Monday, November 30, 2009
If the Southland representative played a really strong schedule and ran through the conference basically unscathed, then its possible that the NCAA would not assign our school a "Texas-like" fate in the first round. Of course, the big giant will lurk in the attempt to get to the Sweet 16. Witness a couple of years ago when we were assigned Alabama before our date with death.
For a Southland school to ever make the Sweet 16 would be a true odds-beater. Think about how different things will be in Gregory Gym (nice name, BTW) as opposed to the Convocation Center in San Antonio. Both facilities hold roughly 4000 fans. There will be a ton of burnt orange in the stands and it most certainly will be loud and intimidating.
I applaud Texas State's run to this point. They earned this right, but let's not get confused. They're done. No one would be surprised to see Texas meet up with undefeated Penn State in the title match. Texas' only loss on the season was a five-setter in Ames, Iowa to Big 12 foe Iowa State. It wasn't a huge upset. Iowa State was ranked #8 at the time. Man, wouldn't you have loved to have seen that match? In an interesting twist.. ISU and Texas could meet up again in the Elite 8 - if all falls according to seed, then they will.
NCAA Volleyball tournament pairings are generally much more true to region that you see in basketball. Most folks familiar with the basketball tournament know that geography is often minimized when assigning teams to various brackets and regions. That's not true in volleyball. A case in point is that Rice and TCU will play before Texas and Texas State on Thursday afternoon. One exception to the regionalization issue is yours truly's alma matter Baylor who was sent out to LA to face off against Georgia Tech and then play the winner of host UCLA and Long Beach State.
To give you a feel for volleyball strength around us, half of the Big 12 is in the tournament with Texas (2), aforementioned Iowa State (7) and Nebraska (10) earning three of the 16 host "top seeds". Then there is Baylor, Texas A&M and Oklahoma also playing in post-season. (Note: the Big 12 does NOT have a conference tournament). Couple those six with Rice, TCU, LSU, and (SFA-opponent) Tulane and that represents some good local competition.
Non-conference scheduling has been a subject of my posting here before. In fact, Debbie Humphreys and I have discussed this on various occasions and I have a slightly different view on it than her. I favor the Texas State model...try and load up on tough non-conference teams. In my mind, the eventual SLC tourney champion needs to position themselves for a reasonable shot at the Sweet 16. To do this, you have to rip the conference and finish with a high enough RPI that you don't get assigned "Texas" in the first round. If you can get a more reasonable opponent in the first round, then there are two good things that can happen. First, you have a decent shot of winning and second - there is the chance the "big boy" will get upset in the first round and you get a weaker opponent in order to make the final 16. Worst case scenario is what happened to us a few years back: you lose to the host in the sub-regional final. Well, real worst case scenario is you still lose in the first round, but I think you see my point.
See, without scheduling a cracker-jack non-conference schedule, I don't see how a SLC team will really ever get a "break" in the first round of the tourney unless you win 62 straight conference games or something. If your ULTIMATE goal is to give yourself a chance to make the Sweet 16, then it seems you have to schedule heavy.
Hey, I don't cheer for the University of Texas at all. NEVER. So, yeah, I'd love it if the Bobcats "shocked the world". But...they're season is done. Need more evidence? Texas lost 10 SETS all year. Every one of the sets they lost was either to a foreign national team or a team in the NCAA tourney. Now, that's impressive.
Texas State loses 3-0 in what will be a very quick match. But, if you ask me would I rather be traveling to Austin this week to watch SFA play in the tournament against UT? You know my answer would be "yes".
Sunday, November 22, 2009
First serve from the Convocation Center is at 2:00 PM between Texas State and SFA. See you at the chat!
Saturday, November 21, 2009
1:25: Texas State finishes off Lamar in set 1. Lots of action at the net. Texas State with six blocks in the first set alone - four by Jillian Wolpman. Lamar blocked three balls and Jayme Bazile was in on all three. She is a huge presence at the net, even if she is rail thin. Lamar hits just .027 in the first set. Cave with five kills on five attacks for Texas State.
1:48: Role reversal. Lamar jumps out to a 6-0 lead in set 2 and makes it stick winning set 2 and tying things up at halftime. Meengs for Lamar continues to impress...she leads the entire field in kills from the setter position. Meengs' has eight kills with no errors. She is such a weapon at her position. Almost a reversal of stats in set 2 with Lamar hitting .222 and Texas State hitting an even .000. Thought we'd get a dogfight and it looks like we've got one.
2:26: What a slug fest between Lamar and Texas State. A very well played and tight set there in Set 3. Texas State comes back to win in extra action 28-26. The Bobcats hit .317 in the set and Melinda Cave now has a double-double with 10 kills and 11 digs. Middleton with the winner at the end for Texas State on a huge kill. Meengs already has a TRIPLE-double in three sets. 12 kills on no errors, 23 assists and 14 digs already. She looks headed for at least a double-twenty. In my opinion, this has been the best volleyball of the tournament.
