Thursday, December 24, 2015

Five Keys to Pre-Match Warmups

by Tom Mendoza, Associate Head Coach - Creighton University

All formats have some combination of shared court as well as whole court access.  In NCAA women’s volleyball, the pre-match countdown starts at 60 minutes prior to the game with 41 minutes of shared court followed by each time getting a total 9 minutes of whole court.  Here are five observations from watching teams this season.

 1.  Safety first!!   Be very cognizant of when athletes take any jumps, including jump-setting.  It’s just not worth the risk. There is a lot going on in warm-ups, with over 30 athletes and 60 volleyballs and varying levels of control. Which leads to…

2.    Make (the right) time for blocking, often the most forgotten about skill in warm-ups. Blocking is the first thing that we do after stretching only because that is the most likely time that the other team won’t have balls flying under our players’ feet. I always get nervous for other teams when they line up for blocking reps while we are already into defense and balls are around the net.  I’ve seen some teams work controlled blocking reps into their whole court warm-up, and I think it works really well. 

3.    One sided serving is the new black.  Gone are the days both sided serving with assistant coaches standing out there guarding serves from going under feet, while trying to not get hit in the face or even more sensitive areas.  Similarly, it lets the servers relax and not have to worry about getting blasted.  We added a simple rule that any player who serves into the net is responsible for that ball to make sure it doesn’t come back under a teammate.

Creighton Athletics

4.    Multi contact drills are a good thing, even during shared court.  We like opening up with a low key dig-set series.  It reinforces where we want our digs, and where we want our out of system sets.  From there we try to gradually scale up to live play.  Taking coaches out of the warm-up gives more onus on the players to control the flow of play.

5.    Controlled 6-on-6 won’t destroy the universe. We’ve never had 6-on-6 in warm-ups, but we added it halfway through this year since we were starting matches slowly. Coaches have a hard time putting live play into full court warm-ups, mainly because it gives up control by opening the door to chaotic play which looks bad and stresses the coach out. But is a little chaos a bad thing?  Volleyball is a difficult game of limiting errors while being aggressive, and working through that balance might end up being the most productive part of warm-up.  We came to a compromise this year that we only played it out to a dig, then entered another controlled ball to start the rally.

Hopefully you find something in there to be beneficial, or disagree with it so strongly that it helps define your philosophy.

Have you Mapped out your 2016 Recruiting Calendar?

by Heather A. Roberts, Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator - Colorado School of Mines

As we turn our attention to the 2016 recruiting calendar, the search for the next impact player at each level of the game is in full force and choosing the “right” tournaments to attend is a key factor for recruiting success.

From USA, JVA, AAU, etc. the amount of tournaments on the horizon could be overwhelming without a plan of action. With that being said, there are many different opinions from assistant coaches across the nation on how to determine which tournaments are the “right” ones to focus your time and resources on.

Based on input from assistant coaches at each level of the game, below are factors to consider when choosing a tournament: 

*Budget – Cost of car rental, parking, recruiting software fee, airfare, lodging, meals, admission.
*Proximity to campus/Regional/National Tournaments – Do you mostly recruit in-state, regionally or nationally? Which locations are you receiving the most interest from and where are you finding the most recruiting success year after year?
*Recruits in attendance – How many “top” recruits will you see at one tournament?
*Tournament Format – One site, various sites, age divisions, when does each division compete, for example AM/PM waves?
*College Coach Recruiting Software – Access to University Athlete, AES, rosters, schedules, showcases.
*Feedback – When in doubt or in need of more information regarding a tournament, reach out to other coaching colleagues. The best way to find the “right” tournaments to attend…ask the opinions of other coaches.

Once you have made your priority list many websites are readily available to help formulate a spreadsheet. Please see below for links to help you identify tournaments, locally, regionally and nationally!

USA Volleyball Region Map for tournaments in your area:
Junior Volleyball Association (JVA) Tournament Search:

Happy Recruiting!

Three Free Websites/Apps to Help Coaches

by Steve Vencl, Assistant Coach - Georgia State

What’s your message to the world? What do you put out there for everyone to see and hear? Better yet, what’s your message to recruits? We have an opportunity these days to truly tailor our message to recruits to reflect who we are as coaches and what our program stands for. Rather than the basic emails, mailings, video communication and texts, why not find a way to do it differently? In this blog post we will feature three very different ways for you stand out when communicating with recruits. All are FREE options for you to use. Some of these you may already be using. Some, you may not even want to attempt. At the end of the day, it’s your choice on how you want to tell your story. Find your message. Find your program's message. Choose how you want to sell but do it passionately.

