Oct. 5 Huth volleyball chat

Oct. 5 Huth volleyball chat

Friday, October 5, 2012 - 11:00am

What's it going to take for Illinois to knock off No. 1 Penn State on Saturday? What's the Spike Club? Can Kevin Hambly still dunk a basketball? Anything goes during Jeff Huth's weekly chat, which starts at 11 a.m. Friday. Submit questions any time.

Jeff Huth wrote on October 05, 2012 at 10:10 am
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Welcome to our weekly chat on Illini volleyball. No. 21 Illinois is home this weekend for two Big Ten matches -- against No. 19 Ohio State tonight and against top-ranked Penn State on Saturday. Both matches at Huff Hall start at 7 p.m.

We'll start the chat in a few minutes.

-- Jeff Huth

lmaran wrote on October 05, 2012 at 10:10 am

Jeff, two quick questions:

1. I gather that passing the ball, especially from the back row, is a major uncertainty at this point of player development. How long do you think it will be before this is figured out and become more or less reliable?

2. The play by MBs Dorn and Johnson  seem quite improved; is depth a concern at this point?


Jeff Huth wrote on October 05, 2012 at 11:10 am
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Regarding passing, this skill certainly is one of the more difficult in volleyball to master. You're asking a player to field a serve or an attack and send the ball to your setter close to the net. By doing so, you are presumably giving your setter multiple options on where to distribute the ball -- to the middles, to the right side, to the left side or to a back-row attacker.

Of course, those serves and attacks can be wickedly powerful or can have angles or spins that make it extremely difficult to achieve the goal of a quality pass. One thing to keep in mind is that for freshmen new to the Division I college game, the adjustments they face in the level of play can be difficult. And that can be especially true when it comes to passing. This season, Illinois is asking redshirt freshmen Jocelynn Birks and Ali Stark to be involved in a major way in passing. It's a process. I think you are seeing improvement in the Illini passing game -- they would not have hit .370 last Saturday against a Purdue team that is among the Big Ten's best defensively -- if the passing wasn't doing its job. I'm sure Coach Kevin Hambly hopes that those types of passing performances become more consistent as the younger players on his team develop more experience at this level.

Regarding Dorn and Johnson, each is having a terrific season. Both are among the Big Ten leaders in blocking, and Dorn is among the national leaders in hitting percentage. Illinois will have Dorn for two more seasons after this one, but this is senior Johnson's final year. The top candidates to replace her in 2013 are current freshman Maddie Mayers and current high school senior  Katie Stadick Watertown, Wis., who has verbally committed to Illinois and will sign her letter of intent in November. Since Mayers has yet to play this season and the UI staff is planning to redshirt her, it appears she has a ways to go in her development. The training the Illini do in the spring will be important in that regard. Barring the unexpected arrival of an experienced middle blocker transfer, Illinois will have a starter at one of the middle blocker positions next season without previous college experience.

Billibob wrote on October 05, 2012 at 11:10 am

Hi Jeff,

Why does this team sometimes seem to collapse in the fifth set in 5-set matches, as happened at Purdue?  They've won 2 of 5 5-setters this year, I think, but when they lose them, they look like they really struggle.

Can you tell us what makes Russ Rose such a great coach by comparing him with Coach Hambly on their many strengths?


Jeff Huth wrote on October 05, 2012 at 11:10 am
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There's no denying the Illini struggled in the fifth set at Purdue. Of the 15 points the Boilermakers scored in that set, seven were attributable to Illini serving or hitting errors. There's no way a team can overcome giving the opponent that many points in a short 15-point set. Maybe not in a 25-point set either.

I don't know that I have an answer as to why Illinois isn't more successful in five-setters, other than the much-discussed issue of this being a young team -- particularly at the critical outside hitter positions, which are the primary point-scoring positions.

One thing that stood out about the Purdue match is that, when the match was on the line in that final set, Purdue's best player rose to the occasion. Ariel Turner, the 2011 Big Ten Player of the Year, produced six kills -- including the final three of the match. Big-time player make an impact at key junctures of a set, and that's exactly what Turner did. It was reminiscent of what Illini fans came to expect last year of senior outside hitters Colleen Ward and Michelle Bartsch. What Ward did in the Elite Eight match against Florida -- 23 kills, 2 errors, a .500 attack percentage -- to me ranks as one of the all-time greatest performances in program history. Illinois no longer has a Ward for such situations, but it eventually might have in current redshirt freshman Jocelynn Birks. She has that type of potential.

Regarding a comparison of Rose and Hambly, they are at such different points in their careers, it's not really fair. Rose is established as perhaps the greatest coach in the history of women's collegiate volleyball. With all those NCAA titles and victories -- in 34 years at Penn State, he has a phenomenal 1,060-172 record -- Rose is the gold standard.

Hambly is at a different stage in his coaching career, still trying to build Illinois into a consistently elite program. By that, I'm setting the bar high -- becoming a regular player in Elite Eights and Final Fours. Last year's NCAA runner-up finish was a major breakthrough and an indication of what Hambly is capable of as a coach and a recruiter. The challenge is to keep it going. But his record to this point, his valuable background as a USA Volleyball coach, and the string of highly-ranked recruiting classes he's attracted indicate that Hambly is capable of building Illinois into a perennial power.

Rose built Penn State into what it is through coaching and recruiting. He's obviously terrific at both. What's so impressive is there has been no drop-off. The Nittany Lions just keep rolling. Some of that, of course, is self-perpetuating. It's easy to convince elite recruits to come to your program when there has been so much success and players know the standards are so high.




Emily Thorne wrote on October 05, 2012 at 11:10 am

How does IL's serving (aces & errors) compare to other B10 teams so far?  Who is IL's best server?

Thanks for the chats, it's great to see more coverage of VB!

Jeff Huth wrote on October 05, 2012 at 11:10 am
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According to the Big Ten's web site, the Illini rank last in the conference in aces per set at 0.98. Unfortunately, the league doesn't post serving errors so we can't compare. We can compare, how Illinois has done so far against its first 14 opponents. In 13 more serving attempts than its opponents, Illinois trails in aces 79-55 and has committed 16 more hitting errors (110-94).

As Kevin Hambly has repeatedly stressed, teams that serve aggressively are more prone to serving errors, and he demands that his players serve aggressively. To do otherwise, he says, is to allow an opponent an easy pass that leaves his defense too vulnerable. The best way to keep an opposing attack out of system is to serve tough.

Regarding Illinois' best server, I don't know that I have a strong opinion on that. I'll make a point of asking Kevin Hambly for his thoughts in the coming week. Based on service aces, which isn't necessarily the best indicator, there isn't one Illini standout. Four Illini currently have between 10 and 12 aces.



Trending Now wrote on October 05, 2012 at 11:10 am

If the Illini give up and play like they did in the 5th set at Purdue, they will lose both matches.

Jeff Huth wrote on October 05, 2012 at 11:10 am
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Trending Now:

If you're suggesting the Illini gave up at Purdue, we'll have to agree to disagree.

I will agree that if the Illini play like they did in the fifth set against the Boilermakers, they likely won't win a set against either Ohio State or Penn State this weekend.

Jeff Huth wrote on October 05, 2012 at 12:10 pm
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Looks like we've run out of questions and comments so we'll wrap this up now. As always, we appreciate your interest. Talk to you next week.

-- Jeff Huth