Gopher Volleyball 2019

Thanks, these are VERY good analyses, which really help a VB novice like me. I search the web all over for incisive analysis of VB games but find hardly any. You're right: the 3rd set was scary. Just when it looked like MN had worn Iowa down, MN seemed to start just pushing the ball over the net, like Gophers were the tired team and they were praying Iowa would miss (which Iowa finally did on that late service error). While there's much to admire about the Gophers, their modus operandi seems to be, get ahead and then let up, just when a touch of killer instinct would put the match out of reach.
Hrothgar, in spite of your claiming to be a "volleyball novice," your thoughts are actually pretty insightful (and echo others comments on this blog), such as ...

> While there's much to admire about the Gophers, their modus operandi seems to be, get ahead and then let up, just when a touch of killer instinct would put the match out of reach.

Or, as others have stated, there seems to be a tendency for the Gophers to play down to the level of their opponent. I agree with the specifics you mention, summarizing by saying that it often seems like the Gophers get ahead and then reduce their level of aggression in the hopes that the other team will make mistakes and the Gophers can back into a win.

To a certain extent (in the exactly right context) that is a good strategy, and I'm guessing that Hugh actually teaches it, but perhaps he needs to give more specific instructions to the team as to exactly when to play the tactic of "let the other team mistake themselves into a set-win for us." For instance, were the Gophers to be ahead by a score of (say) 25 - X to 25 - 2*X, where X = 5 or more, it's a good idea to just let the other team mistake their way into a win for us. That's just because of the mathematics and the nature of volleyball. The "natural" course of a volleyball set among fairly evenly matched teams is to mostly trade points (with a few runs thrown in), so that in the above scenario the (statistically) "expected" outcome is that by the time our team scores X more points (and gets to 25), the other team will likely get to 25 - X. That's the "mean" result, but the devil is in (a) the potentially long tails of the statistical distribution, along with (b) the heightened effort and heightened aggression and never-give-up attitude of the other team that is in danger of losing the set. So, by the math, if you're expecting the "average" result, it pays for the leader that is an order-of-magnitude closer to 25, to just play "better than average" and don't take shots at-risk of going out of bounds, i.e., play a bit conservatively and hope for the "average" result that will happen if they two teams just trade points.

But as an example of the "long tail," namely that that tactic can backfire. Iowa was up 23-18 towards the end of regulation in set 4, and it's extremely difficult for a team (i.e., the Gophers in this case) to score 6 points before the opposing team scores 2 points. The Gophers needed to get those 6 points to get to 24, which (so as to win by 2) meant that Iowa actually needed 3 points, not just 2 points to win the set outright. That was a huge challenge, yet the Gophers buckled down and played at a higher level, so as to deuce-up the set. And then faced Iowa set-point after set-point, upping their game yet another level and taking the set in the end. For that to have been done by 4 out of the 7 starters plus 3 bench players, was, well, quite astounding actually.

But to your point, it can go the other way too. In a recent match (one of the last-weekend ones if I recall) the Gophers were ahead about 20-something to 15, but (relaxing perhaps a bit too much) let their opponent get right back into the game and almost take the set. Probably by playing too complacently.

All this talk about passive vs. aggressive play at end-of-set makes me recall a technical point regarding Gopher blocking that I've had on my mind for a while, but have kept to myself. Consider the following mostly personal opinion and perhaps part science - since I'm not a volleyball guru (yet I have played the game recreationally and have watched a ton of Gopher and St. Thomas games).

As a team, the Gophers have been (in recent history) a pretty good blocking team. Yet it seems to me that quite often our defensive blocking efforts are turned against us as an offensive weapon by the opposing team. For an example, let me lay off the current team for a sec (they'll get their lecture momentarily), and pick on our recent great Gopher team of about 3 years ago, back when we had the twins and SSS and as additional front-row blockers, Sarah Wilhite and Molly Lohman and Taylor Morgan (and Regan too, but she was wisely red-shirted and didn't play much). That was arguably a killer blocking team. Yet by my (very informal) statistical count, that team (when averaged across the entire season) probably lost more points on attempted blocks than they won on successful blocks that went down (plus a few that stayed in play). What's wrong with that scenario? Well, I can tell you. Smart opponents consistently took advantage of our blocking skills as an offensive weapon for themselves. They consistenty aimed at the outer edges of our excellently placed blocks, and the ball hit the blockers' hands and careened out of bounds - about equally many (if not more) times than the blocker hit it down for a kill.

