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Jojit Coronel brings a wealth of experience in his first season on the Tech bench.

Oct. 18, 2011

by Jody Roginson
Texas Tech Athletics Communications

The more you know about a sport, the less your eyes may need to follow the ball to understand what's happening.

Don't believe it? Think about any replay with a coach explaining a play in, say, football. The diagram generally begins with the offensive line making a key block, or a defensive player making a key move that has nothing to do with where the ball is or ends up. In basketball, film breakdown often reveals a critical screen set three passes before the shot was made.

The same is true in volleyball.

"During the first several points of any match, I'm watching the opponent's setter. The first play of the game, that's when she's going to tell you who she's most confident with, who's her go-to-attacker," assistant coach Jojit Coronel recently explained. "Not many setters can make some split second decision once the ball's in play, they already have a first or second option in mind. So if there's a perfect pass to that setter in the first point of the game, we know right away which hitter she feels most confident about. And then maybe at some point later we can exploit that knowledge with our blocking game."

It's common for him to not even pay attention to what Texas Tech is doing on their side of the net for quite a while during a match because he's gauging the decision-making of the opponent's setter. Any edge he can provide for Tech's defense may start with his ability to quickly understand her tendencies. And, those first few points of a match when teams are settling in, getting used to the environment, acclimating to their opponent's serve, tell him a great deal.

According to Coronel, who spent a decade at the helm of a good mid-major program at George Washington and who earned a reputation for being able to win based on in-game adjustments, the things that make a setter good begin with some obvious physical skills like soft hands, footwork, and quickness. But it's the ability to make good decisions, to control emotions, to provide on-court leadership, to use all the tools in their arsenal and to adjust to what's happening in the moment, which are the things that make a setter great.

"As a former setter, I may have an advantage to how I see the game, because I instinctively know all the options a setter has available to them. But, look, volleyball is a sport where six people defend a 30-by-30 foot space that has defined sides (antenna or 'pins') and height minimums (net)," he said. "So, when the ball comes over the net in serve receive, for example, the most important factor for any setter becomes this: how good is the pass? Was the pass perfect enough to give her the ability to use all of her weapons?"

The first player to touch the ball in serve receive or then during a rally is the passer. Most coaches rate each pass made during play with some notation of perfect to perfectly awful. In Tech's case that notation is a number from zero to three with three being any pass that provides the setter every offensive option available to her and zero being the obvious no option available to her. (Any service ace recorded by one team results in a statistical "zero" called a reception error by the other, for instance.)

"A perfect pass in serve receive gives a setter all her options--she can set either pin, set the middle or even set a back row attacker, although that's rarely a first choice," he continued. "From there, a hitter can do three things with a set that can help your team: they can terminate, they can pressure, or they can extend."

"I'm looking to figure out what those in-system or out of system tendencies look like early on. When I say it out loud it sounds complicated, but it really isn't, it's what every team is trying to do. And, honestly, there aren't that many secrets between us."

In an otherwise peaceful sport, termination is statistically referred to as a kill. Pressure is any attack that doesn't yield a quality pass (during play the terminology becomes the word "dig") which means the opponent's options are limited in their attack. Extending refers to any ball which just keeps play going. (For a setter an assist is only credited when an offensive attack terminates a play.)

"You'll hear us say 'in system' or 'out of system' during time outs or in conversation with players. We're in system whenever we give our setter a quality pass that yields her offensive options and we're out of system whenever we don't."

All of this explanation provides context to why teams emphasize serving as being the first opportunity to apply pressure to their opponent. Coaches evaluate the success of a given serve differently than the casual fan would. An ace, a serve which is not returnable and yields and immediate point, is obviously the most outstanding result of a serve. However, a serve to the right area of the floor, signaled to the player by the coaches, can often yield a similar result without benefit of the statistic.

"Our serving game is where putting the opponent off balance should start. Even a serve to the wrong area of the floor that at least puts them out of system or applies pressure, is a successful one," Coronel offered. "Obviously there's a risk/reward factor to trying to do too much with a serve, but just putting up a lollipop provides our opponent with the first opportunity to attack during a point, so we don't want that."

So while most of us will continue to follow the ball during play--and doing that usually generates the most excitement for a fan--Coronel will continue to observe the entire court as he suggests adjustments and helps players understand tendencies of the opponents.

"The average rally during a volleyball match lasts about four seconds so any pressuring attack that we can apply, puts their setter out of system which should allow us to establish our presence in the block and to be prepared defensively to provide our setter with a quality pass," he added. "I'm looking to figure out what those in-system or out of system tendencies look like early on. When I say it out loud it sounds complicated, but it really isn't, it's what every team is trying to do. And, honestly, there aren't that many secrets between us."

Note: (as an illustration of Coronel's "no secrets" point)
Entering the match Wednesday, October 19 with Texas A&M, Amanda Dowdy has 1,328 kills, just five shy of the No. 2 all-time spot at Texas Tech. Karlyn Meyers' 2,506 assists ranks her in 6th-place all time. The pair has been so prolific that we doubt many opponents wonder who the "go-to-attacker" might be.




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