Wednesday, November 27, 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: Colorado State’s 25-0 record is jaw-dropping, but the Rams’ dedication to doing things right outside of volleyball will straight up knock your socks off. Prior to their match against Air Force, Colorado State held an unexpected Veterans Day ceremony to honor their opponents. They presented the Air Force players with cake, balloons and handwritten thank-you cards. So cool. Click here to read about it. 


Notable News: With just one week left of conference play, Marquette entered the AVCA Coaches Poll Top-25 for the first time in program history. They currently hold No. 24.

Not-So-Notable News: Is it still notable that Colorado State and Missouri are undefeated, or is that just the expectation these days? Hm.

Top-Five Recap: I went three for five this week in my picks, upping my overall record to 38-35. With one week of regular-season play left to go, I am barely hanging above .500 and maintaining NCAA tournament eligibility!

My Pick: Marquette def. Butler in four.
Reality: Marquette def. Butler in four.
Recap: After their victories this weekend, Marquette clocked in at No. 24 in the nation. Apparently, they are kind of good this year.

My Pick: Hawaii def. Cal State Northridge in four.
Reality: Hawaii def. Cal State Northridge in three.
Recap: Hawaii’s Emily Hartong posted a solid performance as always, but Nikki Taylor along with Tai Manu-Olevao took over the match.

My Pick: Iowa State def. Kansas in five.
Reality: Kansas def. Iowa State in four.
Recap: The Cyclones struggled offensively, posting 33 hitting errors and a .167 hitting efficiency.
IMD: I should have factored in the Cyclones’ young outsides playing like young outsides.

My Pick:  Washington def. Stanford in four.
Reality:  Stanford def. Washington in three.
Recap: The Huskies made a lot of hitting errors and were ineffective at the service line, allowing Stanford to play to their strengths and set a lot of middle.
IMD: I predicted tough serving would make a difference, but it was actually the lack of tough serving that made the difference.

My Pick:  Wisconsin def. Michigan State in four.
Reality: Wisconsin def. Michigan State in four.
Recap:  Michigan State was once again plagued by errors. They hit .179 to Wisconsin’s .246.

Before we dive in, I want to spend a second talking about how exactly a team earns an NCAA tournament berth. There are two types of bids: automatic bids and at-large bids. Automatic bids are awarded to conference champions. Pretty self-explanatory. At-Large bids are awarded to teams that finish the season with an overall record of .500 or higher AND have a strong RPI ranking.

What’s this RPI thing? Good question. It’s a super-complicated formula that ranks every single DI team from 1-322 based on factors like strength of schedule, wins and losses. A team with a top-45 (ish) RPI will normally receive an at-large bid. Normally. Teams sitting right around a #45 RPI are usually pretty nervous this time of year.

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

No. 2 Penn State @ No. 10 Nebraska
Saturday, November 30

This matchup was submitted by @TandemCaptain. I can’t think of a better way to end a crazy season of Big Ten play than with a match between conference leaders Penn State (26-2 overall, 17-1 in conference) and Nebraska (22-5 overall, 15-3 in conference). Both teams are eligible for the NCAA tournament because their overall records are greater than .500. Penn State will clinch the conference title and be awarded an automatic bid, while Nebraska’s #8 RPI ranking will likely secure the Huskers an at-large bid.

Photo:  PSU Athletics
Penn State opened conference play with a loss to Michigan State before reverting to their winning ways. They’ve progressed from beating teams to pummeling teams over the course of the season. Micah Hancock (left) runs the 5-1 offense (she was tabbed Big Ten Setter of the Week this week). Katie Slay dominates the net from the middle, while Deja McClendon, Nia Grant and Ariel Scott provide offensive prowess at the pins.

Nebraska brought in nine new players last season, but they already have found chemistry on the court. Outside Kelsey Robinson and setter Mary Pollmiller bring leadership and experience to the court (both transferred from Tennessee). Pin hitters Amber and Kadie Rolfzen carry a lot of offensive weight and play with composure uncommon to freshman.

The outcome only sort of matters. Penn State has already earned at least a share of the Big Ten title, while the chips would have to fall perfectly in place for Nebraska to earn a share. What matters a lot is the way these teams perform. This being the last match of regular-season play, how each team looks will give us a pretty good idea of what we can expect from them in the NCAA tournament.

My Pick: I predict we’ll see two elite teams peaking at the right time and putting on a great show. Oh wait, that’s not a pick. Penn State in four.

