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The Tale of Two Hitters
The Tale of Two Hitters
Published by BeckysTXA
The Tale of Two Hitters

@Cincinnati - Wed, Oct 30th, 7 pm

The Flyers (16-6) travel south to take on Cincinnati (17-5) in a mid-week match pairing two Top 50 teams and the two best Outside Hitters in the state. The Bearcats feature RS-Sr Jordan Thompson. Thompson spent the summer with Team USA as they played over five weeks to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Thompson led Team USA in points and hasn’t slowed down during her senior year as she sits atop the NCAA scoring 6.92 points/set. It’s hard to win the national POY if your team doesn’t make the Final Four, but Thompson is certainly a candidate and might be the exception to that trend this year.

Dayton will counter with RS-So Jamie Peterson. Jamie is averaging 5.60 points/set, 5th in the NCAA. Both of these hitters play all six rotations. They will both swing and score from behind the 10’ line. But, in the front row, Jamie primarily swings from the left pin. She played right side OH her freshman year, so she may have taken a couple swings from the right early in the season, but that has not been the case the last six weeks. Thompson will take swings from both pins. Both hitters stand at 6’4”. Thompson has taken 39% of the Bearcats’ kill attempts this season. Jamie has taken 35% of UD’s. Five times this season Thompson was held to under .250 hitting percentage. Three of those matches were losses. You can’t stop Thompson from getting kills. She is too good, takes too many swings and is capable of racking up 30+ kills if the match goes five sets. Your goal should be to slow her down by stopping her enough to keep her hitting percentage under .250. That will take great blocking, back row defense and aggressive serving to keep Cincinnati from getting the ball to Thompson.

The last four weeks, UD has been working on all three of those areas. This past weekend the Flyers put on a blocking clinic, averaging more than 4 blocks per set over two matches. That’s a great average, but more than the average is how the blocks were set and how many times the Flyers got their hands on balls with block-touches. About half the blocks this past weekend were roof-blocks where the blockers had their hands and arms extended over the net and the blocked ball went straight down to the floor on the opponents’ side of the net. It was a thing of beauty and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I would see this type of blocking from this year’s team. Clearly they have been working hard this last month on getting their hands and arms pressed over the net and it was on full display this past weekend.

Supporting the work at the net are the players tasked with digging any balls that get through or around the block. Early in the year, we weren’t getting many block-touches. We also weren’t closing blocks at an acceptable rate. That makes it very difficult on the back row defenders. All you have to do is watch warmups and see how easy it is for hitters – of all degrees of talent – to crush balls when there is no block. Closing the block is critical for the back row defenders to set up around the block to position themselves to dig an attack. And, when the block can get a touch on the ball, it makes it even easier for the back row players to dig and pass. Blocks and block-touches also cause hitters to hit even higher to get the attempt over the block. These tend to travel out of bounds which is just as good as a block. The more often you can get your hands on a kill attempt, even if you don’t get the block, the more hitters will start to question if they can beat your block and score. As the season has advanced, the Flyers have been getting more block-touches. That’s usually a good sign blocks are coming with a little extra fine-tuning and work. That;s exactly what we saw on display this past weekend.

In the back row, Libero Maura Collins and DS Liz House made some unbelievable digs. Both were seen throwing their bodies around the court often as they dove to get their hands under balls. Even So Mikaylah VanLanen and Fr Grace Dynda came up with great digs to keep rallies going. Although we didn’t set a record for digs, it was the degree of difficulty to get to some of these balls that was so impressive. The Flyer defenders were getting to block-touched balls. A couple weeks ago, head coach Tim Horsmon said the team had an opportunity to get better if they could get to more balls that had been touched at the net. It’s another area the team has been working on and it’s starting to pay off.

UD will need to play at a high level defensively to slow Thompson down on Wednesday night. So who will be matched up to stop Thompson at the net? While in the back row, I expect Thompson to attack from both the right-back and the middle-back. In the front row, she attacks from both sides. That means all of our MBs and OHs will be setting blocks to stop her, but when Thompson hits from the left pin, it will be our MB and right side OH or setter that will need to get the block set. A week ago I would have said, “We need to bring our block to win this match.” After this past weekend, I’m happy to report I can change that comment to, “We need to bring our block to win this match, and we’re ready.” Here’s the point of reference for improved blocking.

You want your MBs to block at over 1/set. Amelia Moore and Liv Dubay are both just over that mark for the season. But this past weekend, Amelia averaged 1.4/set and Liv 2.2/set. Liv set a personal record at 8 blocks against GW.

For your right side hitter, you would like them to be close to 1 block/set. Sierra Pla is not there for the season, but this past weekend she was right at 1.0/set.

