Friday, October 30, 2015

Deb's Top-5 Matches of the Week

by Debbie Kniffin

No. 24 San Diego @ No. 16 BYU
Friday, October 30

San Diego
Record: 16-6 overall, 9-1 West Coast
Streak: W7
Last outing: defeated Loyola Marymount (3-0) and Pepperdine (3-0)

Potential weakness: blocking
Perceived strengths: using strong back row play to generate attack opportunities
Game changers: the defensive consistency of Hunter Jennings (Jr., L)

Record: 18-3 overall, 8-2 West Coast
Last outing: defeated Pepperdine (3-0), fell to Loyola Marymount (2-3)

Potential weakness: executing in big moments, not just over time (see loss to LMU)
Perceived strengths: blocking for points
Game changers: the scary middle tandem of Amy Boswell (Jr., MH) and Whitney Howard (Jr., MH)

BYU sits one game behind San Diego in conference standings despite besting the Toreros earlier this season and holding a higher national ranking. The Toreros don’t shine at any skill—they just chip away at teams. Jennings plays an important role in that strategy with her slick ball handling that gives big gun Lisa Kramer (RS Jr., OH) sufficient opportunity to score. Kramer was off her game and hit negative last time around. I expect her performance to improve significantly now that she knows what she’s up against. That’ll keep San Diego in the match. To win, they’ll need Jennings to slow down BYU’s top-notch offense headlined by Alexa Gray (Sr., OH). That’ll be tough since she won’t get much help from her blockers. 

BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey
My Pick: BYU in four

RV Creighton @ Villanova
Friday, October 30

Record: 17-7 overall, 11-0 Big East
Streak: W12
Last outing: defeated Providence (3-0) and Saint Johns (3-0)

Potential weakness: setting almost every ball to one attacker
Perceived strengths: serving aggressively and consistently
Game changers: the golden arm of Jaali Winters (Fr., OH)

Record: 19-5 overall, 9-2 Big East
Last outing: defeated DePaul (3-2), fell to Marquette (1-3)

Potential weakness: being good-but-not-excellent at all aspects of the game
Perceived strengths: using all attackers in the offensive scheme
Game changers: the all-around contributions of Allie Loitz (So., OH)

Creighton boasts an undefeated Big East record despite playing extra sets in over half their conference matches. The Bluejays continue to win because they know how to grind and stay mentally tough.  One of their best assets is aggressive and consistent serving. Winters and Kate Elman (Sr., L) absolutely served Villanova into a tizzy last time around. This was doubly problematic for the Wildcats—when Loitz’s serve receive broke down, so did her offensive game. I think she’ll be prepared to handle that added pressure this time. Which could make this match interesting. Villanova actually kept up with Creighton defensively.  So if their offense gets back on track, we’ve got ourselves a ball game. Home court advantage may help. 

Villanova Athletics
My Pick: Villanova in five

No. 23 Louisville @ RV North Carolina (FAN PICK)
Friday, October 30

Record: 16-4 overall, 10-0 ACC
Streak: W10
Last outing: defeated Notre Dame (3-0) and Virginia (3-0)

Potential weakness: blocking at a consistently average level
Perceived strengths: running a balanced efficient offense
Game changers: the smart setting of Katie George (Sr., S)

North Carolina
Record: 11-8 overall, 8-2 ACC
Last outing: defeated Georgia Tech (3-1) and Clemson (3-0)

Potential weakness: performing consistently
Perceived strengths: passing well and blocking authoritatively
Game changers: the wall-like blocking of Paige Neuenfeldt (Sr., MH) and Victoria McPherson (Sr., MH)

North Carolina runs a balanced attack and keeps opposing blockers from committing on any particular hitter, which means they’re in control of their own offensive fate. Normally, that’d be a good thing, but not in this case. Several Tar Heel attackers struggle with volatility and mental toughness. They seem overwhelmed by the pressure to score and aren’t patient about waiting for the right set. Which is weird because the Tar Heels play score points with their block and play solid defense—extended rallies shouldn’t rattle them. If Louisville is able to execute, they’re normally pesky back-row play, aggressive serving and decent-if-not-great blocking provide perfect avenues to fluster North Carolina’s attackers. But when I look at potential, the Tar Heels have more oomph and spark. Home court may bring it out—and calm the nerves of the misfiring attackers. Here’s to hoping.

