This is the second of a two-part series on Davidson College professor Dr. Tim Chartier. Last week's article was on his mime performances.
DAVIDSON – Davidson College senior Kendall Thomas landed an internship at Nike last summer. After she graduates, the Cornelius native will be working as a software engineer for Microsoft.
And neither likely would have been possible without her role in Cats Stats, where she leads a team that performs sports analytics for athletic teams at Davidson, including the soccer team, with which she has been an athlete herself.
“The use of stats, it applies to every sport,” said Thomas, who double-majors in mathematics and computer science. “It’s grown tremendously. For soccer, we have heart-rate monitors, and we track that and have in-game stats. How can you put all those together into something that’s useful for the coaching staff because you want to find the right amount of information, but not overload them with information to the point where they don’t even look at it.”
The club was launched in 2013 by mathematics professor Dr. Tim Chartier to work with longtime coach Bob McKillop’s men’s basketball team.
“I said to the students at the time, I don’t know if there’s any way in the world we can offer him anything he’s going to find helpful,” Chartier recalls.
The club now incorporates more than 70 student volunteers who provide data for the men’s and women’s basketball, women’s soccer, football, baseball and swimming teams. Other projects have involved NBA teams, NASCAR, the NFL and several national media outlets.
“It’s completely mushroomed,” Chartier said.
With the growth of the club, Chartier said student leadership like Thomas’ has been paramount. And students in Cats Stats aren’t always super-knowledgeable in sports or passionate about math, which Chartier said isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I like sports but I often know a lot less sports than people often think I know, which is really good from a data analytics standpoint,” Chartier said. “I’m not very motivated to know more than what I know. When you know a lot, you’re going to tend to make the analytic fit what you believe. I know enough where I’m not in left field.
Whether it’s left field on the baseball diamond, along the baseline in basketball or at the net in volleyball, finding where the school’s student-athletes perform at their best is a huge part of what the club can provide a coaching staff.
“Which offensive play is best, which rotation is the best?” said Wes Kerr, who spearheaded a group to track the volleyball team through data he provides.
Beyond Davidson teams, Kerr, a senior who’s interviewing for a job with an NBA team, said the ever-increasing number of 3-pointers shot in the league is “the new age of the NBA.”
“It’s so much easier to collect data,” he said. “The challenge is how do we make use out of it.”
Much of Cats Stats' work, Chartier explained, is scouting reports, both individually and teamwide. For Davidson basketball players, there are 13-15 pieces of information stored on every shot taken, including the coordinates of the shot, who took the shot, the type of shot and the time on the shot clock. From there, the coaching staff can request to see it in a way they see fit.
Matt McKillop, an assistant coach on the men’s basketball team, was curious about how well certain players shot in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. When Cats Stats presented the data after a game, he let out a big sigh, because Bob McKillop had a rule that only two players were allowed to shoot in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock.
“That was actually the right choice,” Chartier said. “The data showed that Bob McKillop totally saw that trend and his intuition was dead-on. Sometimes the data confirms.”