Wednesday, October 30, 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: Cal State Northridge earned the program’s first top-25 ranking since the 1992 season after they toppled Big West powerhouse Hawai'i in five sets.

Not-So-Notable News: Missouri’s latest ranking matches the program’s best-ever at seventh in the AVCA Coaches’ Poll. I guess that’s pretty notable.

Top-Five Recap: I went three for five this week, improving my overall record to 25-15.

My Pick: San Diego def. Saint Mary’s in five.

Reality: San Diego def. Saint Mary’s in three.

Recap: Apparently San Diego’s players had vengeance on their minds.  

My Pick: UCF def. Temple in five.
Reality: UCF def. Temple in three.
Recap: Temple lost their momentum and couldn’t regroup. First set was close (27-25), second set was close-ish (25-20) and the third set was not (25-16). 

My Pick: USC def. Washington in five. 
Reality: Washington def. USC in four.
Washington played with composure in front of a hostile USC home crowd.
Washington is my team this year. I should’ve had more faith. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. 


My Pick: Minnesota def. Wisconsin in four.
Reality: Wisconsin def. Minnesota in four.
Recap: Minnesota struggled to side out, which let the Badgers run off points and gather momentum.
IMD: Wisconsin is a roller-coaster team right now. Face them while they’re hot? Good luck. 

My Pick: Missouri def. Texas A&M in four.
Reality: Missouri def. Texas A&M in three.
Recap: Another 2-0 weekend earned the undefeated Tigers a #7 ranking. They just don’t lose. 

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.

Arizona @ No. 23 Oregon
Saturday, November 2

Oregon Athletics
This match tells two very different stories. Arizona went into this season largely unnoticed. Oregon, a 2012 NCAA finalist, went into this season with all eyes on them. Arizona has turned heads lately with impressive wins over UCLA/USC and their 15-7 overall, 5-5 conference record. The Ducks haven’t exactly fallen from grace (they are 12-8 overall, 5-5 in conference), but they haven’t picked up where they left off either.

Last season, Oregon’s 5-1 offensive system (featuring the fast-tempo setting of AVCA First-Team All-American Lauren Plum (left)) carried them to the NCAA finals. It hasn’t worked quite so well this season, and the Ducks have struggled to find offensive consistency. Depending on the health/efficiency of Plum, setter Shellsy Ashen steps in to run a 5-1 offense or shares duties with Plum in a 6-2 offense.

Outside Liz Brenner along with middle hitter Ariana William lead the team in kills, while outside Martenne Bettendorf is coming along nicely in her first year as a go-to player. Opposite Canace Finely adds another scoring option for the Ducks.

Arizona plays smart, low-error volleyball. They rely on standout outside Madison Kindgon to generate the majority of offense, but freshman setter Penina Snuka runs quick plays and combos to neutralize opposing blockers.

Middle hitters Olivia Magill and Halli Amaro are both dominant at the net (1.14 and 1.09 blocks per set, respectively).

Arizona may be an up-and-down team, but Oregon is consistently shaky. Especially given the Ducks’ woes at the setter position of late, I like Arizona’s chances in this contest if they are aggressive from the service line and maintain their low-error offense.

No. 2 Penn State @ No. 14 Michigan State
Saturday, November 2

Volleyball Magazine
Penn State heads into the contest with an 18-2 overall, 9-1 conference record. Their single conference loss came on their home court to Michigan State. The Spartans (17-5 overall, 6-4 in conference) started Big Ten play with a six-match winning streak but spiraled downhill rapidly. They’ve lost their four most recent matches to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. Ouch.

Penn State runs a 5-1 offensive system with senior setter Micha Hancock (left), who has led her team to a .319 hitting efficiency this season. Keeping Hancock in-system is libero Dominique Gonzalez.

Hancock has a slew of offensive options at her disposal. Outsides Deja McClendon, Nia Grant and Megan Courtney along with opposite Ariel Scott and middle hitter Katie Slay are all-everything hitters capable of taking over matches. Must be nice.

Michigan State has been running a 6-2 offensive system with setters Kristen Kelsay and Halle Peterson. Outside Lauren Wicinski along with middle hitter Alexis Matthews continue to be go-to hitters for the Spartans. Matthews is also a dominant force at the net and has tabbed 1.53 blocks per set this season.

Penn State wins a lot of matches, but they aren’t invincible. That being said, it’s hard to beat a team twice in a season, especially in the midst of a slump. I just don’t think this is the match where Michigan State snaps out of their funk.

My Pick: Penn State in four.

No. 19 Kentucky @ No. 7 Missouri
Sunday, November 3
UK Athletics

Yes, we’re still talking about Missouri (we’d be talking about Colorado State, too, but they don’t have any standout opponents this weekend). The Tigers are still undefeated (25-0) and on-fire, but I think this Kentucky squad will give them a run for their money. Kentucky is having a nice season of their own with a 15-5 overall, 7-2 conference record.

