From - Mon Oct 06 16:22:03 1997
From: (Michael David Bertz)
Subject: Match notes for LBSU/UoP and UCLA/Stanford 10/4 10/5
Date: 6 Oct 1997 20:13:01 -0400

A pair of matches in LA:

Got to see some top-level teams play this weekend, with Long Beach St. vs. Pacific Saturday night and then Stanford vs. UCLA on Sunday. My reports are somewhat late, sorry, busy looking for a job.

I did not chart or take stats for either match, so my comments are straight from memory, apologies in advance for any gross errors. If anyone has the stats, please post them.

Saturday: #2 Long Beach St. vs. #11 Pacific

I assume that the results have been posted...LBSU embarrasses the Tigers in a quick 3 games, including a first game BAGEL! It hurt at times to watch UoP struggle to pass the ball or get a decent set to swing at, and then put the ball down. I understand that Pacific lost one of their starting outside hitters in the warmups (sprained ankle or something?), I don't know since we were just a little bit late. Long Beach looked pretty smooth and polished and a legitimate #2 in the country (with May being a big factor in that equation).

I liked the Pyramid at Long Beach St. as a place to see volleyball. Airy (what with the high ceiling and all) but with good sightlines and the coziness of a much-smaller gym when seated in the lower rows, it's a nice gym.

Overall, Long Beach performed with control and confidence; Pacific did not. LBSU impressed me as a team with a goal and a plan to get there; Pacific did not. It didn't help that LBSU ran off about 7 points in the first game before the Tigers could even get a sideout. This was accomplished through tough serving and poor passing and execution for Pacific. Coach John Dunning of the Tigers looked quite frustrated with his team, and since we were sitting right behind the Pacific bench, I kind of overheard him asking his team, during one of these early timeouts, if they had indeed come to play volleyball. Pacific was finally able to get a sideout, but the kinds of problems shown in this game plagued them throughout the match; poor passing and poor set location, which did not help their hitters against a well-formed block and well-positioned defense from Long Beach.

Pacific sent out #6 Tanja Dimitrijevic at setter, who looked a bit short to be listed 6'1", but who quite frankly lacked blazing speed and consistency in set location. I don't think that Elsa Stegemann played, and I'm not positive who Pacific played at OH, but #2 Karin Sjosten and two other girls (#5 Addie Hauschild and #12 Sara Bronson) split the time at the MB positions, while #13 Liina Veidemann played opposite.

Long Beach started what I believe to be their typical lineup, with #5 Misty May at studly-setter and #4 Veronica Walls at OPP. #10 Jenn Snyder and #8 Anja Grabovac hit from the leftside, while #15 Nique Crump and #11 Dillard (I'm pretty sure) held down the middle. Crump, Snyder, and May were lined up next to each other in the rotation.

Neither team subbed a terrible amount (quick match and all), but reserves from Pacific who saw time were #11 Angela Rosenquist (a 5'5" S/DS who saw some backrow time), #24 Angela Gotelli (a 6'0" OH), and maybe a couple of others. Too bad Dunning didn't have another taller setter, I would've taken out my starting setter based on the sets I saw.

Beach subbed even less, I believe. Why fix what's not broke?

As I said, game one was all Long Beach, with tough serving, good disciplined blocking, and the steady setting and leadership of May driving the offense. Even if Pacific was able to execute a play and set a driven ball to the 49ers, they controlled it and set up the ball for a kill. Pacific did not pass well, with several service aces and shanks, and just generally shoddy play. Coach Dunning just looked to be shaking his head. Even if they got a good pass, the set locations were not particularly good, and the Tiger hitters seemed rather timid about going after the Long Beach block. Furthermore, even granting the difficulties which arise out of poor passing, there seemed to be lots of confusion about where the ball would be going, and Pacific gave up lots of free balls. These girls need to learn to take a swing at even marginal balls. Not a one of them really stepped up to hit misset balls at the 10' line. Throw in very poor serving (_lots_ of errors) and you have the recipe for a big bagel. 15-0, Long Beach puts on a show.

