Monday, November 12, 2012

Michigan Hitting Attack Comes Alive

For most of this season, I haven't had much to write about my graduate-school alma mater, the University of Michigan. Over their last five matches, however, the Wolverines have been playing their best volleyball of the season. They are 5-0 during this stretch, including wins over then-No. 4 Nebraska and then-No. 10 Minnesota (game-by-game log).

Michigan has greatly elevated its hitting performance during these matches, as shown in the following graph (on which you can click to enlarge). The graph depicts the hitting percentages for four leading Wolverine hitters (different shades and styles of blue), and the team as a whole (yellow), in all of the team's conference matches to date.

The first thing to notice is that, until the recent hot streak (indicated by the red arrow), Michigan as a team had hit at or below .200 in most of its matches, a fairly anemic level. In its five most recent matches, in contrast, Michigan's hitting percentages have ranged from .298 to .460. Even with their much-improved offensive performance of late, the Wolverines are still hitting only .234 in Big 10 play as of this writing, ranking them eighth in the conference in team hitting percentage.

Junior middle blocker Jennifer Cross (dashed dark-blue line) has performed steadily at a high level, recording a higher hitting percentage than the team as a whole in nearly all the Wolverines' conference matches. Senior right-side hitter Claire McElheny (dashed light-blue line) has been up and down all season. However, lately she's been entirely up, hitting .571 (9 kills with 1 error on 14 attempts) vs. Iowa, .522 (14-2-23) vs. Wisconsin, and .900 (9-0-10) vs. Minnesota.

Lexi Erwin is far and away the Wolverines' most frequent hitter, with her 627 total attempts to date in conference play exceeding the next closest player, Molly Toon, by 268 swings. Both are junior outside (left-side) hitters. Erwin (solid dark-blue line) was somewhat inconsistent early in Big 10 play, but has been mostly on an upswing in the second half of the conference season. Toon (solid light-blue line) struggled for most of the conference schedule, but has improved her hitting output in the last five matches.

Michigan got hot at the end of last season and made a nice run in the NCAA tournament, sparked by then-senior OH Alex Hunt. It apparently has taken this year's Wolverine squad some time to adjust to Hunt's absence, but the team's recent offensive statistics look promising. The bulk of Michigan's recent hot streak has come at home. For the final two weekends of the regular season, the Wolverines play entirely on the road, at Northwestern, Illinois, Michigan State, and Ohio State.

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