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

In terms of matches, this week was set to be our heaviest of the season. We were schedule to host our first home match on Tuesday, then split host a 4-team tournament Friday/Saturday with nearby Hilbert College. In the latter case, Hilbert was too host the three matches on Friday, while we took up hosting on Saturday.

That was the plan until Wednesday. Then we got news Hilbert has some positives in the squad and had to pull out. As a result, we cut the event down to just a Saturday tri-match with the three of us left.

In roster news, Sunday night I heard from the player who missed a bunch of preseason due to illness. She decided to quit the team, citing external schedule pressures. I suspect the fact that she wasn’t likely to see court time any time soon because of developmental needs was a factor as well, though.


Holidays don’t stop the training! Well, at least when the team has a match the following evening. I had two big focus points for the session. First, work on our block and defensive positioning. They were clear problems from our matches over the weekend. Second, we needed better middle transitions and availability in the attack.

The first part we worked on using a fairly straightforward hitters vs. block & defense drill. To address the second, and to continue the block/defense work, I went with a block-transition-attack drill where the MBs had to come down from a block, then transition and hit. There was always a secondary attacker involved on the offensive side so it wasn’t always middle swings.

I should note that before getting to the above, I had the players do some target serving and then a servers vs. passers game. In the latter the servers focused on seams.

The final exercise of the session was a 4 v 4 corners out-of-system game.

For the first time this season I got short with the team. It started with the warm-up phase of serving when I saw players walking after stray balls. After players had just talked in our pre-practice meeting about how we learned that we need good energy to play well, they were showing decidedly low energy. I called them out on it.

Later, during the 4 v 4 I saw players quitting in the middle of a rally after making an error. This has been an intermittent problem up to now and I snapped at the team about how it was basically quitting on their teammates, which is completely unacceptable. I followed that up in our post-practice meeting by saying “I can’t fix quit.” Only the players can.


First home match of the year. Wells College was the competition. An interesting aspect of the match-up is that my former assistant is now on the staff there. I’d watched video of one of their weekend matches. They are not a particularly strong team, but one can easily lose to not particularly strong teams. My main focus point for the team going in was to concentrate on playing good volleyball and to have defensive discipline with respect to positioning.

We definitely had some shaky moments. There are definitely rough patches in our play that still need to be ironed out. And perhaps not surprisingly, we had some focus issues in the third set. We got behind early, but managed to fight back in the middle part of the set. We looked to be cruising at 24-18, but gave up four points in a row before a missed serve finally closed out the 3-0 win.

I could write a long list of all the things we did wrong and/or could be better at, but we also had some nice highlight points that show our progress.


More work on serving effectively to targets today. Then we did serve & pass with the setter and MBs getting some reps in on their connection. After that I had them do a mainly cooperative version of Side v. Side. It had a two-fold focus of OH transitions and working on our pipe attack. After that, it was more transition work, this time with the MBs.


We had a young woman trying out for the team during this session. She played setter in high school locally. Coming to Medaille was apparently a very late decision, as she only applied in late July or early August. By the time she reached out about joining the team, it was too close to preseason to get all the paperwork and such done. As a result, I told her to reach out after school started. She was finally able to get the required stuff done for a tryout, so joined us for this session.

Knowing she was going to be there, I developed a session that was heavily play oriented. We started with progressive triples as the warm-up. It started ugly as the focus was just not good (an ongoing problem), but once they got their heads on straight they had some really nice rallies.

I progressed from there into Winners 3s. That was perhaps a bit redundant, but they had fun with it, and I could watch the trialist in a less structured format.

We were going to spend the rest of the session playing 5 v 5 using the 22 v 22 structure. Before that, though, I had them do some basic hitting lines to work on our set tempo – especially to the pins – as a preparation. The 5 v 5 was played in a 3-up/2-back format. The players asked to do work on tip defense, so I make the rule that if a team won a serve rally via tip, they automatically won the big point. That definitely brought out more tips!


On Thursday our setter reported being a bit under the weather. She wore a mask in practice as a precaution. Friday morning it wasn’t any better, so she went to get checked out. Covid test was negative, fortunately, but the doctor said to take the day off.

That, of course, put some limits on practice. Basically, we did some serve and pass so the receivers could get reps before Saturday’s matches. We did a bit of Winners 2s on a half-width court, then shifted to a 4v4 out-of-system game. I wrapped things up with 4 v 4 back court. Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled with the focus and energy. There were some good elements, but overall I didn’t feel like we accomplished as much as we could.


Our setter was back healthy enough to go, though clearly not 100%. And it seems like what she had spread as I got a text from one of our players saying she was sick. We opted for her to stay home so as not to further expose the rest of the team. That left me with 7 for the day.

The first match of the day was against SUNY Poly. They’re a team similar in composition to Wells – a couple of players with some height, but the rest listed at 5’7″ or lower. In other words, not a power attack. We had a relatively good match, with a comfortable 3-0 win. Our 2019 returner had a double-double with 15 kills and 14 digs. We hit nearly .300 as a team and had 15 aces.

The second match was against Buffalo State from down the road. Different kind of challenge for sure. They’re roster features a 6’4″, and several 5’10” players. They too played at the tournament in Rochester and managed to go 5 sets with Smith, plus had slightly better performances against the other two than did we. Unfortunately, we lost the aforementioned 2019 returner to an injury in the first set. That forced us to move our libero to OH and our MBs to play all the way around.

As we sometimes see in sports when a team loses a key player, the rest rallied. We had arguably our best all-around match. We held Buff State to their lowest hitting % of the season so far thanks to much improved blocking and solid defense behind it. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have the efficiency in attack to come out on top and fell 0-3. I was quite pleased at the performance, though, and told them as much. It was definitely something they could learn a lot from.

Other stuff

In a rather interesting development, our setter earned Medaille Female Athlete of the Week based on her performance in our first tournament. This is even though it was a different member of the team who got All-Tournament. Struck me as curious, but that just means two members of the team have now earned recognition.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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