This NCAA season has been one of the most contested in recent years; at least 10 teams felt like they had a shot to win the National Championship this year. Baylor has been strong all season, rising to number-1 in the RPI to start the tournament. Wisconsin started less-than-dominant at 9-4 (including a loss to Baylor in September), but tore through the Big 10 with an 18-2 record and entered the tournament strong.
These championship-level matches offer incredible insight, so we’ll be diving deep into our NCAA tournament analysis over the next few weeks. Here’s our first takeaway from this match.
Win the Outside Hitter Battle
We know that the team with the top outside attacker in the match usually wins. In the last 15 matches of last year’s NCAA tournament (everything from the Round of 16 on), the team with the one most efficient high-usage outside attacker won 11 times. Just to repeat that, by simply being better at stopping your opponent’s best outside than they are at stopping yours, you will win 70% of the time in the NCAA tournament! At our GMS Coaching Clinics, we talk about how scoring on the outside and stopping your opponent’s outside attack is the foundation of your team’s success.
Baylor outside Yossiana Pressley is the definition of a high-usage player. They set her ALL THE TIME, and for good reason. The All-American was second in the NCAA in Kills Per Set, while still hitting for a 0.276 efficiency. That’s the kind of production that can carry a team. We featured some of her attacking in Rotations 201 series.
In the first matchup between these two teams, Pressley got set 63 times in 4 sets (as we said… high-usage!) and was very productive. She had 31 kills and hit for a 0.270 efficiency, out-producing either of Wisconsin’s outsides. But in this semifinal match, Wisconsin was a bit better at defending her. She got set even more (68 times), but they limited her to 25 kills and a 0.191 efficiency. That’s certainly not a bad night for a high-usage outside, but it made a difference. In the first match, Pressley was +17 (31 kills, 14 blocked/error) and last night she was +13 (25 kills, 12 blocked/error). Those 4 points matter.
Here’s some plays we really liked:
When there’s no quick hitters in the zone, we like our wing blockers to load and get ready to be good on their hitter. Wisconsin setter Sydney Hilley has a nice swing block move to get over and block Pressley.
We want blockers to be dynamic and make athletic plays. We say, “drifting is a feature, not a bug, of good blockers.” Wisconsin middle blocker Dana Rettke uses a move we really like: an X2 or “crossover-2” move, jumping off of one foot and drifting to the point of attack to stuff this ball.
Sometimes you have to just step in and wear it. Wisconsin libero Tiffany Clark reads to the corner (where most backrow attacks go… from middle-middle to the corner) and digs an absolute bomb from Pressley. And then Hilley gets creative and steals a point on her own.
This play is a bit more conventional, but probably even more important for high school players, since it happens more often. We know that most outside attacks get hit somewhere between middle-middle and the corner, and Clark steps in again and makes a nice dig.
The default defensive package we teach at our Camps and Clinics is a read-based, dual-responsibility system. This systems great a lot of the time. But there’s also times to scout an opponent and assign a player a dedicated tip responsibility. In this case, Wisconsin has front row outside hitter Molly Haggerty come all the way across the court to cover the tip. This a great move for many high schools teams as well, since we know outside hitters tip a lot, at all levels! However, it makes the transition play for the outside more difficult. Wisconsin uses a solution that we really like. Instead of having that outside hitter try to get all the way back to the outside, she just steps straight back and hits in the middle of the court. Love it!
Haggerty wasn’t just good at picking up tips. She also came through as the most productive outside attacker of the match. With 15 kills and just 3 blocked/errors on 29 swings (0.414 efficiency), she helped Wisconsin win the critical outside hitter battle.
Check back for more analysis on this match (and the rest of the Final Four) as the weekend continues!