Game two was an entirely different story. Pacific settles down some, and actually seem to show that they can play. Much better execution on their side, with smarter (if not stronger) hitting and better ball control (both passing and setting). Long Beach didn't execute quite as well as game one, but since they didn't really need to do much to win game one, it's possible that they just needed a little bit of time to adjust to Pacific's surge in game two. This set (game) was pretty even, with Pacific leading most of the time by a point or two, until they reached 13-10 and were poised to capture the second game of the match. However, LBSU turns up the heat, and with strong siding out and three zinging jump serves by May, the second game went instead to Long Beach.

Losing that second set, after being up 13-10, seemed to break Pacific's back, and things went downhill again in game three, with the Tiger passing going south and their blocking and hitting woes returning. The Beach finishes out the match in strong fashion, taking the third game going away.

Overall, the Tigers got outplayed in just about every way. I'm not blaming Dunning directly; he looked quite frustrated about his team's performance, as though he clearly believed that they were capable of more. I would expect so, since Pacific was _not_ a #11 team tonight. They do seem to have some offensive weapons: Stegemann (who was unavailable), and #13 Veidemann was an effective hitter when she was not swinging at trap sets on the rightside. Unfortunately, their setter was having difficulty getting the ball in hittable positions for most of the night, with lots of balls either pyramid- apex-high and off the net or too tight and too low. The Tigers also suffered inordinately from poor passing. It was interesting, because for most of the first two games, they had little difficulty with May's jumper, with one player (I think #13) passing nails on it. However, at 12-13 LBSU-Pacific in the 2nd game, May rips one, its heading for the girl who's been passing them so well, and then one of her teammates steps in front and shanks it. D'Oh! The Tigers blocking was not around most of the evening; in particular, #2 Sjosten didn't seem to understand that her major role as a middle was blocking. She seemed to be in the right position to hit, but didn't flow well to get into place to block during transition. Furthermore, Pacific consistently did not set up well on LBSU's #4 Walls, apparently not realizing for nearly two games that she was left-handed. Walls was hitting opposite, on the rightside, and the Pacific blockers were lined up on her right shoulder, way to far towards the antenna, giving Walls her favorite shot crosscourt, which she pounded into oblivion for almost two games. Late in game two and for game three, they did a much better job of containing her. Oh, and the Tigers served very poorly, with a huge number of errors. On more than one occasion, Coach Dunning was shaking his head as one of his players would serve it into the net following a Beach timeout.

Long Beach St., on the other hand, appeared to be in cruise control much of the night. They played steadily, with a sophisticated, distributed offense. Coach Brian Gimmillaro was animated and directing, and when his players were in a huddle during timeouts, they looked focused (where the Pacific players looked lost and somewhat stunned throughout much of the match). As noted earlier, #4 Walls looked great early on hitting the ball straight down, but this was largely due to Pacific not blocking her properly. Once they adjusted, her effectiveness went downhill rapidly. Nique Crump played well, I believe leading the Beach hitters in kills (though her total was not high, perhaps 12 kills, suggesting the distributed offense Beach ran), and the other middle was likewise pretty good. Snyder and Grabovac were steady if not overpowering or flashy on the outside. Nearly all of the hitters seemed to get a couple of sets complely isolated, partly due to the confusion of Pacific's blockers, but perhaps largely due to the brilliance of May's sets, and these hitters took advantage by hitting the ball straight down. May herself had several kills and a couple of cheese shots, one two-handed set (which should never have fallen), and a one-handed tip, shot to the deep corner, when she used her hops to reach a 50-50 ball falling near the net. All of the Beach players are fundamentally strong, with sound mechanical armswings, quick, and at extension with good wrist snap, and they seem to be a disciplined team on defense. LBSU was a vision of mechanical efficiency during warmups, with May setting to the same location over and over and over, and the hitters using their quick and extended armswings to snap the ball down. I was quite impressed with sophomore #1 Kristy Kierulff during warmups; nice explosive jump, quick and powerful swing, hits the ball really well. But she's 5-9 and doesn't seem to play much.

