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

School kicked off this week, and so did the new volleyball season. We got our first chance to play against someone other than ourselves on Tuesday by hosting an alumni match. Then it was off to Rochester for the first tournament of the year over the weekend!

Monday

First practice of the regular season! Our sick player was back in the fold, so we had 9 total, though one was limited to no serving/hitting. We started with Brazilian, which got them going. After giving them time to loosen up serving, we moved into a serve & pass drill. This was the first time we really did a bunch of dedicated 3-person reception, which I wanted to work in given the matches coming. While the passers were doing their thing, I had the setter and middles work on their connection.

From there we finished up the rotation-by-rotation work begun last week. Rotation 6 (setter in 2) was the last one to go over, which we did. I finished up with some out-of-system work. The concept was similar to the 4-corner game you may know where you have players in 1,2, 5, and 6. In this case I put a defender in 6 to use everyone, but otherwise the concept was the same. We played two 25-point games, with me feeding in a new ball after each rally. I mixed the teams up after the first.

The court part of the session only went about 90 minutes as I wanted to give the players time to talk about season goals.

Tuesday

Alumni match day. We had six alums come out to give the team a decent contest. The setter actually helped me coach part of last year. She’s also a high school and juniors coach. At Medaille she was a 4-year starter and is far and away the career leader in assists. She was conference Newcomer of the Year as a freshman and led the team to the program’s only NCAA tournament appearance to-date. She was also Player of the Year as a senior, capping four straight All-Conference selections.

Another of the alumni was a 2x All-Conference selection at OH, and there was a 2-year starter at MB who’d been a JUCO transfer and was selected to the All-Conference team as a senior. Two more were 4-year starters. Then there was the 4-year member (and regular starter) of the men’s team that joined them to make up the numbers. Obviously, he didn’t play at his max.

We ended up playing a full 5-set match. The alumni won the first, the current team won the next three, then the alumni took a close 5th. I mixed up the line-up quite a bit in the first few sets, but held it essentially the same for the last couple as I’d shut down one of my pins who’s been having some physical issues. With three matches coming up over the weekend, no sense in pushing things.

Overall, it was a good workout for the team. There were a number of issues on the positional/rotation side of things that cropped up we got to work through.

Wednesday

I decided to do a film review session rather than a court one. We watched some of the video from the alumni match, as I wanted to make sure to highlight some areas of positioning and other team play.

Thursday

In preparation for the weekend matches, and following up with our experience from Tuesday, I took some time to walk through the rotations to make sure everyone knew our reception positioning. I also confirmed coverage assignments, and generally made sure we are all on the same page. We also went over our pre-match warm-up routine, worked on passing balls requiring us to move backwards, some serving, and work on the setter/hitter connection. I finished up with a 5 v 5 version of 22 v 22 playing 3-up/2-back.

Friday

We traveled to Rochester for our first tournament of the season. The University of Rochester, the host, is only about an hour an 10 minutes from campus, but with matches at 7pm this evening, then 11am the next morning I opted for an overnight stay rather than commuting back and forth. Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) was our first opponent. I watched their match from Wednesday to get a sense of them. Definitely some size and power. Like to get the ball quickly to the setter in free balls (very flat passes) and aren’t shy about serving short. Given our lack of experience compared to theirs (our setter observed afterwards that all their starters were seniors), the result isn’t surprising. We went down 0-3 with scores of 16, 15, and 13. We didn’t apply nearly enough service pressure and really struggled in the block (partly related).

Saturday

Our first match of the day was against Smith College. This was a match I wasn’t sure about initially. Smith traditionally hasn’t been a strong program, but they got a solid new coach after the 2019 season. After seeing them play against RIT before our match with them, and then hearing they beat U. Rochester in 5 while we played RIT, it became clear they would be a challenge. And they were. We had a very sluggish start. Things did get better after that, but we still went down 0-3 with scores of 12, 19, and 17.

The final match of the tournament was against the hosts. If you go based on historical performance you’d expect them to be the strongest team. I had a chat with their lead assistant that morning, though, and he said a couple of weaker recruiting classes had them down from their prior level. They were still more than enough for us, though. The result was another 0-3 with scores of 15, 15, 16.

Tournament comments and observations

RIT ended up winning the tournament, going 4-0. Smith and UofR were both 3-1. Oneonta and Buffalo State (who we will play this week) were also both in the tournament, going 0-2 and 0-3 respectively. Smith put 3 players in the all-tournament team, RIT and UofR each had 2, while the rest of us got one apiece. For Medaille it was our lone returner from 2019, which probably comes as no surprise.

I mixed up the lineups a fair bit over the three matches to look at different combinations. Against RIT I played what could probably be called our strongest attacking lineup in terms of featuring our best attackers and blockers. I used a DS on one of them who’s been having arm issues to avoid her having to serve. We have a libero who is pretty physically banged up. I rested her during the Smith match, using the prior DS in her place. I also switched around the pin hitters.

For the last match, the morning’s libero moved to OH for two sets. I did some more pin hitter rotating, including giving both the one with the iffy arm and our 2019 returner each a set on the sideline. In the case of the latter, who is one of the captains, I specifically had her stand next to me during the 2nd set so she could see what I was seeing and we could talk about it.

Along with changing up lineups, I also flipped around our starting rotations quite a bit. Partly it was to see if we could create better match-ups, but largely it was to get the team ready for that kind of thing to happen down the line.

I would offer some stats here, but some really dodgy figures that showed up during after our Smith match (e.g. one of their setters was credited with a team high 10 kills on 22 swings) make me question things. I’m going to go back and re-stat them for our side. But stats weren’t really my focus for this event. The whole objective going in was to get them some much-needed experience and a sense of what they need to do to be successful. As the set scores will attest, we’re a long way from the latter, but there were definitely flashes.

Player meetings

I did my first round of 1-on-1 player meetings between Monday and Thursday. I had each send me beforehand things they thought were going well and areas needing work, both individually and as a team. It was interesting to have half the conversations before the alumni match and half after. I plan to do another round in a couple of weeks after we get through the next couple tournaments.

Looking ahead

We’ve got a busy week coming up! Tuesday we host our first home match of the season. Then we do a jointly hosted tournament where one of the other Buffalo area schools hosts the Friday matches and we host the Saturday ones.

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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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