Buffalo junior outside hitter Tahleia Bishop, currently leading the MAC in kills per set and first-team All-MAC a year ago, was not in the lineup for two games over the weekend. So what do we know about her absence?
Not a whole lot. (Update on October 8: according to an article in The Athens Post, Bishop had the flu, see the link in comment #1)
Bishop was not sitting on the bench, nor was she standing with the substitutes during Buffalo's Friday night's 3–0 loss at Ohio. Nor was she in the lineup the next night at Kent State, also a 3–0 loss. So I think it is safe to say she did not accompany the team on this trip. But why wasn't she there?
I'm sure you can think of a half-dozen reasons why a player would not accompany a team, as can I. But as far as I know, there has been no public explanation. (Although if your list of possible reasons includes "abducted by space aliens", that's not it, today I have spoken to every space alien I know and they all deny any abductions in the last week or so.)
Writing in The Spectrum, Quentin Hayes noted Bishop's absence, but either he didn't ask Sunahara about this, or he asked but got no useful reply. What Sunahara did say, according to The Spectrum, was: "We have to learn how to compete, we need players to step up. We need leadership. Once we get these things going, we’re going to be a good team. Someone will have to step up, instead of looking at the next person to do it."
Reading between the lines — in other words, pure speculation on my part — I can't imagine why Sunahara would say this unless he knew his big gun, the woman leading the MAC in kills per set, wasn't going to be available. If the quote is accurate, Sunahara said this not in the past tense, referring to the games over the weekend without Bishop, but in the present tense. There is no way I can interpret this in a positive light, although I hope I'm wrong.
In other volleyball news, junior setter Marissa Prinzbach also did not play, but she at least was in attendance, sitting on the bench, not in uniform, keeping stats or notes during the game. Prinzbach, leading the MAC in assists before the weekend, started the season injured, but stepped into the lineup during the second weekend of the season and played extremely well. So I think its safe to say she again was injured.
What happened on the court? Ohio is the defending MAC champion, the preseason pick to finish atop the MAC East, and likely the strongest team Buffalo has faced all year. So Buffalo would have been the underdog had all players been available. The 3–0 loss to Ohio was not a surprise, but the magnitude of the loss and poor play by UB was a surprise.
The Bobcats have a number of strong servers, who put a lot of stress of Buffalo's service returns. This was a very weak part of the Buffalo performance this day — when the service return is off target, the setter has to scramble for the ball, and then has fewer options and a more difficult play. Buffalo also struggled making good passes on their digs of opponent attacks, which has the same effect as a bad service return. As a result, Buffalo's offense was not in system much, and Buffalo's outside hitters had maybe five or six good swings all night. Although surprisingly Buffalo's three middle blockers hit a combined .500 (which is a very high number), the outside hitters and right-side hitter were a non-factor, hitting ... well, you don't want to know.
The absence of Bishop and Prinzbach really can't cause such a poor performance returning serve. Setters almost never return serves, and had Bishop been present, she was one of many Bulls who would have had to return serve. The passes were just off target due to the Bobcats' strong serving. The Ohio defense also realized that without Bishop in the lineup, they could pay more defensive attention to Buffalo's other attackers, which certainly didn't help UB.
On defense, Buffalo's block disappeared against Ohio, as they had only three blocks all match, after averaging 2.29 blocks per set before the match. Bishop's absence probably wasn't the main reason for this weak blocking, as she averages only 0.4 blocks per set. It was a team accomplishment, no doubt helped by superior attacking by Ohio.
Against Kent State the next night, the results, and box score, was depressingly similar. I didn't actually watch this match ... apparently there's some rule that if your daughter gives birth to her first child, you're not supposed to sit at home and watch mid-major volleyball on the Internet. I never heard of this rule ... I think my daughter made it up.
- Freshman outside hitter Sklyer Day made her first two starts in Bishop's absence. She had 7 kills and 6 digs against Kent State.
- Junior middle blocker Amber Hatchett had a team-high 9 kills against Ohio and 7 against Kent State, hitting .393 over the two matches.
- Freshman middle blocker Hannah Varley, who has played sparingly this year, had 3 kills on 3 swings against Ohio.
- Bobcats junior setter Abby Gilleland, reigning MAC Player of the Year, recorded her first career triple double the weekend before against Kent State (and the only triple double in the MAC so far this year).