Two interesting notes. First, both teams seemed to use modified 5-person 'W' serve receive patterns. Long Beach's, of course, was more effective than Pacific's, but both teams commonly had their front row hitters passing the short serves from the 10-foot line. And I'm not talking about getting that short, loopy serve with hands, I'm talking forearm passing. What's more, especially on the Long Beach side, those short frontrow passes where generally pretty good. I was further impressed by the ball control prowess of nearly all of the Beach players. They got lots of free balls from Pacific and took advantage shamelessly. I'm curious as to how many other NCAA teams are returning to this older style (arguably more popular at the HS level). I am further gratified to see some MBs back there passing. I know some other teams who could use some of this passing skill (especially Beach's).

The second note concerns May. A couple of weeks ago, I posted that she was not a true natural setter, without seeing her play this season. While I may not have thought that she totally stood out last season, she's convinced me this year. Her improvement could arguably be plotted along a geometric curve, as she ran her offense with poise and consummate skill. Misty May combines the setting consistency (especially location) of a Laura Davis with an incredible athleticism, jumping and snapping balls on 2, especially on a tight dig. She serves tough (though I don't think her jumper is truly astounding), and plays good defense (though not as stellar, I'm told, as when she was a junior). The things that I really like which I see in May as a setter are her intensity, competitiveness, and savvy in running a sophisticated offense. She recognized that Pacific's middles did not get back into position well after hitting a slide, so as that ball was dug up by her team, she would immediately set the back one or her rightside against 1 or no block. She also worked really hard to get into position, and when the pass was off, to get to the ball so as to get her hands on it and float an absolute peach out to the outside for her teammate to bang. The speed and sheer athleticism is what makes her stand out so much; you see it when she blocks, you see it as she moves and sets in transition. It's also what allowed her to train as a setter in college and get as good as she is (learning from Debbie Green certainly didn't hurt - she could probably turn my dog into a pretty good setter :).

Sunday: #4 Stanford at #21 UCLA

Again, I expect that the results of these matches have been posted in various locations, but Stanford wins handily, in 3 games, something like 15-10, -6, -10. Met Ravi and Vince and Josh in the bleachers. I've never been to Pauley before, and I was somewhat surprised at how small they have the gym set up. I was also a bit startled at the attendance for this match, which I would estimate as somewhere between 600 and 800, including the band (compare this to Long Beach's attendance on the previous night of 2460). UCLA came into this match badly needing a Pac-10 victory against one of the teams above them if they wanted to entertain any hope of having a realistic shot at finishing in the hunt for the NCAAs. Stanford came in cruising somewhat, and looked pretty confident and relaxed all afternoon.

Much has been made of UCLA's injuries. Commentators galore have bemoaned how bad off UCLA is, but one begins to wonder where the depth is if an outside hitter has to get moved into the middle (Larkin). Since MB Johnson played the other night, it makes one wonder if the coaches think that a converted, smallish leftside is better than a bonafide, if slow, middle. I dunno. One might think that a big-time team like UCLA would have enough depth to handle a injury or two. With Bachman back, surely things would improve. But I don't see them being competitive with the Stanfords and LBSUs. More later.

The Bruins trotted out Coleman at setter, Milling at opposite, Potter and Embree on the leftside, and Nihipali and Larkin in the middle. Nihipali would sub out regularly for Michelle Quon (not the figure skater) in the backrow, and Coopman also saw some PT in the back. We also saw Celeste Peterson on the left when Potter struggled somewhat in game 2. Tamika Johnson was not seen, and we saw another middle, Bachman, with her arm in a cast.

