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When it comes to time, 20 hours is better than two — way better, in fact.

The Montana volleyball team began Phase 2 of its spring workouts on Monday morning, allowing head coach Allison Lawrence and her team more freedom, more time and less time crunch.

According to NCAA rules, the first several weeks of spring workouts are limited to two hours of on-court time, per player. With a large team that graduated zero seniors last fall, that's a lot of work and very little time to put it all together.

"The challenge was to get as technical as we needed to, but to do it with 13 players," head coach Allison Lawrence said. "That was a puzzle for me, and something unique to this group because we had an entire group coming back. It put the pressure on us to make every second meaningful."

The focus during those two hours was more technical – less volleyball and more fundamentals, sometimes broken up into small-group settings.

"It was basically all technical stuff," rising junior setter Ashley Watkins said. "Sometimes we would just break down an arm swing for an hour and just work on one little thing over and over again."

Under the second phase, the Grizzlies have the ability to work on a variety of aspects of their game, and not be in a rush to fit it all in. The team will practice at least four times per week throughout March and April, including Monday's 2.5-hour workout.

"Phase 2 is about blending," Lawrence said. "It's about taking what we worked on the last several weeks and adding more onto it."

The team will generally still spend an hour or so in breakout groups before transitioning into team drills and playing for the final 90 minutes. The first day was a success, according to Watkins, noting that the best part was having the entire team working out at the same time.

"It felt good to be in the gym together," Watkins said. "It's draining, of course, because you're not competing against a specific team, but it makes us so eager to get on the court because we know we're that much closer to our next game."

Montana is still six months from opening its fall competition schedule, but make no mistake, now is one of the most valuable times to improve – just not in the way you might expect.

"We're really focused on a no-outcome-oriented thinking," Lawrence said.

The concept sounds strange initially, but its roots have a strong support. Use this time now – in February, March and April – when the results truly don't matter, to learn how to be at your best in September, October and November when they do.

"You want it to be ugly," Lawrence continued. "You want it to be more process driven. That will allow you the freedom to make errors and not care, knowing that you're getting rid of bad habits and improving."

Now is the time to have that mindset, rather than in the fall. Now is when you can work on specific techniques, rather than in August. Now is when a team's identity is formed.

"I think we're just trying to get better at volleyball, period," Watkins said. "We want to be a fun team to watch – one that goes all out all the time. We want to get to the point where when we show up for fall camp in August we're ready to go."

Lawrence, who was promoted 13 months ago and is now beginning her second spring as head coach, has already seen her mindset and identity change.

Last year was new. It was the comeback year with a new coach, new team, new culture… There was a renewed intrigue, by insiders and outsiders, wondering what would be different under new leadership.

That was last year.

"What I love about this spring is there's none of that," the second-year coach said. "It's not flashy. You're down in the dirt, in the pit, just clawing your way out.

"It's a character reveal of who's bought into that concept. I love when you're doing something because it's right and it's for the long game, and to me, this time, this spring, teaches you that."


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