Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Deb's Top-5: Conference Rivalries + Streaking Teams

by Deb Stadick, Program Director, Badger Region Volleyball Association

This is Deb's first season as the chief women's volleyball blogger for the AVCA, and all season long she will do more than just give us the top matches to watch this week...she will predict the outcome.  After playing at Iowa State University from 2008-2011, Stadick is now the Program Director for the Badger Region Volleyball Association.

Notable News: The unranked University of Colorado-Boulder defeated No. 2 Washington, giving the Huskies their first loss of the season.

Not-So-Notable News:
This is in no way related to volleyball, but I just have to share my excitement. All you tall people out there can relate to the feeling of pure joy I felt upon finding long enough dress pants for the first time in my 23 years of life. Goodbye, high waders.

Top-Five Recap:
I picked two matches right out of five this week. My overall pick record is 15 out of 25. That’s a solid D. Ouch. But given the crazy matches that have been going down, I’m making the executive decision to curve the grading scale and assign myself a C+. 

My Pick: Kansas State def. Kansas in five
Kansas def. Kansas State in three
Set one (31-29) and set two (26-24) were battles. Kansas State lost energy after losing both and got
trampled in set three (25-19).
The first two sets were close. Really close. Like, anyone’s game close.

My Pick: Ball State def. Buffalo in five
Ball State def. Buffalo in three
Ball State bested Buffalo offensively (.346 hitting efficiency/.149 hitting efficiency). 

My Pick: BYU def. Pepperdine in four
BYU def. Pepperdine in four
Alexa Gray and Tambre Haddock stole the show (as usual).

My Pick: Stanford def. USC in five

Reality: USC def. Stanford in three

Recap: Errors at critical points kept Stanford from stealing this one.

IMD: Inky Ajanaku and Carly Wopat didn’t block as well as they normally do.

USC Athletics/Dan Avila

My Pick: Ohio State def. Purdue in four
Reality: Purdue def. Ohio State in three
Recap: Purdue’s block/defense frustrated Ohio State, holding them to a .126 hitting efficiency.
IMD: Ohio State’s defense was game-changing. It just wasn’t game-changing in their favor.

Remember, each Sunday you will have the opportunity to submit a match for me to preview. Tweet your selection to @debstadick and @AVCAVolleyball using the hash tag #DebsPicks. One submission will be previewed in the next blog.

No. 15 Kentucky @ No. 2 Florida
Friday, October 11

UK Athletics/Chet White
Florida is one of those consistently elite teams. They’ve got size, athleticism and finesse: a dangerous trifecta that their 15-1 record and 10-match winning streak reflects. Kentucky (12-3) started the season with a pair of losses, but the Wildcats hit their stride towards the end of pre-conference play and have morphed into a team-to-beat.

One of Kentucky’s strengths is their ball control. A pair of six-rotation outsides (Whitney Billings (left) and Anni Thomasson) along with libero Jackie Napper bring defensive consistency to the court.

Billings continues to be an offensive go-to for the Wildcats, but it’s her supporting cast that is making Kentucky so hard to beat. Consistent production from other hitters (including outsides Thomasson and Lauren O’Conner along with middle Alexandra Morgan) gives the Wildcats a number of scoring options and allows them to create one-on-one attack opportunities.

Florida continues to be an offensively-productive squad. They’ve tabbed a .349 hitting efficiency on the season thanks to their slew of scoring options, which include outside Ziva Recek, Alex Holston and Gabby Mallette along with middles Chloe Mann and Simone Antwi.

Also strong defensively, Florida has decisively out-blocked (33-15) and out-dug (725-653) their opponents this season, and a big part of their defensive success can be attributed to libero Taylor Unroe. It all starts with the pass, right?

What’s neat about Florida is their consistency so far this season. We’ve seen so many lauded teams suffer upsets (eh hem...most of them), but Florida has steadily defeated every team they should have defeated. And I think they can maintain that pace.
My Pick: Florida in four.

Colorado @ Cal
Wednesday, October 9 GRASSMICK
Both of these teams are worth watching this season. Colorado is off to an 11-3 start and recently knocked off undefeated and No. 1 Washington. California is currently 9-4 and was ridiculously close to beating a strong USC program last week (fifth set: 15-13).

Colorado runs a 5-1 offense and relies on their pin hitters (Taylor Simpson, Kerra Schroeder and Alexis Austin (right)) to carry the offensive weight. Simpson and Schroeder also contribute on defense as they play all six rotations. Libero Cierra Simpson is a scrappy defender and keeps setter Nicole Edelman in-system and able to set her primary hitters.

Colorado has a dominant net presence in middle hitter Nikki Lindow (1.31 blocks per set), so she's someone to keep an eye on.

Cal doesn’t shine in one particular facet of the game--they are pretty strong across the board. Cal runs a 5-1 (setter Joan Caloiaro) and rely on six-rotation kills leader Adrienne Gehan (outside) to score the majority of their points. Caloiaro is also a wicked server, albeit inconsistent.

The Bears have three solid second-option hitters (middles Lara Vukasovic and Lillian Schonewise along with pin hitter Christina Higgins) who take a similar number of swings and generate efficient hitting percentages. As a team, the Bears hit .290. Vukasovic and Schonewise also produce decent blocking numbers, both tabbing just over one block per set.

These are two very similar teams. Both run a 5-1 offensive system (not that shocking). Both have one primary hitter along with several strong second options. Both put up a decent block. I think this match comes down to defense and court smarts. Whichever team can out-scrappy the other team will have the advantage. I like Colorado in this bout. I think they have a lot of defensive flow with three players spinning all six rotations and producing from the back court. And a solid libero.

My Pick: Colorado in five.

