Saturday, August 27, 2011

Opening Night of 2011 AVCA Showcase

Last night's opening matches of the AVCA Showcase didn't exactly go as expected. Pre-season No. 1 Penn State lost to Oregon, 3-1, ending the Nittany Lions' 94-match home winning streak. No. 2 USC almost lost, dropping the first two games to Minnesota before roaring back to take the final three.

Tonight's Oregon-Minnesota match certainly takes on more importance than previously thought, as a second win over a ranked opponent (the Gophers are No. 12) would really propel the initially unranked Ducks' national reputation. The PSU-USC match tonight, though perhaps diminished somewhat in luster, nevertheless gives the Lions a chance to bounce back and make a statement.

Looking at the box score from the Penn State-Oregon match, one wonders at first glance how the Nittany Lions lost, given that they outhit (.308-.277) and outblocked (8.5-5.5) the Ducks and had fewer service errors (8-12) for the match overall. However, if we remove Game 1 -- which PSU took 25-16 -- from the equation, things look different.

Overall, Oregon's hitting numbers for kills, errors, and total attempts were 62-23-141. Removing Game 1, in which the Ducks' numbers were 7-6-23 yields 55-17-118. We then take (K-E)/TA, giving Oregon a hitting percentage of .322 for the final three games. Doing the same for Penn State, one starts out with the overall numbers of 48-11-120, which after removing the 14-3-27 from Game 1, leaves 34-8-93 for the final three games, a hitting percentage of .280.

Also, the Ducks sided-out at 60% or better in each of the final three games, whereas the corresponding percentages for the Nittany Lions ranged from 47-58% (after coming in at a torrid 70% in Game 1).

Regarding the USC-Minnesota match, I can't pinpoint the Trojans' main source of power any better than the above-linked game article from the USC athletics website: "Senior All-America middle blocker Lauren Williams... had 16 kills without recording an error for a .552 (16-0-29) performance..."

The Trojans' Alex Jupiter also had a nice hitting line (22-5-52, .327), but as shown in the chart below, her success varied markedly by game (because the play-by-play sheet accompanying the box score shows only how points ended, her spike attempts that stayed in play could not be gleaned, only kills and errors).

As can be seen, Jupiter's hittest was at its most blazing in Games 2 (won by Minnesota 26-24) and 3 (won by 'SC 25-13). Frosh MB Hannah Schraer also delivered offensively for the Trojans (7-1-18, .333).

The Gophers had a power trio of their own in MB Ariana Filho (8-0-17, .471), MB Tori Dixon (22-6-39, .410), and OH Katherine Harms (11-3-23, .348). Still, Minnesota was outhit by USC, .289-.232. How could the Gophers have won Game 2, the way Jupiter was hitting for 'SC? By siding out at an astronomical 75% rate.

For the match, Minnesota committed 13 service errors -- likely in an attempt to serve aggressively and take USC out of its offense -- compared to only 5 for the Trojans. The Gophers recorded only 7.0 total team blocks against USC in five games. Penn State will have to do a lot better to slow down the Trojan hitters.

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