Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rematch Weekend (2011)

You could call it "Rematch Weekend," as several match-ups of the top teams in the top conferences took place Friday and Saturday for the second time this season. The following chart lists the match-ups, who won the first time, who won the second time, and some brief statistical notes on the rematch (CAPS = home team, lower-case = visitor).

Match 1
Match 2
Statistical Notes on Second Match
Penn State
PSU outhits (.194-.116) and outblocks (14-8) Neb.  Hancock (PSU) records 6 aces (box score).
Stanford outhits (.339-.161) and outblocks (13-4) USC. Wopat (Stanford) hits .611 (11-0-18); 2 additional Cardinal players hit .290+ on 20+ attempts (box score).
USC outhits (.319-.147) and outblocks (9-5) Cal. Trojan trio hit .368+ on 19+ attempts. Cal's Hawari hits .435, but Murrey held to .185 (box score).
UCLA outhits Stanford, .226-.140, led by Aquino's .444 (10-2-18). Bruins side-out at 90% in Game 3 (box score). 
Sharp hitting by UCLA’s Nightingale (.421, 10-2-19), Aquino (.350, 7-0-20), and Love (.345, 14-4-29) . Cal’s Murrey held to .049 (box score). 
MN outhits IL .162-.087. MN 7 service aces, IL none; IL more service errors, 11-5 (box score).
Texas-Iowa St.
UT outhits (.390-.179) and outblocks (9-4) ISU. Bell (UT) hits .812 (13-0-16); 4 additional Horns hit .300+ on 10+ attempts (box score).
HTML Tables

This weekend's results reinforce the idea that there's not one dominant team this year. One any given night, Nebraska, Penn State, Illinois, UCLA, USC, or Stanford might look like a good bet to win the NCAA championship. Many of these same teams, however, also have gone into a "funk" for part of the season.

USC had some early struggles, as epitomized by its 3-0 loss to Central Florida on September 2. Currently, two slumping teams are Illinois and Cal. The Illini's Michelle Bartsch is quoted as follows in this article about her team's three-game loss to visiting Minnesota:

"I think it reflects our whole week of practice.... It was kind of a weird vibe all week and we aren't playing together by any means. We're talking about it and trying to fix it but it's not there."

Minnesota hardly looked poised to go into Urbana-Champaign and sweep the Illini, after being swept itself the night before at Northwestern.

Cal coach Rich Feller said this about the intermission, after his team dropped the first two games to USC (article link):

"I threw down the gauntlet... I admitted to being unsure of who I should start in the third set because it didn't seem like anyone wanted to play hard enough to win..."

Cal played more competitively in the third game, but still lost, 25-22.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Team Hitting Percentage by Game (Set)

Even a casual reader of box scores would probably realize that the same team on the same night can record vastly different hitting percentages in different games (sets). I was curious if there were systematic differences, so I decided to conduct an analysis. Why might there be such differences?

As a match progresses, coaches may devise adjustments to take away a source of offensive success the opponent had been enjoying. Or coaches may come up with ways to overcome the opponent's defensive approach to increase their own team's spiking success. Some coaches may be able to implement adjustments between Games 1 and 2, but if not then, perhaps between Games 2 and 3, when there is a full-fledged intermission.

I looked at the Pac 12 conference, as it appeared to reach its halfway point of league play faster than other major conferences. The Pac 12 plays a full home-and-away round-robin, meaning that each member team plays 22 conference matches. I started compiling the statistics about a week ago, when every Pac 12 team had completed 11 or 10 conference matches (the latter is the result of the Arizona-ASU, Oregon-OSU, and Washington-WSU rivalries playing back-to-back matches at the end of the season, instead of once during the first half and once during the second half of the conference schedule).