Molly Kreklow sets the Tigers’ 5-1 offensive system, and her team is clipping an impressive .363 hitting efficiency on the season. Standout pin hitters Lisa Henning and Carly Kan pace the Missouri’s offense, but middle hitters Emily Thater and Whitney Little along with pin hitter Emily Wilson are all viable scoring options as well.

A strong defensive team, libero Sarah Meister keeps the Tigers in-system and able to set their middle hitters.

Kentucky is also strong in the backcourt, relying on the six-rotation outsides Whitney Billings (above) and Anni Thomasson along with libero Jackie Napper for consistent defense.

Setter Morgan Bergren runs the Wildcats’ 5-1 offense. Bergren loves to set outside to Billings, but her other hitters (pin hitters Thomasson and Lauren O’Conner along with middle Alexandra Morgan) are effective offensive options as well.

Both sides have the ability to blast beautiful, hard hits. Controlling other factors of the match will be essential to success. Whichever team can excel managing the tips, rolls, free balls and sideouts efficiently will be in good shape to win. Missouri has to lose sometime, and Kentucky might just have the firepower and defensive prowess to take them down.

My Pick: Kentucky in five.

No. 12 North Carolina @ No. 20 Florida State
Friday, November 1

This ACC showdown features the 20-1 overall, 9-1 in conference North Carolina Tar Heels and the 15-6, 8-2 in conference Florida State Seminoles.

North Carolina runs a 6-2 offensive system. Jordyn Schnabl and Abigail Curry have led the team to a .261 hitting efficiency. Go-to outside Jovana Bjelica continues to pace North Carolina’s offense, but lately middle hitter Victoria McPherson has posted big offensive numbers to go along with her 1.18 blocks per set.  Fellow middle hitter Paige Neuenfeldt has also been playing well lately, tabbing 1.10 blocks per set and giving North Carolina another viable offensive option.

UNC Athletics
Florida State runs a 6-2 offensive system with setters Hailey Luke and Sarah Wickstrom. Florida State loves to set the pins. In addition to the consistent offensive production of outside Elise Walch and opposite Nicole Walch, opposite Izzy Carmona has emerged as another offensive weapon in recent matches.

Middle hitter Ashley Neff takes a lot of swings as well, which keeps opposing blockers from committing to the pins and freeing up space for the Walch sisters and Carmona to swing away and score.

Both teams use a 6-2 offensive system, so we will see a lot of hitters taking swings in this contest. One downside of the 6-2 system is that setters and hitters sometimes struggle getting in sync with one another and find that perfect offensive rhythm. I think this match will come down to aggressive serving and net presence. The team that keeps the other from finding their rhythm will have the upper hand. North Carolina is a slightly more aggressive serving team, and I like the way they attack the net with their block.

My Pick: North Carolina in four.

No. 1 Texas @ No. 25 Oklahoma
Saturday, November 2
Coming off a national championship season and returning key players, it’s no surprise that Texas is once again at the top of the charts. Their 15-2 overall, 8-0 conference record has earned them a No. 1 ranking in both the Big 12 and nation.

Oklahoma was expected to tab a fifth-place finish in the Big 12 (according to the preseason poll). The Sooners’ 18-4 overall, 6-2 conference record has earned them a three-way tie for second place in the Big 12, along with a No. 25 ranking.

Texas is big at the net, scrappy in the backcourt and experienced. That’s a pretty lethal combination. After experimenting with both 5-1 and 6-2 offensive systems early in the season, the Longhorns seems to have settled on a 5-1 offense using setter Chloe Collins.

Pin hitters Haley Eckerman (left) and Bailey Webster continue to lead Texas offensively (216 and 222 kills respectively). Pin hitter Khat Bell along with middle hitters Molly McCage and Chiaka Ogbogu round out the Longhorns’ offensive contributors, but also add big blocking numbers. Each of the three has tallied over one block per set (1.15, 1.10 and 1.03 blocks per set, respectively).

Oklahoma runs a 5-1 offensive system with setter Julie Doyle. Strong passing and defense from libero Taylor Migliazzo keeps Doyle in-system and able to force balls to dominant middle hitters Sallie McLaurin and Kierra Holst.

Outside hitters Madison Ward and Keila Rodriguez have been playing well in their last few outings, giving Oklahoma the ability to spread out their offense and keep opponents guessing.

Texas is one of the only top-5 teams that aren’t tested weekly in conference play. This match against Oklahoma is a rare challenge for the Longhorns. They defeated the Sooners in straight sets in their first meeting this year, but Oklahoma is good and getting better (they were ranked No. 19 in the latest RPI). Traveling to the Sooners’ home court, I think Texas will have to work a little harder to walk away with a win.

