Sunday, September 11, 2011

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 registered 23 kills and 10 errors. In 2011, thus far, Williams has upped her hitting percentage to .286.

Other top performances in the Big Four include the following (line scores are of the form kills-errors-attempts, hitting percentage):

Tangerine Wiggs, the junior right-side whose name is a walking billboard for Florida’s citrus fruit industry, hit spectacularly for the Gators in the tournament, particularly against Stanford (18-1-31, .548), but also vs. Texas (13- 4-26, .346).

Kristy Jaeckel also came up big against the Cardinal (20-5-45, .333); according to the Gators’ online radio broadcast, apparently Florida coach Mary Wise moved Jaeckel midway through the match from her usual left-side OH position to a right-side opposite location. Florida junior middle blocker Betsy Smith had a fine night against the Longhorns (5-1-10, .400, plus 8 block assists).

Texas’s Madelyn Hutson (8-1-13, .538), Bailey Webster (10-2-16, .500) and Rachael Adams (9-2-19, .368) recorded stellar hitting performances in the Longhorns' consolation-match victory over Penn State, after no UT player hit over .227 in the semifinals vs. Florida. Adams added a solo block and 7 assisted ones against Penn State, after scoring 10 block assists vs. Florida.

Penn State’s 6-foot-6 sophomore MB Katie Slay compiled impressive lines against both Stanford (11-2-22, .409) and Texas (7-2-15, .333, plus 8 block assists).

Stanford gets only a short rest, opening up Pac 12 play Tuesday night in Berkeley against No. 1 (but largely untested) Cal. The Golden Bears are 10-0 (30-0 in games), but have played no nationally ranked opponents (or even any teams that have received votes in the AVCA poll).

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Talking about the Pac 12, UCLA went into USC's Galen Center and absolutely destroyed the Trojans, 25-19, 25-17, 25-17. I would call the Bruins' win a mild upset, but the one-sidedness of the match a major stunner.

Leading the Bruins was junior OH Rachael Kidder, who hit .483 (14-0-29), not bad for career .200 hitter (.186 in 2010, .206 in 2009). She was joined in the .400 club by frosh MB Zoe Nightingale (7-2-12, .417). Such sizzling hitting stats seemingly make Minnesota transfer Tabi Love’s .294 (5-0-17) look shabby, which of course it isn’t! As a team, UCLA was .355 on the night.

Other than Katie Fuller’s .300 (8-2-20), no Trojan exceed a hitting percentage of .118 (also excluding players with very small numbers of attempts). Many observers feel the loss of OH Falyn Fonoimoana, who was declared ineligible right before the season  began, is a key reason for USC's current disarray. She hit .239 last season, taking a substantial chunk (23%) of the team's spike attempts. There was an interesting exchange on VolleyTalk, in which one person argued:

I can't believe people are still pinning USC's woes on Falyn.....will someone please check her stats, yes she was productive but 3 kills per game at under .250 percentage is NOT irreplaceable. USC's struggles extend A LOT farther than FF, trust me. Even without her they return 3 All Americans and 2 more starters from last year...do you know how many teams would kill for that kind of experience right now? Even with their current roster they should not be getting swept by Central florida, and not reaching 20 points in even a set at home. USC is falling apart, and its not because of Fayln.

but another contended:

Well, if not for [Fonoimoana's] 21 kills (.311) in L.A. against UW last year, USC doesn't pull out that 5-set win (4.2 kills a set). As a freshman, the statistical averages from the second half of the season are a lot more significant than those from the first half. In the first matchup in Seattle, she was much less effective, with 16 kills (.133) in a 5-set loss to the Huskies (3.2 kills a set). I know those are just snapshots, but I do think they are somewhat indicative of the trajectory of her improvement. In USC's final conference game against UCLA, she had 23 kills (.237) in a 5-set win (4.6 kills a set).

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I'll close by discussing two teams from the Big 10 and one from the Big 12.

For Minnesota, this past weekend contained good news and bad news. On the positive side, the No. 6 Gophers knocked off No. 15 Northern Iowa to win the UNI tournament.

Further, Minnesota soph Tori Dixon (MB) continued her astoundingly hot hitting through the weekend. After piling up hitting percentages of .410, .364, .500, and .444 in matches during the initial two weekends of the season, she hit .421 vs. St. Louis and .500 vs. Kansas in her team's first two UNI-tourney matches, before falling to "only" .286 against the Panthers in the final.

Against St. Louis, senior Gopher MB Ariana Filho had a near-perfect hitting night; other than one ball that was kept in play, each spike she attempted was a kill, giving her a .900 hitting percentage (9-0-10).

The bad news for Minnesota was an upset loss to Kansas midway through the UNI tournament. Against KU, Gopher soph OH Ashley Wittman had a big hitting night (28-6-53, .415), plus she recorded 13 digs. Ultimately, Wittman would win the tourney MVP award, but she and her teammates didn't have enough against the Jayhawks.

KU was paced by the hitting duo of Tayler Tolefree (8-0-21, .381) and Allison Mayfield (19-2-46, .370) in the win over Minnesota. The Jayhawks went 2-1 in the UNI tournament, losing only in five games to the host Panthers. Last season, KU had the dubious distinction of being the team that lost to Texas Tech as the Red Raiders ended their 64-match conference losing streak. The Jayhawks really seem to have rebounded this season!

Finally, Michigan continued its undefeated ways, defeating two ranked teams -- the host Flyers and Florida State -- and a Pepperdine team that may well be ranked in the future, to win the Dayton tournament. The Wolverines hit .410 as a team in their opener vs. FSU; I suspect that .400-plus performances against nationally ranked opponents are not very common.

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