major part of us winning the Power division, as our ranking would have predicted.
Collectively, there were some clear improvements in the team’s play. Serve reception was generally better than we’ve seen in prior regional events. This was a major training focus, so that’s good to see. Defense was also quite good, carrying on from what I observed in the prior tournament.
As I noted above, conservative attacking remains an intermittent issue. Some of it clearly comes from misconnections between setter and hitter, but there are too many situations where hitters have a good opportunity to swing with power but don’t do so out of fear.
The other issue we have is service errors. In some ways you could say we have too many, and we might. For me, though, it’s more about the timing of them. We missed a bunch when we really needed to get them in.
Lastly, I do like the fact that we did the job done pretty convincingly in the final. Players can go careers without playing in a final. Yes, we aimed higher entering the tournament. We did what we needed to do when given the opportunity, though. It’s something we can build on.
Developing the pipeline
I should note that we dedicated part of our Thursday practice last week to a session for kids in 3rd through 5th grade. It was the first of a weekly series of sessions we’ll do for that age group. We had eight or nine kids show up, and all the 15s players helped out with the session, which was run by our (future) 12s coach. The feedback we got was very good.
6 Steps to Better Practices - Free Guide
Join my mailing list today and get this free guide to making your practices the best, along with loads more coaching tips and information.