Russ Rose has retired as women's coach at Penn State, after a 43-year run that included seven NCAA championships (1999, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014) and a 109-match winning streak. Rose was very statistically minded. In fact, in 2009, the New York Times wrote about that aspect of his coaching. Best wishes to Coach Rose in his retirement! And happy holidays to all readers!
Saturday, December 18, 2021
Just a few minutes away from Nebraska and Wisconsin for the national championship. Seemingly contradicting the opening claim of ESPN announcers Paul Sunderland and Salima Rockwell that Anna Smrek's excellent hitting night in the semis gives the Badgers a new look, Smrek hit .647 (12-1-17) in the first Wisconsin-Nebraska B1G match of the season.
Game 1: Wisconsin out of sync starting off, particularly in serve-receipt, as Huskers lead 5-1... Badgers close to within 6-4, now 6-5, as Nebraska's receipt shaky as well... Jade Demps, who announcers pointed out specializes in hitting from the back row, delivers one of her specials for 7-6 UW lead... Huskers back on top 8-7... Demps with another back-row kill for 8-8... Ally Batenhorst, who cooled off in the semifinal match vs. Pitt after a great match vs. Texas in the regional final, registers a kill for NU... Now 12-10 Huskers, as Kayla Caffey heats up... 13-10... Madi Kubik also heating up for Huskers, as they lead 15-10 (on 7-2 run)... Lindsay Krause (pronounced Krowzy) joining in the act for Nebraska, 16-10... Badger block makes it 16-11... Lauren Stivrins kill ups NU lead to 17-11... Kubik again, 18-12, T/O Wisc... Huskers currently hitting .345 (13-3-29), with an "ensemble" attack... Nebraska hitting error and then kill by Julia Orzol cut lead to 18-14... NU responds with kill for 19-14... Long rally ends with UW setter Sydney Hilley sending off-speed ball over, followed by Badger block, now 19-16... T/O Nebraska... Huskers dampening a lot of Wisconsin spike attempts (i.e., deflecting them to keep them playable)... Wisc ace for 19-17, but Caffey kill ups Husker lead to 20-17... Badger kill to close within 20-18... Now 22-18 on NU block, T/O Wisc... Badgers hit long, 23-18 NU... UW service error gives NU game point, 24-19... Badgers within 24-21... Wisc block for 24-22, T/O Nebraska... Stivrins puts Game 1 away for NU, 25-22... Game-1 hitting: Wisc .171, Nebraska .156... Two names we haven't heard a lot for Wisconsin: Anna Smrek and Grace Loberg... ESPN's intro and outro music, One Republic's "All the Right Moves," really sticks with you...
Game 2: Early 2-1 Husker lead... Caffey and Kubik keeping it up for Nebraska, 4-1... 5-1 on big Husker block... UW kill for 5-2... Caffey answers, 6-2... Demps with back-row special for Wisc, 6-3... Krause for 7-3... Demps dug, but Nebraska hits it out. Huskers challenging no-touch call... Denied, so 7-4 NU... Orzol kill for 7-5... Serve into net, 8-5 Huskers... Kubik back-row kill for 9-5... Double-hit on set by Hilley, 10-6 NU (we're seeing more mishandled-ball calls lately)... Now 11-7 Huskers... Caffey (whose 6-foot-0 height makes her short only in a relative sense) with block for 12-7... Badgers out-of-sync, can't locate NU overpass, 13-7... Now 13-9, as Huskers hit it out... 13-10... Badgers (Loberg) with swing for 13-11 and she nails it (4-0 UW run)... Kubik kill for 14-11, but then Kubik blocked for 14-12... Wisc serves long for 15-12 NU lead... Badger block for 15-13... Kubik off the block for 16-13... 16-14... Ace for 16-15... No T/O from NU... Husker block for 17-15, so T/O apparently not needed... NU service error for 17-16... Badgers into net, 18-16... NU hasn't won points on its own serve in a long time... Another Husker service error, 18-17... Caffey kill, 19-17... 19-18... Caffey again after Badger free-ball, 20-18... Loberg heating up a bit for Wisc, 20-19... Badger block for 20-all... 21-20 UW, now comes that Husker T/O... I've wanted to use the term "Red Roof Inn" for blocks, but both teams have red as their main color... Kaffey ties it 21-all... Demps dart from the back, 22-21 Badgers... 22-all... Another Demps back-row kill, 23-22 UW... Kubik kill for 23-all... Joust and ball goes out of bounds off Wisconsin for 24-23 Husker lead. Challenged... Denied... Game-point NU... Serves into net, 24-all... UW returns the favor, serving long, 25-24... T/O Wisc, "icing" the server? NU with swing for the game, but blocked, 25-all... Demps from the front-row for 26-25 Badger lead... Caffey kill off the block to tie it at 26-all... Wisc challenging on grounds that ball hit Caffey on ricochet after block before it landed out... Denied, so game continues... Caffey hitting .643 (10-1-14) ... Robinson kill for 27-26 UW, but Caffey answers for 27-all... NU ace for 28-27... Loberg kill for 28-all... NU kill off block for 29-28... Rettke tip for 29-all... Badger block for 30-29... Another block gives UW the game, 31-29...
Game 3: Wisc offer to early 4-2 lead... After long rally, Demps blocked from back row, 4-all... 8-7 Wisc after Badgers serve long... Caffey kill for 8-8... Wisc 11-9... 12-9... Rettke with two hits out of bounds, NU within 12-11... Rettke block for 13-11, has two solo blocks and eight assists on the evening... 14-12 Wisc... 17-14 Wisc... 18-15... Trading side-outs, 19-16... 20-16 Badgers on Rettke tip... Huskers within 21-19... 22-19... 22-20... UW kill off block for 23-20... 23-21... Krause put-away after UW sends two free-balls, NU within 23-22, T/O Badgers... Demps hits wide, 23-all... Devyn Robinson tip for 24-23 Wisc... Robinson kill to end it, 25-23 Wisconsin...