Stanford put forth the lineup of Sharpley setting, Walsh at opposite, the tandem of McNamee and Ifejika in the middle, and the ever-present Folkl joined by Jamie Gregory on the leftside. I was puzzled somewhat that Shaw went with the smallish Gregory when Lambert and Clark were available, but I think that he either felt that he needed the ball control or just didn't consider UCLA to be a serious threat. Don't get me wrong, Gregory is fun to watch and can hold her own (in fact stuffing Milling one-on-one on a difficult set hit out of the backrow), but she's just a liability at left front and if I were Coleman, I would've given Milling a nice rightside ball at the pin to bury over Gregory down the line until the Cardinal could stop her (however, set consistency was a problem for the Bruins). We saw Sarah Neal and Lindsay Kagawa in the backcourt, Lambert and/or Clark later in the match when Gregory had some difficulty putting the ball away, and 6'3" frosh Jennifer Detmer in the middle during the third game (where she promptly recorded about three straight blocks).

Game one had the Bruins playing hard, and even though Stanford trailed at times, the girls looked relatively relaxed and in control. Towards the end of the game, the consistent pressure from the Cardinal players took its toll on the Bruins, and several unforced errors led to their demise. For the Bruins, Potter was initially effective hitting line or tooling Sharpley's outside hand, Larkin actually got couple of 1's off, and Milling was able to do the job with some less-than-satisfactory sets. I did not perceive Embree or Nihipali as a huge offensive threat in this game. Stanford distributed its offense fairly well, with Ifejika and McNamee hitting both slides and straight-up 1's, and Walsh slowly warming up the heat. Folkl got a lot of sets, but almost single-handedly kept the Bruins in the match by making a lot of errors, several of them balls hit 6 feet wide. Folkl also was the target of a sound UCLA serving strategy, and was inaccurate at best until game three, and shanking often.

Game two was mostly Stanford, who were setting up the block better and keeping more balls in play. Towards the end, it was almost as if UCLA gave up in preparation for game three.

The third set was hard-fought, but the outcome was inevitable. Stanford just has a much more polished offense with many weapons, and the ability to stay in the point and turn disadvantages into advantages. They eventually win this game going away.

Now, some commentary. First, UCLA. I'm no great fan of the Bruins, but I can objectively say that they will not finish anywhere close to the top three in the Pac 10 this year. In fact, I'll go slightly out on a limb and say that they're not going to make the NCAAs this year. UCLA escaped with a win in 5 games against Arizona, a match that they truly had no business winning. I saw this match on TV, and UCLA's coach claimed they would be in the Final 4. Against bigger and more powerful teams like Stanford, though the Bruins may hang in for a while, they just simply do not have the consistency and bangers to win the match. This is what will sink them to mid-level in the Pac 10 (my predicted finish: 6th). The Bruins have too many holes to truly be competitive through all six rotations. Potter is not playing up to her potential, but could be more effective if the set location allowed her to tool regularly; I thought that she passed pretty well, however. Nihipali is a young middle and I like her enthusiastic play, but she must become more disciplined blocking to be a truly effective force at MB. Several times I saw her get to the outside, block, but then almost stumble back a step or two and be out of position to make the next play. Larkin is, as others have noted, truly out of her element at middle, and I have to give her credit for gutsy play there, and pretty steady passing (as far as the Bruins are concerned - Larkin's passing seemed acceptable but not great). But she's just not in the right place a lot of times to make the block and doesn't read a lot of the opposing setter's intentions. She'd probably hurt the Bruins less at OH, but who to play middle? Embree did not impress me, she just wasn't that effective. Coleman _must_ begin to give her hitters some better balls to swing at. As others have noted, Coleman just doesn't connect well in the middle. The problem is that her outside sets on this day often left much to be desired as well. They were either dying inside or if they made it to the pin, they were falling from the rafters. Milling, in particular, was regularly jumping backwards to hit a ball behind her head. One final note about UCLA is that they seemed to lack a cohesive defensive strategy. Too many balls (including several Folkl tips) which should have be picked up were not because the players did not show a strong understanding of who was responsible for them, and an entire half of the backcourt would end up playing collapse defense on it. Time for a chair drill. :)

