Jackrabbit Volleyball: Practicing for success

By: Robert Myers Sports Editor

On Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014 Phil McDaniel, head coach of the SDSU women’s volleyball team, opened up his practice to give The Collegian an inside look at how his team prepares for their games.

The practice began with what McDaniel called an active warm-up as athletes paired up and practiced different hits including one-bounce spikes, bumps, sets and any sort of hit they might use in a game situation.  

“They usually pick their own pairings,” McDaniel said. “Sometimes it’s by similar position, sometimes it’s by class, but for the most part it’s just a chance for them to get their arms loose, start passing the ball a bit, just trying to get in the flow of things.”  

Coach McDaniel then ran a series of four-on-four drills in which the side that lost the point rotated in a new group of players.

“It makes them move more because they have to cover more ground because there’s less defenders on the court,” McDaniel said. “It also gives us a chance to get up and take really good swings, really aggressive swings with few blockers in front of us. … It’s kind of a continuation of our warmup.”

In this drill, as well as the other drills later on in practice, McDaniel often inserted himself onto one of the teams.

“We only have two setters, so sometimes our setters need breaks,” McDaniel said about why he participates. “Sometimes I want to see things done a certain way so it’s easier for me to do it than to have the girls do it. I may want them to set a ball at a different tempo that’s not our tempo just because the other team may be setting it at a different tempo so I might come in and set that so they don’t get used to setting someone else’s tempo.

McDaniel also said he will join the front row because he’s a bigger blocker than some of his team’s setters.

The assistant coaches Hailey Cowles and Holly Hafemeyer also participate in the drills at times along with their many other responsibilities.

“Holly and Hailey each have specific positions that they initially work with, but of course we all work with pretty much everyone on the team,” McDaniel said.  “Holly may focus on our middle transition, our middle blocking. Hailey may be looking at serve receive. She might be looking at the outsides, their transition moves. So it just kind of depends.”

McDaniel also receives help of another kind from his team manager, Amanda Peterson.

“Our manager does a great job of statting for us so she gives us an idea of how the overall practice is going with our passing, with our attacking,” McDaniel said.

The four-on-four drill lasted about 15 minutes, after which the team took a brief break to grab a drink. Following the break they moved into a serve receive drill. With serves coming from both sides, the drill looked rather chaotic, but the athletes knew what they were doing, allowing the drill to flow smoothly and without any collisions.

“It’s one of those things where we’re moving quite a bit. Our taller blockers are serving short to each other on the other side of the net while the setters are setting and the ds [defense specialists] and outsides are serving tougher balls deep to each other to try and challenge each other. It’s a way to give them both reps on one court in a short amount of time and we’re making switches every 15, 20 balls or so.

Another 15 minutes brought a new full six-on-six scrimmage that featured game like intensity. Unlike a game however, McDaniel had the opportunity to pause the action and step in for a teaching moment.

“I think it’s important to have those discussions as close to the play as possible,” McDaniel said. “If we can stop the drill, stop and rebuild what just happened and kind of explain ‘This happened, this happened and this happened. This needs to happen,’ so they know exactly what we’re looking for.”

The six-on-six lasted about 25 minutes before the athletes had another couple minutes to rehydrate. After the break they continued on with the scrimmage for another 15 minutes before wrapping things up for the day an hour and 15 minutes after they had begun.

Outside of the regular practices is when the athletes do their strength work. McDaniel said they typically lift on Monday and Wednesday, but most of the conditioning during the season happens during their daily practice.

McDaniel said that all this happens during the 20 weekly hours allowed by the NCAA for matches, practice, lifts and any mandatory meetings with the players.

Compared to their typical practice, McDaniel said Thursday’s practice ran slightly shorter. It also varied from other practices earlier in the week in that instead of focusing on skill work they focused more on preparing for the weekend’s games

“The coaching staff has watched film for the past two days on these teams [we are playing this weekend],” McDaniel said. “We have ideas that we want to do against each team. We incorporate a little of that into each practice defensively in terms of what we’re looking for.”