As always, please check with your compliance department to make sure that they deem all of these tools legal and usable for your program.

Have you ever sat at the computer with every intention to create an awesome mailing for a recruit but an hour goes by and all that is on your screen is your school logo followed by a blank page. If you have not had that exact experience but something close to it, I know your pain.  With all the duties that come with being a coach I do not remember "graphically amazing" being as part of my job title, and yet my lack of creativity is constantly being tested with every holiday, amazing team event and a “just saying hi” mailing.

Well look no further because CANVA is here to save your day. is a website that allows you to look like a creative genius. With Canva, you are able to create visually stimulating documents with a few clicks of your mouse. You can create mailings, social media headers, posters, flyers and much more. Canva has a number of modern to classic templates to choose from and all you need to do is add your information and drag and drop your desired picture…THAT’S IT! Another great thing about is that it’s FREE. For that price, it’s definitely worth giving a try.


In our day of technology, broadcasting live-streamed events has become somewhat of a standard for everyone. Whether you are a parent, relative, friend, fan, or just bored out of your mind, being able to view something around the world such as a volleyball match is possible with the click of a mouse and subscribing to a monthly account for a low price. But now thru a FREE application called Periscope, individuals will never miss out on the inside scoop of your program. Available for iOS and Android user, this app has become very trendy since being acquired by Twitter in January 2015. Based on the core vision “to see the world Live through someone else’s eyes” users have the option to tweet out a link to their live stream that will be active for 24 hours. Other than live streaming matches, Periscope can be very useful for other occasions such as post-game interviews, marketing a big weekend, allowing fans an exclusive look into practices, fun times when traveling, or pre-season team bonding activities to name a few. With Periscope, you have the chance to never miss out on the action again!

What the heck do I say to this recruit that I haven’t said in the past? What can I say that they haven’t heard from the 100 other coaches that texted them last week? How can I be different yet relate to them on their level? POPKEY. Popkey is the second coming of emoji’s. With Popkey you can easily insert a GIF of your choosing into any text messages. Popkey allows you to search through its multitude of funny & witty 3-5 second video clips. The GIF’s on Popkey feature anything from Minions to funny holiday antics. Currently only available for iOS and your Desktop or Mac, Popkey is free to download.

My Take from AVCA Convention Week

by Kathy DeBoer, AVCA Executive Director

Nothing empowers volleyball coaches more than a building full of passionate fans!  All of us in the CenturyLink Center that Saturday night and those watching the NCAA DI Women’s Championship on ESPN2 were swept away by the numbers, the noise, and the unusual magnitude of the event!  This was our BIG EVENT, our Olympics, our World Cup, our couple of hours when it felt as if everyone in the world cared about volleyball!

We will be reminded soon enough that ‘the world’ is ‘OUR world’ as we won’t see evidence of our success in huge TV ratings; but for right now, that punishing metric can’t kill our hope for the future of volleyball.  We can still feel the hair standing up on the back of our neck at the deafening eruption caused by Amber Rolfzen’s solo stuff that ended the first set. We can still close our eyes and see the video board flashing 17,561, a new NCAA record for attendance. We were there, we saw it, we felt was real.

Convention week is always my most anticipated and most frightening. Anticipated because we get to be together, face-to-face, meeting, debating, celebrating, arguing and partying. Frightening because the number of activities and the fatigue tests us and exposes us. I notice this tension and vulnerability in you also during this week.  I see Florida’s Mary Wise, whose season ended 72 hours earlier on the short end of a 15-17 5th set; her frustration is palpable, the disappointment and anger close to the surface. Yet, she is there: pushing herself to engage in strategic conversations, to congratulate some colleagues and comfort others, and to stand proudly with her AVCA All-Americans during their moment in the spotlight.  I hug USC’s Mick Haley, who came rather than hide, after his team blew a 13-9 lead in the fifth set the Saturday night before.  I ask him how he is doing and we both tear up before he can answer.

Florida Head Coach Mary Wise with AVCA All-American Rhamat Alhassan

I require the AVCA staff to work the days after convention and to take their richly deserved comp time after the first of the year.  I tell them this so we can write up our meeting minutes, send our thank you notes, and remember the details of what we want to do better at the next convention.  The real reason is because I want to be with them and tell them how proud I am that they are part of the AVCA team.

