By SEAN SHAPIRO
In theory, volleyball is a simple sport.
Two teams send the ball back and forth over the net, with the goal of making your opponent miss.
While that base knowledge is true, it’s just a simple guideline for a sport that is far more complex than it usually gets credit.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize we actually have set plays,” Liberty Hill Coach Gretchen Peterson said. “There are certain things we do out of a serve receive versus a free ball, and there are different defenses and different strategies … it’s more than just keeping the ball in play and sending it back over.”
If you’re paying close attention, Peterson said volleyball can be a lot more “detail-oriented” and tracking the individual moves and matchups on the court can turn into a “chess match” for coaches.
Much of the execution for that chess match relies on communication between the individual players. While players often act on an individual instinct to dig a ball, the following passes and attacks are usually well orchestrated.
“You have a lot of timing and teamwork within the game, and that communication makes it run,” Peterson said. “It’s so important that they work together.”
Communication has been a key part of the game her entire coaching career, but Peterson said the execution and speed have been dialed up a level in the past decade.
“The game has evolved so much,” Peterson said. “Athletes are more athletic and the girls are strong, really allowing them to do so much more. The level of play has definitely grown across the board and it’s exciting.”
That raised level of individual play has forced coaches to add more intricate plays and adjusted practices to become more “game-like.”
Instead of spending too much time on individual skills – bumps, sets and spikes – coaches spend more time working with their teams in game situations. At Liberty Hill, the Lady Panthers practice at a rapid pace to simulate game situations and add more repetitions to best prepare for matches.
“I think we’re very blessed that our junior high coaches have been very, very good at instilling fundamentals,” Peterson said. “When our kids get to us at the high school level they’ve gotten those fundamentals from junior high and they’ve played so much. We really do get to start right away with higher-level things.”
Hitting a higher level is one of the goals for the Lady Panthers this season. The team competed at the Austin ISD tournament this past weekend and finished 6th in a 32-team field.
“This is a really special year for volleyball at Liberty Hill,” Peterson said. “Our freshman group is talented, so is our JV group. The varsity team has three (senior) girls who have been on the team since freshman (year), so they’ve played a ton of volleyball together … this is just going to be an exciting year. I think it’s going to be a really long ride and it really is one of the most explosive teams we’ve had in a while.”