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NCAA Women's Final Four Wrap-Up

Illinois entered this past weekend's NCAA Women's Final Four with an interesting proposition. To win the national championship, the Fighting Illini would most likely have to win the championship of Los Angeles. USC stood as the opponent in Thursday's semi-finals, with UCLA up next in Saturday's finals provided the Bruins could handle Florida State (which UCLA did, via sweep).

The Illini passed its first test, besting USC in a five-game classic. On the final point of the Illinois-USC match, shown here on YouTube, the ball crossed the net 20 times, before the Trojans hit it out to give the Illini a 15-10 win in the closing set.

Unfortunately for Illinois, its difficulty in putting the ball away on the final point vs. USC foreshadowed troubles it would have doing so two nights later against UCLA. The Bruins had the upper hand for most of the championship match and won in four, 25-23, 23-25, 26-24, 25-16.

Thanks to a pair of Illini spurts -- outscoring UCLA 12-3 to take G…

NCAA Women's Regional Round-Up & Final Four Preview

This year's tournament has to be right up there for the volume of upsets, near-upsets, and all-around strangeness. UCLA appeared to be floundering towards the end of the regular season, losing three of its last five matches. Florida State, playing in the relatively low-profile Atlantic Coast Conference, certainly didn't seem like Final Four caliber during the season. Yet, the Bruins and Seminoles will be playing each other this upcoming Thursday night in one national semi-final.

The other national semi will feature two teams that each looked dominant for most of the season, but also had some unexpected losses, USC and Illinois. The mighty Big 10 conference, which had six of its member teams advance to the Sweet 16 round, ended Friday night's regional semi-finals with the minimum number of surviving teams it could have, one (because Illinois played Ohio State and someone had to win!).

In the remainder of this entry, I summarize developments in the four regions and discuss …

Round-Up of NCAA Women's Tourney Opening Weekend

The headlines from the first weekend of this year's NCAA Division I women's volleyball tournament would have to be upsets, in general, and the poor showing of the Pac 12 conference, in particular. In the following chart, I summarize the performances of teams from the three major conferences (Big 10, Big 12, and Pac 12), other seeded teams, and any other teams that advanced to next weekend's Sweet 16. You may click on the graphic to enlarge it.


The highest-seeded upset victim was No. 2 Nebraska, which fell at home in Lincoln to former conference rival Kansas State in five games, 25-22, 22-25, 31-29, 22-25, 15-11, in the second round. The Cornhuskers' downfall appeared to be on defense. Offensively, Nebraska hit exactly at its regular-season percentage (.262) against the Wildcats. However, whereas the Huskers held their regular-season opponents to a collective .143 hitting percentage, K-State hit nearly .100 better, registering a .241 evening (box score). The Huskers sti…

NCAA 2011 Women's Preview: Introducing the Conference-Adjusted Combined Offensive-Defensive Rating

With the NCAA Division I women's tournament starting Thursday and rampant displeasure at the tournament committee's seedings (believed to be based heavily on RPI ratings), the fans at VolleyTalk are awash in different alternative rating schemes for evaluating the teams.

The major known ranking systems -- the AVCA Coaches' Poll, RPI, Pablo Rankings, and Rich Kern Rankings -- all appear to take teams' win/loss records and strength of schedule into account. As anyone who has read my blog over the past five years knows, my focus has always been on hitting percentage. I think it's a great singular statistic for incorporating many aspects of the game.

If you hit well (not just keep the ball in play, but get kills), your (individual or team) hitting percentage goes up. An attack kept in play by the other team hurts, as does a hitting error (spiking the ball out of bounds or getting stuff-blocked for an opponent's point). In order to hit well, a team must pass and set …

Cal Women Defeat Stanford Despite Wopat's Near Error-Free Hitting

Cal came into Stanford's Maples Pavilion last night and upset the Cardinal in a mostly tight match, 24-26, 29-27, 25-23, 25-14 (box score). Cal led 24-22 in the opening game, but Stanford ran off four straight points. Stanford had a couple of opportunities to go up two sets to none, having set points in Game 2 at 25-24 and 26-25. Cal had set points at 27-26 and 28-27, the latter of which the Golden Bears capitalized on.

The Golden Bears outhit the Cardinal, .306-.233. Leading Cal were Kat Brown, .500 (7 kills, 0 errors, 14 attempts); Correy Johnson, .500 (16-3-26); and Shannon Hawari, .375 (12-3-24). (I always confuse Kat Brown with Texas’s Khat Bell.)

