New VERT jumping sensors help Illinois volleyball players get higher

By Eli Schwadron

Tweet: #Illini volleyball uses VERT technology to track vertical leap and jumps per practiceNot-so-breaking news: The Illinois volleyball team can jump high.

Michelle Strizak hovers around 37 inches on her vertical leap. On her best days, she can reach 40 inches – or 3 1/3 feet off the ground. Teammates Naya Crittendon, Katie Roustio and Katie Stadick average 36, 35 and 34 inches, respectively.

Those are numbers that rival verticals of the best leapers in the NBA. And with new technology, the Illini are learning more and more about their jumping abilities.

Since the first official practice of the season, Illinois players have worn the two-inch long sensors, which are about the size of a USB drive. The sensors – or as the team calls them, “VERTs,” keep track of various jumping statistics, chief among them the number of jumps and the all-important vertical. http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Volleyball/Features/2015/March/06/VERT-Technology-Assisting-USA-Volleyball (fm)

Head coach Kevin Hambly said the sensors provide information that the program probably should’ve known a long time ago.

“It helps for workload and for how they recover,” he said. “It gives them a better sense of how they’re doing.”

Crittendon said the sensors differ from normal vertical leap tests, because the VERT analyzes jumps during actual gameplay. “When you do normal testing, and you run up and you hit the little (plastic bars), it’s cool, but it’s different because it’s not really getting your vertical when your adrenaline is pumping, and you’re in the game or in practice,” Crittendon said.

She added that players improve their jumping tendencies after studying the VERT data. “Let’s say you’re more tired on a Tuesday than you were on Monday, and your vertical is a little bit lower,” she said. “(You) can look at that and (say), ‘Okay, maybe let’s take it a little easier for practice on Wednesday or Thursday.’”

The VERT sensor is helpful for volleyball players coming off injuries, too.

The coaching staff used to count each player’s number of jumps by hand. Prior to the VERT technology, a coach would hone in on a player and tally attack jumps during games and practices.

On average, a player will finish with 185 jumps per practice. Freshman setter Jordyn Poulter finished with 504 jumps during a practice this season.

“That’s insane, because the next closest person had 180 that day,” Hambly said. “And she jumps high.”

The number of Illinois volleyball injuries has decreased significantly since coaches started paying attention to specific jump statistics.

“Since we started moderating a lot of this stuff, our injuries have gone way down,” Hambly said. “(Jumps tend to) wear and tear the knees, ankles and muscles. Go jump even 50 times, and you’ll see. But I mean, 500 of ‘em? That’s a big workload.”

The team has created its own metrics system called “True Efficiency.” Hambly said other schools and international teams have started using the equation, which focuses on zero hitting percentages for attacking, such as what happens with balls that are dug.

What about back in the day when coaches just went with their gut and knew which kid could play without having to look at metrics or analytics?

“That’s not really my style,” Hambly said.fm

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