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Florida's SEC Win Streak Snapped; Analyzing Kelly Murphy's Hitting

Late Sunday afternoon, Tennessee upset Florida 25-21, 20-25, 25-21, 19-25, 18-16, ending the Gators' 24-match winning streak in SEC play. Florida had won its first two conference matches this season, after going a perfect 20-0 in the SEC a year ago and winning its final two league matches of 2009 (UF volleyball archive).

Not that it's been a terrible season for Florida, but the Gators already have two home losses thus far, the Tennessee match and a September 5 setback to Iowa State (Florida's only other loss was at Stanford in the final of the Big Four Classic).

Senior Kelly Murphy, a setter in Florida's two-setter offense and a powerful left-handed hitter from the right-hand side of the court, has been the Gators' leader in recent years. She was down against Tennessee, hitting only .171 on 10 kills and4 errors in35 spike attempts. That prompted me to see how Murphy was doing overall thus far into the 2011 campaign.

As seen in the graph below, Murphy is not hitting…

Iowa State's Greater Consistency Too Much for Texas Tech

Texas Tech faced its first major challenge of the season yesterday, at home in its Big 12 conference opener with No. 16 (tie) ranked Iowa State. The Red Raiders came in 13-1 -- a tremendous improvement already, considering last year's team was 4-25 -- but had played a schedule consisting heavily of schools in Texas and Louisiana from non-power conferences.

With my camera and my clipboard, I was amongst the 881 spectators in attendance. One thing I noticed in person that I had not noticed on television is how physical Iowa State is (pictured above on the right; you may click on the photos to enlarge them). It's not entirely height -- Tenisha Matlock (17) and Jamie Straube (14) are each 6-2, but many top teams have players taller than that. Rather, it's that the Cyclones are stout (as in "Strong in body; sturdy" and "Powerful; forceful"), yet also capable of executing some very effective quick sets down the middle.

Texas Tech played well... in spurts, ea…

Illinois, USC, and UCLA Register Impressive Wins

In last night's key matches...

No. 3 Illinois passed its biggest test of the season, winning 3-2 at Minnesota to remain undefeated.  Both teams feature a number of high-percentage hitters, but last night the big guns were held in check, the Illini outhitting the Gophers only .201-.174 (box score).

Erin Johnson was the only Illinois player to record a really high hitting percentage, clocking in at .435 (11 kills with 1 error, on 23 attempts). Brianna Haugen, who had taken only 11 swings for the Gophers thus far all season, hit .500 (7-0-14), while Minnesota's stalwart, Tori Dixon, hit only .182 (13 -7- 33).

Illinois outblocked Minnesota 16-4, although the Gophers had the advantage on digs, 77-70.

On the West Coast, USC continued to look like the team people expected the Trojans to be, sweeping No. 1 Cal, while UCLA held on in five against No. 2 Stanford. For the Bruins, Rachael Kidder registered 30 kills (with10 errors) on a make-your-arm-fall-off77 swings, for a .260 hitting …

Hitting Stats for Up-and-Coming Illinois

This weekend's top women's college action appears to be in Los Angeles -- where tonight Cal plays USC, and Stanford meets UCLA, before the teams switch opponents Saturday -- and in Minneapolis, where Minnesota hosts No. 3 and undefeated Illinois tonight.

I've written a ton about USC so far this season (most recently here), some about Stanford and UCLA, and a little about Cal. I've also written a lot about Minnesota, so I will concentrate on Illinois in the rest of this entry.

The Fighting Illini are 11-0, but only one match has been against a ranked team, No. 21 Dayton. The Dayton match, as well as ones against Tulsa and Louisville, went five games. Based on this Illinois pre-match release, I created the following table about the Fighting Illini's top hitters in their last six matches. Individual hitting percentages above .300 -- and there are a lot of them -- are highlighted in white font.

Hitting %
(# Attempts)Dayton Middle Tenn St. Cal Poly  Tulsa   Cincinnati Louisv…

Nebraska Wins Debut Big 10 Match, Edging Penn State; A Look at Hitting Allocations and Success

Last night's first-ever Big 10 conference match for Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers hosted none other than four-time defending national champion Penn State, lived up to its billing, as Nebraska won in five, 25-18, 25-16, 23-25, 19-25, 15-10 (article, box score). The Huskers actually seemed to be on their way to a sweep, leading (as best I recall from listening to the online radio broadcast) 16-11 in Game 3. However, Penn State got hot for the next game and a half, before Nebraska regrouped in Game 5.

One noteworthy statistical element of the match was that Nebraska outblocked Penn State, 11 to 9. The Nittany Lions very rarely get outblocked.

The Huskers also outhit the Lions, .229-.182. Many times on this blog, I've plotted players' hitting percentages by how many spike attempts they've taken, the idea being that a team presumably would want players with high hitting percentages (which makes the bars in the graph higher) to also be taking a lot of attempts (which makes th…

Weekend Round-Up (Sept 16-17, 2011)

USC, which a week ago was routed on its home floor by UCLA, went into Seattle on Friday night and shocked the No. 4 and heretofore unbeaten Washington Huskies, 25-20, 28-26, 25-20. The Trojans did it not so much with scorching offense, hitting .240 as a team, but to a large extent with defense. Natalie Hagglund contributed 30 digs against Washington, one of the reasons the Huskies hit only .128 as a team. The Trojans completed a perfect weekend by also sweeping Washington State on Saturday, hitting .447 as a team along the way.