Between-game note: Badgers now 6-0 in deuce-games vs. Nebraska this season...
Game 4: Nebraska block for 2-0 lead... Block totals on the night: Wisconsin 18, Nebraska 7. Tied at 3-all... 5-all... Huskers with last three points for 8-5 lead... Badger block pulls them within 8-7... Ace for 8-all... 10-8 Huskers as knuckleball serve (no spin), which Wisc thought was going long, lands in... Badgers with three quick points for 11-10 lead... Huskers hanging in, 13-all... 14-all... 15-all... 16-all... You guessed it, 17-all... I'd like to see the side-out statistics, must be very high... Smrek hits wide for 18-17 NU... Now 19-17 Huskers... 21-17... 21-18... UW net serve, 22-18... 22-19... Kubik kills finds open space on the floor in-bounds, 23-19... 23-20... Another service error, 24-20 Huskers... Tip off block by Loberg for 24-21... Badger kill for 24-22, T/O Huskers... 24-23... Great rally! Looks like Rettke has kill for equalizer, but Huskers chase ball down and their off-speed hit lands untouched in front of the baseline... 25-23 Huskers to send it to five, NU's first deuce-game win over UW this season...
Game 5: 2-0 Wisconsin on Nebraska hit long (one linesperson called touch, but chair-ref overruled)... Now 3-0... 4-0... Rettke rejection (block) for 5-0... 6-0... 7-0... Huskers with their first point, 7-1... Rettke kill off the block, 8-1... Wisc hits long for 8-2... 9-2... 9-3 on Wisc service error... Demps hit long, 9-4... UW hits long again, 9-5... NU hits long, 10-5 Badgers... Wisc hits wide, 10-6... Batenhorst kill for 10-7... Badger block for 11-7... Stivrins for 11-8... Loberg kill for 12-8... NU off-speed shot for 12-9... Rettke slide kill for 13-9... Ace for 14-9... Krause kill keeps the match alive, 14-10... Kubik kill for 14-11... T/O Wisc... Kubik hits out of bounds to (apparently) end the match. Chair-ref waited a while to deliver call. NU challenging for either touch or net violation... Objection sustained (touch), 14-12 Wisc... Long rally (Badgers had at least four swings for the title) and Rettke brings it home, 15-12... "When you say Wisconsin, you've said it all..."
Thursday, December 16, 2021
The B1G sweeps the ACC, sending Wisconsin and Nebraska to Saturday's final... Badgers won both regular-season matches, 26-24, 25-19, 25-23 in Lincoln on October 27, and 14-25, 25-23, 26-24, 25-18 in Madison on November 26. A lot of deuce-games there!
Nebraska-Pittsburgh: Pitt leading 12-8 in Game 1... Panthers crushing the ball like they did against Purdue in the regional final, hitting .467 thus far (8-1-15). Statistics from NCAA website... Now 15-8... 17-13 Pitt... Game 1 to Panthers 25-16...
Game 2: Huskers faring better in Game 2, leading 14-9, having upped their hitting percentage from .167 in Game 1 to .615 (9-1-13) thus far in Game 2... Nebraska evens it at a game apiece, 25-17... Game 2 hitting percentages: Nebraska .440, Pitt .161.
Game 3: 7-5 Nebraska... Pitt with a mini-rally to lead 10-9... Panthers' Serena Gray, one of the stars of their win over Purdue, currently hitting .600 (7-1-10) on the night (cumulatively)... 12-11 Pitt... 14-all... Mini-rally for Nebraska, as it leads 17-15... Now 17-all... Blocking count to this point: Huskers 7, Panthers 4. NU pulls ahead 20-18... Now 23-18... Huskers take it 25-20... Their highest percentage hitters thus far (cumulatively) have been Kayla Caffey (.417, 6-1-12) and Lauren Stivrins (.455, 5-0-11), although neither has that many attempts...
Game 4: Quick 3-0 lead for Nebraska... 8-5 Huskers... 13-10 Huskers... With a few kills in Games 3 and 4, Lindsay Krause, one of Nebraska's super-frosh in the regional final win over Texas, has raised her hitting percentage tonight to .357 (7-2-14)... Now 15-11 NU... Pitt hanging in, down 16-14... 18-14... Pitt won't go away, cuts deficit to 18-16... Big Pitt block cuts it further, 18-17... Now 19-18 Nebraska... 20-19 Nebraska... 20-all... Big Nebraska block for 21-20 lead... 22-20 Huskers as Pitt spike attempt apparently deemed to have hit antenna... 22-21... Stivrins off-speed attack ups NU lead to 23-21... Stivrins again, 24-21... Nebraska puts away overpass, but swing's follow through hits net, 24-22... Another Nebraska block ends it, 25-22.
Wisconsin-Louisville: I wasn't expecting the Final Four telecast to come on until 7:00 pm Central, but it began at 7:00 Eastern. Hence, I've caught very little of the first two games, which Wisconsin and Louisville have split (Badgers 25-23 in the opener and Cardinals 25-15 in the second). Per the ESPN announcers, the Game-2 loss ends Wisconsin's streak of winning 19 straight games.. Louisville coach Dani Busboom Kelly, interviewed during the break, attributed the Cards' comeback to improved digging in Game 2... Louisville has been the steadier hitting team, recording percentages of .400 and .393 in the two games. Wisconsin: .412 and .167...
