Greetings to all!
Having lots of fun out here and time is flying!
First I will talk about the USA practices with the U26 team, then about the exciting lesson I took with a USA coach and finally, I’ll wrap it up with our tournament in Santa Barbara.
USA Practice With U26 Team
Last Tuesday was a fun practice! We had some girls show up that were not eligible for the World University Games but came for the extra touches and coaching. It definitely raised the level of competition, pushed the pace and seemed to make everything a bit faster.
I walked away with one major concept from this practice. I started out getting touches on several hard swings but was spraying them all over and not giving my partner a chance to set. Coach Anna pulled me aside and explained that my body was in a great position but my torso was moving too much when I tried to dig. After giving her a confused look, she continued to tell me to keep my torso tight, and move my platform or hands to the ball when I was over hand digging. Still a little confused but conscious of her instructions, I shanked the next ball drilled at me. I finally realized exactly what the coach meant by moving my torso too much. I leaned back a smidge to dig the ball, and it went sailing behind me. I felt what I was doing and told myself that in order to keep my torso still, my arms would need to be “go-go gadget arms” and go get the ball while I was in my defensive position. When the next ball was in play I was thinking “chest up and no movement” and “go-go gadget arms.” A ball was smashed my direction, and I got a perfect dig to the middle of the court! Woot Woot!
The other huge concept that we worked on was for blockers and how to get them in a good position to do anything (set, attack or run) once they come down from blocking. Our coach spent a lot of time yelling “Get off the net!” A very simple concept that just needs more practice!
A couple of things to remember:
1. From the block jump, land in a low athletic position. This allows your next movement to be that much quicker.
2. If you get a touch on block get off QUICK, glance at other side, see what kind of set your partner is able to put up, and then attack it the best you can. If you can get a kill, great, if not, give your team a chance to play some more defense…in other words, don’t hit it in the net or out of bounds.
3. If you don’t get a touch on the block, you still need to land low, track the ball, get off the net , and meet the dig. The emphasis again is on getting off the net, because the digger is not trying to dig the ball tight to the net.
Oh, and while all of this was happening….Jen Kessy and April Ross were practicing right next to us with Holly McPeak as their coach!! I see them practicing all the time, but practicing right next to our U26 team was pretty cool and definitely memorable, especially since they will be in London.
Thursday’s practice was a bit more game-like the whole time, there was a huge push “to compete” amongst ourselves. The coach said she’s seen too many great players in training, that get selected to travel for team USA, then they get to competition and realize they haven’t played in enough game like situations. I think most Thursday practices will be like this, and I really enjoy it and look at it as a time to put everything together and get after it!
Practice with USA Coach Anjiniho
Ok, time to move on to practice with Coach Anjiniho on Thursday afternoon. It went really well and we transferred a lot of the skills to the game at the end of it.
A focus in one of the drills was controlling a dig, and putting it in a location that allowed for the set to come from the most ideal location possible. We both realized that when we focused on it, it did make a huge difference in the set we got from each other.
Another focus was on offense and how to position yourself to win the point. We did a drill that involved one person setting from the back third of the court, and the attacker having to find something to do with it. When attacking this set it was important to keep your elbow high, use the winds to your advantage, and “when in a fiddle, go deep middle.” 🙂
A drill we did to focus on siding out was as follows:
1. One team serves 7 balls
2. The receiving side: Cannot go below 0, but gets a +1 if they side out or -1 if they do not.
3. At the end of 7 serves, if the receiving team has a score of 5 or more, they win. A score or 3 earns a wash and a chance at it again. Anything below 3 is a loss and the teams switch sides.
This drill is not easy, but a great tool to measure side out efficiency (and all you need is 2 teams).
Tournament in Santa Barbara
Now on to the fun stuff, Santa Barbara!!! We played there on Saturday and took a 5th 🙂 🙁 . While it was our best finish so far, I know we can do better.
We were the 3rd seed in a 4 team pool and the 14 seed overall. Our goal was to get 1st in pool which would set us up for a good playoff situation. We knocked off the 4th seed in the tournament in our first game pretty easily. With it being our first game of the day we did a good job of playing fundamental volley: no crazy errors, no attempts at being a hero, nice and easy passing and setting, etc.
The second game we struggled finding our rhythm. We were actually trailing most of the set, but knew it was a long game so just kept our heads clear and knew we would eventually go on a run. I made some adjustments in my decisions to block or not and where I was pulling that allowed for us to finally get some digs and transition them for points. We ended up winning.
As we went into our last match, we saw that it was against Jen Snyder who was playing with a 16 year old. I had watched them play earlier and picked up on a few tendencies of theirs as a team. While Jen is an incredible player, it takes 2 out here. We knew if we played smart and made the youngster play most of the balls we would win. No one was able to do that yet as we both went into the match undefeated. We executed our plan almost perfectly and were able earn points by playing our team defense against the kiddo and chisel around the huge block of Snyder in transition to earn points.
Going into the playoffs, both of us felt good! We ended up drawing the team we had trained with all week. In the quarterfinals against them we did not play well the first half of the game. The combo of silly errors here and there, and them banging balls made for a big hole for us. We were down 22-16 and managed to only lose by 3 points but were not able to turn it on early enough. Extremely frustrated we took what we could from it and moved on. The team we lost to went on to win the whole thing.
Looking ahead: sort of a crazy schedule :). U26 practice and some games scheduled after for Tuesday in Southbay. Land Wednesday morning at 1 am in Austin, then play in Houston on the 4th of July in the Freedom Festival. We will leave Thursday and head back to the Southbay. We will have Friday to get a mini practice in before we go to compete in San Diego! Wahooo!
Check back this week for another update though!
Off to hit the gym!