Now, when we played lesser teams in 2016, our skillful blocking worked very positively for us, and we mostly won. But when we played better/smarter teams (as in the NCAAs for instance) those teams not only had better hitters that jumped higher and were more often able to forcibly hit it through the blocks, but they were also smarter and better-skilled at hitting the outside of the blocks near the pins, and careening the ball out of bounds for an opponent point. Thus, that 2016 Gopher team, which was very capable of winning it all in the NCAAs, didn't

Fast forward to the 2019 team, and in fact to the first set of the Iowa game. We still have great blocking, although arguably not at the 2016 caliber (in spite of the great efforts by Pittman and Morgan with help from our OHers). Iowa had some decent hitters, but one great hitter who was making mincemeat of our blocks. Partly, they weren't putting up strong blocks initially, and partly there was the issue of the makeshift impromptu team being a bit discombobulated. But to a very large degree, that first-set team was having the same problem as the 2016 team. Iowa players kept hitting shots glancing off the pin-side of blockers hands and out of bounds for an Iowa point. That plus outright bona-fide great kills by Iowa's best (and 2nd-best and 3rd-best) hitters, and you've got yourself a recipe for a lost set.

Then the rest of the match, we got our blocking together a little bit, and we were able to stop Iowa from getting the perfect hitting that we gave them in the first set. Plus Hugh gambled on going setterless just sufficiently many times so that our blocking kept their hitting in check. Plus, Minnesota was just a better team than Iowa, even minus three of our starters. But if we had been playing against an NCAA Sweet-Sixteen team, we would have lost in straight sets.

I argue that we need a different (and rather radical) blocking strategy. For one thing, when blocking near the pin, go up like a normal block, but as the ball is struck, move your hands about 6 inches toward the pin, and even angle them about 30 degrees so as to more likely deflect the blocked ball toward the middle of the court, and not out of bounds. Also nice (but a tough thing to ask for) would be better/faster assessment-and-recognition of whether the blockers can make a successful downward (and not out-of-bounds) block, and if not than quickly tilt the blocking hands back 45 degrees so as to convert it into an upward tip that our back-row players can make a play on. In summary, if we could convert as much as half of our bad blocks (that either miss completely or go out-of-bounds) into either block-kills or neutral tips, then I think we win an NCAA title.
 
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Ignatius L Hoops

Active member
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https://twin-cities.umn.edu/news-events/michele-brekke-be-university-minnesota-twin-cities-campus-2019-homecoming-grand-marshal

Michele A. Brekke will serve as Grand Marshal for the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus 2019 Homecoming parade on October 4. Brekke retired in 2014 from NASA’s Johnson Space Center after 37 years of service in human spaceflight mission operations.

Brekke, now a flight manager for the Boeing CST-100 Starliner operational missions, holds B.S (’75) and M.S. (’77) degrees in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Minnesota. She has received several leadership awards, including recognition from the U’s College of Science and Engineering and the NASA Exceptional Achievement Award. During her time at the U of M, she was also a volleyball letter winner. In 1986, she was inducted into The Golden Spikers, Minnesota’s volleyball hall of fame of that time.
 

Hrothgar

Member
Hrothgar, in spite of your claiming to be a "volleyball novice," your thoughts are actually pretty insightful (and echo others comments on this blog), such as ...

> While there's much to admire about the Gophers, their modus operandi seems to be, get ahead and then let up, just when a touch of killer instinct would put the match out of reach.

Or, as others have stated, there seems to be a tendency for the Gophers to play down to the level of their opponent. I agree with the specifics you mention, summarizing by saying that it often seems like the Gophers get ahead and then reduce their level of aggression in the hopes that the other team will make mistakes and the Gophers can back into a win.

To a certain extent (in the exactly right context) that is a good strategy, and I'm guessing that Hugh actually teaches it, but perhaps he needs to give more specific instructions to the team as to exactly when to play the tactic of "let the other team mistake themselves into a set-win for us." For instance, were the Gophers to be ahead by a score of (say) 25 - X to 25 - 2*X, where X = 5 or more, it's a good idea to just let the other team mistake their way into a win for us. That's just because of the mathematics and the nature of volleyball. The "natural" course of a volleyball set among fairly evenly matched teams is to mostly trade points (with a few runs thrown in), so that in the above scenario the (statistically) "expected" outcome is that by the time our team scores X more points (and gets to 25), the other team will likely get to 25 - X. That's the "mean" result, but the devil is in (a) the potentially long tails of the statistical distribution, along with (b) the heightened effort and heightened aggression and never-give-up attitude of the other team that is in danger of losing the set. So, by the math, if you're expecting the "average" result, it pays for the leader that is an order-of-magnitude closer to 25, to just play "better than average" and don't take shots at-risk of going out of bounds, i.e., play a bit conservatively and hope for the "average" result that will happen if they two teams just trade points.

But as an example of the "long tail," namely that that tactic can backfire. Iowa was up 23-18 towards the end of regulation in set 4, and it's extremely difficult for a team (i.e., the Gophers in this case) to score 6 points before the opposing team scores 2 points. The Gophers needed to get those 6 points to get to 24, which (so as to win by 2) meant that Iowa actually needed 3 points, not just 2 points to win the set outright. That was a huge challenge, yet the Gophers buckled down and played at a higher level, so as to deuce-up the set. And then faced Iowa set-point after set-point, upping their game yet another level and taking the set in the end. For that to have been done by 4 out of the 7 starters plus 3 bench players, was, well, quite astounding actually.