Carly Wopat, Stanford's 6-foot-2 sophomore middle blocker, continues to shine. She has committed only 13 hitting errors in her last 234 swings (over the team's last nine matches). With 118 kills during this time, she is hitting .449 during her hot stretch. Here are Wopat's hitting statistics for the second half of Pac 1…

Post-Thanksgiving Round-Up (2011)

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. Here are a few tidbits from Tuesday and Wednesday nights' action to get caught up on recent developments.

No sooner did I write an entry about how well Oregon was doing than the Ducks got swept Tuesday night by Oregon State. The teams have a rematch tonight in Eugene.

A few weeks ago, the college-volleyball world marveled at the 34-32 game played by Penn State and Wisconsin. Wednesday night, Oklahoma took a 35-33 set over Texas Tech to close out a three-game sweep.

In another Wednesday match featuring overtime games, Tennessee held off Kentucky in Knoxville, 28-30, 25-20, 30-28, 25-18, to win the SEC title. The potent Lady Volunteer offense did not disappoint, racking up a .291 overall team hitting percentage (box score). Leading contributors were DeeDee Harrison, .444 (15 kills, 3 errors, 27 attempts); Shealyn Kolosky, .421 (8-0-19); and Leslie Cikra, .370 (14-4-27).  The Wildcats were led by Whitney Billings .367 (14-3-30); and Becky Pava…

Nebraska's Slow Starts

The Lincoln Journal Star notes in this piece that Nebraska lately "has gotten off to slow starts, losing the first set in seven of its last nine matches. While Nebraska is 7-2 in those matches, it's something the Huskers hope to get a better handle on before the NCAA Tournament begins next week." (Thanks to "Red in Colorado" for posting the link on VolleyTalk.)

To probe the matter further, I created the following table based on Nebraska's schedule/results page, showing the Cornhuskers' opponents and lost sets/games (in yellow) in the matches alluded to above.

OpponentGame 1Game 2Game 3Game 4Game 5Illinois24-26 25-18 25-19 25-11 --- @Ohio St.19-25 25-22 25-19 25-17 --- @Penn St.17-25 15-25 25-17 17-25 --- Michigan17-25 26-24 25-20 25-21 --- Mich. St.25-11 25-18 25-23 --- --- @Indiana25-19 25-19 25-20 --- --- @Purdue19-25 19-25 16-25 --- --- Minnesota17-25 25-18 25-15 25-16 --- Wisconsin12-25 25-17 25-13 25-22 --- HTML Tables
Here are a few things to note:
Most of Nebraska's Game-1 losses during t…

Oregon's Impressive Play Continues

The Oregon Ducks, who opened the season in August with a shocking win at Penn State, have been making a lot of noise of late. This past weekend, Oregon went down to the Bay Area and knocked off both the Stanford and Cal women. With these latest wins in Pac 12 play, the Ducks have now won 8 of their last 10 matches (game-by-game log).

One feature of the Oregon team -- if not the primary feature -- that appears to give it strength is the number of players who can hit for high percentages on a given night. Below, I've selected four major Duck wins and, for each, the following table displays players' hitting percentages (with number of spike attempts in parentheses). Hitting percentages of .300 or higher, based on at least 10 attempts, are highlighted.

Player@PSU (8/26) vs. UCLA (11/11) @Stan (11/18) @Cal (11/19) Bergsma (OH).239 (46) .290 (62) .234 (47) .220 (50) Brenner (OH).579 (19) -.257 (15) .651 (43) .043 (47) Fischer (OH).317 (41) .250 (32) .143 (28) .412 (34) Krstojevic (MB).400 (5) .571 (…

Top Women's College Teams Fall in Weekend of Upsets

The nation's top-ranked teams in last week's AVCA poll took it on the chin this weekend.

After taking the two opening games (sets) Friday night on the Oregon Ducks' home court, No. 1 UCLA dropped the final three and rather decisively at that, 25-15, 25-18, and 15-9 (box score).

Whichever team compiles a higher side-out rate (winning points on the opponents' serve) wins the game. Thus, it is not which team had the better side-out rate that is noteworthy, but rather the margin by which the higher team did so. Here's a graph I made of the UCLA and Oregon side-out rates by game.

By Game 2, UCLA's siding-out proficiency had begun to slide, and slide it did for the rest of the match. Siding out in the percentage range of the 40s to the low-50s is not going to win a team many matches.
Also, in a previous posting, I noted a tendency for UCLA to suffer a decline in hitting percentage after the post-Game 2 intermission. That's what happened against the Ducks. After…

Texas Sweeps Texas Tech; Eckerman's Spike Attempts Increase Without Bell in Lineup

No. 8 Texas came here to Lubbock and made short work of Texas Tech, 25-16, 25-15, 25-18. Above is a shot I took of the Longhorns walking toward the net to shake hands with the Red Raiders at the conclusion of the match. The contest was the first for Texas without middle blocker Khat Bell, who injured her knee in a weekend match in the midst of an amazing three-match hitting stretch.