Pac 12 matches before my cut-off date predominantly were three-game sweeps (43 out of 63 total matches; 68.3.%); 16 four-game (25.4%) and 4 five-game (6.3%) matches occurred. Note that, in any given match, both teams produce hitting statistics, so there were 126 three-game data sequences from the 63 matches. I used data from all matches, so if a contest went four or five games, I took hitting statistics from only the first three games.

Averaging over all teams in all matches, hitting percentages did not differ statistically between the first (.210), second (.228), and third (.198) games. (For those with some statistical training, I used repeated-measures Analysis of Variance.) To probe further, I plotted the results separately by team, as shown in the following graphs (the three panels were created for ease of viewing; you may click on the graphic to enlarge it).

As can be seen, there is no consistent pattern. Some teams -- particularly UCLA, Cal, and Arizona -- started fast and then declined in their hitting percentages. Others -- such as Stanford, Washington, and Arizona State -- started off relatively low and then increased their hitting prowess. Other teams appeared to peak in Game 2.

Because of the small sample sizes, it is hard to know if these are random fluctuations or substantive trends. If a given team experiences the same type of trend in the second half of the Pac 12 season as it did in the first half, then there really may be something going on. With UCLA, for example, the intermission after Game 2 conceivably could take the Bruins out of their offensive flow (more so than other teams, who also, of course, have the intermission) or perhaps allow opposing coaches to make defensive adjustments to the Bruins' attack.

On the other hand, the Stanford and Washington coaches look like they may be taking advantage of the intermission to find ways to take their respective teams' offensive attacks to higher levels. (ASU's improvement seemed to occur between Games 1 and 2.)

The larger the number of data points, the more reliable the statistical analysis. However, if a coach wanted to show his or her team how it was hitting by game in order to motivate improvements, the coach probably wouldn't want to wait too long to start doing so. Thus, in practice, most of the data compilations would end up being based on relatively few matches. The 11 or 10 matches on which the above averages for each team were based may therefore be a reasonable number.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nebraska Knocks Off Top-Ranked Illinois

We'll likely have a new No. 1 team in the national women's college rankings this week, as No. 4 Nebraska (17-1, 10-0) handled the previously top-ranked Illinois (20-1, 9-1) relatively easily, 24-26, 25-18, 25-19, 25-11, to mark the halfway point in Big 10 conference play.

The Illini came out on fire in Game 1, hitting .429 and siding out 72% of the time, but only won the opener 26-24, as the Cornhuskers weren't far behind in these two categories (.412,  68%). Illinois never hit better than .179 nor sided-out at better than 58% in any of the next three games, whereas Nebraska continued to side-out well in the final three games (78%, 63%, and 83%, respectively) and hit particularly well in Games 3 and 4 (.400 and .696). See box score here.

Individually, the Huskers had four players who exceeded hitting percentages of .300 on 22 or more spike attempts: Morgan Broekhuis, .444 (17 kills and only 1 error on 36 swings); Hannah Werth, .407; Brooke Delano, .318; and Gina Mancuso, .306. In addition, Hayley Thramer hit .300, on 10 attempts.

For Illinois, senior outside hitters Colleen Ward (17-5-39, .308) and Michelle Bartsch (22-5-58, .293) recorded solid percentages, but Nebraska stymied Illinois's middle-hitting attack.

Nebraska outblocked (11-5) and outdug (70-50) Illinois.

If there's one reservation about Nebraska at this point, it is that most of its best wins this season -- over Illinois, Penn State, Purdue, and Iowa State (non-conference) -- have been at home. The Huskers will play a return match at Penn State next Saturday, October 29, and at Purdue on November 12. However, last night's was the only Nebraska-Illinois match of the season, unless the teams meet again in the NCAA tournament.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Illinois at Nebraska Preview

Tonight, No. 1 Illinois (20-0, 9-0) visits No. 4 Nebraska (16-1, 9-0) in a key Big 10 match. As I've written previously, I feel the Cornhuskers are worthy of being ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation, already. With Big 10 teams playing a 20-match conference schedule (where a completely balanced home-and-away schedule would require 22 matches), tonight's match will be the only one this season between the Illini and Cornhuskers, unless they meet in the NCAA tournament.

