From the Basement | What’s going wrong with Tulane volleyball?

Mark Keplinger, Sports Editor

tulane volleyball
Courtesy of Parker Waters

It has been a season to forget for first year head coach Jordana Price. The team is only 8-17 with a record within the American Athletic Conference of 3-11. Tulane sits dead last in the AAC standings. So what is going wrong with Tulane volleyball? There are three major concerns — lack of fundamentals, errors and lack of a winning mentality.

In Price’s defense, the first year of a head coaching tenure is always difficult no matter the situation, and she only has five returning players from last season’s team. Her team also includes seven freshmen, creating a pretty young squad. That being said, a lack of fundamentals creates some of the mistakes being made.

Players have been spotted going for a dig with only one hand instead of both, showing improper footwork on the net to get into the proper position. They are late on defense to go up for blocks, and they allow balls to drop instead of making an attempt to save them; their defensive positioning must improve. 

These are all fundamental issues, and players are taught at early levels not to commit these basic mistakes. Seeing Division I athletes make these mistakes is almost disappointing. 

All of the above mistakes are defensive errors and are reflected in the defensive statistics. Tulane is allowing opposing hitters to .264 against them. For context, that is dead last in the conference. Nationally, it’s even worse as the team is 326th out of 334 schools. Tulane averages 1.33 blocks a set, which is also dead last in the conference. Nationally, the team is 324th in the nation. 

Simply put, that is not good enough.

Second, the team commits a lot of service and attack errors. Starting with the latter, the team has played 98 sets as of the time of writing and has committed 472 attack errors which is about 4.82 errors per set. When serving the ball, the team averages 1.37 aces per set against 2.26 service errors per set. Tulane also averages 0.46 assist errors per set as well. Totaled up, Tulane averages 7.54 errors of all kinds per set.

Put another way, Tulane gives their opponents 7.5 free points per set. For a team that struggles at defending and only has average offense output — 149th out of 334 nationally and fifth out of 11 in the conference — the Green Wave really cannot afford to be losing out on these points.

Zooming in on just the service aces, Tulane averages 0.61 aces per service error. The best teams in college volleyball usually keep that ratio 1:1 or at least close to it. Team strategy comes into play here. Going for an ace requires a more difficult serve, which is more prone to errors. However, a well timed ace can shift the momentum of a set. Price has to find the right balance of going for aces and risking an error and asking her players to make easier serves.

The last problem is an intangible one — Tulane must embody a winning mentality. As previously mentioned, Tulane has played in 98 sets but 59 of those sets were decided by five points or less. Of those 59 sets, Tulane has only won 44% of them, which is just 26. 

When the game is on the line, some players elevate their game to a higher level in order to get their team the win. No statistic can truly calculate this clutch gene. However, the given statistics do show that Tulane’s players are falling short from winning those sets, especially in the biggest moments. Intangibles are not something that can be easily coached, so it will be up to the players to find it within themselves.

So is there good news? Can the issues mentioned be fixed? Well, it’s not so simple, but there is a path for at least some of these problems.

Resolving fundamental issues comes down to attention to detail and focus. Coaching and the right mentality from the players can correct this. The most important things here to fix are defensive positioning, communication and footwork along the net. Improving in these areas will lift Tulane’s defense from one of the worst in Division I volleyball into a good unit.

For the errors, Price has got to decide whether she wants to change her serving strategy. The players have to focus on playing cleaner games. 

However, the problems with Tulane’s mentality will take longer to fix. The players and coaches will have to find it within themselves to clean up their mistakes and close out opponents when given the opportunity. With Price’s arrival, a new era and culture came to Tulane volleyball. This year and next year will be the formative years of this culture, so the team has got to get this right if Tulane volleyball wants to see success in the future.

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