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Penn State Women Complete Undefeated Season with Title-Match Sweep of Stanford

As virtually all college-volleyball fans would know by now, Penn State has successfully defended its NCAA women's title and gone undefeated (38-0) in the process, sweeping Stanford in three games in the final. The scores were 25-20, 26-24, and 25-23. Here are a few brief observations on the match...

Penn State outhit Stanford in Games 1 (.257-.167) and 3 (.196-.109). The Cardinal outhit the Nittany Lions in Game 2, .159-.102. As I showed in analyses of the earlier rounds, a team will usually win the game when it outhits its opponent by this much. In this instance, though, it didn't turn out that way for Stanford.

On the ESPN2 telecast of the final, color commentator Karch Kiraly added a statistical flavor to the proceedings, with his periodic evaluations of the teams' serve-receipt/passing effectiveness on a 0-3 scale.

Happy holidays to everyone! VolleyMetrics will be back in the new year to focus on men's college volleyball.

Pre-Match Analysis of Penn State-Stanford Women's Final

With tonight's NCAA championship match between Penn State and Stanford just hours away, I wanted to provide some pregame statistical analysis. In the aftermath of Penn State's dramatic semifinal victory over Nebraska, one of the most frequent observations among discussants at the VolleyTalk site was how the Nittany Lions appeared to stray from attacking the middle against the Cornhuskers. In order to break things down scientifically, I created the following graph based on Penn State's NCAA tournament matches thus far this season.


Indeed, it appears that the Nittany Lions' three middle-hitters (Christa Harmotto, Blair Brown, and Arielle Wilson) have been getting a declining proportion of the team's hitting attempts in recent matches.

Meanwhile, outside-hitter Nicole Fawcett has, to an increasing extent, been getting the "lion's share" of the hit attempts. Penn State's other main outside-hitter, Megan Hodge, has consistently been getting between …

Measuring Serving Effectiveness: The Length of Average Serving Stint (LASS)

For the last few weeks, I've been trying to think of new ways to measure serving effectiveness. Box scores and statistical summaries typically report only service aces and errors (example). My concerns are that aces occur infrequently (limiting their statistical usefulness), and that focusing on aces does not take into account how even serves that are picked up by the receiving team can still be advantageous to the serving team (e.g., by preventing the receiving team from setting up its top available hitting threat).

Alternatively, one can obtain detailed statistics by observing and classifying the receiving outcomes of serves into micro-level categories, such as whether a serve disrupted the receiving team's ability to "mak[e] the first tempo attack," as reported in this article. If a team has the staffpower resources to record such statistics, that's great, but not everyone can.

What I've been conceiving of, therefore, is some sort of "middle ground…

Looking Back on Opening Weekend (First Two Rounds) of 2008 NCAA Women's Tourney

I've put together a bunch of statistics on last weekend's opening two rounds of play in the NCAA Division I women's volleyball tournament. Forty-eight matches were played (32 in the first round and 16 in the second), comprising roughly three-fourths of the tournament's total matches (63 are played, in all).

In these 48 matches, 179 total games (sets) were played. The type of result (i.e., sweeps, four- and five-game matches) broke down as follows:

3-0: 24
3-1: 13
3-2: 11

The closeness of many matches is illustrated by looking more closely at the five-game tilts. Five were decided by the minimum two points, another three were decided by the score of 15-12, and only three were decided by 5 or more points.

Regular readers of this site know that I consider hitting percentage to be a very important statistic. For each of the 179 individual games played over the first weekend, I examined each team's hitting percentage in relation to who won the game. In only 19…

Kansas State at Texas Tech Regular-Season Finale

As we await the start of the women's NCAA tournament, I thought I'd share some photos from last Saturday night's match featuring Kansas State at Texas Tech (you can click on the collage to enlarge it).


It was Senior Night for three Red Raider players, Michelle Flores, Brandi Hood, and Amanda Sbragia. Sadly for the seniors (and the broader Texas Tech volleyball community), the team lost to Kansas State to finish 0-20 in Big 12 play this season; going back to last season, Tech has lost 39 straight conference matches. Not surprisingly, Saturday night's match was the last for Coach Nancy Todd, ending her six-year stint with the Raiders.