Based on Nebraska's and Illinois's pregame notes (plus the Illini's box score from its most recent win, over Northwestern), I've plotted the hitting percentages Nebraska and Illinois have achieved offensively, and allowed defensively, against their conference opponents so far this season.

Nebraska clearly seems to be the better hitting team. Having played eight common opponents in conference thus far (DNP = Did Not Play), the Huskers have outhit the Illini against six of them. The only exceptions are the teams' matches against Michigan and Ohio State, and the Illini edges are slight in both cases.

Defensively, the teams appear a bit more equal. In their respective matches gainst Michigan State (both five-game affairs), the Illini held the Spartans to a .200 hitting percentage, whereas the Huskers allowed them to hit .296. However, vs. most opponents, Nebraska has been slightly better than Illinois in keeping the other teams' hitting percentages down.

Some readers may consider my focus on hitting percentage to be overly narrow. However, hitting percentage appears to take other team skills into account indirectly. Good blocking and digging will contribute to keeping opponents' hitting percentages down. Blocks can lower hitting percentage by causing errors directly (i.e., a ball stuffed back down to the hitting team's floor for a defensive point) or indirectly (i.e., hitting a ball wide or long in an attempt to avoid the block). Blocking and digging also lower hitting percentage by keeping spiked balls in play. Tough serving can further depress opponents' hitting percentage by taking them out of their offensive system and possibly making them attempt less aggressive spikes than originally intended.

I don't usually make predictions. However, given that Nebraska appears to have somewhat of a statistical edge and is playing at home, I'd have to favor the Huskers.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Under the Radar, Part II: Tyler Henderson (Tulsa)

As described in Part I of the "Under the Radar" series, these postings are an outgrowth of a discussion of players from outside the power conferences who might nevertheless be worthy of national honors (e.g., All-America). Tonight, I present my analyses of Tyler Henderson, a 5-10 junior outside hitter for Tulsa.

Henderson has certainly put up some big numbers so far this season, recording hitting percentages of .457 vs Albany; .655 vs Texas-Arlington; .452 vs. North Dakota State; .593 vs Arkansas-Pine Bluff; .433 vs Cal-Davis; .435 vs. Middle Tennessee State; .500 vs. Rice; and .421 vs. UAB. She's also had some underwhelming matches, such as when she hit .167 vs UTEP and .154 vs. Houston.

My focus, however, is on four Tulsa matches -- vs. Illinois, Kentucky, Florida State, and Central Florida. These four opponents have achieved varying amounts of national prominence, plus each has played some top opponents this year, allowing us to compare Henderson's hitting percentages against these teams to those of other leading outside (or opposite side) hitters. This "common opponents" method thus holds constant quality of the opposition when comparing Henderson to her peers.

The September 10 match against current No. 1 and undefeated Illinois -- which Tulsa nearly won -- almost certainly would be Henderson's most impressive. She hit .377 in this match, on 61 swings. Two big-program players, Penn State's Nia Grant and Minnesota's Brianna Haugen, each hit for a higher percentage vs. the Illini, but based on far fewer attempts (see graphic to the right).

Henderson's .377 also comes off looking good when considering Illinois's ability to hold top hitters Ariel Turner (Purdue), Alex Hunt (Michigan), and Deja McClendon (Penn State) under .200.

The .441 hitting percentage Henderson achieved vs. Central Florida also stands out, especially considering UCF held Michigan State's Jenilee Rathje to .162 and USC's Alex Jupiter to .000.

As shown below, however, Henderson did not do well against a couple of teams that have shown a propensity to give up big hitting nights. Against Kentucky, a team that was torched by several outside and right-side (opposite) hitters from Florida State and Florida, Henderson hit only .188. Also, against Florida State, which had given up big hitting performances against Michigan and Florida, Henderson hit only .213.

