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November 23, 2012

Cairns' Corner: Volleyball Update

TU volleyball put together three more wins in the CUSA tournament against SMU, UAB and UCF. All of them were by scores of 3-0. They were supported by nice home crowds in the match following the football game on Saturday and the finals at 1 PM on Sunday.

"Our team played so well today," TU Head Coach Steven McRoberts said. "We came out with a lot of poise and just set the tone at the net. Our blocking and our digging continued to be very good all weekend. Offensively we were very efficient. Our first set side-out percentage was at 93%. We were in the high 80's most of the second set until the end when we ended at 75%. I would have to guess we were around 80% until that UCF run that closed the gap a little bit and made the game look closer than it really was. Thankfully we had a double-digit lead when they went on that run, because it could have been a little more nerve-wracking than it ended up being.

"I am really proud of Ronaldo and Kyle, my assistants, for the game plan they put together for today and their tireless effort all season. When you get to the end and win championships, there are just so many people that play a really big role. The whole Tulsa community, from our administration on down, has helped run this tournament really well. Our team was blessed to have this opportunity here and to win the tournament the way we did. It is not too often that there is a championship match that your heart rate doesn't get up too high. These ladies made it possible to win with a little bit of ease."

The win carries with it an automatic NCAA tournament bid. The final match against UCF was not only Tulsa's best match of the season but it was by far the best. Watching the match, I was reminded of an old saying we had in the tennis community when I was a tennis player as a kid: you learn to play in the tournaments.

Begin with the serving. How important is that? It's the way every point starts, to observe the obvious. TU was relaxed, served aggressively and in. By my count, the Golden Hurricane served 74 times aggressively and thoughtfully and 72 of them were in court.

The backcourt defense, which has been a TU strength for several years, was at its best. One way to win in women's volleyball is to (1) hang in and win the long rallies and (2) produce lots of long rallies. This is a bigger factor in women's volleyball that it is men's volleyball, principally because women play backcourt defense at least as well as the men, but they don't spike as hard. The team leader in the backcourt defense is libero Jessica Adams, and she was doing her thing against UCF.

Tulsa passed well enough to involve the middles in the offense and both of them, Carly Boatright and Ashley Hooper had attack percentages over .300. I thought the setting from Jordan and Bailey Clampitt was the best of the season, both mentally and in terms of execution.

But the best feature of the match for TU was the sudden appearance of an effective block, which had been missing all year. Weak blocking has been a team shortcoming to the consternation of the coaching staff who spend a lot of time in practice working on this. Blocking in this match was better than just adequate.

Early in the season at the Hurricane's home tournament, TU lost to Dayton, Minnesota and Kansas State. Those teams appear to me to be a tier higher than Tulsa's C-USA opposition. To be competitive against the teams TU will encounter in the NCAA's, they have to raise their level of play a notch. And, for Tulsa, that means putting up an effective block and passing well enough to mount a middle attack. Hopefully, they're ready to do those every match.

Good Luck to the TU volleyball women!

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