Monday, December 12, 2005

Santa Clara Makes Final Four (volleyball)

Broncos MAKE DRIVE TO San Antonio

I’ve slipped into some more advanced stage of volleydad syndrome.  Last week, another dad asked me if I wanted to drive two and half hours away on a Saturday night to see a college match that didn’t involve either of our daughters.  Not only that, neither of our daughters nor Mrs. Boris expressed any interest in attending the thing.  We went anyway with the relatively lame excuse that there were two former Empire players at Santa Clara, Crystal Matich and Anna Cmaylo, and that this was Santa Clara’s first attempt to make the final four.  The club has also historically had a recruiting tie to Dave Rubio and the University of Arizona. (Rubio is extraordinarily personable, my older kid didn’t go to Arizona but I happened into the Arizona team in Oakland airport one time and Rubio came up to me to say Hi three years after the fact)  In any case, I hopped into the car with fellow volleydad and we made the drive alternately talking about various iterations of volleyball, real estate, and the nature and origins of consciousness.  I think the simple truth is that we were going through high school season withdrawal and the club season is still about a month away. Feel free to insert your suggestion for a twelve step or should it be “three step approach” program. Though if you subscribe to Prepvolleyball, we don't call it falling off the wagon, we say falling off the bubble.  

     I suppose this was a healthier form of male bonding than say what happens in the movie Sideways, particularly since there were no women involved other than the ones we watched play volleyball.  First off, I was surprised to find the Stanford campus all but shut down on a Saturday night at eight pm.  Even Jamba Juice was closed.  They may have been mourning their loss to Santa Clara in the second round, but it might also have been dead week.  Second, I hadn’t been to Maples pavilion since they remodelled it and did away with the slinkys under the floor that made all the intramural geeks feel like Bill Walton until Walton actually showed up to play intramurals there one year.  It was a bit of a shock to see a Jumbotron screen above the floor where Gordon King, in an intramural basketball game, once inadvertently threw me out of the key and into the sidelines with a flick of a wrist thicker than my biceps.  I wish I could tell you that I then came back up the floor and dunked on the New York Giants tackle to be, but I actually didn’t dare go near the key again.   Fortunately for my daughter, genes aren’t everything in volleyball and had I gone back in the key in that game I wouldn't have been around to have a daughter.

     In any case, the scariest thing for most volleydads to see in a college match is someone like Kim Glass who officially comes from Pennsylvania but looks more like she grew up on the planet Major Vertical.   Glass lists at 6’3” but looked to be more than 4” taller than other players in the court who were listed at 6’0”.  Making matters worse, she’s a very smart hitter who adjusts well to bad sets (there were a bunch of them) and who reads the block.  On top of that, she plays back middle in serve receive (19 digs).  In the great scheme of volleydad fantasies for one’s daughter, I had to admit that Kim Glass is simply out of reach.  In the course of the match, she had 37 kills.  

     I’ve come to understand that this is the subtext of being a volleydad.  Any match you watch, there’s this little dialogue in your head about how your own kid might or could fit into such a match some day.  This is especially the case when one of the players came from the same high school and club as your own kid. Even without Kim Glass, my own humbling answer was,”Geez, I’m not so sure.”

     After watching even very good high school volleyball, it’s easy to get seduced into thinking that high level division one volleyball isn’t that much different.  Often you do that thing in your head where you go “Well, if so and so made it out of here and got there, then….”  The hardest hit in a top level Norcal match would be about an average or well below average hard swing in a college match.  It’s not just the hitting though, the defensive gap between high school and college is much more profound.  Even on a so so defending team like Arizona, the court gets covered.  On a really good defensive team like Santa Clara, it’s not just Walters, their very fine libero. ( I should mention that Brittany Leonard AU’s freshman libero from Mitty also played well)  Any five players on the court cover tips and get in the way of Glass/Abernathy blasts better than the best libero you’ll see at the high school level.  One thing we parents often miss is that after two years of college training and competition, the players who played in your league are a long ways from the level they were at when they were in your league. For example, Matich was a marginal defender on back row line just two years ago (despite her other obvious assets) now she’s excellent at it.  

     Okay, saner people already know this sort of thing.  Fellow volleydad and I also happened to wander into a great match attended by maybe two thousand people.  If you’re wondering why college volleyball rarely gets on tv, this is the reason.  This was a match to get in the final four with a local team involved.  Santa Clara’s not a big school and they did bring a healthy rooting section all dressed in red complete with mascot wearing a prop rescued from a set in Godfather Part One or maybe Seabiscuit.  Throughout the match they chanted “SCU, SCU” which I first thought was a regulatory agency, this being Silicon Valley that wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility.  I’ve heard stories of whole campuses here chanting “IPO IPO” though that’s for teams that like to run the option.  Once in a while the U of A would chant back “U of A, Uof A” which sounded moren  or less like “USA, USA” and made me half expect to see Kurt Russell on the sideline posing as Herb Brooks.