Game 3: Badgers off to a quick 4-0 lead... Cards to within 6-5... Wisconsin wins long rally to break 7-7 tie... Now tied 8-8... Cards with first lead of Game 2, 9-8... Badgers' 6-foot-9 middle Anna Smrek having a dominant hitting night (.857, 12-0-14). Cards lead 14-12, however... 15-13 Louisville at media time-out... Teams trading mini-rallies, with Badgers tying game 16-all... Wisc serves into net, putting Louisville up 17-16... Now 18-16, T/O Wisc... Cardinal hitting paced by Anna Stevenson (.667, 8-0-12) and Amaya Tillman (.600, 7-1-10), cumulative to this point... We're tied again, 19-all... Badgers go up 20-19, T/O Louisville... Not hearing much from Badgers' 6-foot-8 middle Dana Rettke (.167, 8-5-18)... Now 21-19 Badgers, but Tillman block keeps things close, 21-20... Another Smrek kill for 22-20... Now 24-21 Badgers on an 8-3 run... Smrek now hitting .850 (17-0-20)... Rettke block closes it out, 25-21...
Game 4: Smrek with first hitting error (long, no touch) on first point... 2-0 Louisville... Badger mini-rally to lead 4-3... 7-up... 11-9 Cards, with a couple of recent kills by Anna DeBeer on high outside sets over Wisc double-block... Card mini-rally for 14-10 lead... Now, 14-11... 15-11 at media T/O... Solid night for DeBeer, hitting .257 on match-leading 35 swings (16-7-35)... Badgers within 15-13... Now 16-14 Cards... Now 17-15... Cards' serve-receipt passes getting very close to the net, but setter improvising... 18-15 Louisville, T/O Wisc... Block and kill bring UW within 18-17... 19-17 UL... 20-18 on Wisc service error... 20-all... 21-20 Badgers in this game of mini-rallies... 21-all on another DeBeer kill on high-outside set... UL block for 22-21 lead... 22-all after long rally... Louisville challenge on whether Rettke netted... Call stands... Louisville outblocking Wisconsin 11-8 at this point... Badger service error for 23-22 lead... Possibly the point of the match on long rally (lots of balls blocked but kept in play by hitting team), but Louisville called for reaching over the net to attack ball... 23-all... Cards take next point for 24-23 lead... Ace (25-23), we're going five!
Game 5: Will it be Smrek/Rettke duo for Badgers or DeBeer for Cardinals (or other players entirely) stepping up in the decider? 1-all start... 2-1 Cards on DeBeer off-speed shot... Wisc hits it out for 3-1 UL lead... Rettke block to close to 3-2... 3-3... Rettke hits it out for 4-3 Card lead... 4-all... DeBeer for 5-4... 5-all... DeBeer again... UL serve-receipt solid again... 6-all... Badgers into the net. 7-6 UL, but UW challenging... (You learn something every day: If a player's hair touches the net, it's not a violation.)... Challenge affirmed, but because ball was still in play, a replay is called at 6-6... 7-6 Badgers... 8-6 Wisc, T/O Louisville... Badgers on 7-3 run (from down 1-3)... 9-6... Claire Chaussee with kill off the block, 9-7... Now 10-7 UW... Wisc hits long for 10-8, challenging on possible touch (denied)... Badger block for 11-8... UL hits it out for 12-8 Wisc lead... As per ESPN, Badgers even up the block count, 11-11... UL having trouble getting kills, UW isn't, 13-8... 14-8... 14-9... Badger kill to end it, 15-9...
Saturday, December 11, 2021
A long day of play is over. See below for my real-time statistical commentary on all four matches (with thanks to the NCAA women's volleyball website for statistics and play-by-play sheets, which were very helpful when I missed a play)...
Texas-Nebraska: Coming up soon for the remaining spot in the Final Four with Pitt, Louisville, and Wisconsin... Game 1: Texas out to early 4-1 lead... Nebraska turns things around, taking 13-9 lead... Now 14-10... Cornhusker lead up to 17-10, now 17-11... Nebraska in good shape, leading 23-15... And the Huskers close it out 25-19. Game-1 hitting percentages: NU .242, UT .125... Game 2: Nebraska leading 11-10... Huskers expand lead to 20-12, looking likely to take a two-games-to-none lead... Three straight for Longhorns, closing their deficit to 20-15... Texas closes further to 22-20... Excellent dig by Horns on hard-hit ball leads to kill in transition, now 22-21... 22-all on another UT kill... Airmailed serve puts NU back up, 23-22... 23-all after long rally... Another long serve by Texas gives Nebraska game-point, 24=23... Huskers pound overpass to take Game 2, 25-23 (a lot closer than it looked like it was going to be)... Game 3: Texas up 6-5, thanks to some big blocks. On the evening (cumulatively), we have seven total blocks for the Horns and five for the Huskers... Nebraska goes up 8-7, hoping to avoid the reverse-sweep suffered by Washington Thursday night vs. Texas... Still close: 15-14 Huskers... Now 17-14, the most recent point coming on a Nebraska ace serve... UT with two straight to close to 17-16... Now 20-19 NU... UT airmails another serve, making it 21-19... Nebraska can't put away a free-ball opportunity and Texas is back to within 21-20. Horns tie it 21-all... Texas serve into net gives Nebraska 22-21 lead, but Skylar Fields kill ties it at 22-all... Molly Phillips kill puts Longhrons up 23-22, T/O Nebraska... Texas serve called wide, but under challenge... Call reversed and ruled an ace to give Horns 24-22 lead... Another UT service error (into net), making it 24-23... Big UT block gives it game, 25-23. Texas now up to 11 total blocks (cumulatively)... After three games (cumulatively), Fields hitting .344 (13-2-32). Game 4: Nebraska leading 9-7... Now 11-10 Huskers... Announcer Paul Sunderland showing his statistical chops, noting that NU first-years Lindsay Krause (pronounced Krowzy) and Ally Batenhorst are hitting at a much higher percentage tonight than their percentages for the season.
