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

Most of our conference played their first round of league matches this week, but not us (there’s 9 teams, so there’s an odd one out every match day). One more week of only non-conference play on our schedule. Our schedule shifted to one consistent with a conference play structure, though, with a midweek match followed by a Saturday one.

My focus for the week was preparation for conference play – both in terms of strengthening up our game and improving our individual and collective mentality.

Monday

I started doing my second round of individual player meetings in line with my plan to do them after we cleared our tournaments. They are basically a chance for me to check in with the players now that we’re a couple weeks into the school year to see where they’re at with everything. I can also potentially surface issues that might be out there and maybe catch some things early.

We only had 7 for practice with one still out injured and one sick. The session’s focus was mainly on improving some weak spots in our rotations. After doing a bit of serving, and then some hitting to improve setter/hitter connections, we moved on to individual rotation work. We experimented with new formations and attacking options to help us out of being as one-dimensional as we were over the weekend at times.

Tuesday

We made a return trip to Buffalo State, this time to actually play them in their main arena. You may recall we hosted them as part of the tri-match we had on September 11th. That was the match we lost our top point scorer to injury in the 1st set and had to play with no libero the rest of the way. That player was still sidelined for this one, as was our second leading scorer due to illness. Both are OHs, so you can see the implications.

Not surprisingly, we struggled to score for much of the match. We only hit for a positive efficiency in one of the sets, and were negative overall. None of our pins hit positively. Despite that, though, we saw some good developments as we tried out new things in the attack. Not surprisingly, they didn’t always come off, but they showed the potential for future influence.

Wednesday

This was a control practice, in a sense. It started off with blocking work. Just basic line-up and footwork reps, which we really haven’t done up to now. From there I moved to essentially a down ball control exercise. It started out to be progressive triples, but the results were poor. So I switched it to a game to 15 where they scored by hitting the ball to Position 1. It took much longer to accomplish that than it should have and I told them we’d be repeating that exercise in the future.

Next up was basically hitting lines with the collective objective of having to hit 50 corner swings (Positions 1 and 5). We struggled in our Tuesday match taking good deep swings, partly due to lack of aggression. We also lacked simple intentionality. The idea here was to work on that. It was also an opportunity for our injured player, who got cleared that morning, to start getting her timing back. As estimated by one of the players, it took about 150 tries to get our 50 balls in the targets. Not that there weren’t a bunch of very solid attacks that missed the zones.

The last main exercise served to work on two aspects of things we’ve not been great with of late. One is consistency in making good serves. The other is passing. So I set up a situation where 3 servers each had to served 5 consecutive deep balls. If they missed along the way the restarted. On the other side everyone else passed in a rotation. Once a player reached their 5 serves, they switched out with someone from the other side. Thus, everyone went through the “pressure” serving. Not surprising, some finished quickly while others took a while.

Thursday

After more blocking stuff, then a game of Brazilian, I had the team repeat the downball-to-1 exercise. This time I added a scoring adjustment: -1 for a hit out of bounds, -2 for a hit in the net. I did that because when you’re talking about simply returning a 3rd ball you need to keep the ball in play at a bare minimum. At least a ball hit out of bounds might get played. A ball in the net not only doesn’t have that potential, it tends to be really deflating for your team. It took a while as there were quite a few balls in the net and out of bounds

From there I had the players do some seam serving, using chairs to represent passers. After that, it was hitters vs. blockers. I put out to cones to mark the corners again. We first did the pins, then had the MBs go with a 3-person defense in place.

We concluded with some games of 22 v 22. It started out as 4 v 5, but shifted to 5 v 5 when a player who had to attend an academic event got there. I had them play with three front row players. On both sides I marked off Zone 6 as out. The 5-player side had defenders in 1 and 6. On the 4-player side, the single back row player had to read to cover the whole back court. You might think the 4 side would be seriously disadvantaged, but the scores were pretty even.

Friday

The end of the Thursday’s session had a good energy level (though it could have been better the rest of the time). That carried over into this session. I had them warm up with 3-person Over-the-Net Pepper as another piece of work on ball-handling. Then it was back to the down ball exercise once more. It still took too long, but it looked better.

After this we discussed our upcoming opponent. Since we played them earlier in the season, I had the players watch the match. Each one of them then had to write on the whiteboard one focus point for us to take into the match. We talked about them at this point in the session.

The next exercise was something of an extension of the same concept. I had them play a 5 v 5 game where I tossed a ball in to one side to free-ball to the other. I wanted to work on us passing free balls better and running our offense more effectively. In order to incentivize the freeballers to be strategic, I gave a bonus point if they scored on that ball, but gave a bonus point to the other team if the put the ball in the net or out of bounds. We did a 3-up/2-back version, then a 2-up/3-back one with the MBs playing in the back row to get some defensive work.

I finished with a set of normal 5 v 5 games with a twist. The serving team got incrementally more points for winning a rally. It was 1 point for the first serve, 2 for the second, 3 for the third, etc. Thus, they were rewarded for having serving series. And, of course, the other side was incentivized to prevent that.

Saturday

Another re-match this day. We traveled to Wells, who we also played that same we we previously played Buffalo State. I was a bit nervous about this one. Road trip against a team we beat fairly easily before in their first home match in 2 years who was likely feeling a bit confident after having a decent win the week before. We had a fairly comfortable win in the first set, but after that it was a real battle.

We went down by quite a bit early in the second set and never got back into it. Same sort of thing happened in the third, but we managed to catch up and win. It looked like the same sort of thing was going to happen in the fourth set. After falling behind early we eventually worked ourselves into a 20-24 lead (or something close to that). We couldn’t finish it off, though, and eventually lost 32-30. Then we also lost the 5th 15-11.

Obviously, that was a hard one to take. I told the players after the match that we played to much not to lose and not enough to win. You can make a really good case that we should have won when looking at the stats. We had the better numbers everywhere except aces. Multiple players had personal best matches. One of the players afterwards expressed her thoughts that she felt like we played really well, and in ways we certainly did.

Now to turn our focus to conference!

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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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