     Instead it was Dave Rubio, who looks vaguely like a distant younger relative of Dave Shojii, looking vaguely pained and resigned to his own team’s wildly inconsistent play throughout the evening.  Whenever Arizona could get the ball to Glass and Abernathy on the left with a good pass and set, generally good things happened, though Abernathy went hot and cold throughout the match.  The problem was that every time they got a sideout, Arizona would miss its serve in the second game.  At that level, the college game is not that far from high school.  Also, they kept seeming to do it while Glass was in the front row.  The U of A setter still found ways to get to Glass, setting her half a dozen times back right and even back left at least once.  Since she may well be hitting the ball close to eleven feet up, I suppose it’s not that strange that you barely notice that she’s hitting from more than ten feet back.  Abernathy can be almost as spectacular in that she has a way of going up and staying up until she finally swings, the way they used to describe Connie Hawkins jump shot.  (he didn’t worry about the defender jumping with him because he would just stay up until the defender started going down).  Rubio also runs some odd substitutions.  Dyck comes out for one rotation when she’s right front and her team is serving for Ayers, sometimes Butkus would come in back row as well (the entire night I don’t think Arizona won a point in this rotation).  Abernathy comes out after she serves then comes back in the middle back spot.  (talk about specialization for those two subs).  

     On the Santa Clara side of the net was a totally different team.  Where Arizona has a pile of top ten recruits, like Glass and Abernathy.  In fact, Bre Ladd, one of their middles, was actually the national high school player of the year the season all three committed to Arizona.  The Broncos aren’t as awe inspiring physically.  Okay, that’s volleycode.  Arizona has three very athletic black players in their rotation.  Santa Clara does not. (I do want to talk directly about race and class and junior volleyball at some point in some other blog)   This is not to say that there aren't a lot of black volleyball players who happen to get by on skill and savvy. What Santa Clara has instead is a much tighter team concept.  It’s a team whose defense is so good, that they use it to attack back.  I’m not sure how often they ran plays that went something like dig ball, rotate to place, dig ball, quick set left, hit between block or set surprise slide into more or less empty court but it happened enough for Mcgivern to get 24 kills.  Mcgivern wasn’t as spectacular as the Arizona lefts, but she consistently got kills when her team went into counterattack mode.  
For whatever reason, there seemed to be a consistent gap in the Arizona rightside block when Ladd and Dyck were together up front. (I’m not sure that this matchup ever got addressed much, but I wasn’t watching that carefully)  Freshman left, Brittany Lowe also got double figure kills and came up with a bunch of digs.  Muratore and Cmaylo got the better of the middles matchup though Lamb generally looked pretty good (just ten attempts) when she had chances.  Almost 70% of Arizona’s sets went to their 2 lefts. One other huge factor was that Matich was literally all over the court either getting digs or managing to get errant passes back in play.  If Santa Clara had any clear advantage in the match it was the difference in the setting.

     After a first game where Arizona seemed to hit and block at will, that Arizona team appeared to take a vacation.  In the second game, Santa Clara started blocking some, but it was mainly a matter of Arizona stopping itself.  In addition to repeated service errors at crucial points, there were 5 ball handling errors during the night, four on Dyck.  There likely could have been a lot more.  In game 3 service errors and Santa Clara’s inspired defense kept Arizona from ever tying the game.  At this point, the momentum had clearly shifted and I wondered if Arizona could get itself back together enough to keep John Wallace from hopping up from his chair to applaud his team.  The SCU fans started hauling out final four signs as well.

     The fourth game was probably the most different of the night.  It started point for point until Glass appeared to go way wide on a roll shot.  The ref called a somewhat phantom touch and Santa Clara appeared thrown off by the call.  For the next ten minutes, it was the Glass/Abernathy show and it felt like Arizona hit about .600 for the game with Santa Clara not even getting a hand on what appeared to be a year’s worth of highlight kills.  It was 30-15 and wasn’t really that close.

     Somewhere between the third and fourth game, the PA guy announced the results fo the other three elite eight matches as the crowd collectively scratched its head and applauded the prospect of Orange clad Tennessee volunteers finding their way there, Rob Patrick was a Stanford assistant at one time.  Can you imagine the odds four years ago of Tennessee making a volleyball final four?   In any case, after the 4th game show where the Wildcat lefts made the volleyball look like a giant white paneled superball, it looked like Cinderalla time had expired for Santa Clara.  It didn’t happen that way.