Krause: Tonight .500 (12-2-20) ----- Season .219
Batenhorst: Tonight .476 (10-0-21) ----- Season .152
Nebraska ups lead to 15-12... 16-12 on Texas attack called a throw or push rather than a hit. Sunderland contends that similar types of contact have been taking place all night without being flagged. Now 17-12... 18-12... Now up to 20-12 Huskers... 21-13 NU... 21-14... UT block for 21-15... Longhorn kill for 21-16. T/O Nebraska... Huskers challenge whether UT's Logan Eggleston had her foot on 10-foot-line before going up for attack. Declined, so still 21-16... Texas hits long, but challenges whether Nebraska committed net violation. Challenge upheld, so 21-17... Longhorns with ace for 21-18... Mystery call (possibly NU net violation) for 21-19... Batenhorst kills saves NU after shaky serve-receipt, 22-19 Huskers... Nebraska block for 23-19... Fields (UT) and Kayla Caffey (NU) trade kills for 24-20 Husker lead... Fields kill off the block keeps Texas alive, 24-21... Krause kill sends Huskers to Final Four, 25-21 in Game 4...
Wisconsin-Minnesota is also coming on the air in-progress, with the Badgers leading Game 1 by a 19-15 tally... The Badgers finish off the opener 25-18, outhitting the Gophers .304 (19-5-46) to .222 (9-1-36). Minnesota avoided hitting errors in Game 1 (only one), but a very large share of their spikes were kept in play. UW middle Dana Rettke is off to a hot start hitting (.625, 5-0-8), whereas UM's go-to, right-side hitter Stephanie Samedy, is not (.071, 2-1-14). Without a great night from Samedy, for Minnesota it will be a calamity... Game 2: Minnesota out to a 10-8 lead... Now 15-13 Gophers... 15-14...15-all... And Wisconsin pulls ahead 16-15. Three kills from Jade Demps, two from Julia Orzol, and one from Devyn Robinson have powered a Badger 6-1 scoring run from 10-14 to 16-15... Now 17-all... 20-19 Badgers on stuff block; hitting over the 6-foot-8 Rettke and 6-foot-9 Anna Smrek is, pardon the pun, a tall task for Minnesota... Gophers hanging in, however, 21-all... Samedy has upped her hitting percentage to .273 (7-1-22). Now 22-all... Rettke slides over to the right for a kill to make it 23-22, followed by a Rettke ace making it 24-22... UW hits wide, bringing Gophers within 24-23. Samedy kill from the back row ties things at 24-all... Minnesota gets two good swings, but Wisconsin there with the block each time (the first time fielded by Gophers, the second time a stuff-block for a Badger point), giving Wisconsin 25-24 lead... Gophers hit wide for 26-24 Badger win... Game 2 hitting percentages: Wisconsin .342, Minnesota .275... Blocks (cumulative) through two games are even at four apiece... Game 3: Minnesota leads 8-7, as Gophers continue to play Badgers on even terms of late... Ace on serve that hits net and trickles over gives UW a 10-9 lead... Badgers starting to open up some daylight, 13-10, although Minnesota is challenging a no-touch call on a ball it hit out... Challenge denied, so score remains 13-10... 17-15 Badgers... 18-15... Gophers with three straight to tie it 18-all, the last point coming on a Samedy back-row kill... Badger block for 19-18... Ace (Minnesota lets serve land that was way in) for 20-18... Smrek kill for 21-18... Two more for Wisconsin to make it 23-18.. Gophers rebound with three to come within 23-21, but this time it's the Badgers challenging a no-touch call... Hard to tell on the replay (as many touch/no-touch calls are), but perhaps Minnesota blocker's finger bent a tiny bit, suggesting a touch... Challenge denied, so score remains 23-21... Rettke slide kill for 24-21, match-point... UW hits long, 24-22... Rettke with another slide kill for the match and Badger trip to the Final Four... Rettke finishes at .520 (15-2-25), Robinson at .391 (11-2-23), and Demps .312 (7-2-16) for Wisconsin. The durable Samedy, with 42 swings in three games, finishes at .214 (12-3-42), with Minnesota teammate Airi Miyabe hitting .296 (13-5-27).
Louisville-Georgia Tech started before the end of Pitt-Purdue, so by the time I started watching the Cardinals and Yellowjackets, Louisville had already taken the Game 1 (25-18)... Game 2: According to an ESPN studio host, Georgia Tech had not won even a single game from its Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) mate Louisville since 2016. That streak is now over, the Yellowjackets winning Game 2 by a 25-21 score. Georgia Tech upped its hitting percentage from .116 in Game 1 to .281 in Game 2... Louisville's hitting percentage moved in the opposite direction (.281 to .152). Game 3: Louisville regains the upper hand, winning 25-21... The Cardinals close it out, 25-20, to advance...