How did the Longhorns reallocate their spike attempts without Bell? The most direct comparison would be Texas's statistics in its two matches this season against Texas Tech, with Bell (Oct. 12 in Austin) and without her (tonight). Here are links to the box scores of the first and second matches. Looking at only two matches is not ideal, but it's a start. Additional matches can be examined as the Longhorns' season moves toward a close. Here are graphs of the Horns' hit allocations in their two matches against the Red Raiders (the first column doesn't add to 100%, due to rounding).

The …

Khat Bell (Texas) Out for Season; Had Been on Spectacular Hitting Run

Texas frosh MB Khat Bell is out for the season with a knee injury, it was announced today. I was actually getting ready to do a posting on her recent error-free hitting. Bell's statistics lines (Kills, Errors, Total Attempts, Percentage) for hitting in her last three matches were:
Oct. 22 vs. Missouri: 11-0-12, .917 Oct. 28 vs. Iowa State: 13-0-16, .812 Nov. 5 at Kansas: 6-0-8, .750 I'm sure all VolleyMetrics readers will join me in wishing Ms. Bell a speedy and healthy recovery. I had been looking forward to seeing her (and her Longhorn teammates) play Wednesday night here at Texas Tech, but we'll just have to wait till next year.

Penn State-Wisconsin Marathon (2011)

For drama in a regular-season match, it would be hard to top today's Penn State-Wisconsin battle in Madison. In the end, it was the unranked Badgers pulling a five-game upset over the No. 6 Nittany Lions, 26-24, 25-19, 32-34, 14-25, 15-12.

The set score that probably jumps out at you is that for Game 3, won by Penn State 34-32 in preventing a Wisconsin sweep. As gleaned from this statistics sheet (which includes the box score and play-by-play) and shown in the following table, the Badgers had five game (and thus match) points in the third set, and the Lions also had five game points.

Held Game PointScoreHeld Game PointWisconsin 24-23 25-24 Penn State 26-25 Penn State 27-26 Penn StateWisconsin 28-27 Wisconsin 29-28 Wisconsin 30-29 Wisconsin 31-30 32-31 Penn State 33-32 Penn State* HTML Tables *Won game 34-32.
Penn State outhit Wisconsin for the match, .212-.173. One game about which the Nittany Lions are probably kicking themselves is the opener. Despite outhitting Wisconsin .250-.182, Pen…

Rematch Weekend (2011)

You could call it "Rematch Weekend," as several match-ups of the top teams in the top conferences took place Friday and Saturday for the second time this season. The following chart lists the match-ups, who won the first time, who won the second time, and some brief statistical notes on the rematch (CAPS = home team, lower-case = visitor).

TeamsWinner Match 1 Winner Match 2 Statistical Notes on Second Match Nebraska-
Penn State NEB 3-2  PSU 3-1 PSU outhits (.194-.116) and outblocks (14-8) Neb.  Hancock (PSU) records 6 aces (box score). USC-Stanford USC
3-0 STAN
3-0 Stanford outhits (.339-.161) and outblocks (13-4) USC. Wopat (Stanford) hits .611 (11-0-18); 2 additional Cardinal players hit .290+ on 20+ attempts(box score). USC-Cal USC
3-0 usc
3-0 USC outhits (.319-.147) and outblocks (9-5) Cal. Trojan trio hit .368+ on 19+ attempts. Cal's Hawari hits .435, but Murrey held to .185 (box score). UCLA-Stanford UCLA
3-2 ucla
3-0 UCLA outhits Stanford, .226-.140, led by Aquino's .444 …

Team Hitting Percentage by Game (Set)

Even a casual reader of box scores would probably realize that the same team on the same night can record vastly different hitting percentages in different games (sets). I was curious if there were systematic differences, so I decided to conduct an analysis. Why might there be such differences?

As a match progresses, coaches may devise adjustments to take away a source of offensive success the opponent had been enjoying. Or coaches may come up with ways to overcome the opponent's defensive approach to increase their own team's spiking success. Some coaches may be able to implement adjustments between Games 1 and 2, but if not then, perhaps between Games 2 and 3, when there is a full-fledged intermission.

I looked at the Pac 12 conference, as it appeared to reach its halfway point of league play faster than other major conferences. The Pac 12 plays a full home-and-away round-robin, meaning that each member team plays 22 conference matches. I started compiling the statistics ab…

Nebraska Knocks Off Top-Ranked Illinois

We'll likely have a new No. 1 team in the national women's college rankings this week, as No. 4 Nebraska (17-1, 10-0) handled the previously top-ranked Illinois (20-1, 9-1) relatively easily, 24-26, 25-18, 25-19, 25-11, to mark the halfway point in Big 10 conference play.