But to your point, it can go the other way too. In a recent match (one of the last-weekend ones if I recall) the Gophers were ahead about 20-something to 15, but (relaxing perhaps a bit too much) let their opponent get right back into the game and almost take the set. Probably by playing too complacently.

All this talk about passive vs. aggressive play at end-of-set makes me recall a technical point regarding Gopher blocking that I've had on my mind for a while, but have kept to myself. Consider the following mostly personal opinion and perhaps part science - since I'm not a volleyball guru (yet I have played the game recreationally and have watched a ton of Gopher and St. Thomas games).

As a team, the Gophers have been (in recent history) a pretty good blocking team. Yet it seems to me that quite often our defensive blocking efforts are turned against us as an offensive weapon by the opposing team. For an example, let me lay off the current team for a sec (they'll get their lecture momentarily), and pick on our recent great Gopher team of about 3 years ago, back when we had the twins and SSS and as additional front-row blockers, Sarah Wilhite and Molly Lohman and Taylor Morgan (and Regan too, but she was wisely red-shirted and didn't play much). That was arguably a killer blocking team. Yet by my (very informal) statistical count, that team (when averaged across the entire season) probably lost more points on attempted blocks than they won on successful blocks that went down (plus a few that stayed in play). What's wrong with that scenario? Well, I can tell you. Smart opponents consistently took advantage of our blocking skills as an offensive weapon for themselves. They consistenty aimed at the outer edges of our excellently placed blocks, and the ball hit the blockers' hands and careened out of bounds - about equally many (if not more) times than the blocker hit it down for a kill.

Now, when we played lesser teams in 2016, our skillful blocking worked very positively for us, and we mostly won. But when we played better/smarter teams (as in the NCAAs for instance) those teams not only had better hitters that jumped higher and were more often able to forcibly hit it through the blocks, but they were also smarter and better-skilled at hitting the outside of the blocks near the pins, and careening the ball out of bounds for an opponent point. Thus, that 2016 Gopher team, which was very capable of winning it all in the NCAAs, didn't

Fast forward to the 2019 team, and in fact to the first set of the Iowa game. We still have great blocking, although arguably not at the 2016 caliber (in spite of the great efforts by Pittman and Morgan with help from our OHers). Iowa had some decent hitters, but one great hitter who was making mincemeat of our blocks. Partly, they weren't putting up strong blocks initially, and partly there was the issue of the makeshift impromptu team being a bit discombobulated. But to a very large degree, that first-set team was having the same problem as the 2016 team. Iowa players kept hitting shots glancing off the pin-side of blockers hands and out of bounds for an Iowa point. That plus outright bona-fide great kills by Iowa's best (and 2nd-best and 3rd-best) hitters, and you've got yourself a recipe for a lost set.

Then the rest of the match, we got our blocking together a little bit, and we were able to stop Iowa from getting the perfect hitting that we gave them in the first set. Plus Hugh gambled on going setterless just sufficiently many times so that our blocking kept their hitting in check. Plus, Minnesota was just a better team than Iowa, even minus three of our starters. But if we had been playing against an NCAA Sweet-Sixteen team, we would have lost in straight sets.

I argue that we need a different (and rather radical) blocking strategy. For one thing, when blocking near the pin, go up like a normal block, but as the ball is struck, move your hands about 6 inches toward the pin, and even angle them about 30 degrees so as to more likely deflect the blocked ball toward the middle of the court, and not out of bounds. Also nice (but a tough thing to ask for) would be better/faster assessment-and-recognition of whether the blockers can make a successful downward (and not out-of-bounds) block, and if not than quickly tilt the blocking hands back 45 degrees so as to convert it into an upward tip that our back-row players can make a play on. In summary, if we could convert as much as half of our bad blocks (that either miss completely or go out-of-bounds) into either block-kills or neutral tips, then I think we win an NCAA title.
Thanks so much for your explanations. They help me get a lot clearer grasp on what I'm seeing on the court (or not seeing). As for the Iowa game, your thought of getting ahead and then just on averages playing the other team even up to 25 seems what Iowa did in set 1, though I'm not certain they did so by design. MN started out in a daze, which Iowa took advantage of. By the time MN woke up in set 1, Iowa needed only to play them 50/50 to win the set. In sets 2 & 3, I thought MN started serving and returning deeper in the court, which meant Iowa had to work their way up to the net; that made points harder to come by for the Hawkeyes, which is good tennis strategy, too, which I'll get back to. Set 4 is when I thought MN started "pushing" the ball rather than outright hitting it, just getting the ball back over the net. It seemed they had the match in the bag, but then stopped being aggressive, which meant they then were playing down to the opponent's level and fell behind.

