Tough Servers: Hancock, Willoughby, Danks, Tom, Larson . . . more

If anyone in the college volleyball world didn’t know the name Micha Hancock before Penn State played Nebraska last Saturday night, her four consecutive service aces in the first set against the Huskers probably caught their attention.  She leads NCAA Division 1 with .86 service aces per set (see chart below) — though even that gaudy statistic falls well short of the 1.35 service aces/set she rang up in 2010 as a senior at Edmond Memorial High School.

So, we know she’s having a great season (certainly from the service line).  Two questions come to mind: 1) what makes her serve so difficult to pass; and 2) how does she compare to other great servers in recent years?

As to the why, the concensus seems to be there are four main reasons:

  1. Her serve has great velocity.
  2. She’s a lefty, and her serve typically breaks to the left, which is the opposite of what teams typically see.  It’s a difficult adjustment. 
  3. She has an extraordinarily low error rate (as shown in the table below, her service ace/service error ratio is second only to Kerri Walsh’s in 1996).
  4. She is fearless.  She goes for it regardless of the situation — first point, match point, tight score, big game, after a time-out — it’s all out, every time. 

As to how Hancock stacks up to other great servers in recent years (including recent leaders in the Big Ten), we’ve put together a statistical comparison in the following table.  Looking only at serving, Hancock stands out in every category.  

And she has outperformed several truly standout players — strictly looking at serving — including Logan Tom, Jordan Larson, and Kim Willoughby.  That’s not to say she is, or will be, as good or better than any of them — obviously, hitting and defensive ability aren’t reflected in this table.  Nor is there any guarantee that she will match or exceed this year’s statistics in subsequent seasons.  But for now, her statistics are exceptional.   

Tough Servers: Hancock, Larson, Willoughby, Danks, Tom . . . more

Name SchoolPos.ClassSPSASA/SetSESA/SE
Hancock, MichaPenn StateS2011 - Fr.81700.86471.49
Willoughby, KimHawai'iOH2002 - Jr.109760.701120.68
Willoughby, KimHawai'iOH2003 - Sr.114710.621170.61
Danks, EmilyOhio StateOH2010 - So.128730.57770.95
Tom, LoganStanfordOH2001 - Jr.122660.54970.68
Larson, JordanNebraskaOH2007 - Jr.103530.51590.90
D’Errico, AlyssaPenn StateL2009 - Jr.122620.51690.90
Gentil, PaulaMinnesotaDS/L2005 - Jr.115590.51n/an/a
Danks, EmilyOhio StateOH2011 - Jr.91440.48520.85
Brudzinski, KatieMichiganOH2007 - Sr.128590.46930.63
Larson, JordanNebraskaOH2006 - So.115530.46670.79
Tom, LoganStanfordOH1999 - Fr.102460.45570.81
Holehouse, RobertaPenn StateL2006 - So.114500.44700.71
Walsh, KerriStanfordOH/MB1996 - Fr.109470.4395.22
Tom, LoganStanfordOH2000 - So.56230.41550.42
D’Errico, AlyssaPenn StateL2010 - Sr.123490.40700.70
Larson, JordanNebraskaOH2005 - Fr.109410.38570.72
Tom, LoganStanfordOH2002 - Sr.106360.34720.50
Larson, JordanNebraskaOH2008 - Sr.118390.33560.70
Willoughby, KimHawai'iOH2001 - So.118290.25530.55