Jeffrey A. Camarati

 My Pick: North Carolina in five

No. 17 Purdue @ No. 12 Wisconsin
Friday, October 30

Record: 17-4 overall, 8-2 Big 10
Streak: W2
Last outing: defeated Northwestern (3-0) and Illinois (3-2)

Potential weakness: maintaining a lead and level of play
Perceived strengths: moving the ball around on offense
Game changers: the sizeable presence of Annie Drews (Sr., OH)

Record: 14-6 overall, 6-4 Big 10
Last outing: defeated Iowa (3-0) and Nebraska (3-1)

Potential weakness: getting inconsistent behind the service line and in serve receive
Perceived strengths: playing game-changing defense
Game changers: the defensive of Tionna Williams (Fr., MH) and Taylor Morey (Sr., DS)

Thanks to a super balanced attack and strong blocking, Purdue has beaten the bad teams (Rutgers/Maryland) and picked off the average teams (Michigan/Illinois). No thanks to bouts of inconsistency, they’ve lost to the elite teams (Penn State/Ohio State). Wisconsin falls into the elite category, but their potential-laden roster is definitely young and volatile. I expect Purdue to get after it from the end line and really pressure the Wisconsin passers. If the Boilermakers can force the Badgers into less-than-ideal attack situations, they can set up their big block and score defensive points. For Purdue, scoring on defense will be crucial since Wisconsin’s blocking and back-row play will likely slow down their offense production. And thanks to world-class setting, the Badgers get better as the rally goes on.  So Purdue attackers will experience additional pressure to end rallies quickly. That’s problematic since pressure leads to Purdue’s No. 1 pitfall: maintaining their level of play. And the Badger’s home court is a tough place to stay steady. 

Wisconsin Athletics

My Pick: Wisconsin in four

No. 1 USC @ No. 5 Washington
Friday, October 30

Record: 22-0 overall, 10-0 PAC 12
Streak: W22
Last outing: defeated Oregon State (3-1) and Oregon (3-0)

Potential weakness: none come to mind
Perceived strengths: blocking, serving, attacking, passing, digging…(wait that’s everything)
Game changers: the all-everything play of Samantha Bricio (Sr., OH)

Record: 18-2 overall, 8-2 PAC 12
Last outing: fell to Stanford (2-3), defeated Cal (3-0)

Potential weakness: siding out effectively when pressured by tough serves
Perceived strengths: blocking for points
Game changers: the net presence of Melanie Wade (Sr., MH) and Lianna Sybeldon (Sr., MH)

In their first meeting of the season, Washington and USC both blocked the daylights out of the ball. Subsequently, both teams were resigned to average offensive performances in place of the usual fireworks. One player avoided this decrease in productivity. You guessed it: Bricio scored at will in spite of Washington’s huge block. Not shocking: she has received PAC 12 Player of the Week honors five (yes, five) times this season. For Washington to win, they’d need to accept the fact Bricio will go off at will, and figure out how to contain the other USC hitters. And they’ll have to up their serve-pass game (USC bested them in that category last time around). While I think Wade and Sybeldon can slow down the other Trojans, I’m not sure the Huskies’ serve-pass game will improve enough to post the win.  

Percy Anderson

My Pick: USC in four

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Club to College Transition with Generation iY

by Tammi Fries

Q+A with: Sherry Fadool and Mike Schall, Directors of Triangle Volleyball Club,  Lindsey Devine, Head Coach, East Tennessee State University, and Greg Goral, Head Coach, Campbell University.

