Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Success of Texas Blocking Line-Ups at Texas Tech

I attended last Saturday afternoon's University of Texas at Texas Tech match. The Longhorns won 3-0, but the Red Raiders were very competitive in two of the games/sets, as reflected in the 25-16, 25-23, 25-22 score. My focus was on the Longhorns' blocking -- how they lined up in their rotations and with which combinations were they able to stuff the Red Raiders for points.

Texas's front lines in their six rotations (A through F), depicted schematically with the players' faces to the net, are shown in the graphic below. You may click on the graphic to enlarge it. The figure pertains only to Game 2, in which the Longhorns achieved 6 of their total 14 team blocks in the match (Texas Tech had only 3 team blocks total in the match). The Texas uniform numbers in the figure correspond to actual players, as follows:
  • 1 Kat Bell (MB, 6-1, soph)
  • 5 Molly McCage (MB, 6-3, frosh)
  • 10 Haley Eckerman (OH, 6-3, soph)
  • 12 Hannah Allison (S, 5-11, junior)
  • 14 Sha'Dare McNeal (RS, 6-1, senior)
  • 23 Bailey Webster (OH, 6-3, junior)

As can be seen, the Longhorns earned two points each on blocking in rotations A, C, and F. The blue arrows illustrate how pairs of players came together to block (i.e., did an outside player move toward the center to join the middle blocker, or did the middle blocker move outside?). As always, I tried to reconcile the notes I took at the match with what was reported in the play-by-play sheet. Due to one discrepancy, I could not pinpoint the location of one block. Recall that blocks are credited in the statistics only when immediately resulting in a point.

Also, as noted in the AVCA PowerPoint on keeping statistics (see links in right-hand column): "...it does NOT matter which player touches the ball – if 2-3 players go up for a block and one player touches it, each receives a block assist." I was nevertheless interested in which player's arm actually blocked the ball. In the figure, therefore, I listed the player first who actually touched the ball, then said "(with)" to refer to the additional player credited with the block (see asterisk in Rotation A as an example).

Obviously, the number of blocks in this exercise is small. However, with data from several matches, coaches could study their opponents' blocking success by rotation and location (left, center, and right) and instruct their teams to hit away from their opponents' advantageous blocking areas.


In other weekend action, Washington moved to 13-0 on the season with a 25-23, 26-24, 25-21 victory over USC on Friday night. If a match can be a tight three-game sweep, this was one of them. The box score doesn't leave a lot of clues as to why the match was so close, at least as far as I can tell. The Huskies outperformed the Trojans in hitting (.239-.221), blocking (11-4), and serving for aces (8-1, each team had 12 service errors). 'SC outdug U-Dub 43-29, but that would be reflected in the team hitting percentages (i.e., spiking a ball that is dug increases the hitting team's number of attempts, while depriving it of a kill). The Huskies' Krista Vansant continued her hot hitting, registering a .370 percentage on 12 kills (with only 2 errors) in 27 swings.

Last Saturday's Penn State at Minnesota contest featured a battle of coaching titans. Russ Rose has coached the Nittany Lions to five NCAA titles, whereas new Golden Gophers' coach Hugh McCutcheon has guided medal-winning U.S. teams in the last two Olympiad (the men to gold in 2008 and the women to silver in 2012). Not only that; both teams came in ranked in the top 10 nationally (PSU No. 1 and Minnesota No. 10). Though the match might have looked good on paper, in the end it was a rout, Penn State prevailing 25-23, 25-8, 25-20. In Game 2, the Gophers sided-out at a 29% clip (7-24), which is incredibly low for as good a team as Minnesota. In the same game, the Lions sided-out with 88% proficiency (8-9). For the match overall, Penn State dominated the hitting (.404-.098). The box score can be accessed here.

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