Rachael Fara has played at both MB and right OH this season because of injuries to other players. She played both again this week and averaged 2.0 blocks/set, well above where you want her two positions.

At setter, you would like to see something in the .65 range. Josie was below that average this past weekend at .50/set. I would expect Cincinnati to look at trying to get a match up with Thompson hitting over Josie if we are controlling the match. However, that would mean Thompson would be hitting from the left pin, not her usual right side.

A solid blocking average for the left OH is above .40/set. The reason this is the lowest of any of the front row positions is because most teams don’t take a lot of swings from their right side pin. That will not be the case for Cincinnati (nor for VCU in a couple weeks). These teams have strong right side hitters, so our left OHs (Alli Papesh and Jamie) will have their block tested. Alli’s season average is .42/set. Alli is a solid blocker for her position. She has come up with some great solo blocks this year when the MB hasn’t closed out. It’s usually more “difficult” for the MB to go left. It’s the footwork that is different and “against the grain” from everything else they do on the court. They usually face right – towards the setter – on their attack approaches. If they run the slide, they go right. They set most of their blocks to the right. The fact it’s harder for an MB to close a block to the left is another reason these OHs have lower block numbers. All that said, this past weekend, Alli averaged .70 blocks/set, a very high level. Alli can block and she will be tested with the number of swings Thompson takes.

Finally, that leaves Jamie. As good as she has been offensively this season, what she has done blocking is probably even more impressive. For the season, she is averaging .81 blocks/set…double what most left OHs average. And, this past weekend she averaged 2.2 blocks/set. I double Thompson has gone against a blocker as good as Jamie this season. If Jamie and her MBs start stuffing Thompson, they may move her to the other side of the net and Sierra, Josie, Rachael, Liv and Amelia will need to step up.

Our block will be a huge factor in this match, but what about the Bearcat block? Cincinnati has a terrible block. They average 1.38 blocks/set as a team. That ranks them around 315 in the NCAA. There are only 332 DI teams. Cincinnati doesn’t stop you at the net. They just out-score you by feeding 40% of their swings to Thompson. Their blocking woes probably begin and end with the fact their setter (in a one-setter offense) is 5’6” and their best left OH is 5’9”. Note to Alli and Jamie: When you have the setter across the net, just hit over her. Note to Sierra, Rachael and any MB running a slide: when you have the 5’9” OH across the net, just hit over her. Another key to the match will be if we can exploit their lack of height at these two key positions.

The Bearcats’ 5’9” OH is Maria Mallon. She can’t block, but we can not over look her as a hitter. Last year as a freshman, she was 1st Team AAC. She played against UD last year. She can score. Their 5’6” setter, Armania Heckenmueller, also played last year, but never played the front row. The Flyers have to exploit these two players when they are in the front row. This match will feature two great hitters, but it’s still a team sport. It will be the level of play from the rest of the team that will determine the winner.

Lastly, UC is very young. They have several transfers and two of their four international players start. They play an eight-player rotation. Aside from Thompson, everyone else in the rotation is either a freshman or sophomore. All three of their OHs go six rotations. Their Libero is a sophomore transfer from Cleveland State and their DS is a freshman. Dayton will need to exploit their youth especially during critical points in close sets. The Flyers will also need to be hitting on all cylinders with a diversity of shots from all their hitters.

This past weekend both Alli and Jamie showcased improvement in swinging down-the-line and the sharp-angle cut shot from the left. They were successful with these shots round 50% of the time. The down-the-line shot is more advanced than the cut shot which is a work-in-progress. As a point of reference, former A10 POY Flyers like Rachael Krabacher, Alania Turner, and Lauren Bruns, all had these shots, but none perfected them before their junior years. Alli and Jamie are sophomores...ahead of these past great players. They will need all these shots against Cincy. Additionally, players running the slide will need to go down-the-line and cut their swing on the slide. Sets need to be closer to the net to hit the cut shot. More work on the slide is needed as a general note. We are running it and scoring, but it’s not a well-executed shot yet. Placement of the set and timing has gotten better, but still needs work. Same for the quick set to the MBs in front of the setter. Still a work in progress, but overall, the team showed huge steps forward in a lot of areas they have been working on the last month.

Finally, every Flyer that will play on Wednesday night was involved in this match last year at Frericks except Rachael. (Jamie did not play, but was part of the team.) The Bearcats won that match in 5-sets. After falling behind 0-2, UD fought back to even the match at 2-2, but lost the 5th by 3 points. It’s a match we could have won. It’s payback time. The team needs to go into Cincinnati with a chip on their shoulder and take it to the Bearcats. This is a match we can win. Time to knockoff another Top 50 team. All season it’s been a journey to get better. Prepare. Play. Learn. On Wednesday, it’s time to flat-out play and play well. Flyer-up...the entire team is ready.
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