Women’s Volleyball; Who’s Up Next?

Another solid piece by John in SC.

Pitt’s women volleyball team next opponent is the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the mighty Big Ten Conference.  The match starts at 1:00 PM on Sunday, April 17th, and will be streamed on ESPN3 just like the first two Pitt matches in the tournament.  Pitt and Minnesota have split the two matches they played each other over the years.  This year Minnesota finished second in their conference.

Hugh McCutcheon is the Gophers’ coach.  Prior to coming to Minnesota, he was the U.S. men’s and women’s national indoor volleyball teams coach at different times.  He led the men’s team to a gold medal in the 2008 and the women’s team to a silver medal in 2012.  His resume is quite extensive.  In short, he is very good at his job!

Minnesota has a record of 16-2.  They are ranked #3 in the nation and were seeded #3 in the tournament.  They have played one match in the tournament, a three-set sweep over #23 Georgia Tech.  Other wins over ranked teams include one win over #4 Nebraska along with two wins over #9 Purdue and #12 Penn State.  Their two losses are to #1 Wisconsin and #4 Nebraska.  Big Ten Women’s Volleyball had all kinds of Covid problems so Minnesota never played #8 Ohio State and only played one match against #1 Wisconsin.  The six Big 10 teams mentioned all made the tournament, were all seeded, and are all still playing.  The Big Ten placed the most teams of any conference in the tournament.

The Gophers hitting percentage is 0.267 and the are holding their opponents to 0.190.  They serve very well with 99 aces versus 79 errors.  They average 2.8 blocks per set versus Pitt’s 2.6.  #10 Stephanie Samedy, 6’2”, is their leader.  She is an All American, the Big Ten player of the year, and has a multitude of additional awards.  #21 Regan Pittman, 6’5” and #12 Taylor Landfair, 6’5”, were also on the First Team All Big Ten team.  #20 Adanna Rollins, 6’0” was on the Second Team. 

Landfair and # 5 Melani Shaffermaster, 6’3”, were on the Big Ten All-Freshman team.  Shaffermaster is their setter.  They only use one setter and she is not a liability on the front row with her extraordinary height for a setter.

There are four main hitters for the Gophers: Samedy, Landfair, Rollins, and Pittman.  All four of them are also among their leading blockers along with Shaffermaster, their setter.  Another blocker of note is #9 Shea Rubright, 6’5”.

This is what Pitt faces on paper.  Minnesota is very well coached.  They have very tall, excellent players.  Their setter is an important part of their front row blocking scheme.  They have faced a very tough regular season schedule and are used to a high level of competition.  On paper things look rather bleak for Pitt.

Not so fast!  While Minnesota swept Georgia Tech in three sets, Georgia Tech did not go down quietly.  The scores of the three sets were 25-19, 25-21, and 25-18.  Pitt in their only meeting with Georgia Tech this year also swept Georgia Tech.  The scores of those three sets were: 25-19, 25-23, and 25-19. 

There is not that much difference between these two victories although Pitt’s victory was in Pittsburgh.  Pitt held Tech to a 0.145 hitting percentage whereas Minnesota held them to a 0.169 hitting percentage.

So, what should Pitt’s strategy be to defeat Minnesota?  First thing is not to be intimidated by Minnesota! 

Pitt’s players need to go into the match with a chip on their shoulder and be ready!  Minnesota’s players will probably be a bit overconfident.  After all they just beat another team from that weak ACC conference.  Pitt sweeping #10 Utah may have turned the overconfidence down a notch but hopefully not much.

Pitt cannot try to hit over Minnesota’s front line.  They need to look for gaps and try to tool the ball off their blocks.  They can do this by hitting the ball with spin at angle into the block.  Pitt’s setters need to move the ball to hitters that are one-on-one with blockers.  Another thing Pitt will be doing on the attack is hitting from the back row.  Pitt’s blockers are going to have to use their legs to even out the height disadvantage.

Pitt needs to try to keep the Golden Gophers out of system.  Against Utah that was done by serving to their libero.  I seriously doubt that would work with a Big Ten libero.  Due to their height Pitt needs keep their serves low to the back row.  Make them go down to receive the serve.

Similar to their strategy with Utah, Pitt needs to not let Samedy, their leader, dominate the game.  She will have good stats at the end of the day but Pitt needs to make her work for every point.  Frustrating Samedy may carry over to the rest of the team.  The secondary player Pitt needs to concentrate on is Landfair.  Unfortunately, even if Pitt can control both of them, Minnesota can win the match with their secondary players.  They are deep enough to do that.

There is no way Pitt is going to win this match in three sets.  They could lose it in three though if they do not start well.  They may win it in four sets though.  Ideally Pitt wins the first set.  This would blow the confidence of Minnesota.  Pitt could then take two of the next three sets.  Pitt may be able to win a five-set match also.  This is especially true if Pit wins the fourth set.  To do this though Pitt needs to come out quickly in the last set and end it at 15.

