This is the second installment of my series evaluating Wake Forest athletics' on-field performance, and this week, I'm looking at volleyball.
A quick review: Ron Wellman took over as athletic director in October 1992. As a result, I am primarily concerned with athletics from the 1993-94 academic year to the present. The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the most important aspect of Wellman's job - fielding successful sports teams, particularly with reference to their predecessors at Wake. I am doing this in each sport by looking at the state of the program prior to Wellman's arrival and comparing it to its performance in the past 21 seasons.
***** Index *****
***** Program Overview *****
The history of Wake Forest volleyball is... disjointed. The Deacs fielded (courted?) teams from 1971-1986, and actually achieved decent success. In fact, Wake volleyball precedes the creation of ACC volleyball, which occurred in 1980-81 year (although the conference did not play an official conference s season until the following year). However, then-athletic director Gene Hooks disbanded the team after the 1986-1987 season.
Wellman decided to bring back the program for the 1996-97 season, hiring Mary Buczek to helm the rebirth of the program. Buczek overcame two mediocre years with breakthrough seasons in 1998-99 and 1999-00 before leaving for the same position at the University of Georgia. Wellman replaced Buczek with Valorie Baker, who furthered the surge under Buczek's final seasons. However, after five seasons, Baker resigned. Wellman selected Heather Kahl Holmes as the new coach for the 2005-06 season, and over eight seasons produced a resoundingly middling career mark. In 2012 Kahl Holmes was diagnosed with breast cancer, for which she received treatment during the 2012-13 season. Following that season, Kahl Holmes resigned, and Wellman hired Ken Murczek from North Texas. Murczek recently completed his first season with the Deacs.
***** Note on Methodology *****
Volleyball is one of two sports that require unique treatment on account of the reformation of the program. As a result, there isn't immediate existing precedent with which to compare the Wellman seasons. However, the 1971-86 seasons are enough to create a baseline for what the program should be capable. The winning percentage over this period was .527, which I have used as the benchmark for the program.
I feel significantly less comfortable about the conference marks, due to small sample size prior to the 1986 dissolution and because Wake's mark during the few years in the 1980's was beyond abysmal (.143 over six seasons). As a result, I decided to set the conference benchmark at a .300 winning percentage, which I feel is the bare minimum in terms of acceptability for a program over a prolonged period of time (looking at you, football).
Lastly, because the program was being recreated from scratch, I gave a 4 year grace period, with the expected win percentage for years 1-4 starting at 0 and increasing by 25% of the benchmark per season. This will be reflected on the graphs as a line from 0 up to the benchmark, at which point the line will level out. It should be fairly self-evident.
As always, I'm gonna start with the yearly fluctuations in winning percentage.
First, take note of the grace period. The expected win percentage increases from 0 towards .527 each year until 2000 (year 5), at which point the expected winning percentage is the same .527 as the 1971-86 period. You'll see this on every graph until the Net Wins graphs, which are measured against a baseline of 0.
Second, you can clearly see Buczek's impact on the program. After the first two seasons, the program had a four-year stretch of 21-12, 25-9, 21-9, and 20-11 seasons (split between Buczek and Baker). Since then, the program has undergone the usual fluctuations, with slightly more down seasons than good seasons.
Here are the year-to-year conference results:
It should be pretty evident by this graph, but a conference winning percentage of .300 is very, very low (again, looking at you football). As a result, Wake has surpassed that mark in 15 of the 19 seasons after the 1996-97 seasons.
You can again see the heights that the program achieved under Buczek and Baker (the high marks represent 10-6 conference seasons, or a .625 winning percentage). Since that period, Wake has only had one season above .500, an 11-9 (.550) season in 2010 under Kahl Holmes.
Here are the four-year rolling averages separated by coach, A lot of Baker's early credit is a continuation of Buczek's uptick in her final two seasons. You can also see the general recession of the program from those years during the latter Baker years and the Kahl Holmes tenure. And once again we see just how low that .300 conference winning percentage is.
And here are graphs for cumulative performance separated by coach, which should look fairly similar (or identical for Buczek and Murczek):
The only thing bizarre I saw from these graphs is that Ken Murczek's first season features a reversal of the pattern of the other coaches regarding the conference/non-conference splits. At the same time, it's one season, so small sample size caveats apply.