It was a spring game against a Division I opponent and the last match of the spring season for our Division II team. She was a freshman right side coming back to the endline to make her first serve of the match. She looks back at me and asks, “Can I just do my float?”  “No,” I said.  “You can do it, give it a shot.” 
This player had asked at the end of the fall season if she could work on a topspin jump serve, something she had never tried. She worked on it and it was a great serve, yet she was still working on being consistent. So it was a surprise to me that at that moment in the spring match, she didn’t want to attempt it.
This case comes to mind as an example of coaching the iY generation. It makes me consider the need for collegiate coaches to adapt certain aspects of their coaching styles in order to successfully motivate young players. It also brings to mind concerns for that very first season in college for student-athletes.
 According to Tim Elmore, a leading authority on how to understand the next generation, the bottom line is this:
Students do not feel they’re in control of their life. Some adult or other factor is in charge. We need to empower them to take charge of their lives.
Students are overwhelmed and no longer feel they can make choices that matter, often due to a fear of choosing. We must help them take those risks.
Students are overwhelmed and somehow drift into a “fatalistic” attitude where they abdicate their right (responsibility) to choose for themselves. We must equip them to know how to make wise and independent decisions.
Students must be encouraged to try new things; to risk failure; to explore new horizons without thinking they’ll lose out on future opportunities.
Recognizing the uniqueness of the current generation of volleyball players, I had this main question: how can coaches help players in the transition to the collegiate environment, so ultimately players have an overall enjoyable experience? In order to gain more perspective on this subject than my own, I posed questions to Mike Schall, Sherry Fadool, Lindsey Devine, and Greg Goral. 

  1)     Are there generational characteristics that are coming into play with young volleyball players and the club environment?  Do these affect players in making the transition to a college volleyball environment?  
Schall/Fadool: Yes…and we hope so. Generational characteristics are not always a bad thing. We believe this current generation is among the most curious, creative, and collaborative generation we have ever seen. They challenge us every day to recognize WHY we do things the way we do. They truly want to know and it makes us better leaders.
One component of this generation (and probably every generation) that we address daily is the willingness to make mistakes. Many kids are shielded from disappointment and failure when these are the exact traits that could potentially lead to future success. Foundations of resiliency are, in a broad sense, much less prevalent. Without developing in an environment that encourages learning (which requires making mistakes), athletes will struggle in any competitive arena.
1a) Are there generational characteristics that are coming into play with young volleyball players and the transition to the college volleyball environment?
Devine: Due to feeling other factors are in charge, if a player does not like a situation, she knows she has options, and so will transfer whether it is in club or in college.
Goral: As a whole, I think more players need to be taught how to be part of a team and how to work together. Players are a little more individualistic and don’t communicate as well verbally at times. With the personal communication devices players would rather text that talk in person. I even see that with young coaches. 

2)     Is there a disconnect for a player between an elite club experience and expectations of what a college experience is like?
Schall/Fadool: Generally speaking, there is certainly a difference. Depending on the club experience, there may be a disconnect. Even within the category of “elite” club experience, there is a wide range of focus, purpose, and therefore experience. Because we have seen freshmen step on the floor and make an immediate impact on collegiate programs (in their first semesters as a collegiate athlete nonetheless), my sense is that some athletes are physically prepared to enter the world of collegiate volleyball. To be certain, club and collegiate volleyball are not the same. They really shouldn’t be. The frequency of practice tends to be the biggest hurdle that our athletes overcome as they enter college. They are aware that they will be doing something volleyball related every day but they don’t know how that feels until they experience it. An additional piece of the puzzle is simple motivation. In the club ranks, families are paying, often significant amounts of money, for the experience that sometimes leads to scholarship dollars. For many, playing college volleyball is a dream. Once that dream is realized, are they still motivated by a new dream, a new goal, or a new program to represent to the best of their abilities? That is the burden of the collegiate program.
Devine: I think there can be a lack of understanding on what true hard work, sacrifice, and discipline are and how essential those aspects are to being successful at the collegiate level.  In most cases, players who go to college are the best on their club team and yet some have not had to apply a work ethic at the intensity level needed for a collegiate program.
Goral: Sometimes there is a disconnect. Every prospective student athlete has a different club and high school volleyball background. For example, some get extensive strength and conditioning training and some do not train outside of the court. Many top club athletes expect to start or play significant amount of time in their freshman year of college. For almost all club players, there is still a transition period that is needed to adapt to the college game.  For some it’s a couple weeks or months. For others, it can take a year or more.
Perhaps one approach to manage future player fulfillment is the communication of expectations. 