Pitt-Purdue underway... Game 1: After a slow start (Purdue starting out with 4-1 lead), Pitt leads 11-10... ESPN graphic points out Boilermakers' height advantage, but Panthers scoring kills with no problem when in-system. Pitt also has a couple of stuff-blocks... Panthers lead 15-14 at a TV break. even though Purdue hitting .500 (10-2-16). Pitt opening up a little daylight with 18-15 lead, hitting .444 (10-2-18)... Panthers up their lead to 21-17... Pitt up 23-19, running the middle to great effect... Panthers close out Game 1, 25-20... A real slugfest in Game 1, with Pitt hitting .571 (19-3-28) and Purdue hitting .478 (14-3-23)... Game 2: 7-4 Purdue... Pitt getting hot, takes 9-8 lead. Still early, of course, but Panthers' Serena Gray crushing it in the middle (1.000, 5-0-5)... 13-all... 16-15 Pitt; Panthers with two service errors in Game 2... 18-17 Pitt... 19-18 Pitt... Now 19-all... Game-2 hitting much colder thus far: Pitt .172, Purdue .143... 20-all... 21-all... 22-all... Purdue now up 24-22... 24-all... 25-24 Purdue... Another Gray kill to tie it 25-all... 26-all... 27-all... 28-all... Purdue takes it, 30-28. Pitt just couldn't close on some free-ball opportunities... Through two games: Pitt 25 digs, Purdue 23... Game 3: Early 5-2 lead for Pitt... 11-6 Panthers... Boilers on a run, closing to within 12-10. T/O Pitt... Here's an odd statistic, considering how close this game is: Pitt hitting .727 in this game (8-0-11), whereas Purdue hitting .000 (4-4-14)... Two in a row for Pitt, as it leads 14-10... Now 14-11 on Purdue block; Boilermakers up to six stuffs for the match... 14-12... 15-13 Panthers and now 16-13... 16-14... 16-15 on a Purdue ace... Gray annihilates another set to the middle to make it 17-15 Panthers... 18-15... 19-15. Purdue T/O. Pitt's Game-3 hitting now .300 (12-3-30). You didn't expect the .727 to last, did you?... 20-15 Pitt... 21-15... 22-15, looks like it's slipping away from the Boilers, but don't forget the comeback vs. BYU... Three straight points for Purdue, now 22-18 Pitt; Panthers call time... Airmailed Purdue serve makes it 23-18... Boilers with nice quick-hit down the middle for 23-19... Gray back in the front row for Pitt, so you know what that means: 24-19... Pitt kill ends Game 3, 25-20... Cumulatively through three games, Pitt's Serena Gray hitting an error-free .750 (12-0-16)... Game 4: Purdue with a 5-4 lead... Now, 10-all... 12-10 Pitt... Purdue has been making most of the miracle saves in the match (as per my memory), but on this last point, it was Pitt, 13-10... 14-10... Boilermaker kill for 14-11... Panthers return the favor for 15-11... Pitt starting to pull away a little, leading 17-11... However, you can't count Purdue out until the ref's whistle blows on the 25th (or whatever game-winning total) point for the other team... 19-11 Pitt... Three Purdue points cut its deficit to 19-14 and prompt Pitt T/O... Game-4 hitting percentages: Pitt .348 (9-1-23), Purdue .000 (9-9-33)... Panthers rebound with next two points to make it 21-14, T/O Purdue... 24-14 Pitt, 10 match-points. One is staved off, but no more than that... Your Game-4 final is 25-15, sending Pitt to the Final Four... ESPN color commentator Missy Whittemore ( a former setter) made the interesting point late in the match that Purdue did not seem to trust its front-row hitters at the time, instead setting players in the back row (who must launch their jump from behind the 10-foot line).
I think this is my first-ever Volleymetrics "pregame coverage," with the first of today's four regional finals roughly 30 minutes away. My primary thought heading into the action is the demise (in the short term, at least) of West Coast volleyball. When I covered the inaugural NCAA women's volleyball tournament for the UCLA Daily Bruin 40 years ago (screenshots below), the teams in the Final Four were USC, UCLA, University of the Pacific, and San Diego State (prior to 1981, women's collegiate sports were entirely under the auspices of the AIAW). Of the eight remaining teams playing today, none are from the Pac 12 or any other West Coast conference (OK, BYU was extremely close, Washington a little less so).
Thursday, December 9, 2021
It's wall-to-wall NCAA women's volleyball today on ESPN-U and ESPN+ (a subscription service), with an 11:00 am Central start to Sweet Sixteen matches... In the following paragraphs, I offer my thoughts on several of the matches (most recent on top)...
No. 10 seed Nebraska, which swept unseeded Illinois twice this season during B1G play, leads the Illini 19-12 in Game 1... Huskers take it 25-12... Game 2 also to Nebraska, 25-21... The Huskers close out the match 25-17 for their third sweep of Illinois this season. The Huskers' hitting percentages across the three games were nothing, if not consistent: .250, .263, .263.
Upset in the making? No. 15 Washington finishes off No. 2 Texas 25-19 in Game 1... Huskies keeping it up, leading 17-13 in Game 2... Now 20-16... Huskies two points away in Game 2, 23-19... And UW closes out Game 2, 25-20... Washington's hitting percentages in the first two games are torrid: .387 and .414. Only 2 hitting errors for the Huskies in Game 2 along with 14 kills (on 29 attempts). Horns hit a strong .364 in Game 2, but to no avail... U-Dub outblocking Texas 5-3 on the evening (as of early Game 3)... I go do something else for a bit and now the match has totally turned around... Texas leads 10-7 in Game 5, having won Games 3 and 4 by scores of 25-22 and 25-9... Now 12-8 Longhorns in the fifth... 13-8... 14-8... Texas takes Game 5 by a score of 15-9 for the "reverse sweep." After hitting so well in the first two games, the Huskies' percentages in the final three games fell to .154, -.036, and .083... Texas hit .314 in Game 3, then went wild in Games 4 (.500, 13-1-24) and 5 (.500, 6-1-10). To repeat: Texas makes just one hitting error in each of the last two games!
No. 13 UCLA trying to hang on at No. 4 Wisconsin, trailing two games to none and 18-14 in Game 3... Badgers finish it off 25-17, setting up an all-B1G regional final vs. Minnesota...