I'll say this about Milling. I have a lot of respect for the load which she's trying to carry on this UCLA team. Sometimes maligned for erratic play, benched at times during her sophomore season, this girl from Poway has a lot of the physical ability and volleyball tools necessary to help this team make it to a higher level, and I think she is showing a lot of character and strength in trying to lead UCLA past its difficulties. She's seeing a huge number of sets, many of them in the previously mentioned tough locations, and yet is putting up some impressive numbers. The difficulty I have with the job she's being asked to do is that many of her rightside sets were 5-8 feet inside the antenna, forcing her to change her approach and taking away the line, and most of the 'D' sets were at least 10 feet off the net, preventing her from really seeing the Stanford block and defense. This, I think, is how she got stuffed by a solo blocking Jamie Gregory during game one (not to take anything away from Gregory, who exhibited great fundamental blocking technique, waiting on the backrow hit and then going up solid and penetrating, but this never should have happened). Milling passed consistently well, and what I really liked best was that she was a vocal leader on the floor. Several times I heard her directing her teammates, trying to adjust her team to the Stanford challenge (e.g., "Tonisha, move over and help Lynn pass this serve"), and calling out shots to hit (to Embree - "high hands!" - where does the hit go? into the block, D'oh!). I feel bad for her because I don't think that her team will make the NCAAs in her junior and senior years, and I think that her all-American chances will be hurt because of it.

Stanford, on the other hand, looks to be getting stronger as the season progresses (as seems to be the pattern in Palo Alto). Injuries seem to be prevalent here, too, with the aforementioned Walsh still not 100% on her shoulder, but with Sharpley looking much speedier than during the NACWAA tournament. Ifejika and McNamee still do not exceedingly impress me, as I do not think that either really possesses a true all-around game. However, they did not hurt Stanford, and where able to pick up some of the slack. Gregory played well, but when a little more firepower was needed on the left, Shaw did not hesistate to go to Lambert and Clark, who played well. Walsh was effective from the right, and more effective from the backrow (I think that she hits better from here all of the time). As the match deepened, I think that she loosened up some and was swinging relatively freely crosscourt from the rightside into the deep corner where the previously described UCLA defense could not retrieve it. Walsh was also effective in transition setting the ball, and blocked nicely. In some respects, she was probably most effective serving, with a nice diving crosscourt jumper. Folkl really struggled this afternoon. I don't have figures, but I would estimate that she hit under .100. Way, way too many errors against a team like UCLA. Unsteady passing and serving lapses make this a match I'd want to forget. Sharpley, on the other hand, completely outset Coleman (granted, with the help of some marginally stronger passing), and served terrific, nailing zone 2 incessantly. I like Stanford's chances to take the Pac 10 if she continues to increase mobility and leads like she has been.

The match can be boiled down into a few points. One - setting leadership. Sharpley led her team. Though Coleman exhibited more maturity and gumption than I've seen out of her previously (e.g., turing and looking for Larkin and forcing the middle because you know Coleman's not positive where Larkin will be), she just wasn't able to consistently give her team the sets to put Stanford away. Sharpley was able to do that, even when Stanford's passing was not terrific. Two - finding a way to adjust and win. Sure, UCLA has some injured starters. But Stanford had a star with a really subpar match (Folkl) and another who really didn't take all that many swings (Walsh). Yet the Cardinal was able to find other places in its offense and ways to make it work. Stanford also knew that Milling would be the horse UCLA would try to ride, and set up much of its defense around her. Even though Kara put up decent numbers, the rest of her team just didn't do their job (Nihipali, Potter, Embree, all hitting negative).

I don't know what to say that UCLA can do to reverse their fortunes. But something must be done. The Bruins' day could be summed up in this play: Stanford overpass off a serve, Milling goes up and _crushes_ the ball straight down and to the left, it's going to hit on about the 4' line. However, McNamee, in self-defense, puts a hand in front of her face, and the ball caroms off of her head and hand and comes back over the net to the Bruin side. UCLA, startled, sets up an outside ball which is controlled by Stanford, who sets and kills it. The frustration shown on Milling's face shows how things are when nothing goes your way.

Bottom line on these matches: exceedingly fun to watch. Was nice to meet some r.s.v folks in the stands. My gut-level prediction for the NCAAs:

Later -
Michael Bertz
Georgia Institute of Technology