This is the first of a two-part series that has a prematch “scouting report”—tendencies, strengths, weaknesses—and a postmatch “scouting report review” to see if the teams held up their end of the bargain in their victory. This particular SR focuses on the battle of the last two undefeated teams in the Big 12; #6 Texas at #8 Kansas. You can read about the prematch press release here, courtesy of Kansas Athletics.
- Wednesday, October 11
- Lawrence, Kansas
- 8:00 PM Eastern Time
- Television: ESPNU
- Full TV and live streaming schedule
This match in particular is of great interest to us at VolleyMob simply of the conference title implications. Last year, KU upset UT in Lawrence in five sets to claim the Big 12 title in late October. Let’s also mention that as Kansas won the 2016 Big 12 title, Texas won the five previous titles. No other pair of volleyball programs in the Power 5 conferences have owned their respective conference titles for the last 6 six years as the Jayhawks and Longhorns have.
TEXAS SUCCESS FACTORS
- Block defense
As of October 10, Texas leads the nation in blocks per set (3.44), with three players averaging over a block per set (Chiaka Ogbogu, Morgan Johnson and Ebony Nwanebu). Nwanebu can be used on both pins, both offensively and defensively, and Ogbogu and Johnson’s ability to cover ground laterally to both pins (along with their length) add to their blocking prowess. Some of this is attributed to their size; every full-time front row player, including freshman setter Ashley Shook, are at 6’1″ or taller. When you face that level of size and speed, covering your hitters needs to be the priority.
Some might say, “Yeah, yeah, but whom did their blocks come against?” Their best blocking match of the season, by number of blocks, was against West Virginia (RPI: 53) two weeks ago in Morgantown (14). That brought their average DOWN. To put this in perspective, their best blocking match by average blocks per set was against Texas A&M (RPI: 38) in College Station with 13 blocks in a sweep over the Aggies. That’s north of four blocks per set.
As of the most recent release of NCAA statistics, Texas currently sits at 6th nationally in hitting percentage (.310). None of the current front-row starters hit below .275, and four of those starters average over two kills per set, with Lexi Sun and Micaya White both averaging well over 3 kills per set. It’s one thing to put a ton of balls away. It’s completely another to do it with such efficiency against one of the toughest schedules in the country. Texas prides itself on its ability to get “first ball kills”, or to have the ability to terminate a play quickly. Expect the same from the Longhorns.
KANSAS SUCCESS FACTORS
- Big guns with experience
Whereas Texas has balance with four attackers hitting over .275 with more than 2 kills per set, Kansas has two primary attackers. High-flying senior right side Kelsie Payne averages over 4 kills a set and hits over .340 on the season. Senior outside Madison Rigdon also receives the lion’s share of sets in the Jayhawk offense, averaging over 3.5 kills per set. Everyone in the gym will know those two will get the majority of sets from senior setter Ainise Havili; the two attackers listed above have been set almost 1400 times combined this season. As a team, Kansas also leads the Big 12 in kills per set (14.66) and assists per set (13.74).
- Horejsi factor
If you haven’t taken in a volleyball match in Lawrence yet, you should. Even with the upcoming expansion, as a visitor, it is a definite home-court advantage to have those rabid and loud volleyball-crazed fans in Kansas watch their Jayhawks—-especially against Texas. The last time these two teams met in Horejsi, Kansas walked away with a five-set victory for only their 5th win in 45 tries against the Longhorns. The win also snapped a 25-win streak for UT in the series (the last one was in 2003). Additionally, four of the last six matchups in Horejsi went five, including the last two.
SO, HOW DO YOU BEAT THEM?
Texas: high and hard
When playing Texas, you’re not going to outjump them. You’re not going to outblock them, but you can tool them to death. The best thing to do against any team that blocks well is to hit the edges and hit hard. If a seam is given, hammer it. Off-speed shots and tips without pace will not work against the best blocking team in the country.
Kansas: Quiet the noise early
Horesji is always packed and is always noisy. It is difficult to get noisy, however, if KU doesn’t come out firing. A few blocks and keeping KU out-of-system should quiet the partisan crowd. Neither team serves impressively tough (both average an ace a set), and neither teams makes errors in serve receive (both average a reception error per set). If Texas stays balanced, as it has most of the season, the crowd can be lessened.
This is a battle for early Big 12 supremacy. With this being the 5th straight time UT and KU have met when both teams are in the top 10, it should be an epic matchup to watch.