3)     Do you feel club players who want to play in college truly understand the expectations and requirements to be a collegiate student-athlete?   Do they need to?
Schall/Fadool: Their experience at the club level along with the communication from their future college coaches will help in this process but I don’t feel that they truly understand the demands, physically, emotionally, and mentally until they are actually living it. Experience is a great teacher but there is something to be said for the energy (and naivety) of a freshman stepping on campus for the first time excited about the opportunity.
Devine: I think some clubs do prepare players for what is ahead, but overall players have to experience the life of a student-athlete. There is nothing better than on-the-job training.
Goral: Some club players have the benefit of having older sisters, former club teammates, coaches, directors or parents who know what the expectations are for a college athlete. That support group can help a prospective athlete understand what they are getting into. Those who do not have knowledgeable mentors are sometimes surprised by all that is asked of a college athlete. It may or may not be necessary to know all of the expectations prior to arriving to a college program. If the athlete has the right attitude, work ethic, and personality they will be successful.
4)      Is this dependent on the college coach explaining the expectations in the recruiting process?
Schall/Fadool: If I were a college coach, I would explain the expectations in great detail. I think many do, but again, this doesn’t always register with a high school senior (or junior, sophomore, freshman, 8th grader, etc). Even if the coach explains the expectations, they are still in a sense trying to sell a recruit on their school and program. How much detail are they going to go into regarding expectations, role, playing time? Are they going to tell a recruit that if she works hard, she may play as a junior? There is certainly a danger in losing a recruit when making that statement, especially when a conference rival is saying that the same player will step on the floor right away.
Devine: I don’t think that college coaches really outline the life of a student-athlete during recruiting. We may touch on a day in the life. Through the recruiting process we are selling our “brand” and expectations may be intertwined in this process.
Goral: I would hope college coaches are detailing the everyday expectations for recruits. During recruiting visits, I layout the schedule for each segment of the year and what we do from a training, competition, academic and community service stand point. 

5)     Do you think players need more information from college coaches to find the right fit?
Schall/Fadool: I’m not sure they need more information. There is plenty of information readily available to young people. I do think they need more time. So much changes from 15-18 years of age. Developmental changes occur for the athlete. Academic interests change for the athlete. Needs of college programs change. Coaches of college programs change. More time would allow these changes to occur in a time frame that is healthier for all involved. More time also allows for the development of relationships – with the coaching staff (specifically the head coach), the team, the advisors, and the support staff.
      6) Do you think players need to ask more questions during the recruiting process to find the right fit?
Devine: Possibly but during recruiting everyone is on their best behavior. Additionally players are getting recruited earlier so what questions really does a 15 year old have? They haven’t experienced enough of life to really know what to ask and what is important to them.
Goral: Yes, high school athletes do need to ask more questions but also the right questions. Very few ask where they stand as far as scholarship positions. ‘Where am I on your recruiting list?’ ‘How likely is it that you will offer me a scholarship?’ Asking the right questions will help athletes identify what universities are truly interested in having them be a part of their program and what the expectations are going forward. Other good questions include ‘What role do you see me playing in your program?’ ‘What is your coaching philosophy and coaching style?
With the timeline for the recruiting process for the top high school athletes starting earlier and earlier, young athletes are not prepared for their first campus visits. Many don’t ask a lot of questions because they don’t know what they truly want in a university and college experience so they go to the school they commit to and after a year realize they want something else.
Elmore states on his blog that research indicates “young people’s belief that they have control over their own destinies has declined sharply over decades.” He also communicates the need for leaders to equip this generation to know how to make wise and independent decisions. 