Four about 3-4 years folks have complained about MN's backcourt defense, but I disagree. Their weakness has, imo like yours, been a poor block. Stanford, Oregon, Wisconsin, etc., tall teams in general, have shredded MN's net defense. Even when opponents have telegraphed their kills, MN has let them score at will from the net position. Maybe because MN's blockers haven't been tall enough? No backcourt defenders in the world can handle smashes that are uncontested at the net. In deference to what you say about outside blocks, I've still felt MN's middle block has been at times since 2016 been pretty non-existent.

As I hinted at, my background is sports is mainly tennis. In tennis, or at least men's pro tennis, the approach is to get control of the point immediately and go for a winner and also to get a service break and then put pressure on the opponents so they don't get back in the set and start believing they can win. On the other hand, women's tennis seems to be a constant back-and-forth (mainly because their serves aren't as strong). Likewise in VB I've watched matches that team A wins over team B by, say 25-22, when it feels the score should've been something like 25-9 or 25-10. Is that because the VB serving isn't dominant enough? The tendency seems to be that at about 22-14 the team in the lead lets up and lets the opponent back in the match. Why not just keep serving and smashing hard and as my old tennis coach always said, put them out of their misery?

Of course, I'm just blowing off steam. VB obviously isn't tennis, but in both sports, every point starts with a serve, a service return, and hopefully getting control of the net. My view is that, true, MN can win a nat'l title but they need to stay athletic and growna few inches taller at the net than they are now. MN's reserves can beat most teams, as the Iowa game showed, but to win the NCAA they'll need to dominate at the net. Any follow-up comments are welcome.
 

As a team, the Gophers have been (in recent history) a pretty good blocking team. Yet it seems to me that quite often our defensive blocking efforts are turned against us as an offensive weapon by the opposing team. For an example, let me lay off the current team for a sec (they'll get their lecture momentarily), and pick on our recent great Gopher team of about 3 years ago, back when we had the twins and SSS and as additional front-row blockers, Sarah Wilhite and Molly Lohman and Taylor Morgan (and Regan too, but she was wisely red-shirted and didn't play much). That was arguably a killer blocking team. Yet by my (very informal) statistical count, that team (when averaged across the entire season) probably lost more points on attempted blocks than they won on successful blocks that went down (plus a few that stayed in play). What's wrong with that scenario? Well, I can tell you. Smart opponents consistently took advantage of our blocking skills as an offensive weapon for themselves. They consistenty aimed at the outer edges of our excellently placed blocks, and the ball hit the blockers' hands and careened out of bounds - about equally many (if not more) times than the blocker hit it down for a kill.
QUOTE]

I'm even more of a volleyball novice than Hrothgar claims to be, so take this comment with several grains of salt. But doesn't the effectiveness of the block go well beyond how many attempted kills are blocked down for points versus how many points are lost on attempted blocks? That is, doesn't the mere presence of blockers at the net limit the options of the opposing hitters? Don't they force the opponent to hit to certain areas of the court -- presumably, where your diggers are placed -- or maybe to hit dink shots? That limiting of options might not show up in the statistics, but isn't it just as important, if not more important, than the number of blocks that actually win points versus the number that directly lead to opponents' points? Wouldn't the more relevant comparison be between how often the opponent's kill would win the point (or how quickly the point would be lost) if no blockers were present vs. with blockers present? I do realize I am ignoring your post's later suggestions regarding angles of the blockers' hands, etc., which is way over my head -- so to speak, and I know you aren't suggesting no blockers at all , but it seems to me that blockers do so much more than just directly win points by putting the ball down. (Clearly, this comment is coming from a volleyball novice.)
 
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Ignatius L Hoops

Active member
https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Volleyball/Features/2015/March/10/Ten-keys-to-blocking-middle

Ten middle blocking keys from Heather Brown:
4. Watch the pass. The location of the ball after the pass tells you a lot about how the play is likely to unfold. For instance, if the pass is tight and the opponent’s setter is in the front row, you have to watch for a setter dump. If the pass is off the net, you can be almost certain that the setter isn’t going to run the middle. Also, be prepared for an overpass. If the ball is over but within a few feet of the net, go ahead and hit it. If it’s farther than a few feet off, it’s probably better to pass it. On really tight balls – when the setter is in the front row – be patient. If you interfere with the setter, the ref will call it.

8. Communicate with your back-row players. The more dialogue you can share with the people behind you, the better prepared you’ll be to block a ball. They can see what’s going on at the net better than you can, so ask them for feedback. You may be a blocker, but they are part of the defense as well. Work as a team. Your confidence as well as theirs will improve from the simple act of communication. At the more advanced levels, you might even remind each other about a hitter’s tendencies. For instance, the middle blocker may let the back-row players know that she’s going to take away the attacker’s strongest shot so they should cover the weaker shot.

