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Stanford Sweeps Wisconsin for NCAA Women's Title, Aided by Multifaceted Blocking Game

With Stanford's win over Wisconsin for the NCAA national women's championship about a month ago coming so easily, 25-16, 25-17, 25-20, it was hard at first to come up with a statistical angle. The Cardinal, led by 6-foot-6 senior outside-hitter Kathryn Plummer's torrid spiking (.459 on 22 kills and 5 errors on 37 attempts), outhit the Badgers, .358-.152 (box score). Madeleine Gates, a Stanford graduate transfer who finished her degree at UCLA, also came up big (.529, 10-1-17). I've already written a lot on Plummer's hitting, however, so I wanted to focus on something else. Then, an idea from five years ago popped into my mind.

As I wrote in February 2015 then-Penn State men's assistant coach Jay Hosack (now head men's coach at George Mason) noted on the Internet-radio show The Net Live that, "blocking should be evaluated more broadly than via direct stuff-blocks for points." For example, blockers could slow the ball down from a spike attempt, makin…
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Preview of NCAA Women's Final Four (2019)

This year's NCAA women's Final Four, which begins shortly, features the Bears of Baylor, two of the B1G's three burrowing animals -- the Wisconsin Badgers and Minnesota Gophers* -- and a color, the Stanford Cardinal.

By most accounts, Minnesota would probably be the team considered least likely to win the national title. Anecdotally, in watching some Gopher matches this season, my sense was that blocking was the team's strength.

I therefore decided to compare the Final Four teams on their blocks per opportunity. The number of opportunities a team has to score points via a stuff block is the number of hit attempts by opponents, removing the number of spikes hit out of bounds or into the net. Such attempts gone awry can be calculated by taking opponents' aggregate hitting errors and subtracting those errors due to your own aggregate blocks.

These calculations revealed all of the Final Four teams to be extremely similar in the proportion of blockable (i.e., not out o…

Brief Observations on NCAA Women's Elite Eight Day

Baylor and Washington are tied at one game apiece (Baylor 25-20, U-Dub 25-21). Baylor has hit well in Games 1 (.538, 16 kills, only 2 errors, on 26 attempts) and 2 (.355, 15-4-31).  Washington had only three hitting errors in Game 2 (.367, 14-3-30). The Huskies' Samantha Drechsel is hitting .625 after two games (12-2-16)... Bears take Game 3, 25-19, on continued torrid hitting (.615, 17- 1-26 in Game 3)... Baylor closes out match 25-18 to take program's first trip to Final Four. Bears hit .444 in Game 4 (16-4-27), .479 for match (67-11-117)...

Wisconsin records a 3-0 sweep of Nebraska (25-18, 25-22, 25-19) for the third time this season to advance... No suspense in the last two matches of the day, either -- not even any deuce games -- as Minnesota sweeps Louisville (25-21, 25-14, 25-16) and Stanford does the same to Penn State (25-22, 25-15, 25-17). Stanford's Kathryn Plummer records another high hitting percentage on a high volume of attempts (.512, 24-2-43).

Brief Observations on NCAA Women's Sweet Sixteen Day (2019)

It was a day of upsets and near-upsets and the NCAA women's field winnowed from 16 to eight teams. No. 2 seed Texas dropped the first two games to Louisville, won the next two to even things up, and then fell to the Cardinals in Game 5, 15-12. Three other matches went the distance, with the higher-seeded team prevailing in each case.

Utah had given Stanford trouble in the regular season, never winning a match from the Cardinal, but going five games on October 20 and four on November 22. Friday's NCAA match-up was no different, as Stanford and Utah battled five games, the Cardinal prevailing 15-11 in the decider. Here at VolleyMetrics, we've been keeping an eye on Kathryn Plummer's heavy swing volume for Stanford. Friday night, she registered one of best performances of the season, hitting .389 on 29 kills and 8 attack errors in 54 attempts.

Two other five-game survivors were No. 7 Minnesota over No. 10 Florida, and No. 11 Penn State over unseeded Cincinnati.

Top-seeded…

2019 NCAA Women's Tourney Preview

This year's NCAA women's tournament, which gets underway Friday, features some of the "usual suspects" among the leading teams, but also some newcomers (click here for bracket). The usual suspects include No. 2 national seed Texas, No. 3 Stanford, No. 4 Wisconsin, and No. 5 Nebraska, whereas the upstarts include No. 1 Baylor and No. 6 Pittsburgh.

Baylor and Texas, the top two seeds, are both in the Big 12 conference, and they split their two matches this season. Baylor's October 23 loss in Austin was, in fact, the 25-1 Bears' only defeat of the season. Along with Baylor's November 20 win over Texas in Waco, the Bears also own an impressive victory over Wisconsin in Madison, although it was a long time ago (September 6).

On my longtime Conference-Adjusted Combined Offensive-Defensive (CACOD)metric, Baylor clocks in at 2.16 (.281 team hitting percentage divided by .156 hitting percentage allowed, with this ratio multiplied by 1.20, the adjustment factor for…

FiveThirtyEight Tackles Women's College Volleyball

The website FiveThirtyEight, which offers quantitative analyses of politics*, sports, and culture, today turns its attention to women's college volleyball. The article is not as statistically laden as a lot of other FiveThirtyEight pieces, but has some numerical analysis. Mainly, the article looks at leading teams' returning talent, presenting the percentage of each team's total kills, assists, digs, blocks, and aces from last year that are accounted for by players returning this year. For example, of the 1,791 total kills Cardinal hitters recorded last year, 85.1% were collected by players returning this year.

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*The website's name comes from the number of electoral votes in U.S. presidential elections.

Previewing the 2019 NCAA Women's Season

ESPN-W previews what it considers the top women's college volleyball teams and players in this upcoming season... Meanwhile, here is the AVCA pre-season national poll. Defending NCAA champion Stanford is a near-unanimous pick to repeat, while five B1G teams make the top eight (Nebraska 2, Minnesota 3, Wisconsin 5, Illinois 6, and Penn State 8). Texas (4) and Kentucky (7) complete the top eight.