If someone told me that I would be able to watch seven quality volleyball programs' practices in six days, I would have laughed at them. Now, seven days into the MIAC Volleyball Camp Tour, I understand why the MIAC is considered one of the premiere volleyball conferences in Division III. Every team is extremely competitive and skilled at the sport. I’m glad I don’t have to make any predictions for the standings because it’s getting harder and harder to pick one team over another.
The seventh stop on the tour took me to St. Thomas. The Tommies have consistently finished at the top of the MIAC standings for the past ten years. They are also the team everybody wants to play and beat. According to their overall record for the past 10 years, St. Thomas is the top team in the MIAC and naturally the team everyone wants to take down. This year they face the challenge of turnover after losing six seniors to graduation. That doesn’t mean anyone should underestimate Thanh Pham’s 2015 squad. In fact, I don't think it would come as a shock to anyone if they won the conference for the 11th year in a row.
Here are my six observations from my trip to the University of St. Thomas:
- Practice to Win- The Tommies don’t just practice to get better at skills and fundamentals. They practice to win. Every pass, set, hit, and serve is analyzed by Coach Pham and his staff as to whether or not it would have been effective in a game. More often than not, a play is deemed too easy for the opposing team. The players are not just learning how to be good at the skills of volleyball. They are learning how to win and close out games
- Max Effort Every Point- On that note, St. Thomas gives the maximum amount of effort on
Setter Kayla Walton serves during practice at St. Thomas.
- Challenged at Every Point- The players on the St. Thomas team are constantly being challenged, not only by their coaches, but by their own teammates as well. Coaches are constantly analyzing performances and pushing the players to do better every time the ball is in their hands (or on their forearms for that matter). Players are also challenging each other to elevate their game to the next level. This causes a competitive atmosphere in gym, but it’s extremely constructive in the athletes' development.
- Practice with Purpose- Yes, there is a purpose to every practice. Sometimes they are
Senior right side Kelly Biermann waits in serve receive
during practice. Biermann is the only player who was on
the St. Thomas team that won the national championship
- Volleyball Sponges- The St. Thomas players are constantly soaking up information from their head coach and his assistants. Coach Pham is always watching his players and will stop play if he sees something being done incorrectly. Sometimes he wants to give the setters and hitters extra practice to get the timing down on certain plays. Other times, he’s making sure a player is using the right technique to avoid injury. Whatever the case, Coach Pham is always teaching his players, and they are constantly learning new things from him. Plus, the Tommies are incredibly observant during play and pick up on the nuances of their opponent.
- Offensive Power- Despite losing several of their top hitters, St. Thomas should still be one
Head Coach Thanh Pham talks to a player in between drills.
Pham is entering his 13th season as the Tommies head coach.
Thanks to Coach Pham and the entire program for letting me take in a volleyball practice. St. Thomas will open their season on the road at the Wittenberg National Tournament (Sept. 4-5). Their home and MIAC conference opener is on September 16, when they host the Saint Ben’s Blazers. If that first game is any indication, it’s going to be a competitive year in the MIAC!
Where to next?
On August 27th, I’ll be heading to Gustavus to see the Gusties in action! Make sure to tune into Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where I’ll be posting live from Gustavus. Also, make sure to check out Matt’s Football Camp Tour to read even more about your favorite MIAC programs!