Thursday, September 19, 2013

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 (you can click on the graph to enlarge it).

So far, the Toreros have been riding the arms of senior middle-hitters Chloe Ferrari and Katie Hoekman. Ferrari, who missed the last month of the 2012 season due to ACL injury, has consistently hit at or around the .400 level so far this season, except for the UC Santa Barbara match, in which she hit a perfect 1.000 (6 kills in 6 attempts). Hoekman had a big match in the opener against Texas-El Paso, hitting .708, with 18 kills and only 1 error in 24 attempts. She has hit nearly as high as Ferrari in most of USD's matches. Alaysia Brown, listed as both a middle and outside hitter, is a barometer of how the team as a whole is doing offensively, in the sense that her match-by-match hitting percentages (depicted in the bright blue small dashed line) tracks closely with the team's overall hitting percentage (the heavy bright blue line).

It hasn't only been offense that's taken the Toreros to where they are. They've shut down prominent opposing hitters such as Texas's Haley Eckerman (-.095 hitting percentage), Iowa State's Victoria Hurtt (.071), and USC's Samantha Bricio (.068).

Against 'SC, digging played a big role in the Toreros' four-game victory. USD retrieved 56% of the Trojans' non-error spike attempts (81 digs of 145 'SC hits that were either kills or kept in play). The Trojans' rate of digging USD's non-error spike attempts was only 37%. The Toreros' big digging advantage offset a large USC edge in total team blocks (15-4).

Monday, September 9, 2013

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 Katie Slay, Florida's Chloe Mann, and Stanford's Inky Ajanaku and Carly Wopat. Cardinal outside-hitter Brittany Howard recorded attack percentages of .290 and .300 against Florida and Texas, respectively.

Oddly, the team that compiled the best record, Texas, had no players who hit for a high percentage in both matches, and the team with the worst record, Stanford, had three such players. I therefore decided to probe Stanford's matches a little more closely, as shown in the next chart.

Stanford was outplayed by Florida across the statistical indicators examined, although not by a lot. The Gators' winning score of 28-26, 25-17, 18-25, 25-22 thus seems consistent with how the teams played. The Texas-Stanford match was a different story. Stanford statistically outperformed UT in three categories -- hitting, blocking, and digging -- yet still lost in four. The "Cardinal sin" occurred in the serving game. Stanford botched 16 serves against Texas, while scoring only three aces. The Longhorns, in contrast, had much more balanced numbers of aces (9) and errors (11).

Texas also benefited from errant opposition serving vs. Penn State, as the Nittany Lions amassed 22 service errors (with six aces). It may be a case where the Longhorns' reputation precedes them; out of respect or fear of the UT offensive attack, opposing teams may feel it necessary to serve extremely aggressively.