My Pick: Texas 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.

Wednesday, October 23, 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: Missouri and Colorado State are still undefeated. How long can they keep this up!? It isn’t like they are playing pushover teams. Eesh.

Not-So-Notable News: This weekend is the 14th anniversary of my first time attending a college volleyball match. I saw the Wisconsin Badgers play at the Field House. Because it was Halloween weekend, there was a “kids-in-costumes-get-in-free” promotion. My younger brother and I went dressed up as Dr. Seuss’ Thing 1 and Thing 2. It was awesome. I wish we would have dressed up my youngest brother like this, though. 

Top-Five Recap: Well. That was another crazy week of volleyball. I went four for five in my picks, improving my overall record to 22-13.

My Pick:  Missouri def. Georgia in four.
Reality: Missouri def. Georgia in four.
Recap: Georgia held the advantage in most stat categories, but Missouri executed at critical points and maintained their perfect record.

My Pick: Michigan State def. Minnesota in five.
Reality: Minnesota def. Michigan State in five.
Recap: Michigan State was plagued by unforced errors and never hit their stride.  
In My Defense: I didn’t anticipate Minnesota opposite Adrianna Nora’s game-changing offensive performance.  

My Pick: Washington def. Stanford in five
Reality: Washington def. Stanford in five
Recap: Washington served aggressively, which kept Stanford out-of-system and slowed down their go-to middle Carly Wopat.

My Pick: Creighton def. Butler in five
Reality: Creighton def. Butler in four
Recap: Creighton posted 58 kills (.221 hitting efficiency). Butler posted 43 kills (.174 hitting efficiency.)

My Pick: Florida State def. Miami (FL) in four
Reality: Florida State def. Miami (FL) in four
Recap: Huge blocks and consistent offense from the Walch sisters paved the way for this Seminole victory. 

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.

No. 9 San Diego @ Saint Mary’s
Thursday, October 24

Both teams head into this match with 7-2 records in the West Coast Conference. San Diego (15-3 overall) fell to Saint Mary’s (11-6 overall) earlier this season. Saint Mary’s defeated San Diego on the road earlier this season, so San Diego will be looking to return the favor in this rematch. 

San Diego Athletics
San Diego turned heads earlier this season as their under-the-radar team toppled powerhouses like USC and Hawai'i. The Toreros run a fast-paced offense and are very intentional about incorporating middle hitters Chloe Ferrari (left) and Katie Hoekman along with opposite Alaysia Brown. Incorporating all hitters creates a split block and scoring opportunity for the Toreros’ undersized outsides Sandra Lozic and Taylor Hollins.

Saint Mary’s has been a consistently solid team this season. They run a 5-1 offense with setter Dalas Dodd, and run a slightly more predictable offense than San Diego. Dodd loves to set the ball to outside hitters Kristina Graven and Jordan Shaw.The two have been consistent offensive forces this season, decisively leading the team in kills and tabbing .290 and .262 hitting efficiencies respectively.

This weekend will be a huge test for Saint Mary’s and San Diego alike. Saint Mary’s hosts San Diego on Thursday, then turns around to host BYU on Saturday. If Saint Mary’s can go 2-0 this weekend, we just might see them crack the top-25 rankings. They’ll have their work cut out for them. San Diego has a point to prove and will be fired up to claim this grudge-match road win. Plus, they need to win to keep their top-of-the rankings position. I think that sense of urgency will come into play and give the Toreros the edge.

My Pick: San Diego in five.

Temple @ UCF
Friday, October 25

This match is our #DebsPicks preview of the week and was submitted by @jozer07. These American Athletic Conference top-dogs have similar Pablo rankings (Temple: 181, UFC: 146), so this should be a great match to follow. 
Temple Athletics
Setter Sandra Sydlik (left) runs Temple’s 5-1 offensive system. Libero Alyssa Drachslin paces the defense and allows Sidlik to set a lot of balls to six-rotation opposite Gabriella Matautia.

Matautia has 261 kills and 722 attempts (.217 hitting efficiency) on the season, nearly 300 more attempts and 100 more kills than any other player. It’s unique for a team to rely so heavily on an opposite, but Matautia’s dynamic play makes her difficult to slow down.  

UCF runs a 5-1 offense with setter Marie Reiterova. Pacing the offense are outside hitter Angelica Crump (.231 hitting efficiency/ 266 kills) and middle hitter DeLaina Sarden (.400 hitting efficiency/244 kills).