Shown on top are some shots I took during the warm-ups (I wouldn't want to risk distracting the players with flash photography during actual game action). In the lower right-hand corner, your trusty analyst is shown, serving the ball during a contest between Games 2 and 3 that was open to all members of the audience. A dozen or so p…

Correlation Between Seed Number and Making the NCAA Women's Sweet Sixteen

The brackets have been announced for this year's women's NCAA Division I championships. A couple of matches will be played Thursday, but most of the action in the 64-team field gets underway Friday. At each of this weekend's sites, the second round will be played the night after the first-round matches. Tonight, and during the next three weeks, VolleyMetrics will be exploring various statistical aspects of the NCAA's "December Madness."

Tonight, let's start with something very basic, namely the record of No. 1-through-No. 16-seeded teams over the past five tournaments (2003-2007) in making the Sweet Sixteen. That is, of course, the immediate goal of all teams playing this weekend. Unlike the NCAA basketball brackets in which all 64 teams are seeded (i.e., each of the four regions has its teams seeded 1-16), the women's volleyball bracket only seeds 16 teams (explicitly) total.

Thus, for example, among the 16 teams vying to make the four-team re…

Side-Out Statistics

Getting a side-out (or siding-out) refers to winning a rally on the opponent's serve. Back when the rules specified that a team could score a point only on its own serve, the importance of a side-out was that it earned a team the right to serve. Then, with the switch several years ago to rally scoring -- where the winning team of each rally earns a point, regardless of who served -- siding out was worth an immediate point, along with giving the serve back to the team that won the last rally.

Aside from the scoring aspect, success at siding-out can also be seen as a marker of a team's proficiency at running its offense, which the receiving team gets the first chance to do. Side-out rate can tell us how well, by and large, a team receives serve and passes the ball to the setter so that he or she can make a good set to the chosen hitter, and with what success the team's hitters put the ball away. I say "by and large," because other factors will affect a team…

Pac-10 Competitive Balance Increases

Competitive balance continues to grow within Pac-10 women's volleyball. Stanford, Washington, UCLA, and USC have been national powers over the last several seasons and beyond. Cal made the Final Four last season and is doing well this season, and Arizona has made some noise in the past.

This weekend, the two Oregon schools gave notice that they shouldn't be overlooked, either. The University of Oregon knocked off both UCLA (Friday) and USC (Saturday) in Eugene, allowing only a single game (or as they now call it, "set") in the two matches combined. Oregon State, playing in Corvallis, likewise beat USC, but lost to UCLA, albeit in five games.

What really caught my attention for purposes of this blog, however, is the statistical inclination of the person who writes about volleyball for the UO's GoDucks.com athletics website. As seen in this article on the Oregon-USC match, the writer zeroes in on the huge difference between the teams' hitting percentages a…

What Predicts Early-Season Poll Rankings in Women's College Volleyball?

The women's college volleyball season has now been going on for a few weeks, so it's time to jump in with some statistical analysis. To mark the occasion, I've scanned some schedule posters I've collected and displayed in my office over the years and edited them into a collage. I hope you like it!

Competition thus far has been exclusively of the nonconference variety, so lacking conference standings, we have only the national polls to judge which teams are doing well.

Today's entry seeks to get inside the heads -- indirectly, of course -- of voters in the September 8 poll of the American Volleyball Coaches Association. The poll presents a Top 25, but also reports voting points (i.e., 25 points for a first-place vote, 24 for second, etc.) for additional teams ("Others Receiving Votes and appearing on two or more ballots").

We thus have voting point totals for 37 teams, from No. 1 Penn State's 1,500 points down to unranked Georgia Tech and Arizo…

Men's 2008 Olympic (Indoor) Pool Play

I've added a chart (on which you can click to enlarge) providing a statistical summary of the just-concluded men's indoor Olympic pool play, to go along with the one for women's pool play (entry immediately below).