It's a tale of two cities (make that games) in the match-up of No. 6-seed Purdue and No. 11 BYU (live box score). The Boilermakers took the first game 25-12 (outhitting the Cougars .379 to -.179), but BYU has turned it on in Game 2. Trailing 5-8, BYU ran off 10 straight points to open up a 15-8 lead. A streak like that has to be very rare in NCAA tournament matches. During this run, the Cougars' strategic short serving was preventing Purdue from even getting many decent swings. BYU, on the other hand, got a lot of good attack attempts and made good on them... BYU wraps up Game 2, 25-16, outhitting Purdue .303 to .171... Early Game-3 edge to BYU, 6-3... The Cougars have led Game 3 most of the way, but things are getting a little closer at 22-20, BYU. Now 23-21... Kill to make it 24-21 Cougars... and game, 25-21. Without some nice digs, Purdue would have lost the game even more decisively... Game-3 hitting percentages: BYU .406 (14 kills and only 1 hitting error on 32 attempts), Purdue .172... Boilers bouncing back, however, off to 4-0 lead in Game 4. Purdue lead up to 6-0 before BYU gets first point... 19-9 Purdue, looks like we're heading for a fifth game... Indeed we are, Purdue wins 25-13 (outhitting BYU .379 to .062)... Cougars out to 3-1 lead in Game 5... Now 4-1... 5-1... Returning from time-out, Purdue with quick three points to close within 5-4... Big BYU block to up lead to 6-4... 7-4 after BYU ace... 7-5... 7-6... 7-7, as Cougars showing some serve-receipt difficulties... T/O BYU... Cougars with a kill for 8-7... Boilers counter with kill of their own for 8-8 tie, but then serve into net for 9-8 BYU lead... Kill for 10-8 BYU... Purdue kill to close within 10-9... BYU tip for 11-9... Cougar block, 12-9. T/O Purdue... Boiler kill to close within 12-10, but another service error, 13-10 BYU... Cougar kill for 14-10... 14-11 (BYU fails to capitalize on free-ball opportunity)... Purdue ace closes it to 14-12. T/O BYU... Another ace! 14-13... BYU hits long after shaky serve-receipt, 14-14... BYU kill for 15-14, Purdue answers 15-15... Cougar net violation for 16-15 Purdue, but BYU challenging. Call confirmed... BYU kill for 16-all... Purdue kill for 17-16... Purdue block to win match, 18-16... Amazing finish! Game-5 hitting: Purdue .211, BYU .100...
Friday, December 3, 2021
The 2021 NCAA women's volleyball tournament is underway, with a few matches having taken place last night (the seeded teams who played advancing) and the bulk of the matches on tap for late this afternoon and tonight.
After many seasons of seeing the same teams atop the seeding, year after year, the last couple of years have seen a changing of the guard. Penn State and Stanford are in the field but unseeded, something that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. USC is not even in the field.
Last year, Kentucky captured the NCAA title as a relative newcomer on the elite scene and this year, another team from the Bluegrass State, Louisville, is the top national seed. Given that the Cardinals went 28-0 on the season (including wins over fellow national seeds Pittsburgh, Purdue, Kentucky, Georgia Tech, and Nebraska), it would be hard to seed them anywhere else.
However, according to my Conference-Adjusted Combined Offensive-Defensive (CACOD) rating (explained here), which I introduced in 2011, Louisville comes out only as third best. The following chart lists the 16 seeded teams in order of their CACOD.
No team with a CACOD lower than 1.91 has ever won the championship, so I've inserted a dividing line to separate the likely contenders from the rest (although just because something hasn't happened before, that doesn't mean it can't happen).
The top two teams in the CACOD are BYU (28-1 with the only loss occurring at Pitt) and Texas (last year's national runner-up and owners of a 25-1 record this season, the only loss coming in a split of a two-match series at Baylor).
Another team drawing a lot of attention is Wisconsin, with its group of "super-seniors," who are playing in their fifth season as a COVID-19 allowance. This group includes 6-foot-8 middle Dana Rettke and setter Sydney Hilley. The Badgers, who went undefeated last season until falling to Texas in the national semifinals, have not been as dominant this year, losing twice to Purdue and once to Maryland, and barely escaping at Minnesota.
Friday, November 19, 2021
Back in August, the U.S. took Olympic gold in women's (indoor) volleyball for the first time. It was quite a transformation for the American squad, whose sometimes shaky performance in pool play gave way to dominance in the medal round. I like to take some time to reflect on a competition, make some graphics, and then write up an analysis. Three months is a long time, but it's just been a busy year. However, I'm finally ready to present my analysis!
To illustrate how the U.S. women upgraded their performance between the pool and medal rounds, I've created the following graphic of their game-by-game point-differentials throughout the tournament, on which you can click to enlarge.
Each game of each match is shown from left to right. In its opening match against Argentina, the U.S. won in a sweep, with margins of 5, 6, and 5 points in each respective game. Hence, victorious games appear as blue bars, greater height reflecting more decisive wins. Skipping to the third match, vs. Turkey, the U.S. took the first two games, lost the third and fourth (shown as red bars, the greater the drop-down, the more decisive the loss), but rebounded for a 15-12 win in the fifth. Next came a blowout loss to the Russian Olympic Committee, and then a two games to one deficit vs. Italy, which the U.S. overcame to win in five. During one stretch, the U.S. dropped seven out of nine games, some by large margins (where all the red is).
This hardly looked like a team poised to win the gold, especially in as dominant fashion as it did! Once the medal round began, however, the U.S. recorded three straight sweeps, by an average of 7 points per game. Readers of this blog will know that the first place I always look is hitting percentage, both that amassed on offense and that allowed defensively. Here are the hitting percentages from the U.S. matches...
In its pool-play matches (Argentina, China, Turkey, ROC, and Italy), the U.S. didn't dominate anyone in hitting percentage. The only domination was by the ROC over the U.S. That all changed in the medal round. After hitting for the most part between .200 and .250 in pool play, the U.S. ranged between roughly .275 and .350 in the medal round. In addition, the Americans started holding their opponents below .200.
The Olympic scoresheets (which no longer seem to be available online) contained a lot of potentially valuable information. As shown below, I gravitated toward three statistics, which I charted...
