Best of the Midwest: #12 Benedictine Upsets #6 Dominican

Best of the Midwest: #6 Dominican vs #12 Benedictine

We were blessed this week to have the four ranked teams Midwest teams go head-to-head. #7 Carthage defeated #11 North Central College (NCC) in a 3-set prelude to what we can expect is a future CCIW Championship meeting. It was the NACC’s turn a day later, as number #6 Dominican took on #12 Benedictine.

I had Dominican favored in this match going in, and that may be due to recency bias as I had watched more of their matches up to this point as opposed to the Eagles. The two teams are conference rivals, and rivalry games can bring out a lot in everyone. Even so, I thought the Dominican team would pull out a win in their first match with a ranked opponent; I could not have been more wrong.

Through a combination of defense, grit, and tenacity Benedictine was able to defeat Dominican after five hard fought sets; scores 22-25, 25-20, 22-25, 25-20, 10-15. This was an incredibly close match, looking at the box scores for each team you could see how even a performance it was from both programs.

Hitting %.248.279

I have written time and time again how important hitting efficiency is as a predictor of victory; at this level of play (national ranked programs) you need to be able to put the ball away efficiently. Volleyball is a game of scoring points, and Benedictine was able to outhit Dominican down the stretch to claim the win.

The true story of this match is revealed in one of the most under practiced portions of the game at any level, complex II.

As I (and much more intelligent scholars) have written about ad nauseum, a Volleyball match is played between two distinct phases. These phases are Complex I (serve-receive and offense from a pass) which I have touched on in a prior article talking about serving tough, and Complex II. Complex II is the transition phase of a point, where the team who served is defending the opponents attack and is preparing a counterattack.

The nature of higher-level men’s plays leads to our game being primarily played in Complex I. But that does not take away the significance of Complex II, the transition game. Anywhere between 40-50 percent of a volleyball match will occur in transition, and it’s important to be able to score during this portion of a point. For reference, there were 298 attacks attempted between Dominican and Benedictine. 149 of those attacks occurred in transition (73 for Dominican and 76 for Benedictine). That’s exactly 50% of all attacks taken, meaning 50% of the offense in this game occurred in transition.

The efficiency of any team in either one of these phases can be measured when you track the First Ball Side-out (FBSO) statistic. The FBSO statistic is the measurement teams use to identify how efficiently they are ending the point off serve-receive. Ideally you want this number to be as high as possible, because it means that your opponent is not getting a chance to counter-attack whenever you have the first swing in a rally. For example, New Paltz had a FBSO of .500 (50%) in the 2019 NCAA Championship, while UCSC had a FBSO of .200 (20%).

Here are the FBSO and transition offense measurements for each team. Transition offense being every attack which occurs after the first attack following serve-receive.  

First Ball Side-out %.275.275
Transition Offense %.205.289

For the Match, each team had the same average FBSO efficiency, but there was a clear distinction in who hit better in transition favoring the Eagles. FBSO is an important indicator for your offense, but if you are rallying with a team and you can’t put the ball away in transition you’re going to be in for a rough ride. For 50% of this match, Benedictine had a much more sizable hitting advantage over Dominican, regardless of what the teams look like on paper.

In a match where neither team is siding out on their first attack at an elite level, transition offense becomes even more critical. There is nothing more frustrating than swinging away at a team for points on end only for the ball to never touch the ground. A soft-block here, a crazy dig there, a small miscommunication between setter and hitter… these all add towards giving your opponent a chance to end the point. For Benedictine, they were able to scrap, work, and fight for enough chances to secure the win; because they outhit Dominican in the transition phase of the game where scrappy play is rewarded.

It was a great match to end the week, and I commend both programs for the performance. D3 play is picking up at an alarming pace, and we’ll have a bunch of matches this weekend I’ll touch on at the release of the next coaches poll. Until then, stay tuned!

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