Saturday, December 17, 2011

Muscle Memory

Early in tonight's ESPN2 broadcast of the NCAA Division I women's volleyball championship match between UCLA and Illinois, the producers cut to the 63-second match point in the Illinois-USC semifinal. This back-and-forth battle made all the major highlight reels, and for good reason. At the close of the replay, announcer Beth Mowins informed us that the point consisted of 56 touches (including at least one by each of the 12 players on the floor) and that the ball cleared the net 22 times. She even thanked the production crew for taking the effort of "counting the number of times the ball crossed the net and the number of times someone got a touch on it."

Mowins probably doesn't realize it, but she just got a touch on what a volleyball statkeeper (like me, during UC Davis home matches) does in real time.

Just to offer a peek behind the curtain of the Aggie sports information media relations athletics communications world, what follows is a garden-variety example of what I type into the computer during a volleyball point. This is not the action of Illinois' winning point on Thursday, but rather one from the Aggies' November 12 home match against Long Beach State.

VV10 D05S09A15D15 O S05A13D10 S20A08C S20A01D13 S09O S20A08D05 S09A13K

Nope, those aren't NORAD launch codes. That is the exact sequence of characters I typed in to enter one point in the first set. This assumes I didn't miskey anything, in which case I found either the Esc key or the F10 key to cancel and retype the code. The spaces show where I likely had a split-second pause (e.g. the flight of the ball or a touched ball that I didn't have to key in).

Now, try typing that in without looking at your fingers. That's right, you hunt-and-peck typists -- volleyball statkeeping is not for you. Bring it on, Mavis Beacon.

So what does all that gibberish mean? Let's break it down:

VV10 - this is the serve (V) by visitor 10 (V10), Janisa Johnson.

D05S09A15 - these are the standard three touches on the Aggie side, specifically the pass by Caroline Mercado (D05), a set by Jenny Woolway (S09) and an attack by Betsy Sedlak (A15). Note the leading zeroes. The software wants a two-digit code for each uniform number. Thus, I'll type in zero-five or five-Enter.

Also, I enter a D05 for Mercado even though it's not technically a dig: by definition, a dig is a result of an opponent's attack. Fortunately, the software notices this and does not incorrectly credit a pass receive as a dig on the boxscore. So why enter it? Ah, yes... in 2009, the coaches' association began requiring us to enter this in order to better compare a team's primary passers on the stat reports.

D15O - a dig by LBSU Lauren Minkel (D15) followed by an overpass (O), which means the ball crossed over the net without intent to score a point (i.e. not an attack).

D05A13 - the first touch of an overpass is statistically insignificant (again, a player does not earn a dig unless her contact followed an opponent's attack.) However, sometimes I have to code it as an attempted assist. That happened here: the overpass was picked up by Mercado (D05) and was followed by an attack by Devon Damelio (A13). If Mercado's ball had not preceded an attack, I wouldn't have needed to enter it. Decisions, decisions.

D10S20A08C - Johnson dug Damelio's hit (D10), Erin Juley set it (S20) and Haleigh Hampton went for an attack (A08). The ball went into the Aggie block and bounced back to the LBSU side of the court (known as a zero block). The code for the zero block is "C."

S20A01 - Whoever first controls the ball after the zero block (known as "covering" the block) also has no official stat, so I don't enter anything there. The first statistical entity is Juley's set (S20) and Caitlin Ledoux's swing (A01).

D13S09O - Damelio dug the hit (D13) and Woolway set it (S09) but the ball must have crossed over the net as an overpass (O).

S20A08 - A 49er picked up the overpass (not coded), Juley set it (S20) and Hampton attacked (A08).

D05S09A13K - Mercado dug Hampton's hit (D05), Woolway set it (S09), Damelio swung (A13). The result? A kill for Damelio (K). Point UC Davis.

All that for one point of the 47 that took place in the first set in that November 12 Big West Conference tilt. That's one point out of 183 for the entire match. Some are shorter, others are longer, all involve a mastery of the NCAA statistician's manual, some fast typing and (in my case) a bottle of Diet Coke. It also helps to match numbers with faces right away (I try to do this during the national anthem and team introductions). I already know my players -- I don't need to look at the jerseys to know that Allison Whitson wears 6 or that Katie Denny wore 17 -- so it comes down to building a similar mental library for the opponent.

Anyway, you can see why I needed to keep my fingers busy while watching a volleyball match -- it's pure muscle memory.

Just now, UCLA scored the third-set winner on a hitting error by Illinois junior Erin Johnson. For a change, I could watch the point without having to type in VV11D04S11A12E.

Oh wait, I just did. Old habit, I guess.

-Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, once combined the act of statkeeping with watching the NCAA women's volleyball championship. This was 2007, when Penn State clipped Stanford at nearby ARCO Arena. He hopes to do this again in a match involving UC Davis.