Now let's look at how Wellman checks out. By default, the grace period at the beginning of the program exists as a boost to Wellman's cumulative stats - this is by design. Think of this as the bonus that Wellman deserves for introducing another varsity sport.
Women's soccer is the other program that Wellman created, in case you were wondering.
Here we again see the arc and gradual recession of the program. Note that the cumulative winning percentage under Wellman (.489) falls under the .527 average from 1971-86. However, due to the grace period, Wellman actually has a positive number of net wins.
More of the same. It's interesting to see that the downward slide in overall winning percentage isn't manifest in the conference numbers: from 2000 onward, the range of the winning percentage is from .393 (after 2001) to .422 (after 2002). If you go back and look at the year-to-year conference results, you'll notice that the line is relatively flat comparatively - this consistency reflects the last 16 years of this graph.
Let's look at Wellman's net wins:
Great googly moogly that's a lot. Consider that this is cumulative and relative to the grace period. Buczek produced a staggering 37.6 net wins during that grace period (going 21-12 and 25-9 as a relatively new program will do that). The peak number was at 48.3 wins after 2003; the end number is 20.9.
Also keep in mind that volleyball plays approximately 2.5 times as many games as football, so if the numbers seem skewed compared to the numbers from Part I, that's why. Rest assured that these figures will be adjusted in the final analysis.
Like football, Wake has a better performance in conference (+40.8) than non-conference (-19.9). I have absolutely zero idea why. (Just kidding! It's because the expectations for non-conference are rooted in reality rather than an arbitrary number that I chose as minimum acceptability.)
Here are those numbers by separated by coach:
Same story, different graph. Look at Buczek's overall total though. Good golly. Yes it's helped by the grace period reducing the expected wins, but that's still ridiculous.
***** Summation *****
Proj. Record: 26.4-105.6 (7.2-56.8)
Actual Record: 64-68 (18-46)
Net: +37.6 (+10.8)
Proj. Record: 81.2-72.8 (25.8-60.2)
Actual Record: 89-65 (40-46)
Net: +7.8 (+14.2)
Proj. Record: 131.2-117.8 (49.2-114.8)
Actual Record: 108-141 (66-98)
Net: -23.8 (+16.8)
Proj. Record: 16.9-15.1 (6-14)
Actual Record: 16-16 (5-15)
Net: -0.9 (-1.0)
Proj. Record: 256.1-310.9 (88.2-239.8)
Actual Record: 277-290 (129-199)
Net: +20.9 (+40.8)
***** Analysis *****
I don't have much more that needs to be said. We'll see how Murczek turns out, but the bar that is in place is not low. It's definitely too early to pass judgment on him, although his record this season was not too different from those that produced Kahl Holmes's resignation.
Overall, I don't think you can say anything except that the reinvention of the volleyball program is a definite plus in Wellman's favor. Not only did he create the program somewhat from scratch, but the program has enjoyed a decent amount of success. Even if those results haven't resulted in NCAA Tournament appearances, volleyball has been a consistently decent-to-good program under the Wake umbrella.
***** Running Total *****
Football: -6.4 (+2.9) --> -25.8 (+17.3)
Volleyball: +20.9 (+40.8) --> +36.9 (+124.4)
Total: +11.1 (+141.7)
Total: -108.1 (+210.9)
So the idea behind this is to keep both a non-biased and a biased running total of all the sports covered. The figures after the arrow represent the figures per 1000 games. For example, volleyball produced +40.8 net wins over 328 conference games, which translates to +124.4 net wins over 1000 games. However, I'd like some input from y'all as to how exactly I should weight the sports. Currently, I'm planning on using the following formula as a rough approximation of interest in Wake sports:
x5: football, men's basketball
x2: men's soccer, women's soccer, women's basketball, baseball, men's golf
x1: volleyball, field hockey, men's cross country, women's cross country, men's track and field, women's track and field, women's golf, men's tennis, women's tennis
If you think I should readjust, PLEASE SAY SO IN THE COMMENTS. Obviously football and men's basketball drive the vast majority of discussion and interest in the athletic department, and I'd like to represent that dichotomy while also not trivializing the non-revenue sports.
Next week: We delve into the beautiful game with men's soccer!