No. 21 Kansas @ Oklahoma
Saturday, November 30

Kansas (22-6 overall, 12-3 in conference) travels to Oklahoma (21-7 overall, 9-5 in conference) to close out Big XII play. Last time around, the hosting Jayhawks tabbed a three-set victory over the Sooners. Oklahoma traditionally struggles on the road, and I think they’ll put up a better fight on their home court. Both teams have overall records above .500 and are thus NCAA tournament candidates for at-large bids. Kansas has a #12 RPI ranking, while Oklahoma is #23. Those numbers should get them into the dance regardless of how this match turns out.

Photo: Kansas Athletics
Kansas relies heavily on the play of outside Sara Mcclinton (right) and middle Caroline Jarmoc. The duo paces the offensive campaign with 325 and 324 kills respectively. Jarmoc is also a formidable blocker and tabs 1.22 blocks per set. Setter Erin McNorton runs the 5-1 offensive system and contributes to the defensive effort with her 53 blocks and 217 digs.

Julie Doyle sets Oklahoma’s 5-1 offensive system, while Taylor Migliazzo holds down the back court and keeps Doyle in-system. The Sooners love to set middle hitters Sallie McLaurin and Kierro Holst. The pair has notched 679 of the team’s 1339 kills this season. In addition to her offensive play, McLaurin leads all blockers with 1.35 blocks per set.

This is a meeting of powerhouse middles, and I think matchups will play a big part in this contest. McLaurin is a much better blocker than Holst. If she’s lined up against Kansas’ Jarmoc, the Sooners may be able to neutralize Jarmoc and force Mcclinton to carry the weight offensively.

My Pick: Kansas in five.

No. 14 North Carolina @ No. 15 Duke
Friday, November 29

This ACC match promises to be yet another exciting conclusion to regular-season play. Duke (24-5 overall, 16-2 in conference) currently holds first place in conference, but North Carolina (26-3 overall, 15-3 in conference) sits just one game back. Both teams are tournament-eligible according to record, and both have solid RPI ranks (Duke holds #18 while North Carolina holds #21). Winning or losing this match shouldn’t have much impact on tournament berth, but who really knows for sure. 

North Carolina runs a 6-2 offensive system. Jordyn Schnabl and Abigail Curry have led the team to a .249 hitting efficiency. Their primary hitters are unquestionably outsides Leigh Andrew and Jovana Bjelica along with middle Paige Neuenfeldt (below).  The Tar Heels are a strong serving team and have tabbed 154 aces this season.

Photo:  UNC Athletics


Duke also relies on play at the pins to generate offense. Outsides Emily Sklar and Jeme Obeime lead the offense with 349 and 322 kills respectively.  Duke is strong defensively. Libero Ali McCurdy along with freshman defensive specialist Sasha Karelov have combined for 708 digs this season while middle Chelsea Cook has tallied 116 blocks.

When we visited this matchup in October, Duke was on the verge of breaking into the top-25 AVCA Coaches’ Poll rankings. After earning a road-sweep over North Carolina, the Blue Devils have earned and maintained top-25 ranking. Both teams are playing really well right now, but I think Duke’s blocking and defense will help them earn the final W of conference play.

My Pick: Duke in four.

No. 7 USC @ UCLA
Wednesday, November 27

This match is setting up to be insane. We’ve got bitter in-state rivals from one of the toughest volleyball conferences facing off during the final week of regular-season play. USC (24-5 overall, 14-4 in conference) is a lock for post-season play, while UCLA (15-13 overall, 6-12 in conference) is still lingering on the bubble. The Bruins are one big win away from clinching their spot in the dance.

From an overall-record standpoint, the Bruins are eligible for the NCAA tournament.  They will finish the season at or above .500, which is a post-season requirement. A win over USC would likely solidify a top-45 RPI and all but guarantee a trip to the tournament.  Needless to say, UCLA will be out for blood.

The Bruins set a lot of balls to the pins. Outsides Karsta Lowe and Kelly Reeves head up the Bruins’ offense with 466 and 301 kills respectively. Megan Moenoa sets UCLA’s 5-1 offense, while libero Karly Drolson along with Reeves pace the defense. UCLA is not a particularly strong blocking or serving team, and it’s plagued them this season. We’ll see if they can compensate for those weaknesses in this contest.