Long Beach State @ Cal State Northridge
Thursday, October 10

This Big West match up features the 13-3 Cal State Northridge Matadors and the 8-8 Long Beach State 49ers. The Matadors are a consistent team: they’ve won every match they were supposed to win, and lost every match they were supposed to lose. The 49ers are streaky, due in part to the fact they’ve been plagued by injury this season and left shorthanded.

Long Beach State runs a 5-1 offensive system with setter Erin Juley. The 49ers rely on the offensive and defensive contribution of six-rotation pin hitters Delainey Aigner-Swesey and Alex Reid. The duo has tallied half of the team’s total kills, but are also the second and third strongest back court players behind libero Tyler Jackson.

The 49ers are an impressive blocking team. Three players have tallied over one block per set, including middle Chisom Okpala (1.14) and Haleigh Hampton (1.13) along with pin hitter Miley Joy (1.13).

Cal State Northridge also runs a 5-1 offense and are led by senior setter Sydney Gedryn (below).

CSN Athletics

Their offense is more balanced than Long Beach State’s, and the Matadors have four players with over 160 kills this season: outsides Natalia Allen (194) and Mahina Haina (167) along with opposite Cieana Stinson (171) and middle Casey Hinger (165).

Standout defense from libero Kelcie Randazzo allows the Matadors to run their well-rounded offense. Randazzo has tallied 3.35 digs per set this season.

Long Beach State could be a better team than their record reflects if all their players are healthy and ready to go. Hampton played against Hawaii for the first time since pre-conference. When she is healthy she’s a phenomenal player (Honorable Mention All-American her sophomore season, redshirted last season).

I think Cal State Northridge’s rounded offense and strong serve receive will make them a little too hard to defend. If their defense stays strong, and they are able to spread the court offensively, the 49ers will struggle closing blocks and slowing down Cal State Northridge’s multiple weapons.

My Pick: Cal State Northridge in four.

Duke @ No. 10 North Carolina
Friday, October 11

Duke isn’t ranked yet this year, but I really like what their program is doing. They suffered two early losses to strong Florida and Minnesota programs, but have gone undefeated their last nine contests. North Carolina is 15-0 and joins Missouri and Colorado State as the only undefeated DI programs.  

UNC Head Coach Joe Sagula -
North Carolina runs a 6-2 offensive system. Jordyn Schnabl and Abigail Curry have led the team to a .264 hitting efficiency. Their primary hitters are unquestionably outsides Leigh Andrew and Jovana Bjelica along with opposite Kayla Berringer. Andrew can play all six rotations, giving North Carolina four attack options when she is back row.

Pair that with North Carolina’s scrappy defense (cue libero Ece Taner’s 4.06 digs per set), and the Tar Heels are a very tough team to defend. They are in-system a lot, and always have at least three attack options.

Duke runs a 5-1 offense and their go-to hitter is outside Emily Sklar (ACC Player of the Week). She’s a standout in the front row (team-high 178 kills) but also adds defense to the floor.

Sklar’s offensive production is complemented by outside Jeme Obeime and opposite Elizabeth Campbell. Middles Chelsea Cook and Jordan Tucker are third-option hitters, but score for a high percentage (.270 and .330) when they do get set.

Senior libero Ali McCurdy along with freshman defensive specialist Sasha Karelov lock down the Blue Devils’ back court. Also strong defensively is setter Maggie Deichmeister.

This match will be very telling for Duke. I feel like they are so close to breaking into the next level. This match is their chance to prove they have “made it” and are ready to compete with elite programs. As much as I want that for Duke, I think North Carolina is too hot right now. They have home-court advantage and more big-match experience and success. Plus they’ve got a lot of offensive options, and Duke isn’t a particularly strong blocking team.  

My Pick: North Carolina in four.

Utah State @ No. 13 Colorado State

Thursday, October 10

This match is our #DebsPicks submission of the week and was suggested by @CSUVolleyball

Colorado State is coming off a Mountain West championship title last season, and while this season has been shaky, the Aggies have shown sparks of potential (see wins over Northern Iowa and Pacific).
Utah State runs a 5-1 offensive system (set by Paige Neves) and spreads the ball evenly among their top three scorers (outsides Rachel Orr (left) and Tumua Etimani and opposite Elle Brainard). All three have tabbed over 100 kills, but Orr and Etimani don’t always swing for a high percentage.
The Aggies are a very strong serving team which in turn helps their blockers. Their aggressive, low-error serving forces their opponents to make predictable sets. Playing against a predictable offense allows middle blockers Kaitlyn VanHoff and Alyssa Everett plenty of time to set-up their block.  

Colorado State is a team that has everything going for them right now. Everything is just working.

The Rams run a 5-1 offense with an undersized setter. This hasn’t been an issue at all. The feisty, 5’9” Deedra Foss has led her team to a .313 hitting efficiency and chalked up 0.72 blocks per set.  Not exactly a blocking asset, but not a liability either.

Colorado State’s go-to hitters (opposite Adrianna Culbert and outsides Marlee Reynolds and Michelle Lawrence) aren’t just tallying kills. They are doing so efficiently. That’s a tough feat for pin hitters because they get a ton of out-of-system sets.

The Rams have a pair of offensively efficient middles (Kelsey Snider and Samantha Peters) who provide two more scoring options along with big blocking numbers. Both have 1.17 blocks per set.
In case you couldn’t tell, I really like Colorado State. They aren’t just winning, they're winning and doing a lot of things right in the process. I am not sure it really matters who they are playing. If they can continue to worry about their side of the net and keep up what they’ve started, they will continue to be a team to beat this season. And most likely win this match. 

My Pick: Colorado State in three.  

Alright. That’s all I’ve got for you this week. If you have thoughts about the matches or want to talk volleyball, feel free to tweet @debstadick or @AVCAVolleyball.

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