 

MRJ

Active member
Well, that was a mess...when do Miller and McGraw get back? Good lord...[emoji47][emoji51]

Sent from my SM-J337V using Tapatalk
 

Ignatius L Hoops

Active member
At first, it was the new normal, McMenimen for Miller, Kilkelly for CC, Sheehan subbing in for Hart in the back row and the blocker setter switch. Then, half way through the second set Miyabe subbed in for Samedy and finished the set. Nevertheless, Minnesota took the first two sets 17, 20.

The third set was the really strange one. Samedy returned but at some point Hart went to the bench and Sheehan took all the rotations. They tried to get Claire a kill but she couldn't put one down. Plus, with Rutgers blocking Morgan the Gophers flailed the set away to the Scarlet Knights.

Hugh gave the team what appeared to be, shall we say, a motivational rather than technical assessment of their third set play. Order was restored with a Gopher runaway in the fourth set.

Pittman had another excellent night hitting .583 with 14 kills and no errors. Note: CC was on the bench in street clothes.
 
As a team, the Gophers have been (in recent history) a pretty good blocking team. Yet it seems to me that quite often our defensive blocking efforts are turned against us as an offensive weapon by the opposing team. For an example, let me lay off the current team for a sec (they'll get their lecture momentarily), and pick on our recent great Gopher team of about 3 years ago, back when we had the twins and SSS and as additional front-row blockers, Sarah Wilhite and Molly Lohman and Taylor Morgan (and Regan too, but she was wisely red-shirted and didn't play much). That was arguably a killer blocking team. Yet by my (very informal) statistical count, that team (when averaged across the entire season) probably lost more points on attempted blocks than they won on successful blocks that went down (plus a few that stayed in play). What's wrong with that scenario? Well, I can tell you. Smart opponents consistently took advantage of our blocking skills as an offensive weapon for themselves. They consistenty aimed at the outer edges of our excellently placed blocks, and the ball hit the blockers' hands and careened out of bounds - about equally many (if not more) times than the blocker hit it down for a kill.
QUOTE]

I'm even more of a volleyball novice than Hrothgar claims to be, so take this comment with several grains of salt. But doesn't the effectiveness of the block go well beyond how many attempted kills are blocked down for points versus how many points are lost on attempted blocks? That is, doesn't the mere presence of blockers at the net limit the options of the opposing hitters? Don't they force the opponent to hit to certain areas of the court -- presumably, where your diggers are placed -- or maybe to hit dink shots? That limiting of options might not show up in the statistics, but isn't it just as important, if not more important, than the number of blocks that actually win points versus the number that directly lead to opponents' points? Wouldn't the more relevant comparison be between how often the opponent's kill would win the point (or how quickly the point would be lost) if no blockers were present vs. with blockers present? I do realize I am ignoring your post's later suggestions regarding angles of the blockers' hands, etc., which is way over my head -- so to speak, and I know you aren't suggesting no blockers at all , but it seems to me that blockers do so much more than just directly win points by putting the ball down. (Clearly, this comment is coming from a volleyball novice.)
Per the comment by let’sbeclear let’s be little more clear about the purpose and nature of blocking, and possible results. Indeed, one of the primary purposes is alter the opponent’s attack into a weaker option like an angle more likely to go out of bounds or a tip that had a higher probability of being picked up by your diggers. Plus, you simply can’t refrain from attempting to block - giving their outside hitters a free hit is like volleyball suicide. Think of it this way: our own Alexis Hart is one of the fastest/strongest/(not to mention highest elevating, especially for her height) hitter in the NCAA. If our opponents simply always refrain from trying to block our “Hart attack” isn’t it a foregone conclusion that the Gophers would win virtually all sets (except perhaps the 3rd set against Rutgers)? Similarly, when our opponents OH sets up for a strong hit, we are put in a situation where we have to make our best attempt at a block (no matter how out-of-system we are). A strong free hit could come so fast that the diggers have virtually no chance to return it. Even if the receiver is in perfect position, they might not even be able to move their hands fast enough for the dig/pass. How many times have we seen a “Hart attack” hit the opponent in the face?

So not only is opponent kill rate with/without a block a relevant comparison , it’s actually the primary issue.

Per that posted AVCA video, one of the things the block attempt does is (hopefully) stop the strongest attack route and allow the libero and defensive specialist to focus on the weaker hit route (typically more cross-court). So you have to block-attempt both to eliminate free hits, and to try to get a weaker attack, and to at least get a tip or a touch on the ball to slow it down and hopefully keep it in play for 3 subsequent hits by our team, or (the best possible outcome) a block to the floor on the opponent’s side for a point. Perhaps the latter outcome doesn’t happen all that often (if, say, you kept statistics on that, which nobody does).