USC continues to win matches with their defensive play. At the net, middles Alexis Olgard and Hannah Schraer have notched 1.29 and 1.03 blocks per set (respectively). In the backcourt, libero Natalie Hagglund (below) has recorded 552 digs. Hayley Crone sets the Trojans’ 5-1 system and relies on outsides Ebony Nwanebu and Samantha Bricio along with Olgard to score points. 

Photo:  NCAA.com

This will be an interesting match. There is nothing like an in-state, conference rivalry to bring out the best in two teams. I think that USC definitely holds the defensive edge, but they have been error prone this season. If UCLA can force them out of their comfort zone with tough serving and force long rallies with scrappy defense, they just might post the upset. We’ll see.

My Pick: USC in four.

No. 6 Florida @ No. 17 Kentucky
Wednesday, November 27
 
Florida (26-3 overall, 15-2 in conference) has posted an impressive season to date. They’ve maintained top-10 ranking. They’ve only lost twice in conference play, both times to a rockstar Missouri squad. Kentucky (21-7 overall, 13-4 in conference) is doing big things this season as well. They’ve not quite reached the level of Florida or Missouri, but they are knocking on the door. They will finish SEC play in third place behind Missouri (#1) and Florida (#2).

Both teams are tournament eligible according to their records, and both have a high RPI (Florida clocks in at #4 while Kentucky holds #9). 

Photo: UK Athletics
Kentucky succeeds or struggles on the back of six-rotation outside Whitney Billings (right). She absolutely dominates the Wildcats’ offensive numbers (350k, .260 hitting efficiency) and contributes 2.76 digs per set along with .80 blocks per set. A trio of outsides --Annie Thomasson, Lauren O’Connor and middle Alexandra Morgan compliment Billings’ prowess in the front row and all contribute to the offense.

Florida is athletic and efficient. Outside Ziva Recek, Alex Holston and Gabby Mallette along with middle Simone Antwi contribute to the offense and add high-efficiency offensive numbers. As a whole, the Gators’ have posted a .334 hitting efficiency this season. Middle Chloe Mann does more than contribute to the offense. She spearheads it with her team-high 321 kills and .505 hitting efficiency. Mann recently notched her 1,500 career kill, which means her insanely high career hitting percentage is now eligible for the NCAA record book.

The first time these two clashed, Florida walked away with the 25-20, 25-20, 25-20 victory. Kentucky is right there on the edge of greatness. They’ve continued to improve all season, and I think the Wildcats will give the Gators a match and put on a show for their home crowd. I still think Florida steals the show, but, I expect at least four sets.

My Pick: Florida in five.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. I can’t wait till Sunday at 8:30 p.m. when the NCAA Tournament Selection Show airs! J As always, feel free to tweet @debstadick and talk volleyball with me.

Wednesday, November 20, 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: Colorado State’s 25-0 record is jaw-dropping, but the Rams’ dedication to doing things right outside of volleyball will straight up knock your socks off. Prior to their match against Air Force, Colorado State held an unexpected Veterans Day ceremony to honor their opponents. They presented the Air Force players with cake, balloons and handwritten thank-you cards. So cool. Click here to read about it.

Not-So-Notable News: Christmas music is already on the radio. Seriously? Going all Scrooge over here.

Top-Five Recap: I went five-for-five this week. It’s actually a little depressing. After 11 weeks of picking matches, getting five correct doesn’t increase my overall percentage by a whole lot. I’m now 35-30 overall. Plus side: that record makes me tournament eligible! :)

My Pick: Illinois def. Purdue in four.
Reality: Illinois def. Purdue in three.
Recap: Strong serve-receive and smart attack choices fueled this Illini victory.

My Pick: Northern Iowa def. Illinois State in four.
Reality: Northern Iowa def. Illinois State in four.
Recap: Northern Iowa played great defense, causing Illinois State grief on offense.

My Pick: Colorado State def. New Mexico in five.
Reality: Colorado State def. New Mexico in four.
Recap: Colorado State is now 25-0. Yowza.

My Pick: Washington def. USC in five.
Reality: Washington def. USC in four.
Recap: USC made a lot of hitting errors and put up less of a fight this time around. 

Vansant was named Sports Imports/AVCA Player of the Week!  Photo courtesy Pac-12.com

My Pick: Missouri def. Florida in four.
Reality: Missouri def. Florida in three.
Recap: Both teams played well, but Missouri made plays in critical situations.

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.

