Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Deb's Top-5 Previews and Predictions

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: Two programs remain undefeated and are climbing the rankings: Missouri (No. 18) has a 21-0 record, while Colorado State (No. 12) is 15-0.

Not-So-Notable News: I didn’t realize it until just now, but Creighton is one of my favorite teams this season. Mainly because I love their offensive-minded setter Michelle Sicner (won the Sports Imports/AVCA Player of the Week).

Top-Five Recap: I went three for five this week, upping my overall pick record to 18-12.

My Pick: Florida def. Kentucky in four.
Reality: Florida def. Kentucky in three.
Recap: Florida deservedly moved up to No. 2 after last week’s wins. They are just darn good.

My Pick: Colorado def. Cal in five.
Reality: Cal def. Colorado in three.
Recap: Colorado never got clicking offensively and were fighting uphill the whole match.
IMD: Colorado’s go-to hitters weren’t very go-to worthy.

My Pick: Cal State Northridge def. Long Beach State in four.
Reality:  Cal State Northridge def. Long Beach State in four.
Recap:  Cal State Northridge’s Mahina Haina had a huge night with 16 kills/.351 hitting efficiency.

My Pick: North Carolina def. Duke in four.
Reality: Duke def. North Carolina in three.
Recap: Holy cow, I love a good upset
IMD: North Carolina was undefeated. Who would YOU have picked? Really.

My Pick: Colorado State def. Utah State in three.
Reality: Colorado State def. Utah State in four.
Recap: There’s a reason Colorado State is undefeated: consistency. 

Check out highlights from the match:

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 hashtag  #DebsPicks. One submission will be previewed in the next blog.

Georgia @ No. 18 Missouri
Friday, October 18

These SEC squads are really impressing me this season. Missouri’s 5-0 conference record is nice, but their 21-0 overall record is jaw-dropping. They join Colorado State as the only undefeated DI programs. Georgia has tabbed a 4-2 conference record and 14-4 overall record (their losses were to strong Nebraska, Kansas, Texas A&M and Florida programs).

The Bulldogs run a 6-2 offensive system with setters Maggie Baumert and Kaylee Kehoe. The two have led their team to a .254 hitting efficiency. The Bulldogs are led offensively by opposite Stacey Smith and middle hitter Lauren Teknipp.

Unique about the Bulldogs’ offense is their obsession with setting pin hitters Brittany Northcutt and Tirah Le-au. They lead the team in total attempts (by a lot), but are only tabbing .187 and .153 hitting efficiencies, respectively. Northcutt plays all six rotation, and opposing teams target her in serve receive (she leads the team in total serve-receive attempts). 

I am loving Mizzou volleyball this season. They are setting school records (21-straight wins). Carly Kan (right) was named SEC Freshman of the Week. They just have a lot of good things going for them.

Led by senior setter Molly Kreklow, the Tigers are blasting a .378 hitting efficiency.  Six-rotation outsides Lisa Henning and Carly Kan set the pace for the Tigers’ offense, leading in both total attempts and kills.

A strong defensive team, libero Sarah Meister keeps the Tigers in-system and able to set their middle hitters Emily Thater and Whitney Little along with pin hitter Emily Wilson.

I like Missouri in this contest, but they have their work cut out for them. Georgia is a solid team. They aren’t great, but they are solid. Missouri could easily fall into the temptation of overlooking Georgia in preparation for their match against No. 2 Florida two days later.

My Pick: Missouri in four.

No. 5 Michigan State @ No. 10 Minnesota
Thursday, October 17

This top-10, Big Ten showdown will showcase some phenomenal volleyball. Michigan State’s 17-1 record features impressive wins over ranked Penn State, Oregon, Ohio State and Nebraska squads. They are the only Big Ten team remaining undefeated in conference. Minnesota is 16-3 (4-2 in conference) and have tabbed wins over strong Ohio State and Purdue programs.

The Spartans have experimented with both a 5-1 and 6-2 offense this season with setters Kristen Kelsay and Halle Peterson. Their latest contests have featured the 6-2.

MSU Athletics
Michigan State’s dominant go-to hitter is outside Lauren Wicinski (left). The physical Wicinski authoritatively leads the team in kills, but also adds blocking, defense and a whole lot of fire to the court as a six-rotation player.

Middle hitter Alexis Matthews is another key contributor to the Spartans’ offense and is second on the team in kills.  Not only an offensive middle, Matthews is a huge force at the net. She’s chalked up 1.4 blocks per set this season and recently earned her 500th career block.

Libero Kori Moster and outside Taylor Galloway pace the Spartans’ defense.

Minnesota runs a 5-1 offense with setter Alexandra Palmer, who distributes her sets between outsides Ashley Wittman and Santana Daly and middle Tori Dixon. This season, Dixon has tabbed a .435 hitting efficiency, team-high 253 kills, 1.38 blocks per set and 104 digs, earning her four weekly honors.

I think that Minnesota’s Dixon and Michigan State’s Matthews will neutralize each other in the middle. For Minnesota to contend in this match, they will need great performances from Wittman and freshman pin hitter Sarah Wilhite along with stellar defense to slow down Michigan State’s Wicinski. I am just not sure any or all of that will happen.

My Pick: Michigan State in five.

