Thursday, September 9, 2021

Three Things to Look For in Week 3


With five matches and two weeks of the Fall 2021 season completed, what can we look for in Week 3 as the ‘Jacks travel to Tulsa?  Below, I’ll share three things that have stuck out to me during the early part of the season as places where I’d love to see consistency and improvement.  As I watch and call the matches this weekend against Tulsa, Oral Roberts and Arkansas, these are three specific areas to evaluate.  Of course, we are still very early in the schedule and the matches of highest importance still await us.  But every week the objective is to improve so that the very best SFA Volleyball is being played in November. 

Pin Blocking Especially on Right Side Attacks

At times against all of North Carolina, SMU and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, SFA looked vulnerable to right side attacks.  Six rotation outside hitters Ariana Pagan and Leah Powell team up with their respective middle to block on this side of the floor.  Consistently setting blocks well when they are front as well as funneling balls to the desired part of the floor look like areas ripe for improvement as we progress through September.  Too many right side attacks have gone untouched at the net and found the right back corner.  This weekend in Tulsa, look to see if right side attackers are held in check. Positioning among the back row players also plays a role in this, making sure that the center back defender is not too back and the right back defender is not too forward so as to take away an angle.

 Among the 18 sets played, SFA has allowed an opponent attack percentage of .270 overall.  That’s too high.  The ‘Jacks opponents have hit over .250 in 72% of sets played, while being held to less than .200 in just three sets – two against Pacific and the last set against the Islanders last Saturday.  Both of these numbers need to change.  In years past, we’ve become accustomed to SFA defenses allowing attack percentages consistently around .160-.170.  Now to be fair, quality of opposition plays a significant role here, but the fact still remains:  We can’t continue to allow such a large percentage of sets where our opponents hit .300+.  Stabilizing the pin block – especially on opponent right side attacks – will go a long way towards seeing those opponent numbers sink.

 Consistent Setter-Attacker Connections

There is little question that the Ladyjacks employ three quality setters.  That’s not what’s up for discussion in this section.  Instead, the early part of the season is that time to solidify the setter-attacker combinations within a 6-2 offense and become more efficient, crisp and consistent in the connections between setter and scorer.  The key here is consistently having the ball delivered into the hitting zone throughout the match.  Kodi Garcia garnered all-tournament honors for her performance in the SFA Invitational last week and she should certainly improve as the experience grows in game action.  Don’t forget that Garcia didn’t travel to Dallas.  Regarding Maddy Bourque:  we know what she is capable of, and the time will come where the offense under her direction will feature more strong connections between her and her attackers.  During each of the first two weekends, there have been times where those connections have been strong and others where consistency is needed.  So, this is an area to watch.  Bourque is literally one of the most technically proficient young setters I have ever seen in years of watching SFA Volleyball.  Her hands are just incredible.  Watching her in practice and warm-ups is like watching a clinic on technical setting technique.  But just how many good first touch balls turn into sets that lead to strong attacks?  That’s the match day number that needs an uptick and in time I expect it will.  Speaking of strong attacks, this leads me to the third and final inspection area for Week 3…

 A Higher Percentage of Strong Attacks in Transition

This point and the previous one are related.  But I want to focus on transition offense here.  At times, well into rallies, we’ve lost points due to either the setter-attacker connection issue mentioned above or a dig not to target that should have been made.  To be clear, we’ve had matches where we have passed exceptional and others where the passing efficiency is in the “needs improvement” range of the scale.  But, after the rally has begun in particular, I feel we’ve suffered from having in-transition offensive opportunities that we should be capitalizing on and are not.

 When a rally is extended and the opposition sends us a ball that we should turn into a strong shot and don’t, then almost always the point is lost on the next opponent attack.  This has happened at too high a clip and so I’ll be specifically watching to see if SFA takes advantage of opportunities such as free balls, down balls and other general weak attacks by the opposition.  We have given the opposition too many “second and third” chances in transition instead of ending the rally with a strong attack when it shouldn’t be difficult to produce one.

 Let’s end by saying that the overwhelming number of positives and the three game match winning streak point toward a confident club strolling into Oklahoma.  Follow along on SFAVolleyBlog Radio this weekend and cheer your Ladyjacks on to more “W’s” !!