Butler @ Marquette
Saturday, November 23

This is the final Big East match of the season for both Butler (23-6 overall, 10-4 in conference) and Marquette (21-5 overall, 13-1 in conference).

Since their four-set loss to Marquette earlier this month, Butler has yet to drop a set. They head into the contest on a five-match winning streak and seem to be clicking.

Butler Athletics
If Butler is clicking, Marquette is on fire. They are on a 10-match winning streak and hold first place in conference. With just two matches left, they’ve already nabbed at least a share of the Big East title.

The Bulldogs run a 5-1 offense with setter Morgan Peterson (left), and she’s led her team to a .267 hitting efficiency this season.

Peterson sets almost every ball to all-star outside hitter Belle Obert, and for good reason. Obert is responsible for nearly %24 of the points Butler has scored this season and is an all-around contributor with 341 kills, 109 blocks and 211 digs. She’s incredible.

Butler’s other hitters may not see many attempts on offense, but they find other ways to contribute. Middle hitters Erica Stahl and Maggie Harbison add 1.34 and 1.16 blocks per set, respectively.

Marquette runs a 5-1 offensive system with senior setter Elizabeth Koberstein. Libero Julie Jeziorowski does a great job keeping Koberstein in-system and allowing her to run Marquette’s balanced offense.

Outside Autumn Bailey is Marquette’s go-to hitter (she leads the team in kills and total attempts), but opposite Lindsey Gosh, outside Nele Barber and middle hitter Meghan Niemann all contribute significantly to the offensive effort. Over the course of the season, Niemann has emerged as an integral part of Marquette’s offense.

Last time around, Marquette’s defense held Obert to just nine kills on thirty-two attempts. If they can contain her again and force other Bulldogs hitters to make plays, they should be in position to tally the win.

My Pick: Marquette in four.


Cal State Northridge @ No. 12 Hawaii
Saturday, November 23

Back in August, most would have tabbed Hawaii (20-4 overall, 9-3 in conference) as the team-to-beat in the Big West. Turns out Cal State Northridge (22-5 overall, 12-2 in conference) wanted that honor. The Matadors hold first place in conference, while Hawaii has dropped to third.

Senior setter Sydney Gedryn runs Cal State Northridge's 5-1 offensive system. Outsides Natalia Allen and Mahina Haina, opposite Cieana Stinson and middle Casey Hinger all contribute in the Matadors’ balanced attack plan.

To run their balanced offense, strong passing and defense is essential. Cal State Northridge relies on libero Kelcie Randazzo to make defensive plays and give her hitters a lot of opportunity to swing and score.

Inside Out Hawai'i
Hawaii runs a 5-1 offensive system with setter Mita Uiato and relies on six-rotation outside Emily Hartong (right) to score the majority of their points. She is one of those players who can absolutely take over a match. She rarely has an “off” night.

While Hartong usually steals the show, outside Jade Vorster and  middle NIkki Taylor are key parts of Hawaii’s offense. They are efficient, low-error hitters that can’t be left alone by opposing defenders. Strong passing from Ali Longo allows Hawaii to use all three and keep their opponents off-balance. 

When Hawaii fell to Cal State Northridge earlier this season, they were on the road. Time-zone jumping definitely factored into the loss. This time, Cal State Northridge is the team on the road. I think the time-zone factor paired with Hawaii’s thirst for vengeance paired with Hawaii’s rowdy home court will keep Cal State Northridge from sweeping the Fighting Wahine.

My Pick: Hawaii in four.


No. 22 Kansas @ No. 24 Iowa State
Wednesday, November 20

Iowa State is 17-6 overall, 10-2 in conference. Kansas is 20-6 overall, 10-3 in conference. Iowa State holds second place in conference. Kansas is just behind them in third. Iowa State has a Pablo ranking of 28. Kansas has a Pablo ranking of 21. Buckle up. This is going to be a good one.

Setter Jenelle Hudson normally runs the Cyclones’ 5-1 offense but was injured and unable to play in their last match. Under-the-radar setter/defensive specialist Taylor Goetz (below) took the reins and led her team to a three-set sweep of West Virginia. Goes to show that every player is essential to a team’s success.

ISU Athletics Communications

Strong at the pins, opposite Mackenzie Bigbee and outsides Ciara Capezio and Victoria Hurtt pace the Cyclones offense. Senior libero Kristen Hahn continues to add fire and senior leadership to the fairly young Iowa State squad.