Complicating matters, there was a three-way tie for first place in men's Group B. Looking at Group A, hitting and blocking appeared to be the key performance indicators. The higher a team finished in the win-loss standings, the better it tended to do in hitting and blocking (deviations from a perfect one-to-one relationship are shown in color fonts).

It should also be acknowledged that the meanings of some of the statistics are ambiguous. One example is digging. As I noted in a posting last October, the AVCA definition of a dig is "when a defensive player keeps a bona fide attack in play with a pass." Digging an opponent's spike attempt is good, but it may reflect some weakness in the defensive team's blocking, as balls would be gett…

Women's 2008 Olympic (Indoor) Pool Play

With pool play now complete in the Olympic women's (indoor) volleyball competion, I've created a table (below) to let readers see how the final standings in each of the two pools (first through sixth place) track with how the teams have ranked thus far (before medal play) in six statistical performance areas. (You can click on the table to enlarge it.)


A perfect correlation is represented by all of the numerals appearing in black font, such as Group B's rankings on hitting percentage. Brazil, which finished first in its pool with a 5-0 record, also had the highest team hitting percentage in the pool; Italy (4-1), which finished second in the pool, also had the second-highest hitting percentage; the trend continued all the way down to sixth-place finisher Algeria, which was also sixth in hitting percentage.

Discrepancies are shown in color fonts (the specific colors don't really mean anything, they're just used to draw attention to the numbers). For Group A's…

NBC Olympics Website for Volleyball Stats

The NBC Olympics website is now providing extensive (indoor) volleyball statistics -- hitting, blocking, serving, digging, setting, and receiving. Further, hitting percentage is now being calculated correctly (subtracting errors from successful kills, before dividing by attempts). Clicking here leads you to men's statistics at the team level, but from that page you can click on a heading to get to women's statistics, as well as varying whether you get team or individual statistics. Pool play ends this weekend for both men and women; upon conclusion of this stage of the competition, I'll present some analyses of how the pool winners did in the various statistical categories.

Statistics are available in a similar format for men's and women's beach volleyball, but there seem to be a lot of holes in the numerical information provided. There's already been a lot of excitement for the U.S. teams in the sand, as the legendary women's duo of Misty May-Treanor a…

NBC Olympic Announcers Sunderland and Barnett Informative on Strategy and Stats

NBC's late-night Tuesday/early-morning Wednesday Olympic coverage featured a women's (indoor) volleyball match between the U.S. and Venezuela, ultimately won 3-1 by the Americans. Thus far, I've found announcers Paul Sunderland (a member of the 1984 U.S. men's gold-medal team) and Kevin Barnett (an Olympian of more recent vintage) to be informative on strategy and statistics.

As Game 4 got underway, Barnett (I believe, rather than Sunderland) asserted that U.S. blocking (7 in Game 3 alone) and Venezuela's poor serving (1 ace compared to 12 errors, through three games) were the "dictating statistics of this match." According to the final box score, the Americans indeed outperformed the Venezuelans in blocking, 16 to 6. Jen Joines, who entered the match in a substitute role for the U.S., was singled out for accolades by the announcers.

The announcers also stressed the importance of playing "in system." By this, they mean consisent, quality pas…

Following Statistical Aspects of the 2008 Summer Olympic (Indoor) Volleyball Competitions

With the Summer Olympics underway in Beijing, I would like to welcome everyone to VolleyMetrics, where I'll be presenting statistical analyses of several of the volleyball matches and taking comments from interested viewers. Before starting, I would like to offer condolences to the Bachman and McCutcheon families for the tragic attack that took place earlier.

First, for results and boxscores of (indoor) volleyball, you can go to the following link (I may add in some postings on beach volleyball, I'm not sure):

http://www.nbcolympics.com/volleyball/resultsandschedules/

As some of you may have seen this morning on television in the U.S., the American women opened up with a 3-1 victory over Japan. The boxscore for this match is available here.

Two of the major topics I have emphasized on this blog are hitting percentage and defending against opponents' hitting via blocking and digging.