On the whole, Henderson has had a nice season to date. However, there are a few matches in which I would have expected her to hit for higher percentages.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Illinois and Nebraska Each Win in Five, as Illini and Huskers Get Ready to Face Each Other

No. 1 Illinois (19-0, 8-0 in the Big 10) and No. 5 Nebraska (15-1, 8-0) each pulled off five-set wins last night to set the stage for a head-to-head showdown next Saturday night when the Illini visit the Cornhuskers.

In holding off Michigan State, the Illini were propelled by Colleen Ward's spectacular .538 hitting percentage (22 kills with only 1 hitting error, on 39 attempts). The usually steady Erin Johnson had an off-night hittng for the Orange and Blue (-.118; 2-4-17), but did contribute 9 block assists. Kyndra Abron (.367; 16-5-30) paced the Spartans (see box score).

Nebraska dropped the opening two games at Minnesota, before rallying for a 28-30, 19-25, 25-10, 25-12, 15-11 win. For the Cornhuskers, it was the balanced offensive attack we're accustomed to seeing from them, with four players registering solid, if unspectacular, hitting percentages against the Gophers: Brooke Delano, .294; Gina Mancuso, .283; Hannah Werth, .270; and Morgan Broekhuis, .256. Nebraska outhit (.243-.111), outblocked (17-8), and outdug (85-73) Minnesota (box score). Tori Dixon (.286; 12-4-28) led the Gophers in hitting; earlier this season, Dixon was hitting in the vicinity of .400 against some excellent competition, but .286 against Nebraska is quite respectable.

Other than an early-season road match in which Nebraska routed Colorado State 25-12 and 25-11 in the first two games only to see the Rams storm back to take the final three, the Huskers have passed every test placed in front of them. These have included matches against Iowa State (now a non-conference opponent), Penn State, Purdue, and Minnesota. I think Nebraska arguably deserves to be ranked as high as No. 2. A win over Illinois next Saturday would probably vault Nebraska to (or near) the No. 1 slot. An Illini win would obviously bolster its No. 1 status.

In the Pac 12, No. 2 Washington traveled to the northern California schools, but lost to both No. 4 Cal and No. 7 Stanford. Cal middle blocker Shannon Hawari had the offensive formula against Washington, hitting .409 (12-3-22), whereas the Golden Bears’ star outside hitter Tarah Murrey was held in check by the Huskies (.132; 21-12-68). U-Dub was led against Cal by the near error-free hitting of MB Bianca Rowland (.400; 11-1-25) and frosh OH Summer Ross (.333; 14-1-39). No Husky player hit above .182 vs. Stanford. The Cardinal was led against Washington by Carly Wopat (.500; 10-1-18)  and frosh OH Morgan Boukather (.400; 7-1-15).

One last note: Texas Tech OH Amanda Dowdy, who virtually always takes a large share of the team's spike attempts, took a whopping 42.6% of the Red Raiders' swings yesterday at Missouri (58/136). She produced quality as well as quantity, hitting .293, which is her best in conference play this year (this news release cites the last time she exceeded .293 as being during pre-conference play). The Red Raiders (14-7, 0-6) are still looking for their first conference win, however. They hung tight with the Tigers, before falling 25-22, 23-25, 25-22, 25-21.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Under the Radar, Part I: Lauren Wicinski

Last Friday, October 7, user "bucky415" launched a discussion topic on VolleyTalk regarding women's collegiate players who might be considered "under the radar" nationally. Specifically, readers were urged to nominate players "from programs outside of the top conferences that people here see being candidates for national honors this year." Bucky made his own suggestions, to which interested readers added names. Bucky's primary suggestion was:

Lauren Wicinski from Northern Illinois. She is a 6'1" sophomore outside hitter who plays all around and is just putting up ridiculous hitting numbers. The Huskies swept Western Michigan at home tonight, and she had 25 kills and hit .667, following up a four set win over Toledo where she had 39 kills and hit .484. For the season, she is averaging 5.77 kills per set and hitting .341 against some pretty solid competition.