Kansas relies on strong serve receive and defense to keep them in-system and able to pump a lot of balls to middle hitter Caroline Jarmoc. She is efficient, low-error and always available. Teams have to pay attention to Jarmoc, which creates a lot of room for outside kills-leader Sara Mcclint  to craft shots and score.

Erin McNorton runs Kansas’ 5-1 offense, while libero Brianne Riley holds down the backcourt.

Last time they met, these two teams pretty much neutralized each other. Neither drastically out-did the other in any stat category. What the match came down to was execution. When it mattered, Iowa State produced. This time around, I think we can expect the same even play. The smallest of factors, such as home-court advantage or Hudson’s health, will affect the outcome. Assume Hudson is ready to go, I am giving this one to Iowa State.

My Pick: Iowa State in five.


No. 3 Washington @ No. 5 Stanford
Wednesday, November 20

With USC’s recent fall from grace, Washington (23-1 overall, 15-1 in conference) and Stanford (20-5 overall, 13-3 in conference) hold first and second place in the Pac-12, respectively. These teams have stayed consistently elite over the course of the season. Washington took five sets to claim the victory in their last meeting. I think we can expect another intense, exciting match this time around.

The Huskies are just plain old good. They’ve found rhythm and consistency in their attack, which isn’t an easy feat when running a 6-2 offense.

Setters Katy Beals and Jenni Nogueras love to set six-rotation outside Krista Vansant along with fellow outside Kaleigh Nelson. The duo has combined for over half of the team’s total kills this season.

A strong defensive team, libero Jenna Orlandini keeps a lot of balls alive (4.07 digs/set), while middle hitters Melanie Wade and Lianna Sybeldon are dominant at the net (1.17 and 1.32 blocks per set, respectively).

While Stanford has consistent pin hitters (like outsides Rachel Williams and Brittany Howard), their play in the middle sets them apart.

Stanforddaily.com
Carly Wopat (left) leads the Cardinal in kills (243), kills per set (2.96), hitting percentage (.460), blocks (121), and blocks per set (1.48). She’s a lethal weapon. Fellow middle Inky Ajanaku is also an efficient hitter (.426) and adds a formidable block (1.36 blocks per set).

A feisty defensive team, libero Kyle Gilbert makes a lot of nice plays and keeps setter Madi Bugg in-system and able to distribute her offense.

Last time around, serving made all the difference. Washington trailed Stanford in almost every stat category. Expect aces. The Huskies out-aced Stanford 10-1. The Huskies were very aggressive at the serving line in that match. Even the balls that didn’t drop were oftentimes passed off the net, which forced Stanford out-of-system and away from running their middle-reliant offense. Stanford’s remaining hitters just couldn’t carry that added offensive pressure. If Washington can stay aggressive and low-error with their serves in this match, I think they hold the edge.

My Pick: Washington in four.


No. 15 Wisconsin @ No. 17 Michigan State
Friday, November 22

These two teams have identical Big Ten records, but their season stories are drastically different.

Michigan State (20-8 overall, 9-7 in conference) won their first six matches of conference play. They proceeded to win just three of their next ten matches.

Wisconsin (20-7 overall, 9-7 in conference) has stayed consistent all season. They’ve beaten teams they should beat, stolen wins from good teams and fallen to strong teams.

MSU Athletics
Kristen Kelsay (left)and Halle Peterson share setting duties in the Spartans’ 6-2 offensive system. A lot of balls are set to outside Lauren Wicinski. An awful lot. She leads the team in kills and has taken over 1,000 swings this season, good for one third of the team’s total attack attempts. My shoulder hurts just reading those numbers.

Middle hitter Alexis Matthews adds a nice scoring option in the middle (.415 hitting efficiency). In addition to her offensive contribution, Matthews adds 1.46 blocks per set. Libero Kori Moster continues to run the backcourt.

Wisconsin’s 5-1 offense is set by freshman standout Lauren Carlini. She’s led her team to a .225 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.

It’s worth noting that Morales stands a whopping 5-7 and is second on the team in kills. Go, girl. Libero Annemarie Hickey keeps Carlini in-system and able to run her multiple offensive options.

I think this one will go Wisconsin. They’ve been playing well lately, while Michigan State is still struggling to perform against good teams.

Second message: Marlo scheduled for Impact. Date got switched to Dec. 1. She can't make new date. Call her at 262-391-5484.

My Pick: Wisconsin 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.