THURSDAY CARDINAL COUPLE EXTRA EDITION
( Our newest columnist Jeff McAdams files this commentary on last night's Cardinal Volleyball win over Kentucky. We pleased to have Jeff on board and reading today's article is like getting college course credit because of the information shared and learned. We may jut have to start calling him Professor Jeff....)
There was a clinic put on last night the KFC Yum! Center on the topic of defense in volleyball. The clinic was put on by the Kentucky Wildcats, and yet UofL picked up the win, which means there may be more to learn from the play of the VolleyCards than from the Wildcats.
Stephanie Klefot is a fantastic libero and kept plays alive that had the mostly red crowd cheering thinking the play was over. Overall, this Kentucky team was digging balls that would've found the floor against most other teams. If you want to learn how to dig and pass, you could do a lot worse than study UK game film.
So, how did Louisville get the W? They did several things right in the last 3 sets to counter the frustrating UK defense.
First was good passing. UK is not a particularly strong offensive team, so Caitlin Welch, and a committee of others, were able to get good, clean passes to our setters, Hannah Kvitle and Katie George. Occasionally, or maybe not so occasionally, Hannah or Katie had to dig the ball (8 and 11 digs respectively), in which case, a role reversal occurs and Welch takes the set. When a setter gets an accurate pass, it gives them lots of options of who to set. When you have lots of options on who to set, the defense of the other team has a much tougher job to anticipate where the shot is going to be coming from and how to set up to receive it. Traditionally, UofL has not had a strong digging and passing team, but Coach Kordes put a lot of emphasis on defense in practices and recruited several very good defenders for the team. Also, Welch has taken her play to another level this season, chalking up 21 digs last night.
Secondly, with good passing, the setters can play a quicker game. When setting a hitter, you can set the ball in a high arc that gives your hitters plenty of time to adjust to the path of the ball, but of course that also lets the other team's blocking and defense to adjust to the path of the ball. Alternatively, you can set the ball in a flatter arc which gets the ball out to your hitters faster, giving the other team less time to anticipate and get set up. Again...though, that cuts both ways, as your hitters have to be prepared to get the ball that quickly and be in the right position to be able to hit it with less ability to adjust in flight. To play the offense more quickly, you have to have a team that's in sync and communicating well. The Cards communicate well, but as we talked about after the Penn State match, this is a team that is still really putting all the pieces together and jelling. You couldn't tell that last night, however, as Kvitle and George ran a smooth offense and were able to pick up the pace a bit, particularly in the second and third sets which rocked the UK defense back on their heels. The ultimate expression of a quick offense would be a quick set to a middle hitter. Gwen Rucker and Brooke Mattingly are our primary middle hitters and they both executed on the middle game quite well last night with 15 and 13 kills respectively.
Last, you can play better against a good defense by avoiding the need to play against it altogether. Louisville has a long tradition of good blocking (who can forget Lecia Brown's blocking efforts, being among the best in the nation, and spending some time topping the charts as the best blocker in the country). Gwen Rucker continues that tradition, Brooke Mattingly has shown that she is going to hold up her end of the bargain as well. While we haven't seen her on the court, yet, I suspect freshmen Davionna Holmes will be part of the next round. The stats from last night don't directly reflect a strong blocking effort, but the front line, anchored by Rucker and Mattingly, nearly always had a good block up. UK, rather than trying to hit through a block (which, to their credit, is usually a bad idea) made an effort to hit over and around it. Hitting around a block, of course, risks hitting the shot out. Going over the block similarly risks hitting the shot long, or you have to take enough off of the shot that you give Caitlin Welch another good opportunity to add to her dig stats leading back to the first point of good passing and we come full circle.
Want to improve your digging? Watch UK Want to improve how you play against a good digging team? Watch UofL. Either way, there's a lot that volleyball players could learn from that match.
Another couple of quick points. I don't think I have ever seen anyone on the court show more enthusiasm and energy than Katie George. The joke has been that the challenge for Cardinal Volleyball fans this year is to keep track of which blonde ponytail belongs to which player. Apparently the blurred one is Katie's, which reminds me of another blonde blur that has gotten attention here on Cardinal Couple in the past - Shelby Harper.
A crowd size of over 5,000 for a volleyball match? That compares favorably with Nebraska's average attendance for 2011 (4,522, 2nd in the nation). The women's basketball team showed that moving to a large facility (in their case Freedom hall at the time) can help lead to larger crowds to justify the larger facility. Could we see the same sort of attendance growth for volleyball that we saw for women's basketball? Let's hope so. Way to go, CardNation.
Volleyball next hosts the Cardinal Classic, again in the KFC Yum! Center, with Duke, Marshall, and Samford coming to town Friday, and two matches Saturday. And, of course, UofL gets the next opportunity to hand UK another loss with Football on Sunday.
(Great report from out newest columnist Jeff McAdams! Be sure to also check today's earlier article about the game...directly below this post.)