A network is a group of people who have transactional relationships; a community is a group who have sacrificial relationships.  When I am with you, I feel part of a community.  Thank you.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Official Visit Rule Changes

by Katie Grajewski, Assistant Coach - Middle Tennessee State University

A hot topic in recruiting is unofficial vs. official visits. To clarify, the primary differences between an official visit and unofficial visit is who picks up the travel expenses. Official visits are paid for by the College/University and may only be taken after the start of the PSA’s senior year. Unofficial visits are at the expense of the PSA’s and can be taken at any age. In bylaw General Restrictions, it states;
“During an unofficial visit, the institution may not pay any expenses or provide any entertainment except a maximum of three complimentary (issued only through a pass list) to a home athletics event at any facility within a 30-mile radius of a member institution’s main campus in which the institution’s intercollegiate team practices or competes” (2015-2016 NCAA Division I Manual).  

The Big question: should Division I volleyball change the official visit rule to match Division I men’s and women’s basketball?

Division I men’s and women’s basketball are able to take an official visit during their junior year. In bylaw First Opportunity to Visit, it states;
“In sports other than basketball, a prospective student-athlete may not be provided an expense-paid visit earlier than the opening day of classes of the prospective student-athlete’s senior year in high school. In men’s basketball, a prospective student- athlete may not be provided an expense-paid visit earlier than January 1 of his junior year in high school. In women’s basketball a prospective student-athlete may not be provided an expense-paid visit earlier than the Thursday following the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship game of the prospective student-athlete’s junior year in high school”(2015-2016 NCAA Division I Manual).  

-          PSA’s and their families will save money and in situations where the PSA may not be able to afford the visit can be avoided.
-          PSA’s will be able to make a more educated decision.
-          It may cut down on the number of transfers we are seeing form early commitments.
-          College/Universities that are not near major cities or volleyball hot beds will be able to get PSA’s on campus easier.

-          Recruiting budgets will need to be increased to cover the added visits.
-          Recruits will feel more pressure because they will still only get 5 paid visits.
-          PSA’s will still have to meet the official visit requirements.

 In bylaw 113.6.3 Requirements for Official Visit, it states;
“The following requirements must be met before an institution may provide an official visit to a prospective student-athlete: 

(A)   A high school or preparatory school prospective student-athlete must present the institution with a score from a PSAT, SAT, PLAN or ACT taken on a national testing date under national testing conditions, except that a state-administered ACT may be used to meet the requirement. The score must be presented through a testing agency document, on a high school or preparatory school academic transcript (official or unofficial) or through the use of the applicable testing agency’s automated-voice system. An international prospective student-athlete wo requires a special administration of the PSAT, SAT, PLAN or ACT may present such a score upon the approval of the Committee on Academics or the Initial-Eligibility Waivers Committee; 
(B)   A prospective student-athlete must present the institution with a high school (or college) academic transcript;
(C)   A high school or preparatory school prospective student-athlete must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center; and
(D)   A high school or preparatory school prospective student-athlete must be placed on the institution’s institutional request list (IRL) with the NCAA Eligibility Center” (2015-2016 NCAA Division I Manual).

What is your opinion?   Feel free to comment below! You can utilize the current rule below as a reference point!

-          Currently, Men’s and Women’s Division I basketball can only have 12 official visits annually, running from August 1st through July 31st. Without a rule like this, institutions with small budgets would be at a huge disadvantage. In bylaw Number of Official Visits-Institutional Limitation, it states;
“The total number of official visits a member institution may provide prospective student-athletes in the following sports on an annual basis (August 1 through July 31) shall be limited to:
(a)    Football—56.
(b)   Basketball--12.
(c)    Baseball—25” (2015-2016 NCAA Division I Manual). 

There are several pros and cons that come out of allowing juniors to take official visits in the sport of volleyball. For more information on the 2015-2016 NCAA Division I manual and bylaws, please click on this link

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Round of 16 Preview and Predictions

by Debbie Kniffin

No. 1-seeded USC vs. No. 16-seeded Creighton (San Diego, CA)
Friday, December 11 at 8 PM PT

Unranked Creighton defeated No. 23 North Carolina to punch the program’s first-ever ticket to the Round of 16. While I think USC is far-and-away the better volleyball team, I don’t think this is a no-brainer win for the Trojans. Creighton will be able to play freely as the obvious underdogs. And USC carries the burden of expectation, which can be a crippling load for talented teams. It might take USC a set or two to loosen up and play to their potential, but ultimately I think they’ll rise to the challenge. We’ll know soon.