There are other potential block outcomes (and this list is probably not exhaustive). The blockers could hit it back, but not forcefully or not finding the floor and so the opponent gets another free play. That’s a slightly positive result since it averts the immediate threat and let’s you live for another volley. Or (rarely) you might block it but the ball dribbled down your side of the net. Or you might get a tip contact but it goes far behind the service line and is not playable. Or is tipped shanked into the stands. Or is blocked but with weak contact and diverted to our floor for an opponent point. Or my (un)favorite result, that the opponent hits it off the outside of the pin-side hand of a near-antenna block attempt, and it careens out of bounds (on either side of the net, doesn’t matter).

In my post I was focusing on the ratio of the last result to the block-down-for-a-kill result, and (although not noting it very clearly) ignoring all the other result possibilities, and taking the extreme importance of doing block attempts as a given. So with those (now stated) assumptions, my beef is that for typical Gopher blocking (either by the 2019 team or the 2016 team) and for those block attempts that do result in an immediate point-score by either team, I suspect that quite often less than 50% of those immediate points were Gopher points from slams to the floor, and more than 50% were points that we gave the opponent directly because of the (quite necessary) block attempt. Thus my complaint is that, in general, we need to get better at our block technique. My secondary point is that when we play top-16 teams (like in the NCAAs) then these opponents do have better blocking technique, so their blocking is more effective than we’re used to; plus they have better hitters so our blocking is less effective than we’re used to; so we have a hard time winning in spite of our very good hitters and defensive players. My third point was that (when playing these better teams) their better-than-usual (and smarter-than-usual) hitters are adept at actually taking advantage of hitting at the outside-of-the-hands of near-antenna block attempts and thus taking-a-point-for-themselves by means of my (un)favorite result. Again, better blocking technique is needed, especially against top-16 teams. Without better blocking technique, we could win-out in the B1G (or perhaps lose only to Nebraska), but continue to fail (seemingly prematurely) in the NCAAs.
 
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Hrothgar

Member
Per the comment by let’sbeclear let’s be little more clear about the purpose and nature of blocking, and possible results. Indeed, one of the primary purposes is alter the opponent’s attack into a weaker option like an angle more likely to go out of bounds or a tip that had a higher probability of being picked up by your diggers. Plus, you simply can’t refrain from attempting to block - giving their outside hitters a free hit is like volleyball suicide. Think of it this way: our own Alexis Hart is one of the fastest/strongest/(not to mention highest elevating, especially for her height) hitter in the NCAA. If our opponents simply always refrain from trying to block our “Hart attack” isn’t it a foregone conclusion that the Gophers would win virtually all sets (except perhaps the 3rd set against Rutgers)? Similarly, when our opponents OH sets up for a strong hit, we are put in a situation where we have to make our best attempt at a block (no matter how out-of-system we are). A strong free hit could come so fast that the diggers have virtually no chance to return it. Even if the receiver is in perfect position, they might not even be able to move their hands fast enough for the dig/pass. How many times have we seen a “Hart attack” hit the opponent in the face?

So not only is opponent kill rate with/without a block a relevant comparison , it’s actually the primary issue.

Per that posted AVCA video, one of the things the block attempt does is (hopefully) stop the strongest attack route and allow the libero and defensive specialist to focus on the weaker hit route (typically more cross-court). So you have to block-attempt both to eliminate free hits, and to try to get a weaker attack, and to at least get a tip or a touch on the ball to slow it down and hopefully keep it in play for 3 subsequent hits by our team, or (the best possible outcome) a block to the floor on the opponent’s side for a point. Perhaps the latter outcome doesn’t happen all that often (if, say, you kept statistics on that, which nobody does).

There are other potential block outcomes (and this list is probably not exhaustive). The blockers could hit it back, but not forcefully or not finding the floor and so the opponent gets another free play. That’s a slightly positive result since it averts the immediate threat and let’s you live for another volley. Or (rarely) you might block it but the ball dribbled down your side of the net. Or you might get a tip contact but it goes far behind the service line and is not playable. Or is tipped shanked into the stands. Or is blocked but with weak contact and diverted to our floor for an opponent point. Or my (un)favorite result, that the opponent hits it off the outside of the pin-side hand of a near-antenna block attempt, and it careens out of bounds (on either side of the net, doesn’t matter).

