This is the second of a two-part scouting report that we like to use here at VolleyMob to emphasize the details of a big match of the week. We chose the Big Ten match between #6 Minnesota and (RV) Illinois. If you missed our opening scouting report and would like to avoid spoilers, click here. If you aren’t much of a reader and just want the facts, click here for the match recap.
The coolest part about my job is that I get to watch all of this outstanding volleyball. Add the atmosphere of Huff Hall, Big Ten volleyball, the fact that both teams are jostling for RPI position, and the absolute athleticism that this job entails, and you can imagine the perks. Very rarely, however, do I get to be courtside for matches this big. The gym was loud, fun, and every rally seemed longer than usual for this time of year. Mid-November is usually filled with teams trying to stay healthy, recovering from injury, or just trying to play out the season. Minnesota at Illinois, however, treated us all to a classic. Let’s take a peek back at what our scouting report did to predict this:
MINNESOTA’S KEYS TO VICTORY
- Stephanie Samedy staying hot
Hot? I’ll say medium hot. She averaged 4 kills per set, which is the hot part. She finished second on the team in digs with 15. Again, hot. What cooled her off, however, was the 50 swings and only 16 kills. Every swing Samedy took was contested, and it wasn’t for lack of attempting different shots. High line, sharp cross, seam, tip, roll shot to the donut—-she got hers, but with a bunch of extra effort. Add to it that an opposite should have more than zero blocks in a four set match.
- Conference stat leaders should continue to lead
I typed the above statement in the initial SR to emphasize that Minnesota leads the conference in kills per set (14.52) and digs per set (16.05) prior to this match. Both were at their average, but…..
ILLINOIS’ KEYS TO VICTORY
- Hands on everything at the net
Illinois had 10 blocks against Minnesota, and their average blocks per set actually went down. However, what the stat sheet won’t tell you (and watching the match will tell you) is that constant soft blocks and touches that made it easier for the Illini to transition. Throw it up to Jordyn Poulter, and you will receive a hittable ball. It’s getting the ball to her that has been Illinois’ Achilles Heel, so to speak, and their block definitely helped in that capacity.
- Go for it
Indeed. High and hard, constantly changing shots, keeping Minnesota out-of-system—those were all factors in this match. But Illinois had nothing to lose, were at home, and needed that signature win for better placement in the NCAA tournament. 71 kills in 4 sets is a massive upgrade for their average (normally 13.7).
DID IT WORK?
Illinois followed the SR exactly as I thought they would. Both of their outsides (Quade and Prince) combined for 40 of their 71 kills crushing seam and angle. By staying in-system and running a faster tempo, Minnesota’s middles couldn’t close in time. When was the last time neither Samedy (opposite) nor Lohman (middle) had zero blocks in the same match? Try never. Illinois also minimized their errors by hitting .333 Saturday night against a team in Minnesota that normally keeps their opponents below .200.
Did it work? Absolutely, but not in the way that you think.
Illinois was down from the beginning of set 1, and it took extra points to beat them (29-27). However, the run/extension of the set at the end usually inspires teams in the set following, which happened Saturday night. I also mentioned that Minnesota should avoid hitting seam, since Illinois’ middles are exceptional blockers. On a few occasions when Bastianelli ran a slide behind, she had to switch block on the pin, to the surprise of the Gopher attackers who thought line was open.
One more thing. I mentioned to not serve Donnelly. I’m not sure that could have been avoided. As the match went on, the other defensive specialists (O’Brien, Gereau and Welsh) gained confidence and took more court. What Minnesota (or this author) could not have predicted was that Donnelly would have a career-high 32 digs in only four sets of play.
In short, Illinois put together the best match of the season at the perfect time. Does it hurt Minnesota? It will sting, but they will still host on opening weekend. It helped Illinois immensely, and the next RPI ranking (coming out Monday the 20th) should dictate how much the win helped. With a little help from teams in front of them, I would not be surprised to see this team run deep in the tournament.