     Santa Clara got a kill on the first point from the left.  Arizona went to respond at 1-0 and Dyck was called for a bhe.  Abernathy got blocked.  In fact, it looked like there was a blocking adjustment by SCU in the 5th game.  I looked up and Santa Clara had gone up 4-0.  This clearly didn’t make Kim Glass happy.  She has a very expressive face and you could see that she clinched her jaw and lasered her stare to announce that this wasn’t going to be her last match.  She came up with 7 kills over the next 12 Arizona points.  Glass has a very distinctive Saduharah Oh kick with her jump foot on her jump serve which when on has to be one of the scarier weapons in college volleyball.  As she went through her ritual, I saw a man in the front row of the Arizona section with his eyes partly closed, shoulders drooped, murmuring something to himself, not quite looking directly at the server.  I’m almost certain that it was Kim Glass’s dad who clearly must be yet another volleydad.    

     Arizona pulled to a 9-10 deficit and Santa Clara didn’t seem to have a way to stop Glass.  Just as I thought, here it comes, Matich set Cmaylo on the slide and she ripped it.  The ball hit just beyond the ten foot line and bounced up at a 45 degree angle.  The place went crazy. For whatever reason, each time the Santa Clara middles got big kills, the jumbotron screen would run a close up of their smiling face as they rotated out and back to the bench. So there was Anna Cmaylo on the screen trying to pretend that this happens all the time, yet unable to hold off this ear to ear grin.

Abernathy came back to life and got a couple kills and the score become 14-13 Arizona.  This I think was the measure of the Santa Clara defense.  Glass took four good swings and SCU via Brittany Lowe either dug them crosscourt or they softblocked each one until Glass went long on one last swing.  I don’t question going to the big gun with the season on the line, I do question Arizona’s going all John Riggins about it.  They made no attempt to disguise it nor did they even try to have Glass hit from any spot other than a pure 4.  Santa Clara, knowing what was coming, was able to throw its resources into stopping Glass.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that even a team that knows what’s coming stops Glass.  Over the next four points though, Glass took five more swings and Lowe must have dug every one in the back corner.  Finally on Santa Clara’s second match point, Glass changed the pace and rolled a shot short right which as it happened was wide open.  The ball sat on the tape for half a second….In some ways, it would have been fitting for it to have just stayed there.  
     Within seconds the student section emptied out and Santa Clara players were jumping up and down on their side of the court.  Charita Stubbs (Johnson) once a great U of A middle consoled Glass on the AU left side of the net.  Believe it or not, AU’s two senior lefts had 61 kills in the match and lost.  Like football, this suggests that it takes a balanced offense to win at the highest levels in volleyball. My volleypal suggests that any time you set a player 84 times in a match, she’s likely to be maybe a fraction of a second slower than she might have otherwise been.  Stubbs then motioned to Santa Clara that they would let the other team celebrate rather than stop the mania for the traditional handshake.  Santa Clara thus became the first WCC team to make the final four.

     In terms of my life as a volleydad, I’m not sure what’s happened here.  Is it possible that I’ve made the shift into just being a fan of the sport?  Perhaps one day my volleypal will write the definitive treatise on volley consciousness.  In the meantime, I have learned that volleyball can still be fun even if your kid isn’t playing.


At 12/13/2005 07:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great analysis of the match. I am a UofA fan and I have watched the team this entire season. I am very surprised how Rubio coached this important match. Part of UA's success this year was Kristina Baum, but yet, she was nowhere to be found in this match. It almost seemed like she was intentionally left out of the match. As mentioned in the article, Kim, by the 5th game, must have been sore from swinging all night. Rubio could have mixed it up and set Baum, who was at the front row at the same w/ Glass. Had the set been given to Baum, I believe the results would have been different. Baum was wide open and she would have scored the point with no challenge at all.

At 12/13/2005 01:18:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for taking the time to read it. I was wondering where Baum went during the match. Is it possible that she was injured in some way, because it looks like she hardly got any chances?

At 12/13/2005 04:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great write up. It was like Titanic - even though I knew what happened, I was still on edge. Nice job!

At 12/13/2005 06:24:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks, though I hope you're not comparing Arizona to the Titanic :}

At 12/13/2005 11:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a joy to read. THe match was a great, intense one, and reading this brought back the moments at Maples where I was sitting on the edge of my seat, biting my nails, and jumping up in the air everytime Lowe dug Kim Glass, saying, "oh shit, oh shit, oh shit". I liked this :)

At 12/14/2005 08:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

UA fan here... Baum played the entire season with a serious shoulder injury (not quite sure exactly what is ailing her). Her performance during the season against Cal and Stanford brought UA's ranking from 16th to 8th. During the 1st & 2nd round of NCAA, she was the player of the weekend against Utah State and U of U. Both times when Glass was not having good nights. These were turning points for UA that resulted in the team going as far as they've gone. Clearly, the match against SCU was meant to be Glass show. As you've implied in your article, SCU was not necessarily spectacular, but it had a much more balanced offense. UA lived and died by Glass' swing.
Just like you, I am a volleyball fan and it does not matter what team plays. I appreciate a good match. I like to observe the coaching as well. I thought John did a good job.

