2015 MIAC Volleyball Camp Tour- St. Thomas

By Kelsey Whaley
If someone told me that I would be able to watch seven quality volleyball programs 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. According to their overall record for the past 10 years, St. Thomas is the top team in the conference 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 opponents should underestimate Thanh Pham’s 2015 squad. In fact, I don't think it would come as a shock to anyone if they won or co-won the conference for the 11th year in a row.

Here are my six observations from my trip to the University of St. Thomas:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
    every point they play, in both scrimmages and practices. The players put their full energy behind everything they do, including dynamic stretches. They are determined to do their best and be their best in every moment of every drill. Plus, they never seem tired. The players have the energy and stamina to practice and perform at a high level for hours.
  3. 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 creates a competitive atmosphere in the gym, but it’s extremely constructive in the athletes' development.  
  4. Practice with Purpose-
    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
    in 2012.
    At St. Thomas, the players practice with purpose. Each player has a drive or reason for being in that gym, as if they're on a mission. What stands out is that despite all the different personal reasons for playing volleyball, the Tommies as a team are driven by a few common goals. They want to win and prove they are the best team in the MIAC. They practice as though that is their soul purpose in life, and it shows in their play.
  5. 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 sets. 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. 
  6. 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.
    of the top offensive teams in the conference this season. They have two setters who both have high volleyball IQs and hitters who hit with velocity and purpose. They know what it takes to win points and matches. More importantly, the Tommies don’t sit back and wait for their chance to put the offense in play. Their offense starts the minute the toss for the serve is in the air. Serving is as also as much a part of their offense as hitting. St. Thomas has some of the toughest and most aggressive and challenging serves in the conference.

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!

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