The Bishop’s High team, which went all the way to the semifinals of the CIF San Diego Section open division playoffs before losing a tough 5-gamer to Canyon Crest Academy, advanced in December to the Southern California Regional finals of the state playoffs. The Knights lost that match 18-16 in the fifth to league-rival Francis Parker to finish their season at 32-7. In Coastal Volleyball League play, they were a perfect 9-0.
Here’s a look at one of their final practices:
Let the middles know what’s in front of them
In an early practice break, Mattox emphasizes two points:
- All hitters need to take a real hitting approach, even if they know they’re not going to get the ball.
- It’s the left back’s responsibility to let the middle blockers know what’s in front of them when they’re hitting. They need to be vocal on every play.
Better hand-positioning for blocking
Mattox works here with several players to get their hands in a better position on the block. He emphasizes 3 points:
- Seeing your hands in front of you as you’re putting them up for the block. If you can’t see them, that likely means you’re bringing them back too far before putting them over the net. The extra movement makes for a less effective block.
- Disciplined hands. Before making a block move, blockers should position their hands in front of them with palms facing the net. This is about efficiency. The more ready your hands are before you jump, the more likely it is that you’ll be in a good position to get over the net and shut down the hit.
This is also a good drill for hitters to practice a pass, approach and seam hit and for setters to work on their high-ball location.
Sometimes, there’s no way to sugarcoat the message. Here, Mattox gets on his team for not going all out for every ball.
‘Big 3’ 6-on-6 game
Late in the season, competitive 6-on-6 drills are common in the Bishop’s gym. The one you’ll see here is called “Big 3.” The score starts at 22-22. The serving team needs to win 3 points in a row to get the victory. If they don’t, the other side gets the serve. The game continues until one team earns 3 points in a row.
In a team huddle, Mattox explains to the players that the focus of this drill is closing out games. To do that, he says, good serving and good passing is essential. He adds that the biggest stat the Bishop’s coaches look at relative to finishing a game is ace percentage – meaning the percentage of time the ball goes out of play when the passers touch it.
Don’t settle for bump sets
There’s a time for hand sets and a time for bump sets, but Mattox made it clear to one of his setters, Kelly Forte, that he wants fewer bump sets and more hand sets. His point: The more Bishop’s setters can get their hands on the ball, the more the team can retain its offensive identity by staying in system and running fast sets.
Off-blockers need to run through the ball
A good laugh was had by all when Mattox told the team to run through the ball on defense like Anna Sepkovic, a sophomore outside hitter who had not previously been considered the bar-setter for this skill.
It's not that Anna isn't a good player. She is. It's just that, earlier in the season, she did what a lot of young players do: Focus on getting ready to hit rather than focusing first on making a solid, balanced defensive play.
“You gotta defend,” Mattox says. “There’s no reason to attack if the ball is on the floor.”
Mattox on blocking: “Slide your hands over the net”
A common mistake that Mattox sees from inexperienced blockers is that they thrust their hands straight up and then press over the net. He talks here about how Bishop’s coaches teach blockers to get over the net more efficiently, concentrating on sealing the area where most attackers hit rather than worrying about getting their hands up high.
Missed serves: What’s acceptable, what’s not
Bishop’s plays tough opponents, so in Mattox’s view, aggressive serving is a must. That means living with some missed serves. Here, he talks about why he’s OK with misses on low trajectory serves that hit the tape or land a few feet long.