MINNEAPOLIS — The Stanford Cardinal had one of the most statistically dominating performances in a national semifinal in quite some time in its win against No. 4 BYU last night. Its 17 blocks were the most in a three-set national semifinal since at least 2009 when Texas had 15.
On the other end, Nebraska defied logic by coming back to advance to Saturday’s championship match with only four team total blocks against a great Illinois team that has a tremendous attack.
That’s the skinny version of what sticks out when pouring over the box scores headed to the national championship game. When digging a little deeper into the NCAA official stats, these seven numbers from Thursday’s national semifinals reveal more completely why Stanford and Nebraska are the teams playing for the 2018 national championship.
1 - Number of BYU players that hit above .100
The complete shutdown of BYU’s Roni Jones-Perry had to be the biggest headline from Thursday’s semifinal matches. She had just eight kills on 35 swings with 12 errors.
That performance shouldn’t take away from how great Jones-Perry has been this year. She was far from the only player that struggled against Stanford’s size. Sophomore middle Kennedy Eschenberg was the only player for BYU that hit above .100, finishing with five kills on 18 attempts with two errors.
Not only was Eschenberg the only player above .100, she was the only player that hit above .060. Even if the Cardinal have a good blocking night, it might be enough for the title.
4 - Number of BYU players that hit negative
This number probably more clearly illustrates how great Stanford’s defense was. Setter Lyndie Haddock-Eppich, Jones-Perry, outside Lacy Haddock and outside Danelle Stetler all hit negative. Keep in mind, BYU had the nation’s best hitting percentage coming into the match at .315. They hit -.026 as a team.
67 - Stanford sideout percentage
Even when a team is struggling at the net, it’s important that team gets multiple points per service and defends its own net well. Well, Stanford — motivated by an early loss to BYU and last season’s semifinal loss — completely locked in on its offense, siding out 67 percent of the time. To put that in perspective, any time BYU would get a point and serve, Stanford would earn the next point two of every three times. That limited BYU’s chance of getting back in the match.
22 - Block assists between Fitzmorris and Alade
The most dominant part of that Stanford block was the right side with Audriana Fitzmorris and middle blocker Tami Alade. Those two were matching up against Jones-Perry for most of the night and combined for 22 block assists, which was 11 of Stanford 17 blocks.
Those 22 combined block assists were more than the entire Stanford team had in 20 of its 34 matches this season. And it was a three-set match. Unreal.
39 - Difference in Nebraska’s fifth-set and second-set sideout percentage
Nebraska libero Kenzie Maloney said after the match that she didn’t feel like the Huskers were playing “Nebraska volleyball.” In that second set, Nebraska sided out on just 36 percent of opportunities. But the Huskers got better as the match wore on, culminating in siding out 75 percent of the time in the fifth set.
Why does this truly matter? Well in the fifth set, there aren’t as many service opportunities. For Nebraska to get side outs on three of every four Illinois serves, that can be the difference in a game.
8 - Number of Foecke third-set kills
If Nebraska was going to make a dramatic comeback against Illinois, it would have to begin with Mikaela Foecke. In the third set, her eight kills carried the Huskers back in that set to extend the game, and eventually come away with the victory.
It’s almost easy to forget the Huskers were just two points away from defeat, down 23-22 in the third set. After a Calli Schwarzenbach kill tied it, Foecke exemplified her senior leadership to two huge swings late to win the set. Like Thursday, Nebraska’s chances in Saturday’s championship match will begin and end with Foecke’s performance.
14 - fifth-set digs for Nebraska
Overall the second semifinal was incredibly even all the way through the final set. Each team hit greater than .300 in the fifth set and Illinois had no errors. What might have been Nebraska’s advantage in the final set was it registered 14 digs, which were three more than Illinois in that set.
What’s more impressive is only two of those came from Maloney, the All-American libero. Freshman setter Nicklin Hames actually led the team with four digs in that set, followed by freshman defensive specialist Megan Miller and Foecke with three each.
Nebraska will need a complete effort like that, again, to knock off No. 1 Stanford on Saturday.