My Pick: USC in four

No. 9-seeded Kansas vs. Loyola Marymount (San Diego, CA)
Friday, December 11 at 5:30 PM PT

In my preseason post, I highlighted Stanford as a team that could contend for the national title. Loyola Marymount seemed to think otherwise. Their unranked, unseeded squad ousted the Cardinal to continue their Cinderella story. Next up: an incredibly talented, physical Kansas squad. LMU holds a geographical edge since they’re just up the road from San Diego. Unfortunately I don’t think it’ll be enough to take down Kansas. The Jayhawks are successful on the road, disciplined against lesser opponents and aggressive in closely matched contests. 

My Pick: Kansas in three

No. 3-seeded Texas vs. No. 14-seeded UCLA (Austin, TX)
Friday, December 11 at 5 PM PT

Both programs know what it takes to win a title. UCLA claimed the crown in 2011, while Texas hoisted the trophy in 2012. And both are clicking as we head into these final two weeks of the season. In other words, I expect a great match. Texas holds the advantage physically. They pack a sizeable offensive punch and swing for the fences. But UCLA holds the advantage mentally. They have a fantastic volleyball IQ, they are savvy and crafty with their game and they find ways to score against bigger, better teams. So who wins? Whichever team stays low error and aggressive. I’m going with Texas.

My Pick: Texas in five 

Texas Athletics
  No. 11-seeded Florida vs. No. 6-seeded Wisconsin (Austin, TX)
Friday, December 11 at 2:30 PM PT

Florida has all the potential to be great—they are athletic, physical and polished. They just haven’t found a way to translate all that potential into wins against the top dogs. They don’t do anything terribly wrong—they just commit errors at inopportune times and can crumble under pressure (which you can’t afford to do against strong opponents). Unfortunately for Florida, Wisconsin is one of those strong opponents. They play fantastic defense, set a smart offense and elevate their play under pressure.  

My Pick: Wisconsin in four

No. 5-seeded Washington vs. No. 12-seeded Ohio State (Lexington, KY)
Friday, December 11 at 4:30 PM PT

Both teams are used to playing high-level matches every week. Both are used to winning many of those matches. Ohio State excels in the middle and on defense, while Washington serves, passes and blocks their way to victory. Washington is a touch mechanical and robotic in their play style, while Ohio State is fluid, creative and gutsy. The Buckeyes could turn that into an advantage—if (and only if) they throw caution to the wind and play an unconventional, aggressive and relentless match.

My Pick: Ohio State in five

Ohio State Athletics

 No. 13-seeded BYU vs. No. 4-seeded Nebraska (Lexington, KY)
Friday, December 11 at 2 PM PT

As of last year, BYU has a reputation for making waves in the tournament. Their 2014 campaign featured a series of upsets that culminated in a championship match appearance.  The Cornhuskers won’t let that happen again—they have outstanding athletes who play really well as a team within a really solid system. They are just flat-out good at the sport and have outplayed teams often this season. They’ve been special to watch and I think we’ll get at least one more chance to do so (if not three).

My Pick: Nebraska in three

No. 7-seeded PSU vs. Hawai'i (Des Moines, IA)
Friday, December 11 at 5:30 PM PT

Penn State danced their way to national titles in 2013 and 2014. If a team is to stop them this season, it probably won’t be Hawai'i. I know, I know.  The Rainbow Wahine blazed through conference play without a single loss and took down two tough teams to earn a spot in the Sweet 16. But I don’t think they are big enough, strong enough or defensive enough to slow down Penn State. And I don’t think they have the firepower to score at will against the Nittany Lions sizeable front line.

My Pick: Penn State in three

No. 2-seeded Minnesota vs. Illinois (Des Moines, IA)
Friday, December 11 at 3 PM PT

Yes, I intentionally saved this match for last—and not because I’m excited to write about it. My kid sister (Katie Stadick, #12) plays for Illinois. Being a typical big sister, I really want her to win (and not just this match—the whole thing). And I really don’t want to write that the Gophers appear to have stronger players at key positions. Or that it’ll be a tall order for the Illini to get through this round. So I won’t write that.. I’ll write that this should be a great match and a battle to the end, because it should be. And then I’ll call Katie to apologize for picking against her and her team.

My Pick: Minnesota in five