If one were to pick out USC's most significant matches of the season thus far, they would probably be the opening-tournament contests against Minnesota and Penn State (at Penn State), the loss to Central Florida in the Florida Gulf Coast tourney, and the three Pac 12 conference matches. I thought it would be interesting to see how the Trojans' leading hitters have fared in those six matches in terms of hitting percentages, so I created the following tab…

Cal Beats Stanford; Reader Remarks on Cardinal Hitting Errors

No. 1 Cal has defeated No. 2 Stanford in Berkeley tonight, in a battle of the unbeatens.

UPDATE: Reader "Hobbes" left a note in the Comments section (below) focusing on Stanford's high rate of hitting errors, but with an interesting twist. Yes, hitting errors were key in Game 3 (after the teams had split the first two), as the Cardinal went from being ahead 10-5 to losing 25-16.

Perhaps even more telling than comparing the teams' overall hitting errors -- Stanford 31, Cal 17, for the match as a whole -- is Hobbes's distinction between unforced and other errors. Eleven of Stanford's errors were blocks by Cal (balls that rocketed back down to the Cardinal side of the floor for immediate Golden Bear points), so 20 of Stanford's errors (31-11) were what Hobbes would call unforced -- spiking the ball out of bounds, into the net, etc. Cal suffered 12 blocks to Stanford, leaving the Bears with just 5 unforced errors (17-12). Here is a copy of the box score.

Focu…

Weekend Round-Up (Sept 9-10, 2011)

Stanford won the Big Four Classic on its home floor, beating Penn State in the semifinals and Florida in the final. It was a tightly contested tournament, as three of the four matches went the maximum five games (sets). The Stanford-Penn State tilt went four. As I wrote in my Pac 12 preview:

...the loss of three senior stars from last year leaves doubt whether STANFORD can contend this year at its typical nationally elite level. Gone are Alix Klineman and Cassidy Lichtman, who together accounted for nearly 50% of the team's hitting attempts, plus leading libero Gabi Ailes.

Perhaps I was a bit premature! Stanford soph outside hitter Rachel Williams, who last year hit a relatively low .229 on 14% of the team's total attempts (541 out of 3,811), won tournament MVP honors. After hitting .302 vs. Penn State, Williams hit only .183 against Florida. Perhaps the judges were impressed in the latter match, however, by the Herculean 71 spike attempts she took over five games, on which she…

Preview of Big Four Classic and UCLA-USC Match

The two main attractions of this weekend's play take place on the West Coast. One event is the Big Four Classic at Stanford, beginning tonight with the host Cardinal taking on Penn State and Florida going against Texas. Second, Pac 12 conference play gets under way tonight (sure seems early) with UCLA visiting USC.

I've already written fairly extensively about Penn State, Florida, Texas, and USC in recent weeks. All of these teams have suffered an unexpected loss (or in Texas's matches vs. Minnesota, surprisingly one-sided losses) thus far this season. Stanford has not, to this point, played as high-profile a schedule as some other schools, but the Cardinal owns an impressive win over nationally ranked Duke.

UCLA started out the season 6-0, including wins over Long Beach State, Ohio State, and host Hawai'i in last weekend's Wahine Volleyball Classic. However, on Wednesday night, the Bruins fell at Pepperdine in five games. UCLA led 2-1 in games, before succumbing …

Iowa State Edges Florida

Iowa State and Florida, both undefeated and nationally ranked coming into today's Labor Day matinee in Gainesville, played a suspenseful match, with the Cyclones prevailing, 16-14 in Game 5 (box score). ISU had won the first two games and Florida, Games 3 and 4.

For the match, the Gators outhit (.251-.208) and outblocked (16-8) the Cyclones. As shown in the following graph, however, the two teams' game-specific hitting percentages were all over the place.

Junior middle blocker Jamie Straube, one of the Cyclones' top hitters from a year ago, hit .321 against the Gators. Kelsey Petersen, a senior right-side hitter, led ISU with a hitting line of 15 kills and 2 errors on  23 attempts, for a .565 percentage, with soph MB/RS Tenisha Matlock adding a .294 performance.
Florida exhibited a balanced offensive attack, with five players being set 23 or more times. Of the five most frequently set Gators, two hit in the high-.200s, Cassandra Anderson (27 attempts, .296) and Tangerine …

Rampant Upsets Early in 2011 Women's College Season; Minnesota Emerges

Even with just two weekends of play on the books, the present season is shaping up to be a weird one. On top of Penn State's loss to Oregon in Week 1, Week 2 has given us a Central Florida sweep over USC and a Colorado State comeback over Nebraska.

Texas, another highly ranked squad, didn't acquit itself particularly well either, failing to take even a game in two matches at Minnesota. The first match score was 25-20, 25-20, 25-17, whereas the second was 25-19, 25-21, 25-22.

Minnesota has been one of the pleasant surprises of the young season, with a five-game loss to USC in the Penn State tournament its only blemish. Leading the Golden Gopher hitting attack is Tori Dixon, a 6-3 sophomore middle blocker. In each of the Gophers' four matches thus far, Dixon has recorded hitting percentages in the .400 vicinity, where .300 would be considered very good (see graph below).

Meanwhile, teammates Ariana Filho (6-2 senior MB) and Katherine Harms (6-2 junior outside hitter) have al…