I predict a Stanford victory (UPDATED)

by Glenn on December 5, 2014

A prediction for tonight’s first round playoff game between the Stanford Cardinal and Cal State Bakersfield: Stanford will win. Decisively. I should probably say, I hope they win. But by hope I would mean “fully expect” or “waiting expectantly” in the Biblical sense, not nervous fingers crossed having no idea how it’s going to turn out. My only question is will it be straight sets or four?

In stating open allegiance to the Cardinal, I want to make it clear that I bear no ill will for Bakersfield the city, the university, or the volleyball team. Normally, I would have compassion for them as the clear underdog. And they get props for winning the Western Athletic Conference championship. This is their first appearance in NCAA Division I volleyball.

I think this is going to be a tough game for them.

Haven’t taken much time to do number crunching. It appears to me that CSUB has a similar style to Stanford. They’ve elected to go wide rather than deep, relying on three players to generate most of their kills. Unfortunately for Bakersfield, Stanford is a little wider. Here is how the two teams compare on attack:

Bakersfield kills KEff Stanford kills KEff
Danika Youngblood 404 .188 Inky Ajanaku 383 .446
Molly O'Hagan 359 .305 Jordan Burgess 342 .262
Kelsee Sawyer 350 .219 Morgan Boukather 265 .285
Sydney Haynes 198 .208 Merete Lutz 256 .446
Star Tucker-Campbell 67 .193 Brittany Howard 228 .207

The most interesting statistic for me is the respective heights of the five attackers for each team. Take a look how they line up:

Position Bakersfield Stanford Advantage
OH Danika Youngblood 5-7 Jordan Burgess 6-1 +6”
MB Molly O'Hagan 5-11 Inky Ajanaku 6-3 +4”
OH Kelsee Sawyer 5-10 Brittany Howard 6-3 +5”
MB Sydney Haynes 6-2 Merete Lutz 6-8 +6”
MB/Opp Star Tucker-Campbell 5-10 Morgan Boukather 6-1 +3”

Obviously, Stanford is a bigger team. Collectively they are two feet taller than Bakersfield. It will be interesting to see how that affects play.

And it’s interesting to think about the fact that Stanford is able to recruit players that are so much taller than Bakersfield. I’m thinking back to an Econtalk discussion on sports. Stanford and Cal State Bakersfield both have just one thing they can offer a student—a scholarship and an education.

But both schools have very different reputations for both academic and athletic performance. If you are a phenomenal volleyball player and Stanford and Bakersfield both offer you a scholarship to play volleyball and study, where do you go? Do you even have to think about it?

It’s not fair, really, but I’m still rooting for the favorite.

UPDATE

What an interesting match. There never really was a doubt that Stanford would win, but it was an odd way to win and Bakersfield played well.

Stanford coach John Dunning was very complimentary of Bakersfield:

 “They (CSUB) are all volleyball players: They control the ball, they’re all good servers, they’re all smart and have high volleyball-IQs. As they capitalize on the success of doing well and getting into the tournament, and then they keep adding to their program down the road, this is a big step for them…They’re fun to watch and hard to play against.”

I wondered how the height differential would play out. The effect was surprising. Bakersfield had reasonable success on their attack, but Stanford’s blocking was impressive. Coach Dunning, on the subject of playing of playing a shorter team, said,

“It’s a different game. This is a game of angles and the angles are all different. They did some great things. Their coach is a very intense person, was a great player, so it doesn’t surprise me that her team has that intensity too.”

I don’t have a link, but in the pre-interval interview, Coach Dunning said he was impressed with Bakersfield’s setter. He said his team was having a hard time getting a second blocker on the attacker because their setter was so good at faking.

I thought Madi Bugg, setter, was  gracious in a post-game interview:

“I think that it was important that we take a win as a win and I think they [Bakersfield] played awesome. Kudos to them … Every game that you are trying to win you’re trying to end someone season and you should play with pride because of that and respect every opponent.”

While you find yourself rejoicing that your team won, it had to be disappointing for Bakersfield. Their senior libero said,

“I’d tried not to think about [tonight] being my last game. I just tried to focus on having fun and playing how I’ve played my whole life.”

Here’s how the teams found their points:

Stanford Bakersfield
Offense
-8 35 Kills 43
+2 2 Aces 0
Defense
+11 19 Blocks 8
Gifts from Opp.
+13 19 Attack Errors (Less Blocks) 6
0 Opponent Ball Handling Errors 0
-3 0 Opponent Service Errors 3
75 TOTAL 60

Bakersfield actually outkilled Stanford. That is impressive. But they were incredibly inefficient at .049. And those 18 blocks really hurt. I wish I had kept count of how many times the commentators said someone on Stanford “was way over the net on that one.”

One statistic that speaks volumes about Bakersfield is their 50 digs (to Stanford’s 36). Clearly, they were determined not to let the ball hit the floor.

It’s great that Cal State Bakersfield played so well. Perhaps mildly alarming that the game was so close. Nevertheless, a win is a win. One down, five to go.