The Illini came out on fire in Game 1, hitting .429 and siding out 72% of the time, but only won the opener 26-24, as the Cornhuskers weren't far behind in these two categories (.412, 68%). Illinois never hit better than .179 nor sided-out at better than 58% in any of the next three games, whereas Nebraska continued to side-out well in the final three games (78%, 63%, and 83%, respectively) and hit particularly well in Games 3 and 4 (.400 and .696). See box score here.

Individually, the Huskers had four players who exceeded hitting percentages of .300 on 22 or more spike attempts: Morgan Broekhuis, .444 (17 kills and only 1 error on 36 swings); Hannah Werth, .407; Brooke Delano, .318; and Gina Mancuso, .…

Illinois at Nebraska Preview

Tonight, No. 1 Illinois (20-0, 9-0) visits No. 4 Nebraska (16-1, 9-0) in a key Big 10 match. As I've written previously, I feel the Cornhuskers are worthy of being ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation, already. With Big 10 teams playing a 20-match conference schedule (where a completely balanced home-and-away schedule would require 22 matches), tonight's match will be the only one this season between the Illini and Cornhuskers, unless they meet in the NCAA tournament.

Based on Nebraska's and Illinois's pregame notes (plus the Illini's box score from its most recent win, over Northwestern), I've plotted the hitting percentages Nebraska and Illinois have achieved offensively, and allowed defensively, against their conference opponents so far this season.

Nebraska clearly seems to be the better hitting team. Having played eight common opponents in conference thus far (DNP = Did Not Play), the Huskers have outhit the Illini against six of them. The only exception…

Under the Radar, Part II: Tyler Henderson (Tulsa)

As described in Part I of the "Under the Radar" series, these postings are an outgrowth of a VolleyTalk.net discussion of players from outside the power conferences who might nevertheless be worthy of national honors (e.g., All-America). Tonight, I present my analyses of Tyler Henderson, a 5-10 junior outside hitter for Tulsa.

Henderson has certainly put up some big numbers so far this season, recording hitting percentages of .457 vs Albany; .655 vs Texas-Arlington; .452 vs. North Dakota State; .593 vs Arkansas-Pine Bluff; .433 vs Cal-Davis; .435 vs. Middle Tennessee State; .500 vs. Rice; and .421 vs. UAB. She's also had some underwhelming matches, such as when she hit .167 vs UTEP and .154 vs. Houston.

My focus, however, is on four Tulsa matches -- vs. Illinois, Kentucky, Florida State, and Central Florida. These four opponents have achieved varying amounts of national prominence, plus each has played some top opponents this year, allowing us to compare Henderson's…

Illinois and Nebraska Each Win in Five, as Illini and Huskers Get Ready to Face Each Other

No. 1 Illinois (19-0, 8-0 in the Big 10) and No. 5 Nebraska (15-1, 8-0) each pulled off five-set wins last night to set the stage for a head-to-head showdown next Saturday night when the Illini visit the Cornhuskers.

In holding off Michigan State, the Illini were propelled by Colleen Ward's spectacular .538 hitting percentage (22 kills with only 1 hitting error, on 39 attempts). The usually steady Erin Johnson had an off-night hittng for the Orange and Blue (-.118; 2-4-17), but did contribute 9 block assists. Kyndra Abron (.367; 16-5-30) paced the Spartans (see box score).

Nebraska dropped the opening two games at Minnesota, before rallying for a 28-30, 19-25, 25-10, 25-12, 15-11 win. For the Cornhuskers, it was the balanced offensive attack we're accustomed to seeing from them, with four players registering solid, if unspectacular, hitting percentages against the Gophers: Brooke Delano, .294; Gina Mancuso, .283; Hannah Werth, .270; and Morgan Broekhuis, .256. Nebraska outhit…

Under the Radar, Part I: Lauren Wicinski

Last Friday, October 7, user "bucky415" launched a discussion topic on VolleyTalk regarding women's collegiate players who might be considered "under the radar" nationally. Specifically, readers were urged to nominate players "from programs outside of the top conferences that people here see being candidates for national honors this year." Bucky made his own suggestions, to which interested readers added names. Bucky's primary suggestion was:

Lauren Wicinski from Northern Illinois. She is a 6'1" sophomore outside hitter who plays all around and is just putting up ridiculous hitting numbers. The Huskies swept Western Michigan at home tonight, and she had 25 kills and hit .667, following up a four set win over Toledo where she had 39 kills and hit .484. For the season, she is averaging 5.77 kills per set and hitting .341 against some pretty solid competition.

Your VolleyMetrics analyst feels statistics can contribute to the discussion, so to…