If you look at the boxscores provided through the NBC Olympics website, you'll see tha…

2008 Olympic Qualifying Tournaments

I recently visited the NBC Olympics website to learn about developments in the volleyball competitions taking place later this summer. While there, I found this article (accompanied by extensive statistics) on the final women's Olympic qualifying tournament, which concluded recently.

Among the statistics listed in the final tournament standings, were each team's points scored and allowed, and games (or sets) won and allowed (the first reference to "Points" in the chart appears to refer to points in the standings, 2 for a win and 1 for a loss; points won and loss in the rally scoring are separate).

Volleyball, like tennis and perhaps other sports, uses an aggregative or hierarchical scoring system. First, a team wins points. Upon winning 25 points in a game (15 in a Game 5), with at least a two-point margin, a team would then win a game (also known as a set). Winning three games would then give a team the match.

Certainly there would be a positive correlation amon…

Preview of Penn State-Pepperdine NCAA Men's Final

In anticipation of tonigh't NCAA men's volleyball final between No. 1 Penn State and upstart Pepperdine (which only made the field via a late surge through the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament), user "nomas" on the VolleyTalk discussion board offers this analysis of the match-up.

One of the salient issues is that Penn State has not played that tough of a schedule during the season, thus likely inflating the Nittany Lions' statistical prowess. As seen on Penn State's schedule, the Lions have played only a few matches against traditionally strong teams from the Pacific (Hawaii, UCLA, and Long Beach State), and two of those three matches were back in early January.

Preview of Men's NCAA Final Four

This coming Thursday and Saturday, the men's volleyball version of the NCAA Final Four will take place in Irvine, California (tournament website). The semi-finals will match Penn State against Ohio State, and Pepperdine against Long Beach State.

Men's collegiate VB is much more of a low-key affair than women's, with fewer schools fielding teams, less media coverage, etc. Accordingly, I have not posted nearly as much on the men's season as I had done for women's play last fall.

The Final Four is actually all there is of the men's "tournament." Three teams earn automatic berths via conference tournaments of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, Midwest Intercollegeiate Volleyball Association, and Eastern Intercollegeiate Volleyball Association. The field is rounded out by one at-large team, inevitably from the MPSF. The at-large choice is often controversial, and this year's was no exception.

The two contenders were BYU and Long Beach State, …

Tradeoff of Serving Aggressively (or Cautiously): Service Errors vs. Aces

The other night, I caught a replay of UCLA hosting USC in men's volleyball, on Fox College Sports. It was the second match of the season between the Bruins and Trojans. In the first match, as the TV announcers pointed out, the teams had combined for 51 service errors, so it was suggested they would be toning down their aggressive service in the rematch. Indeed, UCLA and USC cut their combined service errors in half, to 25, in the second match.

That got me to thinking about coaches' decision-making strategies involved in choosing whether to have their teams serve aggressively or cautiously. The most aggressive type of delivery would seem to be the jump serve, as illustrated in these brief video clips I found on the web (here and here).

Such a serve has the potential to generate an ace or, if not that, a ball that the receiving team struggles to retrieve and thus takes the team out of its offense. Trying to pulverize the ball on the serve also, however, creates the potential fo…

Ferocity of Men's vs. Women's Spikes at the Elite College Level: Rates of Being Dug

As collegiate volleyball in the U.S. switches from women's play in the fall to men's in the winter/spring, so too does VolleyMetrics shift its focus. Fittingly, given this transition, there was a recent discussion topic on the VolleyTalk boards about the differences -- and relative enjoyability -- between the men's and women's games.

The discussion appeared to focus on the greater power of men's spiking than that of women's. In fact, one discussant characterized the men’s game as “Pass, set, boom.” Whether one finds beauty in these rocketing blasts or prefers the (assumed) longer rallies in the women's game is in the eye of the beholder, but the consensus that this difference exists was wide.

Here at VolleyMetrics, however, we want hard numbers. As an initial step, we can look at men's and women's team hitting percentages. Keep in mind that (as best I can tell), there are far more women’s volleyball programs in Division I alone than there are i…