Friday, January 27, 2012

Getting it Right! - Part I

This is part I of volleyball coaching legend Mike Hebert's blog series on his pet peeves.  Check back every Friday for his next entry!

by Mike Hebert
From my first experience as a Santa Barbara-based beach volleyball player in 1962 through my most recent coaching stint at the 2011 Pan American Games—some 51 years in the game—I have seen and heard it all. I was there when the rules of volleyball in the US permitted back row players to participate in the block. Screening for the server was also popular. All five players would stand shoulder to shoulder as the server launched the ball from behind a tight wall.  And then there was the synchronized hand clap by teammates at the exact moment anyone executed an overhand pass or set. The sound of the hand clap prevented the referee from hearing the noise created by an unclean contact of the ball, thereby side-stepping a possible ball handling violation.

I can also remember when the block counted as the first contact, severely limiting the effectiveness of the counterattack game. While at UCSB’s Robertson Gym in the mid-60’s I learned how to hit a “Jap” set, which is what everyone called the quick “1” set pioneered by the Japanese men’s team at the 1964 Olympics.  There was even a time when spikers were not allowed to follow through over the net with their hitting hand. And you really missed out if you were not around when it became legal to block and attack the serve!

By the 1970’s and 80’s the game as we know it today began to take shape. The block no longer counted as the first contact. Antennas were added to the net. Sound was ruled out as a reason for evaluating the quality of a contact.  No more blocking or attacking the serve. No intentional screening. Only front row players could block. A player could initiate serve from anywhere on the baseline. No double contact called on a player who is defending against a hard driven ball. Contact with the net was now legal under certain circumstances. The libero position was established. And, most significantly, the game was changed from side out to rally scoring.

It is my opinion that, as a result of these changes, our game is in much better shape than it has ever been.
However, should there be a remote chance that any of you might be interested, I have identified a few things about our volleyball universe that “bug” me. So, if you will allow me to reach into my pocket to unfold my tattered list of volleyball pet peeves, I will share some of them with you. The list is a work in progress. Sometimes I draw a line through an item when I decide it no longer warrants pet peeve status. And sometimes I add an item to the list when I notice something that causes the pet peeve warning light to start flashing. If only these items could be resolved, I self-righteously say to myself, our volleyball world would be a better place.

1.      Why do volleyball people attribute meaning to per set statistics? I read discussions on volleyball chat rooms where contributors argue that Team A is a better blocking team than Team B because they average more blocks per set. Even worse, per set statistics are used to evaluate All-Region and All-American candidates!

Here is the problem. The top team in a conference (Team A) can play against the last place team (Team B) and win in a 3-0 blow-out. As a result, both teams participate in a relatively low number of total rotations, thereby limiting the total number of blocking opportunities available to each team. Both teams’ blocks per set will be low when compared to the totals accumulated  in a match between two evenly matched teams where the score can be 3-2, and the total number of blocking opportunities much higher than the earlier example. 

Consider that the first place team will likely play in a higher number of 3-0, low rotation matches and might average, say, 1.7 blocks per set.  Another team, which competes in more 3-2 and 3-1, high rotation matches can average, say, 2.2 blocks per set…not because they are a better blocking team, but because they play longer matches that provide significantly more opportunities to post a blocking stat.

All per set statistics suffer from the same flaw. Only per attempt statistics have value. And the only per attempt statistic available to us is Kill Efficiency. Our sport needs to overhaul its approach to statistical evaluation to rid itself of per set stats. How many times do I have to listen to someone tell me that blocker A is better than blocker B because she has a higher blocks per set average. Blocker A plays on a powerhouse team that wins most of its matches 3-0. Blocker B, on the other hand, plays on an average team that battles its way to 4 or 5 sets virtually every time they play. It is conceivable that Blocker B can post a higher blocks per set average merely because she plays on a team that provides her with more opportunities to block.

Further complicating this issue are the following:

a.       Some teams prefer to use their block to channel the ball to their diggers. They are likely to block fewer balls simply because of their system.
b.      Others want to block every ball they can with less concern for channeling. to diggers. They are likely to have higher blocks per set numbers; again, because of their system.
c.       Some teams emphasize control blocking, making it possible to  pass the ball accurately to their setter for a counterattack opportunity. This can be a very effective system choice, but there is no stat recorded for a control block.
d.      Some teams are very physical and can put up an intimidating block, forcing the opponent’s attacker into a tip or roll shot which is easily scooped up by the blocking team. But again, no blocking stat is posted.

All of the above have a significant impact on the accumulation of blocks per set. But they lead to a wide variance in team blocking totals. They are an unreliable indicator of which teams are the better blocking teams. There is no scientific correlation between the blocks per set statistic and the actual blocking ability of a team.

So, “Sheesh”. Let’s stop pretending that there is.

Check back next week for part II of Mike Hebert's "Getting it Right" blog series

Friday, January 13, 2012

Men's Weekend Preview (Jan. 13, 2012)

by David Portney

Now that we're a week into the Men's DI-II season and have started to develop some momentum, let's look at a few of the key matches to watch this weekend.

#2 BYU at #1 UC Irvine - Friday, Jan.13th, 7PM PT

No doubt this is the premier match this weekend, as this is already the second time in a week these two teams have played as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams.  But one week ago they were flipped, as the second-ranked Anteaters knocked off the first seeded Cougars in four sets (21-25, 25-19, 25-17, 25-23).

UCI is led by 2011 AVCA Second-Team All-American Carson Clark, who nailed 14 kills in their win a week ago.  But don't sleep on teammate Jeremy Dejno, who burned BYU for a team-leading 18 kills and two aces.  The game plan heading into these early season matches will be to slow down Clark, so if his teammates like Dejno can step up to create serious match-up problems then UC Irvine will be looking at a serious run to the championship.

But was that match a sign of things to come or just an aberration for BYU?  It's tough to tell this early in the year, but senior middle blocker Quentin Smith said he didn't think that match was a true indicator of their team, “We definitely did not play our best match,” Smith said. “But what’s exciting is we ended up being in the game. Even not playing our best we were right there,  so I think most of us are pretty pumped and pretty optimistic because we know we can play a lot better.”

And they'll have to do just that if they want to take down the now-No. 1 team in the country tonight in California.

#3 UCLA at #13 Hawai'i- Jan. 14th, 9PM PT    TV: FOX College Sports

The Stan Sheriff Center will certainly be rocking Saturday night as these two teams hook up for the final match of the 18th annual Outrigger Hotels Invitational.  A year ago, UCLA won this Invitational with a clean sweep over Hawai'i.  Historically, the Bruins have had their way with the Warriors posting a career 56-20 record.  

But that's all in the past now.  Hawai'i split their two matches with DII UC San Diego and has a victory over DIII Springfield College, so they still have remained relatively untested this year.  UCLA has dropped one this season to #1 UC Irvine, but also swept the defending champion Ohio State Buckeyes a week ago.

#7 Penn State at #8 Ohio State - Saturday, Jan. 14th, 7PM ET

Speaking of those Buckeyes, they come home for the first time this season after completing a west coast swing that saw them finish 1-2.  The Nittany Lions on the other hand, will just be starting their season with something to prove after making the NCAA Final Four a year ago.  Head coach Mark Pavlik, in his 18th season leading the men's volleyball program, welcomes back 13 letterwinners, including six returners with starting experience for the 2012 season. Included in the group are 2011 AVCA First Team All-American Joe Sunder and AVCA Second Team All-American Edgardo Goas. 

OSU took two of three matches against PSU a year ago, including a victory in the semifinals that led them to the 2011 NCAA Championship match against UC Santa Barbara.