An Inside Look: Facing the Same Opponent Back to Back

  0 Wendy Mayer | November 16th, 2017 | ACC, Big East, Big Ten, College - Women's Indoor, Division I Mid-Major, News

In volleyball scheduling, sometimes the unexpected happens: a hurricane cancels a tournament, a team drops out of a tournament after the initial schedule is complete, etc. Sometimes a team travels a long distance for a match and will play back to back to make the trip worthwhile.

But, on the whole, playing the same opponent in back-to-back matches is rare in women’s volleyball. Or is it?

It has happened nine times so far in 2017 and the unique scheduling is far from over. The first three back-to-back set ups were non-conference scheduled occurances. The next six were the result of conference mandates. In all but one case, the victor of Match 1 swept the series.

Back to Back Matches Dates Match 1 Result Match 2 Result
Notre Dame vs. Ohio State 9/8, 9/10 3-0 Ohio State 3-1 Notre Dame
Northern Arizona at Hawaii 9/15, 9/16 3-0 Hawaii 3-0 Hawaii
NJIT vs. Fairleigh Dickinson 9/16, 9/19 3-0 NJIT 3-1 NJIT
Purdue vs. Indiana 9/27, 9/30 3-0 Purdue 3-0 Purdue
Troy vs. South Alabama 10/4, 10/7 3-0 USA 3-1 USA
Louisiana-Monroe/Louisiana-Lafayette 10/6, 10/8 3-1 ULL 3-0 ULL
Coastal Carolina vs. Appalachian State 10/13, 10/15 3-1 CCU 3-2 CCU
Creighton at Providence 10/27, 10/28 3-1 Creighton 3-0 Creighton
Georgia State vs. Georgia Southern 11/8, 11/11 3-2 Georgia State 3-2 Georgia State

Seven more back-to-back meetings are set for the final two weeks of the season, beginning with Purdue vs. Michigan, Nov. 18 and 22.

The last six are the result of the addition of Wichita State to the American Athletic Conference after the 2017 schedule had already been created.

Upcoming Dates Match 1 Match 2
Purdue vs. Michigan 11/18, 11/22 at Michigan at Purdue
Temple vs. UConn. 11/22, 11/24 at Temple at UConn
Wichita State vs. Memphis 11/22, 11/24 at Memphis at Wichita State
UCF vs. USF 11/22, 11/25 at UCF at USF
East Carolina vs. Cincinnati 11/22, 11/24 at Cincinnati at ECU
SMU vs. Tulsa 11/22, 11/24 at Tulsa at SMU
Tulane vs. Houston 11/22, 11/24 at Houston at Tulane


VolleyMob asked four coaches from across the country that either have played in the format or are slated to do so, what they thought of the back-to-back setup and whether there are any advantages for one team or another.

Creighton coach Kristen Bernthal Booth shared a positive outlook heading into her team’s Oct. 27 and 28 contests at Providence.

“I think the good thing is that it gives us different challenges,” Bernthal Booth said. “They will adjust to us and we will adjust to them and figure out new ways to attack (each other). I think there are some real opportunities, but there are also some real vulnerabilities.”

As for the way she and her staff planned to approach scouting and how she would present the setup to her team, Bernthal Booth saw it is an opportunity for a challenge.

“We will approach it as though we are playing a different team, even though the team will obviously be very familiar,” she said of her plans for the team’s scouting session after the first match. “(We will) challenge them as we have all year to step up and be consistent. We have been up and down on that. I like the momentum that we have, but to be great, you have to be consistent every night. Who knows what could happen? They would win on Friday night or push us to the limit, and so then, how do we respond on Saturday.”

As it turned out, Creighton had no reason for concern as the Bluejays won in four sets on Friday and finished the job with a sweep on Saturday.

Temple coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam had a different take on his team’s upcoming slate with UConn (Nov 22, 24).

“I think it is a very tricky setup and I think it is harder to play someone back-to-back than it is having other matches in between,” Ganesharatnam said. “At that point, there are no secrets. As much as you know them, they know everything about you as well. It’s also a little tough to keep the players refreshed and focused. From my experience, it’s always tougher to beat an opponent a second time if you play back to back.”

As for preparation, he says that you always base it on your own team, but that the outcome of the first match definitely weighs on the second.

“If you lose the first match, one of two things probably happened – 1. your team didn’t perform how they were supposed to, or 2. your preparation/scout wasn’t good enough. So, to win the second game, you have to change one of those things. Now, if you win the first game, then the scouting report was probably accurate and your team performance was what it was supposed to be. If that’s the case, you’d have minimal things to tweak going into the next game. So, to keep our players challenged, we’ll focus mostly on being prepared to repeat the performance if we win. If we don’t, we’ll challenge ourselves to fix that. We’ll set team goals within the match in order to keep up the focus.”