7)     What role can club coaches/directors serve in helping players learn to make wise and independent decisions?
Schall/Fadool: The club environment can and should play a primary role in equipping student-athletes with decision making skills. We are cognizant of the perceived fragility of kids and charged with developing mental toughness that is critical to any athlete. This is a delicate balance at critical ages. It ties into developing the confidence to choose based on the values of the individual and the program they represent.
8)     How can college coaches help players learn to make wise and independent decisions?
Goral: I ask for players’ input with different program related things so they feel they have some control over their experience. Examples are ‘What community service project do we want to do as a team this semester? What would you like to focus on in practice today? What warm up drill will help get the team ready for a great practice?
As it pertains to the court, I ask questions of the player to instill in them that they are in control: If they are successful with an attack, why? If they got blocked or didn’t score, why? What are you going to do differently? 
9)     When young players make their transition and end up facing adversity, whether that be losing, not seeing court time, spending lots of hours on volleyball, etc.  I have heard that players feel volleyball isn’t “fun” anymore.  It seems that responsibility is often placed with some type of blame on the coach. Is this an issue?    
Schall/Fadool: If relationships are a priority of the coaching staff, I think this is less of an issue. If an employee has no relationship with a boss, work isn’t going to be much fun. If a child has no relationship with his/her father/mother, childhood won’t be much fun. I don’t think this generation of kids is looking for fun but I do think they are looking for relationship. That is fun for them and the prospect of high levels of performance increases. When relationships are not important, not developed, and not prioritized, it will be a struggle. Kids bear responsibility in developing this relationship as well.
Devine: Get to know the players before they come to your program. I use the motto “People don’t care how much you know until they know you care.” Building trust and creating vision from the leader is essential.
The less control they have, the more they depend on external factors. The more they’re driven by external factors, the more angst they experience. -Elmore

10)  Have you seen more angst in young players?  Do you think players are more externally driven?
Schall/Fadool: Yes. Parents want their children to succeed. Coaches want their teams to perform. Teachers want their classrooms to achieve. At every turn, young people are under this perceived pressure to perform. Many aren’t skilled or taught how to deal with this pressure. I don’t sense kids are in it for the trophy (as an example of an external reward). Their parents might be in some cases – the pride that goes along with raising a child who is successful. Coaches are the same way. Many hang their reputations on the performance of their teams. When this is the focus of the coach at any level, it leads to angst on the part of the athlete. They feel that their value is tied to final standings, much of which is out of their control.
Goral: I don’t know if there are more young players with significantly more amounts of angst or that are more externally driven. There are always some players who aren’t good with adversity or don’t take as much responsibility for their situations as they should. Many times players are still maturing. Sometimes parents have protected their children from the realities of competition and real life. So, when players don’t get their way, they are easily frustrated because someone else has always changed the situation for them.
Some players do want more prestige or recognition for everything they do. They worry about the results rather than the process of getting better and executing to get the results they want. I ask our players to change their focus to executing rather than worrying about wins, losses, and recognition.
11)  What is a way you help young players adapt to the college volleyball environment?
Devine: From Day one it is a process for players to understand the team’s core values. Teaching players to think more about their team is very tough. I try to define the roles of my players and make sure I am clear on these expectations. With this, players are able to perform within those roles to support and contribute to the team’s success.
Goral: We make sure that they have good relationships with our current players so that if they have questions they have teammates that can help them out. We do a number of fun or competitive team building activities during pre-season to further bond the team together. In addition, we sometimes assign older players to help our new players with various items that need to be done. 

12)  What ways have you adapted your coaching to deal with externally driven players?
Schall/Fadool: Focus on love and effort.
Give them other reasons for playing. Primarily, love. Love of the game. Love for their teammates. Love for the concept of team. Love for their families. Love of the process. Love of the pursuit. Love of service to others.
Along with giving them other reasons for playing, we focus on effort over results. Results are, in many cases, out of our control. Effort is 100% within their control. It is possible to play a great match in every way and lose. It’s impossible, however, to play with great effort and feel unsatisfied.
What is the feedback you hear most from your college players when they return during the holidays after that first collegiate season?
Schall/Fadool:  “It was hard, but I loved it.”   “It was a lot of work.”  “It was every day.”

I hope these perspectives will help you, the volleyball coach, take into consideration the distinctiveness of our young generation and inspire you to help empower your players, whether in club, in college, and especially during the transition between the two.