No. 7 Stanford @ No. 6 Washington
Sunday, October 20

This top-10 showdown features a pair of PAC-12 powerhouses. Stanford is 12-3 (5-1 in conference), while Washington is 13-1 (5-1 in conference). Stanford’s three losses came to the nation’s top programs (according to this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll): No. 1 USC, No. 2 Florida and No. 3 Texas. Washington’s undefeated season was thwarted by a strong Colorado program, but the Huskies bounced back fast with wins over Arizona and Arizona State last week. 
Stanford has a standout roster across the board. Setter Madi Bugg relies on a pair of dominant outsides (Rachel Williams and Brittany Howard) to generate efficient out-of-system attack numbers. And in-system attack numbers, for that matter.

The Cardinal have two game-changing middle hitters in Carly Wopat and Inky Ajanaku. Wopat leads the team in kills and contributes 1.40 blocks per set, while Ajanaku is clipping a .426 hitting efficiency and adding 1.31 blocks per set.

In order to force a lot of balls to Wopat, Stanford has developed into a feisty defensive team. The Cardinal, paced by libero Kyle Gilbert, have consistently out-dug opponents this season (773-698).

Washington has maintained an elite level of play this season (except for that hiccup against Colorado). The Huskies’ 6-2 offense is set by Katy Beals and Jenni Nogueras. Using this system gives the Huskies three front-row hitters in every rotation, a definite advantage for a team with so many capable hitters.

Washington distributes most sets to pin hitters Krista Vansant, Kylin Munoz and Kaleigh Nelson, but what makes their offense so tricky to defend is the incorporation of the quick attack. Stanford sets enough balls to middle hitters Melanie Wade and Lianna Sybeldon that opposing blockers are forced to honor the quick and not commit to the outsides.

Washington’s signature skill this season is their aggressive serve. The Huskies lead the nation with 1.76 aces per set.  I think tough serving will give them the edge in this bout. Stanford relies heavily on Wopat. If the Cardinal are out-of-system and unable to set her, they might struggle just enough for Washington to eek out the win.

My Pick: Washington in 5.

Butler @ Creighton
Sunday, October 20

Creighton Athletics
This Big East match features the 16-4 Butler and 12-4 Creighton (since when are Nebraska and Indiana considered in the east?). One of Creighton’s three losses came to Butler, so this is a revenge match (the best kind!).

Creighton runs a 5-1 offense (set by Michelle Sicner - left) and loops a ton of sets to pin hitters Leah McNary, Melanie Jereb and Jess Bird. Specifically, the Bluejays love to set McNary. She has 500 attempts and leads in kills, but isn’t the most efficient hitter (.196).

Creighton’s efficient scorers are middle hitters
Lauren Smith and  Kelli Browning, who are clipping .347 and .315 hitting efficiencies respectively. The middle-hitting duo also presents a formidable net presence and have combined for 154 total blocks this season.

Even though they run a 5-1, Creighton still has six attack options in each rotation. When Sicner sets from the front row, she loves sending the ball over on the second contact. She’s tallied 93 kills on 216 attempts. Those are some impressive offensive numbers for a setter.

Butler runs a 5-1 offense with Morgan Peterson, and she’s led her team to a .257 hitting efficiency this season.

It’s normal to set a lot of balls to the outside: it’s the easiest out-of-system play. But Butler’s Belle Obert has taken 300 more swings than any other hitter. The dominant outside is hitting a .265 hitting efficiency and tallied 232 kills. That’s crazy good.

A strong blocking team, three Butler starters have notched over one block per set--middle hitters Erica Stahl (1.26) and Maggie Harbison (1.14) along with outside Obert (1.13).

This match will feature two standout hitters going head-to-head. Obert is a little more consistent than McNary, but I believe Creighton has a stronger all-around roster.

My Pick: Creighton in five.

Miami-FL @ No. 19 Florida State
Wednesday, October 16

This Atlantic Coast dual feature two Florida squads that have tabbed together impressive seasons to date. Miami's 13-3 overall record (6-0 in conference) earned them votes in the latest AVCA coaches poll. Florida State, 12-5 overall (5-1 in conference) continues to be streaky but good. They win big matches (like Kentucky and Michigan), but lose not-so-big matches (eh hem...Georgia Tech).

Florida State continues to rely heavily on the play of the pin hitting sisters Elise and Nicole Walch. A six-rotation outside, Nicole Walch pulls a lot of weight on defense as well.

FSU Athletics
My “player to watch” on Florida State’s roster is middle hitter Ashley Neff (left). She’s been playing well all season (.418 hitting efficiency/1.38 blocks per set), but has really turned heads the last few matches. In the Seminoles three-set victory over Pitt, Neff chalked up 10 kills on 12 attempts with no errors (.833 hitting efficiency) and added five block assists along with one solo block.

Katie Mosher’s defensive consistency allows Florida State’s setters (Hailey Luke and Sarah Wickstrom) to dish a lot of balls to Neff, which in turn frees up the Walch sisters at the pins.

Miami is running a 5-1 offense with setter Blair Fuentez. The Hurricanes run a fairly balance offense, and all five hitters have notched over 100 kills this season.

Outside Savanah Leaf and opposite Alex Johnson pace the offensive effort and lead in kills per game and total attempts, but middle hitters Alexis Mourning and Emani Sims along with outside Misty Ma’s are all viable scoring options.

Leaf, Johnson and Ma’a play all six rotations and help libero Ryan Shaffer hold down the Hurricane’s back court.

This match will come down to defense and blocking. Both teams have several players that can put the ball away. Miami is not a strong blocking team, and I anticipate another big night in the middle for Florida State’s Neff.

My Pick: Florida State in four.

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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