Your VolleyMetrics analyst feels statistics can contribute to the discussion, so tonight we begin an ongoing series on "under the radar" players, starting with an in-depth look at Wicinski's offensive performances in key matches. Quality of the opposition is an important factor. If, for example, Toledo tends to get lit up by a lot of different hitters (which it does), then Wicinski's big numbers must be taken with a grain of salt. Following this logic, I selected several of Northern Illinois's more nationally noteworthy matches, recorded Wicinski's hitting percentage against a given opponent, and then compared it to other outside hitters' (or opposites') hitting percentages against the same opponents.

Let's start with Toledo as an opponent. As shown in the graphic to the right (and also noted above), Wicinski hit .484 against the Rockets. Two Michigan State players, Gina Lang and Jenilee Rathje, also hit above .450 against Toledo this season, and three Ohio State outsides hit in the .300s vs. the Rockets. Nothing in these comparisons should take away from Wicinski's performance against Toledo, but we now know that it's not unusual for the Rockets to give up big hitting nights. I wanted to do the same thing for Western Michigan as an opponent, but I didn't feel the Broncos had played enough quality teams.

Cincinnati, in addition to facing Northern Illinois and Wicinski, has played against what I would consider five nationally prominent teams, so let's next consider the Bearcats as an opponent (see graphic on left). Wicinski hit .550 in her match against Cincinnati, a figure exceeded (very slightly) only by Illinois's Liz McMahon when she faced the Bearcats. Several other hitters registered hitting percentages from the upper-.300s to low-.400s against Cincinnati. Thus, whereas the Bearcats may not be the greatest defensive team, I would argue that Wicinski still acquits herself well in this comparison.

Texas A&M is another common opponent against which Wicinski looks good relative to other leading spikers. Though the Aggies seem to have kept some pretty good hitters in check (or at least under .300) this season, Wicinski's .368 vs. A&M is second only to Texas's Bailey Webster (of the players studied), who torched A&M for a .421 evening on October 5.

As seen in these graphics, Wicinski rarely commits hitting errors (e.g., spiking the ball out of bounds or getting stuff blocked for an immediate point by the opponents).

Not all comparisons are so favorable to Wicinski. As seen at left, she hit only .209 vs Iowa State, a team against which other hitters have recorded much higher percentages this season. Granted these "other hitters" are among the nation's very best: the aforementioned Webster, Nebraska's Gina Mancuso and Morgan Broekhuis, and Florida's Tangerine Wiggs and Kelly Murphy. If the worst that can be said about Wicinski is that she's perhaps a cut below these players, that ain't bad. These analyses, of course, don't take into account other factors, such as setter quality and the presence of sharp-hitting teammates who can prevent other teams from focusing on one prominent spiker.

The remaining comparisons are based on sparser data. Northern Iowa is another team against which Wicinski struggled, hitting only .100. This was one of her most error-prone matches, but she also had 18 of her 40 spike attempts kept in play (40 minus her 13 kills and 9 errors). Northern Iowa seems adept at frustrating hitters in general, though. Of the outside hitters/opposites listed, only Iowa State's Kelsey Petersen enjoyed some success against the Panthers, albeit in a Cyclones' loss. Finally, we conclude our analysis with limited comparisons of Wicinski to other hitters against Creighton and Marquette.

