Baseball has sabermetrics, a new-age category of stats that can track a player’s ability in everything from range on the field to wins above replacement. Volleyball may not have sabermetrics, but if it did, it would definitely track how effectively a good dig sets up a team’s chances for knocking down a kill.
Volleyball’s connection between offense and defense is far more symbiotic than many sports, as there’s an immediate effect from defense to offense with a dig leading to a set which leads to a hit. Football doesn’t have it, and certainly not baseball.
In the perfect play in volleyball, the libero digs the opposing team’s hit, passing it perfectly in front of the net slightly to the right of the middle of the court. This allows the setter to read all of her hitting options and set the ball to who she feels has the best chance at getting a kill.
If the setter takes that good pass and sets the ball right in a hitter’s sweet spot, then the opposing defense is in trouble.
“It’s a great feeling,” senior libero Chelsea Tupuola said about kills. “If [a pass is] up and I know that [sophomore setter Tiffany Connatser] can get to it, I have no doubt in my mind that our offense is going to put that down.”
“The ball just goes right into the setter’s hand, and you have all three options, and the other team doesn’t know where to go,” junior outside hitter Elyse Burkert said. “It’s great to get that pass.”
The Owls pride themselves on their defense behind the leadership of Tupuola. The squad averages 17.9 digs per set this season and opposing teams average 17.1. In games where the Owls win the dig battle they’re 12-3, and 3-5 when they lose.
“As an offensive player, when you get a ball and you just plant it and the other team digs it and you thought it was a kill…it’s just such a bummer,” Burkert said. “It makes a huge difference.”
Flip the stats to what happens with those digs and there are even more powerful trends. Temple is 12-0 this season when the Owls win the hitting percentage battle and 15-2 when they hit at least .150 in a match. They’re also 11-1 when they record at least 13 kills per set.
The records in these categories indicate the team excels at converting a good pass into a good hit. If the passes are bad at a higher rate, the offensive stats, especially hitting percentage, would be drastically different.
“It definitely shows that it’s not just one-sided, definitely both sides,” Tupuola said. “I think it’s a little bit of both, but our offense has improved so much since the beginning of the season. We’ve complemented our offense numerous times.”
Last weekend was a perfect microcosm of the Owls’ season. Temple beat Fordham Friday, Oct. 18, night 3-2 thanks to the Owls’ ability to dig the ball and effective hit off good passes. Sunday, Oct. 20, was the opposite, as the team lost in every major category and fell in five sets to Rhode Island.
One would expect most teams to have a winning record when they win in these categories, but Temple almost always comes out on top, indicating just how important that digging-to-hitting connection is in volleyball.
The intimacy of offense and defense in volleyball isn’t just felt from dig to pass, but in how the two halves communicate. The more a team talks, offense to defense and defense to offense, then success is more easily reached.
“Communication in any sport is ideal, and if you have good communication on the court you’re definitely going to have better flow on the court,” Tupuola said.
Blocking plays a role in that equation, forcing teams to hit to parts of the court where Temple defenders are at, but the undersized Owls average just 1.7 blocks per set. It’s not the deciding factor on this team.
“If you can block a ball better than we have in the past then it really opens up to control the ball much better on defense and it really puts our hitters in one-on-one situations,” coach Bakeer Ganes said after Friday’s win over Fordham. “It kind of goes hand in hand.”
Hand in hand is just how a volleyball offense and defense should work, and that’s when Temple is at its best, working as one unit.
“The good thing is about this group, we know what we need to do in order to be successful and we know how important for us team chemistry is,” Ganes said.
Jake Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jakeadams520.