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NCAA Women's Final: Penn State Dominates Early, Hangs on Rest of the Way vs. Wisconsin for Title

Penn State won its sixth NCAA women's volleyball title in school history last Saturday night, stopping an amazingly tenacious Wisconsin Badger squad in four games, 25-19, 26-24, 20-25, 25-23.  The Badgers had lost 3-0 to the Nittany Lions both times in Big 10 play this season (although there were some tight "deuce games" in there). Other Wisconsin losses during conference play (e.g., 0-3 to Michigan and 1-3 to Illinois, both in Madison) made it seem even less likely the Badgers would make it to -- and seriously contest -- the national championship match. But, two nights after shocking defending champion Texas, Wisconsin most certainly did make a serious run for the national title!

Penn State dominated for a stretch, spanning roughly the middle of Game 1 to the middle of Game 2 (discussed below). Once Wisconsin woke up in Game 2, however, the Badgers outplayed the Nittany Lions for most of the rest of the evening. PSU seemed to struggle to play on even terms with Wisconsi…

Statistical Notes Heading into Women's Final Four (2013)

With this year's NCAA women's Final Four getting underway Thursday night in Seattle, today's posting offers some statistical observations. The two semifinal match-ups feature defending champion Texas vs. upstart Wisconsin, and Penn State vs. hometown favorite Washington.

Wisconsin, a one-time power that had missed the NCAA tourney from 2008 through 2012, is now back in an ascendant mode under new coach Kelly Sheffield. Seeded 12th nationally, the Badgers benefited in their part of the bracket from the fact that SEC teams Missouri (No. 4 seed) and Florida (No. 5 seed) were Paper Tigers and Gators, respectively. Having said that, Wisconsin may be the kind of team that can give Texas a tough match (like Michigan in last year's semifinal).

A year ago, I developed a statistic that attempts to measure teams' "grind-it-out" tendencies. To me a grind-it-out team is one that lacks spikers with pulverizing power, but digs opponents' attacks well and avoids hitt…

My Simple Prediction Equation for the NCAA Women's Tourney

Two years ago, I created a very simple prediction equation for the NCAA women's tournament. Each team gets its own value on the predictive measure. To calculate it, you take a team's overall hitting percentage at the end of the regular season and divide it by the hitting percentage the team allowed its opponents (in the aggregate). The result is then multiplied by an adjustment factor for conference strength, as shown here. For any match in the NCAA tourney, the team with the higher value on my measure would be expected to win.

In both 2012 and 2011, my formula did about as well as other, more complicated ranking formulas. I'm not going to do a full-scale analysis for this year's bracket, but I wanted to mention the formula and provide some sample calculations, in case anyone wanted to compute a score this week for his or her favorite team. The necessary information should be available from the volleyball page of a given school's athletics website. Here are 2013 va…

Women's College Liberos: Part II (Digging)

We began our analysis of the nation's top women's college liberos with Part I on serve receipt (plus an addendum). Today, we unveil Part II on digging. As I've noted before, the ideal way to evaluate liberos would be with quality ratings of each contact, such as difficulty level of each dig and whether the dig leads to a team running its offense in system. Lacking such fine-grained ratings, however, I must rely on publicly available, online box scores.

When looking at serve-receipt, I initially evaluated USC's Natalie Hagglund, Iowa State's Kristen Hahn, and Michigan State's Kori Moster. Then, based on suggestions from readers at VolleyTalk, I added three more liberos: Nebraska's Justine Wong-Orantes, Hawai'i's Ali Longo, and the University of San Diego's C'era Oliveira. I also have a local interest in Texas Tech's Rachel Brummitt, an excellent libero whose performances may go "under the radar" nationally. I concluded from the …

Addendum to "Women's College Liberos: Part I (Serve Receipt)"

Last Friday, I introduced my statistical examination of the top women's college liberos with an analysis of serve-receipt statistics (link). Using methods described in that earlier posting, I created a measure called S2R (for success-squared times receipt activity) and reported scores for Natalie Hagglund (USC), Kristen Hahn (Iowa State), and Kori Moster (Michigan State). I also invited readers to suggest additional liberos for statistical analysis. In response to a message I posted on VolleyTalk about my original analysis, an online discussion ensued in which commentators listed other liberos they thought were among the nation's best. These additional liberos are Justine Wong-Orantes (Nebraska), Ali Longo (Hawai'i), and C'era Oliveira (University of San Diego).