Wicinski hit respectably in both matches. Her .302 against Creighton was exceeded by Broekhuis's .387 when Nebraska played the Blue Jays. Wicinski's .265 vs. Marquette was topped by a .333 registered by Minnesota's Ashley Wittman.
What should we conclude from this exercise? I think Wicinski deserves to be included among the nation's top outside (and opposite-side) hitters, but not quite at the very pinnacle. Being a sophomore, however, she has two more years to get there!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

No. 1 Illinois Edges Penn State, as Game-5 Errors Hurt Nittany Lions

This weekend's marquee women's college match, played Saturday night, went to No. 1 Illinois over No. 8 (and four-time defending NCAA champion) Penn State, 21-25, 25-21, 23-25, 25-21, 15-12. That the win occurred on the road for Illinois only enhances its impact.

One oddity to notice in the box score is that, of the Fighting Illini's 15 points in the decisive fifth game, only 4 were gained via the kill (the losing Nittany Lions, in contrast, had 10 kills in that game). Similarly, in winning Game 4, Illinois had fewer kills (9) than did Penn State (13).

I suspect that few teams have ever won a 15-point game with only 4 kills. My curiosity was piqued, so I examined the CBS Gametracker play-by-play sheet to see precisely how Illinois got its points in Game 5. I plotted the information in the pie-chart to the right, with the numbers denoting how each Illini point from 1 to 15 was accounted for.

Interestingly, Liz McMahon's kill to put the Illini up 8-7 was the last time an Illinois hitter put away a spike all night. Illinois's blockers contributed points 3, 4, 5, and 9. UI coach Kevin Hambly was quoted in the above-linked match article saying, "I thought... Anna Dorn took over the match blocking late..." Indeed, Dorn collaborated on all four of Illinois's blocks in Game 5.

Most surprising of all, however, is that the Illini's final 6 points came from sloppy Penn State play of one sort or another. Attack errors (hitting the block out of bounds, as the error of getting the ball blocked for an opposing-team point is accounted for separately here) gave Illinois its 10th, 12th, 13th, and 14th points; an Illinois service ace brought it point No. 11; and a Nittany Lion ballhandling error (BHE) gave the Illini their final point.

Dorn added a .556 hitting night (5 kills with 0 errors, on 9 attempts) to her 13 block assists for the match, while teammate Erin Johnson turned in yet another fine offensive night, hitting .417 (11-1-24). As a team, though, Illinois hit only .184.

That exceeded Penn State's .134. Nia Grant paced the Lions at .500 (10-2-16).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hot-Hitting Duo Leads Baylor Over Texas Tech

Baylor accomplished what seems to be a fairly rare feat in sweeping Texas Tech 25-19, 25-23, 25-18 tonight in Waco. The Bears had two players who each recorded hitting percentages over .400 on at least 20 spike attempts, namely middle blockers Briana Tolbert, .583 (15 K, 1 E, 24 TA), and Torri Campbell, .476 (11-1-21).

I don't have a comprehensive database of all matches. However, in looking over the box scores from the matches I have written about this season -- which tend to include some of the nation's top-hitting teams -- I found few instances of two players on the same team each hitting .400 in a match on 20 or more swings.

The nation's current No. 1-ranked team, Illinois, has achieved (or nearly achieved) these criteria in a few matches. In the Middle Tennessee State tournament, against Tulsa, Erin Johnson hit .591 on 22 attempts and Anna Dorn went .522 on 23 (Liz McMahon nearly made it a trio, coming in at .421 on 19). Despite hitting .396 as a team in this match to Tulsa's .320, the Illini struggled to win in five games. In the same tournament, against Cal Poly, the Illini nearly pulled off the 2/.400/20 feat, with Johnson hitting .636 on 22 attempts and Dorn registering a .579 on 19 swings.

Minnesota has hit the mark twice this season. Against Oregon in the Penn State tourney, Katherine Harms hit .519 on 27 swings, whereas Ashley Wittman added a .417 night on 48. Then, in what shockingly was a losing effort against Kansas in the Northern Iowa tournament, Tori Dixon hit .500 on 34 attempts, whereas Wittman was .415 on 53 swings.

