Act IV for Cardinal WVB begins tonight

by Glenn on November 5, 2015

The curtain on the Fourth Act of Stanford Cardinal Women’s Volleyball season rises this evening. What is pretty exciting is that the match will be televised on ESPNU, a station we have at the house, so there will be mandatory volleyball viewing tonight at 8pm PST even though it’s, you know, a night of the week and there will undoubtedly be some football on that we’ll have to forgo, which is a kind of blessing I think.

Speaking of football, I may be done with it. If it’s on, I watch for a few minutes, but there is little that delights these days. On Sunday, I walked into the room and saw that the Seattle Seahawks were playing the Dallas Cowboys. No sooner had I sat down when this happened:

It was sickening. The day before—Saturday morning—I ate breakfast at a place that caters to alumni and fans of a large mid-West university who gather on Saturdays to watch their team play.  My recollection was three players were assisted off the field during that game in the time it took to finish my meal.

One of my suppliers has one of those signs to record their injury reports for their warehouse:

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If the NFL or the NCAA’s unpaid professional football league, were to post injuries in this way, they would need a white board and record how many MINUTES (or SECONDS) it’s been since the last injury. Certainly not DAYS. Any other business that had the injury record that these leagues do I imagine would be shut down by OSHA. I saw this report about all the NFL injuries this weekend and just shook my head.

Which is just one of the many reasons it’s more fun to watch volleyball: you are reasonably assured you are not watching the ruination of a human being.

With volleyball there is always the possibility of injury, but not usually the career-ending, life-altering sorts. One of Stanford’s players star players, Inky Ajanaku, hurt her knee this past summer and decided to stay out for the season. But she plans to come back as a red shirt senior next year, which is great news.

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Stanford has eight matches to finish out their season—four on the road and three at home, before the conference ender at UCLA. The matches this weekend are here in Oregon, at the University of Oregon on Thursday and Oregon State on Sunday. I’m hoping to see the Oregon State match in person.

New AVCA Coaches Poll and RPI came out on Monday. Here’s how things look for Stanford and their competition through the end of the season:

Team AVCA Rank RPI
Stanford 7 11
Oregon 65
Oregon State 146
Washington 3 10
Washington State 75
Colorado 70
Utah 123
California 124
UCLA 9 7

Only two of the Cardinal opponents have top 25 rankings, but I don’t think any of these contests will be easy. In fact, they may all be challenging with the Washington and UCLA matches just more so.

Here is a chart that places the RPI for Stanford and their last eight opponents in terms of percentiles:

Cardinal WVB.003

What is at stake is a satisfying end to the season. Obviously the only satisfying end is to win it all—to be the one winning team above 333 losers. Before you can think about being the ultimate winner, though, you need to get into the NCAA post-season tournament. 64 teams will make it—roughly the top 19% of the 334 NCAA Division I schools with a women’s volleyball team. Oregon, Washington State, and Colorado are right on the bubble. Beating Stanford would certainly help their numbers. What Stanford has going for itself it has found ways to win and has become stronger as the season has gone on.

In the mix of whatever travails are part of playing on the road, Stanford is going up against teams who are playing for their post-season life. I think that adds a layer of something to the proceedings. This should not be Stanford’s final act, but the teams who want their own fifth act, will be playing hard. We should see some great volleyball this month.

Here is another chart showing how Stanford matches with its coming competition. (Numbers are cumulative through Sunday 1 November 2015.)

Cardinal WVB.002

Tonight and the next seven games will come down to some very simple things:
1. Serving aggressively enough to keep the opposing team out of system or at least off balance.
2. Passing well to create good kill opportunities.
3. Blocking well.
4. Digging well.

On the season, Stanford does all of these things better than their opponents, except for digging. There will be no lack of excitement in this next act. Washington and UCLA bring a unique challenge for the Cardinal, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.