This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2021-22 season for the Medaille College women.

The school year officially starts today with classes getting underway for the 2021-22 academic year at Medaille College. That means preseason is now over. Here’s how the rest of it went, picking up from last week’s entry.

Tuesday – Session 1

While our strength coach couldn’t be with us, he provided me with 3 days of relatively short, but balanced workouts. The team did the first of those at the beginning of this session. Then it was into the gym for a short ball session. That featured a bit of serving, Flip-Switch, and cross-court digging. I had intended to do a cooperative back-court exercise, but decided to push that off to the afternoon.

Tuesday – Session 2

We started with the first game of Brazilian volleytennis of the season. As usual, it took a little time for them to figure things out, but once they did it went well.

From there we move into our first truly cooperative exercise of the season. Normally, I’d have been on this earlier, but given our initial squad composition it wasn’t a good option. In this case, I opted for a less intense version of the Hard Drill (4 v 4, rotating, back row attacking) where the count held so long as the ball remained in play. The best we got up to was 4-5. There are a lot of learning points to that exercise and we need work in most of them to be able to get to the target of 10.

From there we did some work in Rotation 1 (setter in 6). I finished with two variations on Winners to up the tempo.

That evening the player who’d been out sick reported that she was told she can return to action on the 29th, though was planning to attend practices up to then.

Wednesday – Session 1

The day started with the sick player texting to say she had a bit of a fever, so would not be attending morning practice, but hoped to be able to attend the afternoon session. She wasn’t the only one to miss. Both my manager and the assistant who was supposed to be at the session informed me late that they couldn’t make it. Sigh!

After they did their shoulder stability routine, I had them do some free serving with an eye toward hitting the seams. That progressed into a Servers vs. Passers game where the passers scored for good passes and the servers for making the passers move. Both teams got to server and pass, so the scoring was balanced.

From there we did a bunch of transition hitting work. The middles worked on coming off blocking on a pin to attack quick. The pin hitters worked on transitioning off the block to attack tempo sets. This latter allowed us to work on how the hitters communicate with the setter in-rally.

We finished the session with about 30 minutes in the weight room.

Wednesday – Session 2

About 20 minutes before we were supposed to start the session our trainer came to me with some concerns about the physical state of the team. Too much soreness still, which shouldn’t really be the case this deep into preseason – especially since we weren’t going super hard. A couple of the players also had injury niggles that would have limited them in any case. Between us we decided to cancel that practice and the one planned for the next morning. They left the gym planning a team outing for the next morning.

On the plus side, the sick player was able to make an appearance.

Thursday

The big morning development was the release of the news that Medaille is changing conferences next year. It’s a fairly straightforward thing for the women’s team. We’re playing four members of that conference this season, so we’ll get a decent sense of it. Things aren’t as neat and tidy for the men as the new conference doesn’t currently have enough teams to sponsor men’s volleyball. For now the plan is to remain affiliated with our current conference.

The team used the free morning to spend some time together in Buffalo.

Our session in the afternoon was dedicated to an intrasquad scrimmage. I split the team in half, added my assistant to one side to set, then we played a series of games that I recorded. That video was destined for our Sports Information team to allow for some training on doing stats.

Friday

Last of the double days. In each session I continued the Rotation work started earlier in the week, getting us through Rotation 4. During the morning session we did some target serving before the rotation work, and we did a session in the weight room at the back end.

In the afternoon session I was down one who was held out by the trainer. That only gave me 7 and I didn’t have an assistant to insert. That made things a bit more complex when it came to rotation work and some game play I included at the end. It did not really impact the repeat of the cooperative exercise (Hard Drill) we did before the rotation stuff. The players asked for a competitive warm-up activity, so I had them play a kinds of Speedball short-court game.

Saturday

Last session of preseason! Our first exercise was Progressive Triples (pro trips), which we used a fair bit at MSU when I was there. It’s a nice thing to use to get players warmed-up for hitting while also getting in some ball-handling and defense. From there we moved on to working on Rotation 5 (setter in 3). Didn’t really spend much time on it since it’s a pretty easy one.

After that, I brought out the competitive version of Side v. Side. We went through all 4 variations and had some quite good rallies. The games were to 8, with scoring only from kills and blocks.

I then had them play a 4 v 4 variation of the 22 v 22 game. The structure was to play with the setter in the front row and the other three back row, so attacking was back-row-only. If, however, the other team gave you a free ball you could hit on the net. For the latter couple of games I introduced a first-ball bonus. If the receiving team got a kill on their first ball, or the serving team scored in the first transition ball, they automatically won the big point. I think we played 8 total games.

Taking it all in

One of my student assistants (a member of the men’s team) missed all the weekday sessions because of his job. He was at Saturday’s session, though. Afterwards, I asked him for his thoughts on their progress. Figured it would be an interesting unbiased perspective. His reply was, “They honestly looked miles better in just a week.”

Of course you expect improved play just on the basis of them shaking off loads of rust and getting to know each other. That’s a huge factor in this group, as none of them had even trained at this kind of level together prior to the start of preseason. Also, when he was with us last we still had players in the group I had to let go. That biases the comparison.

It’s a challenge for me to assess the progress because I was so close to it. Also, inevitably my focus falls more on things we need to get better at. I will say, however, we are making more good plays. Saturday brought the best middle-setter connections we’ve seen. We also had a number of really nice swings and equally good defensive plays.

Serving also stood out for me. I like where that’s at right now. I haven’t done a lot of truly focused serving work, but we have nevertheless done quite a bit of serving overall. In fact, it was something I tread lightly with at points where I felt like less swinging would be a good idea.

Looking ahead

First, feel free to peruse our official schedule and roster to get more familiar with the team and this season’s campaign. Friday we have our first match of the season not far away in Rochester. That’s part of our only scheduled overnight trip. Normally, this wouldn’t be the case for a shorter trip, but our match schedule pushed us in that direction.

My message to the team at the end of Saturday’s session was that this first tournament could be quite informative. We play two teams that are generally among the better ones in the region. The other traditionally hasn’t been strong, but they have a new coach, so we’ll see.

Bigger picture, I’m in fairly nice situation with this team. Our conference is one where you have to win to make the NCAA tournament. That means the non-conference schedule really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Obviously, we want to play well and have some degree of success, but at the end of the day it’s our conference performance that matters. Thus, I can use September to experiment with line-ups and rotations to find out what works best for us and give players a experience in different roles.

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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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