As I noted in my previous posting, one needs a "detailed" box score (which goes beyond the statistics in an ordinary box score) to compute the S2R score. In scouring the Internet for matches played by…

Women's College Liberos: Part I (Serve Receipt)

Over at the VolleyTalk discussion boards, there has been periodic debate as to who the top liberos (backcourt defensive specialists) are in the women's college game. Two measures -- serve-receipt and digs -- seem particularly relevant to judging the merits of different liberos. I will look at serve-receipt in the present posting and then examine digs in Part II. Three players I will focus on, in particular, are USC's Natalie Hagglund, Iowa State's Kristen Hahn, and Michigan State's Kori Moster.

For studying these matters, the ideal would be to have observer ratings of the quality of each pass and dig made by a player, such as many teams compile from their study of game video. Lacking such ratings, we can only look at box scores published online. For serve-receipt, moreover, one really needs to find extended or detailed box scores to get good information (here's an example of both a regular and detailed box score being available).

Regular box scores contain each pla…

Torrid Toreros Take Season by Storm

The break-out team of the women's college season thus far is the University of San Diego, which has risen to No. 2 in the national rankings. The Toreros, featured in this article from ESPN-W's Mechelle Voepel, have played a very tough non-conference schedule and lost only once -- in five games to defending NCAA champion Texas. Last Friday's win over USC really put the Toreros on the national map. West Coast Conference play begins for USD tomorrow night, as the Toreros play at BYU in a match-up of last year's WCC co-champions (the match will be shown on BYU TV, which some cable/satellite systems carry).

Longtime readers of this blog know that I consider hitting percentage the key volleyball statistic. That was the first thing I looked at for USD and indeed the Toreros have shined on this metric. I have plotted the match-by-match hitting percentages for five USD players who get the bulk of the team's spike attempts and for the team as a whole, in the following graph …

Nike Big Four Tournament in Austin

Four of the nation's top collegiate women's volleyball teams gathered in Austin, Texas this past weekend and it was the host University of Texas Longhorns compiling the best record of the teams, 2-0. All of the match-ups were prearranged, rather than a format of semi-finals and finals being used. UT's wins were both close: 25-27, 25-17, 13-25, 25-21, 15-10 over Penn State, and 29-27, 18-25, 25-16, 27-25 over Stanford. Box scores of the four matches are available at the following links: Texas-Penn State, Texas-Stanford, Florida-Stanford, and Florida-Penn State.

My initial interest was in looking at which players hit at a consistently high level over their teams' two matches. I created the following chart (on which you can click to enlarge), focusing on players who took 20 or more hitting attempts in a match. Highlighted in blue are players who hit (roughly) .300 or better in both of their matches.


Four middle-blockers hit well in both of their matches: Penn State's …

Hawai'i Tops Texas on 2013 Opening Night

Defending NCAA champion and preseason No. 1 Texas had neither an answer for host Hawai'i's offensive prowess nor much of an attack itself (except for Game 2), as the Rainbow Wahine prevailed in four games, 25-19, 19-25, 27-25, 25-16 (box score).

Youth was served for Hawai'i, as frosh OH Nikki Taylor (10-1-18) and soph MB Jade Vorster (7-0-14) each hit .500 for the match, committing only one hitting error between them. Junior middle Kalei Adolpho added a .421 night for the 'Bows (11-3-19). The following graph shows each team's hitting percentage per game, with the winning team in each game listed at the bottom. You can click on the graphic to enlarge it.


Frosh OH Pilar Victoria (10-3-23, .304) was a rare bright spot for the Longhorns.

In Friday night's other marquee match (in my view), USC defeated host Purdue in four.

Opening of 2013 Women's College Season

The 2013 women's college season gets underway today. ESPN "W" (for women's sports) writer Mechelle Voepel has a pair of articles (here and here) previewing the season, so I'll just add some brief remarks at this point. I've put together the following chart, showing the preseason polls for three major outlets: the American Volleyball Coaches Association, ESPN W, and Volleyball Magazine (you can click on each column heading to be taken to the full reports on the preseason polls). The polls are identical in their top three. Further, the same 10 schools appear in all three polls' Top 10.


AVCA ESPN WVB Mag 1 Texas TexasTexas2 Penn St. Penn St.Penn St. 3 Stanford StanfordStanford 4 USC MinnesotaUSC5 Washington USCMinnesota 6 Minnesota FloridaWashington 7 Michigan OregonMichigan 8 Oregon MichiganNebraska 9 Florida WashingtonOregon 10 Nebraska NebraskaFlorida
Defending NCAA champion Texas, which returns front-court stars Haley Eckerman (outside), Bailey Webster (outside), an…

40 Years of Following Volleyball

The summer of 2013 marks my 40th year of following volleyball. The following photo montage shows me in Israel in 1973, as I traveled with my father, a USA team organizer, to the Maccabiah Games, an international competition for Jewish athletes. Among the players pictured in action is Ed Becker, a  former UCLA star who was once mentioned in Sports Illustrated (in the middle, going from left to right, of the five USA players shown).


