Sunday, January 22, 2012

Analysis of BYU Men's Two Wins Over USC

Because conference play gets underway very quickly in men's college volleyball (usually just after an early-season tournament or two) and the top teams tend to be concentrated in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), fans don't have to wait very long for marquee match-ups to take place.

Just this past weekend, No. 1 BYU hosted No. 5 USC for a pair of matches (BYU and Hawai'i always play a given opponent in a two-match home series or road series, presumably to cut down on travel). Also, No. 3 UCLA hosted No. 4 Stanford.

I will focus on the BYU-USC series, as better inferences can be made from two matches than from one. BYU won both matches, but each was highly competitive. The Cougars took Friday night's first match in four games (sets), and Saturday night's rematch in five (15-13 in the fifth, in fact).

As is customary, I stress hitting percentages and the teams' allocation of spike attempts. The following graphic (on which you can click to enlarge) presents this information for the Cougars' and Trojans' main hitters.

As can be seen, the stalwart for BYU was Taylor Sander, a 6-foot-4 sophomore outside (left-side) hitter who hit .419 and .383 in the two matches, taking an average of 45 swings per night. Robb Stowell, a 6-7 senior opposite (right-side) hitter, hit .375 the second night on 40 attempts, after hitting only .200 the first. Russ Lavaja (6-7, junior) contributed .364 and .455 offensive outings, although as is common for a middle blocker he had relatively few spike attempts.

I watched the latter parts of Friday night's match on BYU TV and I can tell you that Sander and Stowell were just pummeling the ball.

'SC was led by two pillars of last year's team. Tony Ciarelli (6-6, senior) and Steven Shandrick (6-7, senior). Ciarelli was very steady, hitting .351 and .364 in the two matches; on Saturday, he took a Herculean 55 spike attempts. Shandrick hit .500 and .375.

The Trojans also feature a number of frosh players, led by setter Micah Christenson. Fellow newcomer MB Robert Feathers led USC with 8 block assists on Friday, but didn't do much (statistically at least) on Saturday. MB Ben Lam, who played only in Saturday's match, recorded an error-free 7 kills on 8 attempts, for an .875 hitting percentage.

By Game 5 of Saturday's match, the two teams' offenses were firing on all cylinders, with the Cougars outhitting the Trojans, .545 (13 kills and only 1 error, on 22 swings) to .474 (10-1-19).

BYU outblocked USC, 15-11 in total team blocks Friday and 13-9.5 Saturday. (There really is no such thing as a half-block in the aggregate; what happens is that on a triple-block, each player is credited with a half-block instead of a one-third block, resulting in the "phantom" half-block in the totals.)

Keeping with the theme of hot-hitting, UCLA registered a .376 percentage in sweeping Stanford. Leading the Bruins (among players with 10 or more swings) were MB Thomas Amberg (.600), OH Gonzalo Quiroga (.538), and MB Weston Dunlap (.333). The Cardinal's Brad Lawson, star of the 2010 NCAA championship match, hit .333, but Stanford as a whole hit only .179. UCLA also enjoyed a large blocking advantage, 8.5-2.

A couple of days ago, the Los Angeles Times had a feature article on UCLA coach Al Scates, who is retiring at the end of this, his 50th, season at the Bruin helm.

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