As volleyball practice gets underway, expectations are high for Clinton.
The River Queens return several experienced players, including the conference Player of the Year Alyssa Wing, from a team that tied for the Mississippi Athletic Conference title last season.
But Clinton coach Mark Massey said his team isn’t looking at it that way, especially not during the first week of practice.
“I heard Karch Kiraly make reference to this the other day,” he said. “He’s an assistant coach on the women’s national team. And I’ve heard other coaches with different words, but the same logic. We really don’t focus on winning. Having said that, I’m very competitive and these kids are very competitive and you like to win. But the focus is on the process and the next point, the next drill, the next practice. Once the season starts, it will be the same in the context of the next practice, then the next match.”
Massey said he thought that attitude really paid off for Clinton at the end of the year last season. The River Queens won their final two conference games in come-from-behind fashion to grab a piece of the title.
“We didn’t talk about having to win our last two matches,” Massey said. “We didn’t even talk about having to win one match. But we talked about playing hard and playing our match.”
The River Queens can’t repeat as conference champions or advance to the state tournament in early August, but they’re working toward that. At this point in the season the emphasis is on fundamentals.
“We have a lot of people back from last year, but we have some different people to plug in to different places,” Massey said. “We first want to develop every kid to be the best possible individual player they can be. Then we want to identify what their strengths are individually and come up with a team that highlights as many of our strengths as possible.
“We know what different players and our team has a weakness. Most of what we will spend the next couple months on is accentuating what we do well and trying to disguise what we don’t do as well.”
He said they were still trying to nail down what the biggest area of focus needed to be heading into the season.
“One of our tasks is not only to identify what things, plural, that we want to get better at, but what is our priority as far as one or two things,” Massey said. “I don’t honestly know for sure. The holes we have to fill primarily are in defensive situations.”
He said other areas of focus are serving and serve receipt, especially as the season gets underway.
Even though several players return, Massey said early in the season developing team chemistry was important.
“I think one of the things all coaches talk about is getting a group to become a team,” he said. “Even though we have several returners, most of our group is new. So it’s taking this group and molding a team out of that, a successful, productive, efficient varsity team. The analogy I always look at is you take the pieces and try to make it a complete puzzle.”
Massey has the pool of varsity players narrowed down to about a dozen, but he isn’t setting a line-up or rotations yet.
“If you get too locked into a certain rotation too early, you limit your own choices,” Massey said. “You need to look at things differently, or outside the box. You want kids to be comfortable, so if you do use a different rotation or switch people around, you don’t want them to panic.”
He did say he wanted to start to nail down some rotations heading into the season-opening MAC scrimmage on Aug. 18.
Massey said he is pleased with what he’s seen the first three days of practice.
“We are blessed with some very good athletes, who also happen to be excellent volleyball players,” he said. “I’m happy with where we are right now. I won’t be happy if a week from now this is still where we are.”