Further information on my volleyball background is available here. With next week's start to the NCAA women's season, I look forward to my 41st year of following the sport and my seventh year of analyzing and writing for this blog.

Guest Contributor Adam White Suggests New Statistic: "Gift" Points to the Opponent

Adam White is a graduate student at Bowling Green State University. Here is his idea:

I call the statistic “gifts.” Like any worthy measure, gifts are simple to understand and to calculate, yet aspire to novel explanatory force.

Gifts are the difference between a team’s total points scored and the points they scored on kills. This reflects the number of non-kill or “unearned” points handed to them by the other team.

For example, say [Texas Tech] beats BGSU 25-21, but the Falcons outhit the Red Raiders 15-14. This entails that BGSU gave TTU 11 gifts (25-14), while TTU gave BGSU only 6 gifts (21-15).

The point is that, in this case at least, the gifts explain the TTU victory better than do the kills. (This is an exception, but not a rarity.)

“Gifts per set” is probably the best way to track and analyze the measure. Teams would have both a “gifts received” and a “gifts given” figure.

Arguably "gifts given" measures the consistency and effectiveness of a team’s all-around ba…

UC Irvine Block Party Sweeps BYU in Men's Final

The University of California Irvine repeated as men's NCAA volleyball champions last night, sweeping Brigham Young University in three tightly contested games, 25-23, 25-22, 26-24, in Los Angeles.

UCI was even more dominant on paper, as the Anteaters outblocked and outhit the Cougars by wide margins. At the net, UCI prevailed 17-6 in total team blocks (block assists divided by two, plus solo blocks). Whereas the Anteaters' Colin Mehring was the nation's top blocker on a contending team this season by my calculation, it was his teammate, junior middle-blocker Scott Kevorken, who stepped up in the championship match with one solo block and 11 assists.

Irvine's blocking dominance last night was very different from the teams' relatively even blocking in their two regular-season head-to-head matches, both of which were won by BYU. (Box scores for the three matches are available by clicking on the relevant link: first regular-season match, second regular-season match, NC…

My Ballot for the 2013 Off the Block Men's Awards (Blocking and Serving)

Once again this year, Vinnie Lopes, operator of the "Off the Block" men's college-volleyball blog, invited me to be a judge for his site's Blocker of the Year award, as well as another award, new this year, for best server.

As seen in this previous posting, I created an elaborate system for determining my vote for 2011 Blocker of the Year. The NCAA compiles the statistic of blocks per set (or game), but I had a few quibbles with that. First, players can commit blocking errors (e.g., touching the net) in addition to successful blocks, so I thought errors should be subtracted from successes (akin to how hitting percentage subtracts hitting errors from kills). Also, a set is not a very fine-grained unit, as a game that goes 25-23, for example, provides greater opportunity to amass blocks (and other statistics) than one that goes 25-13. Therefore, I use total points in a given match as the denominator for my statistic. This year, to save some time, I revised my procedure…

New Article on Attack Speed by BYU's Fellingham and Colleagues

The latest issue of the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports includes an article entitled "Importance of attack speed in volleyball" by Gilbert Fellingham, Lee Hinkle, and Iain Hunter of Brigham Young University.

The abstract (brief summary) of the article can be found here. According to this summary, the authors used high-speed photography to measure the time a set was in the air (to .01 of a second) in a number of men's collegiate matches. Set speed was then examined for correlation with kill probability. Quoting from the abstract:

...sets that traveled a further distance had significant increases in the probability of success with a faster set. No trends were seen with sets that were delivered to hitters that were closer to the setter.

A video on Dr. Fellingham's work with BYU's volleyball programs, this time with the women's team, is available here.

UCLA Men's String of Five-Game Matches

During his weekly appearance on Internet-radio's "The Net Live," UCLA athletics administrator and volleyball analyst Mike Sondheimer pointed out an unusual stretch of matches played by the Bruin men. As shown on the team's schedule/results log, the Bruins played seven straight five-game matches from January 4-12, winning five of them and losing two.

Last night (after Sondheimer's appearance on the Monday show), UCLA lost 3-1 to Long Beach State, ending the streak.

Mike challenged all listeners and volleyball observers to come up with any other streak of seven (or presumably more) straight five-game matches played by a team at any level of volleyball. If you know of any, please add it in the Comments section, preferably with a link to corroborating documentation.

Broadcasts of "The Net Live" are archived, for later listening. See the Volleyball Magazine link in the right-hand column to access these archives.