The first row ("Non-Scoring Reception") pertains to serve-receipt, the second row ("Non-Scoring Dig") pertains to digging, and the third ("Scoring Block") pertains to blocking. Given the importance of launching an "in-system" attack, I thought quality of serve-receipt (defined as serve-receipts deemed "excellent" by some observer, divided by the sum of [opponent aces plus serve-receipts kept in play]) might be key to the U.S. team's improved hitting percentage and overall play in the medal round. But no, U.S. serve-receipt was actually worse in the medal round than in pool play.
What about digging of opponents' spike attempts (defined as "excellent" digs over total attempts)? Not much there either, other than a really good digging match vs. the Dominican Republic in the quarter-finals.
Finally, we have scoring blocks (defined as [points scored via the block - blocking errors]/total blocking attempts). Now, in each of its matches, the U.S. committed more blocking errors (primarily net violations) than it scored points directly via the block, leading to consistent negative values on this statistic. However, the statistics became less negative as the U.S. entered the medal round. It seems anticlimactic to conclude that the key to the American' historic gold medal was blocking for points and staying out of the net while trying to do so, but that is what these data seemed to suggest.
Perhaps, I thought, this was merely a fluke correlation between the blocking statistic and the U.S. team's success. I initially planned to examine the statistics of every women's volleyball match of these past Olympics (not just the U.S. matches) to see if teams with blocking statistics not far below zero tended to do well. However, as I was falling behind in writing up this analysis, I decided to examine only a subset of matches.
In doing so, I found a few instances in which a team scored a large number of points blocking, relative to their blocking errors. Italy scored 12 points directly via the block, while committing only 12 blocking errors (making their statistic .000) vs. the ROC, with Italy winning the match three games to none. Also, Turkey scored 9 points via the block while committing 12 blocking errors vs. China and, what do you know, Turkey recorded a three-game sweep. Finally, the ROC scored 13 points on blocks while committing 13 blocking errors in sweeping Argentina.
As we academics like to say, further research is required to establish the reliability of these findings. Still, there really may be something going on here.
Sunday, August 1, 2021
The U.S. men's indoor squad has missed the eight-team medal tournament, losing its final pool match to Argentina. Vinnie Lopes at Off the Block has a statistically laden summary (link).
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
It was an unusual spring for U.S. collegiate volleyball, thanks to COVID-19-related adjustments, with the women's championship (typically decided in December) and the men's championship (typically being decided five months later) being held only two weeks apart. The women's final was played on Saturday, April 24, 2021, with the men's on May 8. Having nearly three months to digest these matches, I present my analyses of the championships below.
For starters, here's a sentence I never expected to write in my lifetime (I'm 58): The Kentucky Wildcats are the new NCAA women's volleyball champions.* UK stopped Texas in four games, 20-25, 25-18, 25-23, 25-22, to claim what really is the 2020 championship (the 2021 title will be determined this coming November).
True, Kentucky was the No. 2 seed. However, previous high seeds from outside the power conferences (Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12) have rarely lived up to their placements**, so I remained skeptical. In the end, however, Kentucky proved to be a more reliable pick than even No. 1 seed Wisconsin, which entered the tournament undefeated, but bowed out in three to No. 4 Texas in the national semifinals.
Kentucky led the nation in team hitting percentage during the regular season (.361) and, to a large extent, rode that hitting to the national championship. Wisconsin came out better than Kentucky on my Conference-Adjusted Combined Offensive-Defensive (CACOD) measure, which is based on each team's own regular-season hitting percentage (HP) divided by the aggregate hitting percentage a team allowed its opponents (with this ratio multiplied by a strength-of-conference adjustment factor). Wisconsin hit .342 in the regular season (a bit below Kentucky's .361), but the Badgers allowed their opponents to hit a combined .128 (compared to .144 for the Wildcats' opponents). The Big 10's higher conference strength (1.25) than the SEC's (1.00) also made Wisconsin look better:
Wisconsin: .342 own HP/.128 opponents' HP = 2.67, which when multiplied by the Big 10's 1.25 conference adjustment factor = 3.34.
Kentucky: .361 own HP/.144 opponents' HP = 2.51, which when multiplied by the SEC's 1.00 conference adjustment factor = 2.51.
At no time was Kentucky's kill-production more effective than when the Wildcats had the opportunity to close out the championship match against Texas in Game 4. Looking at a portion of the Game-4 play-by-play, once the Wildcats had overcome the Longhorns' early 6-1 edge to take a 15-13 lead, Kentucky successfully kept Texas at arm's length. A trailing team cannot afford merely to trade side-outs, but must put together scoring runs on its own serve to catch up. Yet, as shown in the following screenshots, five of Texas's seven final serving stints consisted of one serve only (the other two consisting of two serves). And, nearly always, it was Kentucky kills (highlighted in yellow) that kept Texas from gaining any ground. (You can click on all graphics to enlarge them.)
Looking at Kentucky's graphs against Texas and Washington one atop the other allows us to discern at a glance any changes in the Wildcats' allocation strategy between the two matches. For example, Kentucky set Stumler considerably more often (34% of the team's hitting attempts) in the final match than in the semifinal (23%). Changes in players' hitting percentages, such as Madi Skinner's improvement from .360 in the semifinal to .455 in the final, are also evident.
Due to the COVID-related cancellation of the 2020 NCAA men's season, 2019 runner-up Hawai'i had to wait two years for another shot at the title. This time, the Rainbow Warriors made good on the opportunity, sweeping BYU, 25-21, 25-19, 25-16.