In my post I was focusing on the ratio of the last result to the block-down-for-a-kill result, and (although not noting it very clearly) ignoring all the other result possibilities, and taking the extreme importance of doing block attempts as a given. So with those (now stated) assumptions, my beef is that for typical Gopher blocking (either by the 2019 team or the 2016 team) and for those block attempts that do result in an immediate point-score by either team, I suspect that quite often less than 50% of those immediate points were Gopher points from slams to the floor, and more than 50% were points that we gave the opponent directly because of the (quite necessary) block attempt. Thus my complaint is that, in general, we need to get better at our block technique. My secondary point is that when we play top-16 teams (like in the NCAAs) then these opponents do have better blocking technique, so their blocking is more effective than we’re used to; plus they have better hitters so our blocking is less effective than we’re used to; so we have a hard time winning in spite of our very good hitters and defensive players. My third point was that (when playing these better teams) their better-than-usual (and smarter-than-usual) hitters are adept at actually taking advantage of hitting at the outside-of-the-hands of near-antenna block attempts and thus taking-a-point-for-themselves by means of my (un)favorite result. Again, better blocking technique is needed, especially against top-16 teams. Without better blocking technique, we could win-out in the B1G (or perhaps lose only to Nebraska), but continue to fail (seemingly prematurely) in the NCAAs.
Your explanation sounds fine to me, a lay reader. My own homespun reaction is that VB has become more like tennis and basketball. In tennis, it matters less and less these days how skilled a server you are if you're not both 1) skilled at serving and also 2) very tall. In basketball, it seems even back-court players are nowadays both 1) extremely agile and good ball handlers and 2) very tall. It looks like in VB now blocking demands that blockers be able 1) to elevate enormously and with timing and 2) be very tall. It appears to me that in the NCAAs the past few years the Gophers have lost because they are skilled enough at the net but not tall enough. Stanford, Texas, and Oregon beat them in the NCAAs because they were both skilled and taller. MN needs to be about 2-3 inches taller per player.
 

junc1929

New member
the bright spot in all of this insanity has been regan pittman...IMO. the versatility she has shown is something that i never thought i'd see from her when she came in as a freshman. setting, playing decent back row d when serving, blocking on the outside in certain rotations, all while putting up huge offensive numbers. she's really grown and matured as a player. 30 kills, .612 hitting %, 4 assists, 8 digs, 9 blocks and a service ace the last two matches when most everything else has been a bit of a cluster.
 

Ignatius L Hoops

Active member
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Hrothgar

Member
https://www.ncaa.com/rankings/volleyball-women/d1/ncaa-womens-volleyball-rpi

The first NCAA RPI rankings (thru matches of October 6)

1. Baylor
2. Texas
3. Stanford
4. Washington
5. Pittsburgh
6. Wisconsin
7. Nebraska

8. Kentucky
9. Rice
10. Missouri

Other B1G teams:

11. Minnesota
19. Penn State
22. Illinois
29. Purdue
36. Michigan
39. Indiana
Who has Nebraska played that is that strong. Stanford and Wisconsin, or course. Otherwise I thought their early schedule looked pretty weak (I obviously could look it up and find the opposite to be true).
 
Who has Nebraska played that is that strong. Stanford and Wisconsin, or course. Otherwise I thought their early schedule looked pretty weak (I obviously could look it up and find the opposite to be true).
Well, I'm a little too lazy to look up the details too, but I think perhaps you're onto something with your point. I think that, since Nebraska and Wisconsin played each other early (as in, before now) they mutually boosted each other's RPI via each giving themselves a higher Strength of Schedule. We don't play Nebraska til later in the season, so if we're fortunate enough to have a healthy team then, then we have a good chance of beating them, and thus giving ourselves a double-boost in RPI (one via stronger SoS and also the (potential) win). Wisconsin is this weekend, however, and the potential of lingering injuries makes Wisconsin a bit scary for us at the moment. If we can buckle-down and beat Wisconsin (and later beat Nebraska) then we get a double-bump in RPI and leapfrog them both in RPI standings.

But I'm less concerned about RPI (which is rather meaningless, as more of a measure of {how and who} your opponents play than a measure of how you play, and more concerned about the Gophs getting healthy by NCAA-time.
 
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Hrothgar

Member
"The Gophs getting healthy by NCAA time" is what seems most worrisome. If concussion really is the problem, that's serious stuff. The most pleasing thing of all would be beating teams like WI, Nebr, & PSU even without the 2 injured players. Not likely, but a chance for Hugh to find a way, I guess.
 
the bright spot in all of this insanity has been regan pittman...IMO. the versatility she has shown is something that i never thought i'd see from her when she came in as a freshman. setting, playing decent back row d when serving, blocking on the outside in certain rotations, all while putting up huge offensive numbers. she's really grown and matured as a player. 30 kills, .612 hitting %, 4 assists, 8 digs, 9 blocks and a service ace the last two matches when most everything else has been a bit of a cluster.
Yeah, a *BIG* second on that thought. We expected her to learn from watching the play of the twins and others, but one can legitimately argue that Regs has upped her play way beyond what anybody could reasonably expect of a middle blocker (who are expected to be role players, not totally fearless team leaders - which is how she looks lately). Not sure if our expectations were just too low or if she's just working so hard on improving her game that she was destined to get this good sooner or later. Either way, we'll take it, and it's really fun to watch.