The Pac 12 offers a couple of near-misses. USC came close at Washington State, with Lauren Williams hitting .571 on 21 tries and Katie Fuller, .579 on 19. Stanford just missed against Duke, with Carly Wopat hitting .424 on 33 attempts and Jessica Walker, .421 on 19.

If you know of other teams who had two players in a single match hit .400 on 20 or more spike attempts, please list them in the Comments area. A web link to the box score to document the occurrence would be nice.

Instances discovered after initial posting:

Texas Tech (vs. UConn) in the TCU tournament: Breeann David .500 (24); Miara Cave .476 (21); and Amanda Dowdy .417 (36). A triple .400!

Courtesy of James at "Tennessee has done it three times this year -- once with three players meeting the criteria in one match:"
vs Virginia Tech: Leslie Cikra (14-3-23) .478; DeeDee Harrison (12-1-21) .524; Kelsey Robinson (24-6-44) .409
vs Florida: DeeDee Harrison (12-3-22) .409; Carly Sahagian (19-4 -35) .429
vs Arkansas: Leslie Cikra (11-1-22) .455; DeeDee Harrison (15-3-26) .462

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Big 10 and Big 12 Round-Ups; ESPN's Statistical Displays

This past weekend's major matches appeared to be concentrated in the country's mid-section. Your VolleyMetrics analyst is always happy to see statistically oriented graphics during volleyball telecasts. This includes the one below from early in Game 2 of last night's Nebraska-Michigan match, even though it conveys bad news for my graduate-school alma mater. The Cornhuskers won in three, a night after being taken to five games by Michigan State (screen capture from broadcast of game, with the actual statistical display enlarged below the original picture).

No. 1 Illinois, playing at home last night, survived a tight match with the nation's only other heretofore undefeated team, Purdue, 26-24, 25-20, 23-25, 25-23. Tiffany Fisher lit things up for Purdue, scoring 16 kills with only 2 hitting errors on 24 spike attempts, for a hitting percentage of .583. However, of her teammates with at least 10 attempts, nobody hit higher than .181. Purdue actually outhit Illinois .191-.168. Erin Johnson, who I previously described as Illinois’s steadiest hitter, led her team in hitting percentage at .333 (11- 3- 24). The Illini benefited from fewer service errors (7 vs. 13) and more total team blocks (11-8).

It was not a good weekend for another Big 10 squad, Minnesota. The Golden Gophers got swept in both matches of a road swing through Ohio State (25-23, 25-20, 28-26) and Penn State (25-15, 26-24, 25-15). The Buckeyes failed to build on the Minnesota win, dropping their final weekend match to Wisconsin, however.

In Big 12 play, Texas scored an impressive five-game win at Iowa State. As shown in the graph below, Texas's Bailey Webster and ISU's Jamie Straube essentially cancelled each other out with their plus-.500 hitting, whereas the Longhorns' Rachael Adams and the Cyclones' Tenisha Matlock did the same with their hitting in the mid-.300s. The key difference was in the teams' depth, as Texas's spikers beyond the top two (.194 hitting percentage on 124 attempts) outshined their Cyclone counterparts (.043, 117).

Finally, in other Big 12 action, Oklahoma survived two match points to win 17-15 in the fifth against Texas Tech. For the Red Raider program, which only a year ago snapped a 64-match conference losing streak, to now give a nationally ranked team all it could handle (the Sooners were ranked No. 25) shows the rapid strides being made. Aubree Piper had a breakout night for Texas Tech, hitting .455 on 10 kills with no errors on 22 attempts, whereas Sallie McLaurin (.303, 12-2-33) and Suzy Boulavsky (.277, 17-4-47) paced the Sooners. The Red Raiders, with 5 aces and 7 errors, appeared to serve more aggressively than they had in the past.

Hawai'i Sweeps Long Beach State to Claim Second Straight NCAA Men's Championship

Hawai'i swept Long Beach State last night in Los Angeles to win its second straight NCAA men's championship. Scores were 25-22, 25-...