Here are what I feel the percentages are of Pitt winning the match based on the number of sets.  This presumes Pitt serves as well as they have so far in the tournament.  In a three-set match Pitt has a 0% chance.  This means Pitt got blown out.  In a four-set match, I think Pitt has a 50% chance of winning.  In a five-set match Pitt has a 40% chance of winning.  Pitt’s best chance of winning is winning the first set in a four-set match.  I would give Pitt a 60% chance of winning in that scenario.  Bring on those Gophers!

Hail to Pitt! 

Women Volleyballers Beat Utah

If this looks a day late it is. John in SC wrote this and sent it to me about three days ago.  I simply forgot to post it in a timely manner. I have apologized to John and now to our readers. That’s what happens sometimes when a blog isn’t the most important thing in one’s life.  So I’m posting it now because even though the game has passed the info John shares with us is still valid and important – a teaching tool also as may be.

Pitt won this match against the #14 Utah team in a convincing 3-0 manner.

Pitt women’s volleyball opponent in this year’s NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament’s second round is the University of Utah Utes from the Pacific Athletic Conference (PAC-12) conference who are current ranked #10 nationally. The Utes finished third in the conference at the end of the regular season.

In a conference long dominated by Stanford, this year’s conference champion was the University of Washington. The PAC-12 placed five teams in this year’s tournament. This was the second highest total by a conference only behind the six teams placed in the tournament from the Big Ten.

The other three teams from the PAC-12 in the tournament are 2nd place Oregon, 4th place Washington State, and 5th place UCLA. Utah was seeded 14th in the tournament bracket and got a first round bye.

Utah finished the season with a 13-4 record. They played their last match on March 28th. Utes have victories over two ranked teams. The first number in front of the team is their ranking when Utah defeated them, and the second number is their current ranking. 17, 15 UCLA (split series) and 15, 17 Washington State (2nd match cancelled).

Utah’s matches against #22/16 Oregon were cancelled and they lost both matches against #9/7 Washington. Utah was ranked 7th going into their matches with Washington. Utah’s other loss was against Colorado (8-12) on March 1st and is their last loss.

In comparison, Pitt has victories over four teams that were ranked when they played them. They split matches with #6/13 Louisville and #5/22 Notre Dame. They won their only matches with #20/23 Georgia Tech and #25/ (#28) Florida State. The rankings of Louisville and Notre Dame when Pitt played them were during the fall season when the two power conferences of volleyball, The Big 10 and the PAC-12, were not playing.

They would have been ranked about where they both are now if everyone had been playing. Pitt’s other two losses were the first two matches of the fall season against a mediocre Syracuse team (7-8). Pitt was undefeated in the spring season winning all 12 matches they played. Their last loss was Louisville in the last match of the fall season. Pitt’s record is 16-4 and they are currently ranked #19.

Pitt and Utah have met two times previously. Pitt had won both matches. In their last meeting on 9/14/2019 Pitt beat a #16 Utah team 3-1. The match was at a tournament in California.

Utah has a 0.256 hitting percentage and they have limited their opponents 0.159. They have a bit of a service problem with 107 aces versus 127 errors. The Utes are led by All American #1 Dani Drews, a 6’0” senior. She is their leading hitter having more than twice as many kills as the next leading hitter.

The two other hitters of note are #4 Kenzie Koerber, a 6’3” senior, and #13 Madelyn Robinson, a 5’10” junior. Koerber also their best server with 26 aces vs. 20 errors. The best two blockers on the team are #19 Phoebe Grace, a 6’2” RS junior, with 63 and # 10 Kennedi Evans, a 6’2” RS sophomore with 56.  Koerber is third in blocks. The Utes only use one setter, #9 Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres, 

SAIGE KA'AHA'AINA-TORRES on Twitter: "Very excited to announce that I have  decided to play volleyball at the University of Utah! This was a very  difficult and stressful decision but I cannot wait to be attending this  amazing school next year!! Go Utes ...a 6’0” junior. She is also the team leader in digs. A freshman, #17 Vanessa Ramirez, is the main libero and is second in digs. Interestingly, Drews and Koerber are 3rd and 4th in digs. This indicates they play all six rotations.

In summary the Utes are taller than us but are not very deep in hitters. They have blockers who are not an offensive threat. They only use one setter, and she is also a key part of their defense. They have two players, Drews and Koerber who are very multidimensional in the mold of Pitt’s Kayla Lund.

Dani Drews is the PAC-12 player of the year, was an AVCA 1st team All-American last year and is the leader of the team. Koerber was also all conference. The PAC-12 only has one all-conference team. Honorable mentions were Ka’aha’aina-Torres and Robinson.

Here are the keys to the match and what Pitt needs to do to win. First thing Pitt must do is get off to a quick start and limit the match to no more than four sets.

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