I earlier argued (half-jokingly, which was really 2/3 jokingly in hindsight) that she should win all 3 weekly B1G player of the week awards. Well OK, the joke was that 4 assists is not the Setter of the Week, and 8 digs plus 9 blocks is not the Defensive Player of the Week. But with regard to Player of the Week (for last week), she got ripped off by the B1G actually. She certainly deserved PoW. She had 2 more kills and a lot higher hitting % than Samedy when she won it the week before (not to take anything away from Stephanie's accomplishment, but just sayin). Instead, the Big Ten refrained from awarding a separate Player of the Week for last week. I guess they were sufficiently impressed by the setting of Badger Sydney Hilley that they awarded her both Setter of the Week and Player of the Week - joint honors.

OK, well such is life. But (in case the Gophers don't have enough border-rivalry motivation already), I hope that the fact that the Badgers stole Pittman's PoW award out from under her makes the whole VB squad want to just tromp on the CheeseHeads this weekend.
 
Yeah, a *BIG* second on that thought. We expected her to learn from watching the play of the twins and others, but one can legitimately argue that Regs has upped her play way beyond what anybody could reasonably expect of a middle blocker (who are expected to be role players, not totally fearless team leaders - which is how she looks lately). Not sure if our expectations were just too low or if she's just working so hard on improving her game that she was destined to get this good sooner or later. Either way, we'll take it, and it's really fun to watch.

I earlier argued (half-jokingly, which was really 2/3 jokingly in hindsight) that she should win all 3 weekly B1G player of the week awards. Well OK, the joke was that 4 assists is not the Setter of the Week, and 8 digs plus 9 blocks is not the Defensive Player of the Week. But with regard to Player of the Week (for last week), she got ripped off by the B1G actually. She certainly deserved PoW. She had 2 more kills and a lot higher hitting % than Samedy when she won it the week before (not to take anything away from Stephanie's accomplishment, but just sayin). Instead, the Big Ten refrained from awarding a separate Player of the Week for last week. I guess they were sufficiently impressed by the setting of Badger Sydney Hilley that they awarded her both Setter of the Week and Player of the Week - joint honors.

OK, well such is life. But (in case the Gophers don't have enough border-rivalry motivation already), I hope that the fact that the Badgers stole Pittman's PoW award out from under her makes the whole VB squad want to just tromp on the CheeseHeads this weekend.
My impression has been that these weekly awards often depend on what teams you played (and presumably beat). If so, last week Wisconsin beat Penn State and Nebraska, and the Gophers beat Iowa and Rutgers.
 
My impression has been that these weekly awards often depend on what teams you played (and presumably beat). If so, last week Wisconsin beat Penn State and Nebraska, and the Gophers beat Iowa and Rutgers.
Good point. All the more reason for the Gophers to work hard and beat the Badgers.
 

curiouskg

New member
Have we heard what the injuries are to Kylie and CC? I noticed CC on the bench the other day, but didn’t catch sight of Kylie.
 

Ignatius L Hoops

Active member
https://gophersports.com/news/2019/10/7/volleyball-gopher-spotlight-adanna-rollins.aspx

Spotlight on Adanna Rollins:

Now in her second season with the Gophers, Rollins is embracing a new role within the team.

"I feel like I have more of a leadership role just because I can help the freshman out because I went through the same things they went through so it feels more comfortable," Rollins said.
Having already experienced a college volleyball season made the transition into her second year easier. She also had the help of the upperclassmen, who Rollins says helped her grow as a person.

Various opportunities over the offseason furthered Rollins' growth, including the Gopher volleyball team's trip to Japan in March. They played against the All-Japan Team that competed at the World University Games. Rollins says that the Japanese players had great skills and a different style of play, which allowed the Gophers to improve their play as well.
 

MRJ

Active member
Regardless of what happens the rest of this match with Illinois, that second set collapse was one of the most pathetic displays of focus and execution I have seen in recent memory. Horrendous. This team seems to relish getting in it's own way. [emoji2959]

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Regardless of what happens the rest of this match with Illinois, that second set collapse was one of the most pathetic displays of focus and execution I have seen in recent memory. Horrendous. This team seems to relish getting in it's own way. [emoji2959]

Sent from my SM-J337V using Tapatalk
Was following along on play-by-play on VB web site. Scary. MN had set point at 24-17. It went all the way to 29-27. Took 2 timeouts by Hugh.

Making things worse to follow along with, the web page had the scores wrong (reversed) on the play-by-play, although correct at top of page.
 

MRJ

Active member
Was following along on play-by-play on VB web site. Scary. MN had set point at 24-17. It went all the way to 29-27. Took 2 timeouts by Hugh.

Making things worse to follow along with, the web page had the scores wrong (reversed) on the play-by-play, although correct at top of page.
And then they followed with a hideous third set in which Illinois made them look totally silly. This group really lacks in all phases for long stretches.

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