Crump takes a lot of swings for UCF and is their “go-to” hitter out-of-system. Depending on the passing, Sarden and 6-5 opposite Loren Cory take a lot of swings as well. Pin hitters Ashley Gialenios and Taylor Gallart have big-night potential, but don’t consistently take over matches.  

Both teams use a big outside. Both have other capable hitters. If UCF is passing well, I think they’ll have the upper hand in this matchup.

My Pick: UCF in five.

No. 7 Minnesota @ No. 16 Wisconsin
Wednesday, October 23

I can’t wait to watch these Big Ten powerhouses go head-to-head at the Field House. It’s a great place to play, and this should be a great match.

Minnesota has tabbed an 18-3 overall, 6-2 conference record this season, while Wisconsin is 16-4 overall, 5-3 in conference. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin defeated a strong Michigan State squad last weekend.

Minnesota is a lethal team from the service line thanks to outside Daly Santana (below). She chalked up seven (yes, seven) aces in the Gopher’s victory over Michigan State. Six-rotation middle hitter Tori Dixon continues to be Minnesota’s all-everything go-to player, but it was opposite Adrianna Nora who caught my attention last week after her game-changing performance against Michigan State.
Wisconsin’s 5-1 offense is setter standout Lauren Carlini. She’s led her team to a .219 hitting efficiency this season. The Badgers rely on a trio of dynamic pin-hitters--Courtney Thomas, Ellen Chapman and Deme Morales-- along with middle hitter Dominique Thompson to carry the offensive weight.

Libero Annemarie Hickey keeps Carlini in-system and able to run her multiple offensive options. Hickey earned Big 10 Defensive Player of the Week honors after tallying 6.4 digs per set last week.

I think this match comes down to consistency. Minnesota has what I believe to be a stronger roster, but the Gophers are prone to unforced errors and digging themselves holes. If they can serve receive well, get Dixon firing and minimize errors on their side of the ball, they should have the upper hand in this one.

My Pick: Minnesota in four.

No. 11 Missouri @ Texas A&M
Sunday, October 27

I bring you Missouri vs. Texas A&M: a setters’ battle. The Aggies are a stronger team than their 10-8 overall, 2-5 conference record reflects. The Tigers haven’t lost a single match (23-0), toppled then-No. 2 Florida last week and are straight-up ridiculous this season.

Missouri continues to run a 5-1 offense with Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the week Molly Kreklow. Their fast-tempo offense generates one-on-one block situations for hitters and relies on consistent passing and defense (cue libero Sarah Meister).
Aggie Athletics
Texas A&M runs a 5-1 system with their incredible offensive setter Allie Sawatzky (right). She loves to take the ball over on two and has notched 143 kills this season (.316 hitting efficiency). Sawatzky’s fairly even set distribution has led her team to a .240 hitting efficiency this season.

And thus the reason I’m tabbing this one as a setters battle. Both Kreklow and Sawatzky are standouts on their teams.  Both have a variety of offensive options and distribute the ball (fairly) evenly among their hitters. I think this one will come down to consistent execution from the setter position. The victory will go to whichever setter can consistently get the ball to her go-to hitters, create one-on-one block situations and establish the pace of the match.

I can’t say this match is about consistency, then vote against a team that has yet to mess up. A&M might steal a set because Missouri is on the road, but the Tigers should be able to win this match.

My Pick: Missouri in four.

No. 3 Washington @ No. 4 USC
Sunday, October 27

A PAC-12, top-5 showdown, this match is going to be incredible. USC (17-2 overall, 7-1 conference) heads into the contest still seething from a loss to unranked Arizona last week. Washington (15-1 overall, 7-1 conference), on the other hand, is still flying high after their five-set win over Stanford.

I absolutely still love Washington. The Huskies’ 6-2 offense is set by Katy Beals and Jenni Nogueras. Washington relies on their aggressive serve and uses it to derail opponents offensive systems (see their victory over Stanford). 

Washington Athletics
The Huskies have a roster full of player who are willing to make the critical play and take the big swing when the match is on the line (example: the 5-8 outside Cassie Strickland and all-everything Krista Vansant (left). This is such a key part of being an elite team. 

Failure is a huge motivator, and I anticipate a very focused USC squad will take the court on Sunday. The Trojans’ 5-1 offense is paced by setter Hayley Crone. USC relies on pin hitters Ebony Nwanebu, Samantha Bricio and Sara Shaw to generate points offensively, and their physical net presence along with backcourt prowess has thwarted opponents all season.

This one is so tough to call. We have a 6-2 going against a 5-1. We have a bunch of standout hitters duking it out at the pins. We have a strong serving team vs. a premier libero (USC’s Natalie Hagglund). I think USC will come out fired up and on a mission to tally a big win in front of their home crowd.

My Pick: USC in five.

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. Happy Halloween Weekend! Be safe, everyone.