Finally, VolleyMob checked in with Purdue coach Dave Shondell and Michigan coach Mark Rosen, who actually switched their matches from a week apart to back to back due to scheduling concerns and potential NCAA implications.

Moving matches during Thanksgiving week is not uncommon due to travel costs, the opportunity for an extra day of rest heading into the postseason and more.

In this case, Shondell proposed the switch to Rosen for the latter, with the knowledge that both were familiar with the back-to-back setup based on past practice of Big Ten scheduling with travel partners.

“Because a lot of teams that are hosting NCAAs are playing on Thursdays instead of the typical Friday/Saturday format, we felt like let’s get ahead of that,” Shondell said. “I called Mark Rosen and said would you mind playing on the Wednesday (instead of Saturday), which would give us an extra day between the end of the season and the tournament. Plus, it allows us to just focus on each other and not have someone else in between. I thought from a preparation standpoint, it was a positive, but, in general, I don’t like the idea.”

From Rosen’s view, it also offered a better travel schedule for his team on the holiday weekend.

“I think the extra day could be important, but the other piece was that they had a football game and they were going to potentially back up that game later in the day and we were going to have to play later that night and then travel home,” Rosen shared. “So, being on the road over Thanksgiving weekend, the weekend before the NCAA Tournament, we felt like it was easier for us play on a Wednesday/Friday (the final week with Indiana on Friday), than play Friday/Saturday with the Saturday backed up later.”

As for scouting, both agree that it makes things easier. Each will have approximately two and a half days after playing Wednesday night against Rutgers (Purdue) and Michigan State (Michigan) respectively.

“We will have a good scouting report for them and then, based on how things go, we will come back and figure out what they will do differently, what we have to plan for and what worked and what didn’t,” Shondell said. “You can compartmentalize better when you play them back to back instead of playing another team in between and starting over again after that. One reason I helped convince Mark to do it is because I thought it would be easier on us during a time when there is a lot going on.”

The fact that it is late in the season, both coaches are convinced their teams are who they are and there won’t be too many added wrinkles or too much creativity in the match. Another reason for that, the Big Ten has the VolleyMetrics system, which allows them to watch every match in the league and know what other teams are doing.

Although both coaches see the advantages of the scheduling change, they have dissenting opinions on if there are advantages or disadvantages on the court for the back-to-back setup.

“I think it is like a doubleheader in baseball: if you were to play the same teams two weeks apart, there is a better chance of the more talented team winning than if you play a doubleheader,” Shondell said. “You don’t want to lose the first one, clearly, but I think the team that loses has a distinct advantage for the next one because there is that motivation, that revenge factor, that pride in this level of an athlete and their staffs. That is why you seldom see teams win back to back when they play each other, unless they are just clearly the better team. If you win, you have to prepare your team that it is going to be  alot tougher the second time, because they are going to come at you twice as hard. It doesn’t matter it if it is home or away, they are going to come after you, they are going to make some adjustments and you have plenty of work to do.”

For Rosen, he believes that since both teams are in the same situation in regards to the schedule, it isn’t a huge advantage or disadvantage, with one major caveat.

“Both teams are playing back to back, so you just have to deal with it,” Rosen said matter of factly. “You hope that you don’t have an injury though because you are going to have (that player) out for both matches, rather than just one… I have always felt in my career that the team that loses gets more information than the team that wins. The team that wins feels like they’ve got it figured out. The losing team, can say ‘we didn’t do these things well, this is what they did to affect us.’ So, just by the nature of the situation, the losing team is going to have a litte more advantage of learning more and maybe being able to make some more adjustments. But, bottom line, if the team that won is better, they are probably going to do it again.

“We talk to our team about it all of the time, whether you play Penn State or Rutgers or you play the same team two matches back to back, they are all worth the same. That match is the most important match you have because it is a chance to get a point. We’re loading up for a volleyball game, it doesn’t matter who it is against. But, I think the one with Purdue will be very unique in that no matter what happens, you have to learn from that and be ready for the next one. I think it is kind of cool to be honest with you.”

Regardless of the leadup and how each approaches the matches, there is no doubt that the outcomes could be key for both teams’ NCAA hopes with Purdue looking to earn the right to host and Michigan looking for a few more RPI boosting victories to solidify their postseason berth and better their potential draw.

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About Wendy Mayer

Wendy Mayer

Wendy Mayer has worked in athletics media relations for the last 20 years. The Northwest Missouri State alumna is currently senior writer for after spending the last 15 years with Purdue athletics.

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