As this match wore on, Hawai'i looked more and more like it could attack the ball unchallenged. BYU recorded a healthy 5.5 blocks in Game 1 (really 5, as the extra half-block comes from awarding .5 credit to three blockers who went up together). However, the Cougars had zero blocks in Game 2 and two in Game 3 (7.5 total). Hawai'i hit .381 for the match (.400, .333, and .400, respectively, in Games 1, 2, and 3). Also, the Rainbow Warriors had only nine hitting errors on the night; we know seven of these are from BYU's "7.5" blocks, so that means UH spiked only two balls out of bounds.
The Bows' Rado Parapunov, who started off hot in the 2019 final before cooling off, hit .357 this time vs. BYU on 13 kills (with three errors) on 28 swings (one-third of Hawai's overall 84 spike attempts). Several of Parapunov's teammates had even higher hitting percentages, albeit in far fewer attempts (Patrick Gasman, .545, 7-1-11; and Chaz Galloway and Guilherme Voss, each .667, 6-0-9).
Before I go, I wanted to mention that the Hawai'i athletic website's box score from this match is a very elaborate one, containing far more than the usual statistics. As shown in the following screenshot, the extended box score breaks down hitting attempts into first-ball attacks (immediately upon serve-receipt), transition attacks (once a rally has started), and first transition attacks. Hawai'i hit better on first-ball attacks (.524) than it did on transition attacks (.238).
*Any more than I expected to write about a post-1908 World Series win by the Chicago Cubs or an NBA title by the Toronto Raptors (2019) or Milwaukee Bucks (2021).
***In the usual 64-team field, a team must win four matches to reach the Final Four. However, due to COVID, this spring's NCAA tourney consisted of only 48 teams.
Friday, April 16, 2021
The NCAA women's tourney is now down to 16 teams, who will play on Sunday (except for Wisconsin vs. BYU on Saturday). Fourteen of the 16 national seeds have advanced this far. The two exceptions are Western Kentucky, which upset No. 15-seed Washington State in five games and will now face No. 2-seed Kentucky; and Pitt, which swept No. 14-seed Utah and will now take on No. 3-seed Minnesota.
In my tournament preview (previous posting below), I identified Western Kentucky as a leading upset candidate, based on the Hilltoppers' ratio of nearly 3 (2.91) between their own season-long offensive hitting percentage (.355) to the hitting percentage they defensively allowed their opponents (.122). (WKU's conference-difficulty adjustment in Conference USA was 1.00, so the Hilltoppers' ratio statistics is not changed by multiplying by 1.00.)
Another team on my radar was High Point, whose ratio was an even more gaudy 3.29 (=.296/.090). Multiplying by the Big South adjustment factor of .75 yields an adjusted ratio of 2.47 for the Panthers. High Point scored a first-round win over Central Florida, but was then swept by No. 7-seed Purdue in the second round.
I just checked Pitt's regular-season statistics for own and opponents' hitting percentages. They were .262 and .146, respectively. Dividing .262/.146 = 1.79 and multiplying by 1.10 for the ACC conference adjustment, yields an adjusted ratio of 1.97.
Monday, April 5, 2021
Typically, the NCAA women's tournament is held every December. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, however, this has not been a typical season. Back in September 2020, the NCAA moved forward on a plan to shift several fall championships to spring, including women's volleyball. Some conferences (such as the Big 10 and Pac 12) opted to delay their entire women's volleyball seasons from fall 2020 to winter/spring 2021. Others (such as the Big 12) stuck to the usual framework and played the bulk of their schedule in fall 2020, but added some 2021 matches to stay sharp for the national tourney. The SEC played a little less than half of its conference schedule in the fall and a little more than half of it in the spring. Throughout this makeshift season, of course, numerous matches were postponed or cancelled.
The regular season has now been played and here we are, ready for the NCAA tournament. Only 48 teams (down from the usual 64) will participate and the tournament will take place entirely in Omaha, Nebraska. The brackets are available here.
Wisconsin, last year's national runner-up, has remained true to form, going 15-0 in a conference-only season and sweeping all but three matches (which the Badgers won 3-1). Beyond the Badgers, however, the field features several oddities.
Stanford, winner of the last two national titles (and three of the last four), is absent. The Cardinal was able to play only 10 matches this season and went 2-8.
Kentucky is seeded No. 2, higher than I can recall the Wildcats ever being seeded (a little research shows UK was the No. 4 seed in 2017). UK went 19-1 in a conference-only schedule, its only loss coming to Florida (the No. 8 national seed, and with whom the Wildcats split two matches). Kentucky hit .361 as a team for the season, the highest in the land.
Perennial national contender (and seven-time champion) Penn State is seeded No. 13. Many of the other high seeds are familiar faces (No. 3 Minnesota, No. 4 Texas, No. 5 Nebraska, No. 6 Washington).
Readers of this blog will know that I developed a statistic in 2011, the Conference-Adjusted Combined Offensive-Defensive (CACOD), to gauge teams' prospects for doing well in the NCAA tournament based on their regular-season hitting percentages and opposition hitting percentages. It is explained here. For context, no team with a CACOD below 1.91 (which was recorded by 2016 champion Stanford) has won the NCAA women's tournament. CACOD values for the top four national seeds are as follows.
|Team||Hitting%||Opp Hit%||Ratio||Conf Adj||Final CACOD|
Wisconsin's CACOD of 3.34 is the highest ever recorded, surpassing the 3.09 recorded by Penn State in the 2014 regular season. That Nittany Lion squad went on to win the NCAA tournament. Hence, if all goes according to form, the victorious fans (however many of them are admitted for live attendance) will be singing "On Wisconsin."
If you're looking for possible upsets, some other teams with high CACOD values are:
- Western Kentucky .355/.122, ratio = 2.91 (x 1.00 for Conference USA), CACOD = 2.91
- High Point .296/.090, ratio = 3.29 (x .75 for Big South), CACOD = 2.47
Action gets underway a week from Wednesday, on April 14.
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