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

While we were finishing up the pre-conference part of our season last week, the rest of the league got the conference campaign rolling. As the teams picked #1 and #2 in the pre-season poll, it is no surprise that Penn St.-Behrend and Pitt-Bradford won their opening round matches, defeating Pitt-Greensburg and Mt. Aloysius respectively. La Roche (picked #5) was also an expected winner over Hilbert (#9). The really interesting result was Alfred State (#8) breezing past Penn St.-Altoona (#3).

Here’s what the league table looked like to start the week.

The only midweek conference fixture this week was Penn St.-Behrend traveling to Hilbert on Tuesday. Everything else was on Saturday.

Monday

This was an interesting day. Once player was sick. I found out right before practice that another was going in a boot for a couple days. Then I lost a third midway through the session. Needless to say, the practice plan I started with is not the one I ultimately used.

I didn’t want this to feature much jumping, so the focus was more on serve & pass and defense. For the former I had the team split in half. One group served and the other passed, then they switched around after 2 minutes. We did 3 full cycles. I wanted the players working on more aggressive serving, and this provided a way for them to do that without the negative consequences of missed serves.

For defense we used a variation on continuous cross-court digging. Being mentally resilient is not something we’ve been great at thus far. This is a drill that is pretty demanding in that area.

I had them finish with a couple of 3 v 3 short-court games, then a 3 v 3 full court one.

Tuesday

The sick player was still sick, the booted player was still in the boot, and the player who left practice Monday wasn’t returning (see below). Additionally, one of the players had to arrive 45 minutes late from class. With some of the rest at less than 100% in various ways, I opted to cancel the practice session. Instead, I gave them video of Saturday’s opponent to start preparing for them.

Wednesday

We originally had a match scheduled for this day. Our opponent had to cancel it last week, though. They had to re-arrange a conference match into that date. This was probably for the best given our state of health and fitness, though. All eight were at practice, though one was limited to no jumping and another had to leave early for a doctor’s appointment. That being the case, the focus was on lower intensity, more ball-control oriented exercises.

We started with 4-person Over-the-Net Pepper using a progression of down ball, easy jump swing, then back row attacks. From there we worked on positional digging with a focus seam responsibilities (e.g. players in 1 and 6 facing a cross-court attack). Next up was hitting work, once again with a focus on hitting areas 1 and 6. We then did the 2-and-2 serve & pass exercise from Monday, after which I had them play a straight 3 v 3 game with the setter making a fourth on the side of the receiving team.

Thursday

We still weren’t back to 100% fitness for this session as one player remained on a no-jump restriction. We were more or less able to go, though. I started things off with Brazilian to get them moving and competing. From there we moved on to the downball-to-1 exercise we’ve run a few times now (and will keep doing), after which it was serving work. Next up was the cross-court digging exercise to keep working on that ball-control element (and being able to put mistakes behind them).

We introduced use of video replay at this point (see below) with some hitting lines to try to fine tune timing in the attack. Then it was a competitive Side-v-Side where only kills scored. Part way into the game, though, multiple balls had hit the floor with players quitting on them. So I instituted the rule that if a ball dropped without effort that team went back to 0 (not just for this game, but for everything the rest of the season). Ended up that both teams got hit by that new inclusion.

Friday

I started the players off with something new – games of 2v2 played with a 2-contact limit. It’s a decent thing to do as a warm-up, and I like the mental aspect as well. Players have to be more intentional with their first contact, among other things. After some serving work, I had the primary passers doing serve & pass with the setter and MBs working off that. This progressed into some serve receive offense work on a couple of rotations. I wrapped things up with a variation of 22v22. It was 5 v 4 with the receiving team having the setter on their side. I also automatically gave the big point if the serving team got an ace.

Saturday

Our one match of the week was at Penn St.-Altoona. That’s about a 4.5 hour bus ride away. There was a brief period on Tuesday when we thought we had to either move the match or change it to a van trip because the bus company didn’t have a driver. They found a driver, though, fortunately.

That, apparently, wasn’t the end of the drama for this match. First, we got their later the planned by about 20 minutes. Then, there was some confusion with the Altoona trainer about match start time, so he wasn’t actually there. In order to allow our players to get properly taped, etc. we had to delay the start of the match about 20 minutes.

Once things got started, apparently we completely forgot how to play together. The first set was supremely ugly. We deservedly lost 25-9. Things improved significantly from there, though. Altoona was still the better team on the day, but 25-19 and 25-23 were more reflective if the differences. We actually had a lead in the latter middle part of the Set 3, but just couldn’t hold it.

In a clear indication of how we need to get better, our top hitter had 14 kills and hit .423, while the whole rest of the team had 11 kills and hit -.083.

Personnel development

Unfortunately, our roster count fell by one after practice on Monday. She’d been struggling with some issues more or less since school started, and if anything they were getting worse. It was decided that she needed to withdraw from school and return home to get the level of care she required.

Replay system

On a positive note, I finally got the components I needed to put in place a video replay system. I’ve been wanting to do this since I arrived. There were a few frustrating things that slowed the whole process down. We have it now, though – if with a smaller display than I might like. To start, we’re using the same set-up I described in the post linked above (iPad to AppleTV). I’m going to explore some other options, however. Now the players need to learn to use the feedback it provides.

Academics

So far so good on this front. Only a couple of progress reports have come through for the team so far (that will pick up in October) and they’ve been positive. We also go word that one of the four returners from last year earned herself selection to the Chi Alpha Sigma Honor Society. Hopefully, that’s the first of multiple academic recognitions for the team this year.

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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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