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Volleyball taking advantage of new challenge system

Photo by Austin Anderson

Photo by Austin Anderson

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There is a running joke among the Marquette volleyball team that whenever they win a challenge, they are on a two-point swing.

“Two points is a big deal in a race to 25,” redshirt senior Meghan Niemann said.

Those two-point swings are possible because of an NCAA rule change that allowed women’s volleyball teams to implement a challenge review system in the 2016 season. During 2015, the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences each used instant replay on a trial basis. This season, Marquette and Creighton are the two schools from the BIG EAST implementing a challenge review system.

“Internationally they have been using it for several years,” Marquette head coach Ryan Theis said. “Typically, we are three, four, five years behind what the pros are doing in Europe.”

Once permission was granted to schools to apply the instant replay technology, they had to figure out if their facilities could handle the advances and if they could afford to do so. Marquette felt they were able to use instant replay and hired the company DVSport to run their system, which is the same company that the BIG EAST uses for women’s basketball. One reason that Marquette was able to use the technology was because women’s basketball and volleyball both share the Al McGuire Center.

Coaches are allowed three challenges per match. None of the challenges are tied to a team’s timeouts. Challenges can only be made by the team that lost the rally and before the referee extends his or her arm to start the next point. When one coach decides he or she would like to challenge a call, they place a green card on the scorers’ table to indicate that they would like to challenge and the head referee will review the play.

So far, instant replay has been a success for Theis and the Golden Eagles. Theis estimates that he has gotten roughly 10 challenges correct and only two wrong, but what is most important is that the right call is made.

“We joked as coaches that you have been in big games and calls have been missed in and out and touches have occurred and you feel like you have gotten hosed. To be honest, what we realize now is that we did,” Theis said. “The human element is expected; you can’t expect officials to be correct a hundred percent of the time.”

Marquette has the luxury of using instant replay at home. Prior to the start of BIG EAST play, they were able to use challenges in 12 straight matches. This has allowed Theis to get used to calling challenges at the appropriate times.

“Your team is a huge part of it. … If our hitter hits one off the block and all six of them go ‘touch, touch, touch,’ odds are there was one and the officials missed it,” Theis said. “Now if one kid does it, we call that begging for a call. They have learned to be honest and quickly give me feedback. … I’ll look in the crowd and see if someone I know calls a ball in or out if it’s on the far sideline. You are looking for people you trust or might be right in those situations. It is a total guessing game.”

It’s not always easy to spot a play Marquette should challenge.

“For me it is difficult because I always think our team should win the point,” Niemann said. “I want to challenge everything, but we have a couple of girls who are really really good at it. So, Ellen (Hays) has a great eye. If Ellen says it is in, I believe it.”

While other teams may have experience using instant replay, few get the opportunity to use it as often as Marquette does. This presents unique challenges for those visiting the Al McGuire Center.

“I actually like it,” Butler head coach Sharon Clark said before a game against Marquette. “The delay is different and you need to get your team prepared for it and understand that type of slow down and stop in the match, but I like anything that is going to be more accurate.”

Butler is hoping to adopt the instant replay system. Many of the volleyball teams in the BIG EAST, including Butler, have the same technological advantage of playing in the same facilities as women’s basketball. However, there is a separate cost for each sport to use DVSport software, even if the cameras and infrastructure are already in place.

“I have talked to administration and right now it is just finances and that cost of having folks working the camera,” Clark said.

Replay will be used at Butler this year for the BIG EAST volleyball championship, as well as in the NCAA tournament.

“I don’t know if we will get to a point to where our conference will make it mandatory,” Theis said. “ With the DVSport renewal that is occurring with women’s basketball, I think it makes some sense that next year as a conference we try and make it mandatory. I don’t know if administrators will approve it because it costs money.”

Currently, the DVSport software allows for Marquette to use three cameras for instant replay, but next year Theis is hoping DVSport will have the software to expand to have six cameras.

For now, Marquette is just going to take it one two-point swing at a time.

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