At 12/14/2005 11:56:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Anonymous, thanks for the kind comments.

UA fan, thanks for the information on Baum's shoulder issues.

In the end, it was a great match. I was just sad to see it end on a roll shot errors rather than a big swing. As I said, had the ball simply sat on the tape and never come might have been the best way to end that match.

At 12/14/2005 02:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was at the match. Arizona had to set Glass on the last play. She was their best player and she was in the front row. On matchpoint, Arizona had to set its best player.

Baum didn't get as many sets because she was not as efficient as Glass and Abernathy. Glass was the only player that was "unstoppable" for Santa Clara. As good as she was, even Abernathy could not duplicate Glass's success against SCU. Sitting there in Maples Pavilion, you get the feeling that if any Arizona player besides Glass hits the ball, SCU was gonna dig it up. The Arizon setter probably felt the same way.

Regarding the substitution for Dyck in the front row, Rubio did it to improve blocking. Abernathy was subbed in the back row so a DS can come in and Baum could be relieved of passing duties. Rubio used the same substitution patterns against Ohio the previous night.

At 12/14/2005 03:34:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I absolutely agree about setting Glass on match point and did say as much. I'm not sure I agree that you set her the same set 9 times in a row or 4 times on the same point. I'm not sure it's all percentages. In bball if Shaq is your highest percentage shooter, I don't think you then have him take every single shot.

I did understand the reasoning behind the 1/2 a rotation substitutions, it was just an odd role for Ayers to be on the court 1/12 of the time. I perhaps should have been more careful about the way I said it. I didn't mean for it to sound at all as if it were done without a reason.

At 12/14/2005 04:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as setting Glass and Abernathy almost exclusively in the 5th game, I think that was what Arizona had to do. From what I have seen, coaches always want to set their best players in the 5th game. There's almost no room for errors in any 5th game.

It seemed to me that Glass the sets that she was supposed to get. The times that the setter went out of her way to set Glass were times where there were bad passes or Arizona had trouble siding out.

The best opportunities for Arizona to balance out its offense were in the 1st and 4th games. Since they had such a big lead in game 4 and everyone in the building knew a game 5 was coming, Arizona should have really used that game to build confidence in their other hitters.

All in all, it was a great match.

At 12/15/2005 07:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you guys look at the box score? How can you determine efficiency when attempts are not balanced?

At 12/15/2005 08:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The box score shows Glass hit .357, Abernathy hit .250, Ladd hit .238, Lamb hit .300, and Baum hit .000. Stats are just stats, they never tell the whole story. There are some hitters that will only get sets when conditions are right. That is why hitters will never get equal numbers of sets. There are times when a hitter who doesn't get a lot of sets has a great hitting percentage because that hitter gets sets when conditions are ideal for her/him. Typically, MBs will have higher hitting percentages than OHs. MBs get sets when the passes are good. In addition to sets they get within the offense, OH also get sets passes are bad.

At 12/15/2005 08:47:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

9 sets in a four point stretch including 4 on the same point is simply a lot of times to go to the same hitter particularly when she hasn't converted the last 8 times.

I do understand how they got there, up to 14-13, Glass had 7 kills in the rally game and looked more or less unstoppable. Once SCU knew that it was only going to go to Glass though, the odds shifted.

In those sequences, I simply can't remember how the passes were.

I do think that hitting percentages in general are a suspect statistic for a variety of reasons. Often, a third or fourth option has a high percentage simply because defenses don't gear up for them. This actually makes Glass's night even more impressive since SCU mostly set up to cope with her.

I don't think every hitter needs to see the same number of sets. I do think that going into 70-30 territroy though is getting extreme roughly comparable to a quarterbac throwing 50 times or a basketball player taking 30 shots in a game. When the latter two happen, the one player winds up with monster stats and the team frequently loses.

The gamble with Glass is an interesting one. She's very high risk in that her swing frequently ends the point. More often than not it's a kill, but she seems to make more than a usual number of errors as well, more or less like a power hitter who strikes out a lot.

This was certainly a very favorable combination in sideout scoring days, in rally score I think the value of a high risk hitter may be a little different. Still favorable, but not as favorable as under a system where an error on a swing didn't necessarily cost you a point.

At 12/11/2010 12:04:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Interesting fact about to slipped into some more advanced stage of volleydad syndrome,about the saner people is also amazing to examine.

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At 2/08/2011 11:23:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Great analysis of the match. I am a UofA fan and I have watched the team this entire season. I am very surprised how Rubio coached this important match.I really enjoyed to read this interesting one.


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