2:56: A truly spectacular match. Texas State takes extra time to win, but does so 26-24 in the fourth set to finish the Cardinals. Very impressive on both sides. If we get past Nicholls, we will have to play at a very high level - something we definitely CAN do - in order to take this championship. Meengs for Lamar finishes with 15 kills and 19 digs and 35 assists. Incredibly impressive. Middleton paces Texas State with 16 kills and Amber Calhoun registers nine blocks. Cave played very well too. The best match of the tourney, easily.
Time to switch over now and join Ben and I in the chat room. One hour 'till first serve. Go get a snack, check in on Lumberjack football and then get to www.sfajacks.com in an hour.
The point, though, is that Lamar was not ALLOWED to submit both Wendy Krell and Jayme Bazile's names for Freshman of the Year. Thus, my rant about Bazile being more deserving during the year is really a moot point because NO ONE could vote for her after Lamar decided it wanted to submit Krell as their nominee. I feel that needed clarification. Bazile wasn't even on the ballot.
So, two things:
1) I think Lamar submitted the wrong choice. Now, Krell played a lot - and well - yesterday versus UTA and Bazile didn't really get in. Bazile had a funky leg wrap on so I don't know what was up with that. You know.. I might get a chance to talk with Justin Gibert today. We saw each other yesterday, but I didn't want to quiz him. Maybe today the opportunity to speak with him will arise.
2) Each school is allowed to submit five names for All-SLC honors and like mentioned above...one name for Freshman, Newcomer, et al. What in the world kind of system is that? Look. There is no need to have nominations for All-Conference. None. The responsibility should fall squarely on the coaches and Volleyball SID's to make their picks based on some scoring system (the one they have is reasonable) without a nomination sheet.
I assure you, the coaches know the players on the other teams and they don't need a list to go off of. As far as the SID's? It is their JOB to keep up. They are paid to do it. Ours does an incredible job of keeping up. Trust me, Debbie and Ben can defend their picks. Whether they agree with mine or yours is beside the point. I don't have a ballot and gosh knows I don't deserve one.
Here is the simple fact: It just isn't that hard to keep up with the league. There are roughly only 130-140 volleyball players in the SLC. Over the course of an entire season, it isn't hard to learn the names (and sort through the numbers and articles) of these girls. There are under 100 girls that regularly play, that is, there are under 100 regular "starters" in the league. That just isn't that many people to keep up with. It takes at most two hours a week to read every single volleyball article published around the league - maybe one hour per week.
Just give the coaches and SID's a blank piece of paper. Tell them to submit their top "x" players for conference honors (they can't vote for their own team...which is fine) and then tell them to submit their top "y" choices for Freshman, Newcomer, et al of the Year. Apply your ranking system and...boom.. All-SLC/awards.
I assumed something like this was what they did. I assumed wrong and that's my fault. But, the fact that schools can only submit a finite number of names and only one for certain awards is a poor accounting system at best. At worst, its dumb. The conference should fix this.
What if you regularly started four freshman and they all produced at high levels? You're telling me that the head coach of that team has to restrict him/herself to one nomination? The rest of the league who played against these four girls can't sort them out? Yes, the coach of the team with the four girls knows them best. Hence, why I would like to speak with Gibert. But, a coach shouldn't determine who is eligible for an award as high as Freshman of the Year. The LEAGUE should. It's a LEAGUE honor, not a team honor.
I'm sure I am in the minority on this, but hey...it's my picture over there in the right hand column and that's my two cents.
Friday, November 20, 2009
11:53 AM: Well, Ben set the over/under at 1:12 for Texas State to eliminate SELA and he's the man. We are on a 1:15 pace so far with Texas State up over Southeastern Louisiana 2-0. Weynand has seven kills with no errors and the Bobacats are hitting .310 compared to SELA's .083. The scores in the sets were 25-16 and 25-15 - about what we expected here in match one.
12:12 PM: Texas State finishes off Southeastern La. 3-0 (25-16, 25-15, 25-20) and advances to the semifinal tomorrow against the winner of our next match which will pit Lamar against UTA. Weynand finishes with a match-high 11 kills (just one err0r). Courtney Donald finishes with a team high seven kills for SELA. Alex Greer digs 12 balls, but SELA hits just .093 for the match and is still looking for their first ever SLC Tourney win. The Bobacats hit .284 as a team in the win. Jessica Srajer, one of SELA's better attackers just could never get on track and finished with just four kills against six errors. The Bobcats hit over .200 in each set. Both teams killed 32 balls, but SELA made 23 errors against only nine for the whole match for Texas State.
12:45 PM: Sitting around waiting for UTSA to get the hospitality room hospitable so we can chow down on free lunch. Forgot to mention that one of the highlights of Game 1 was Jessica Weynand and Brittany Collins of Texas State colliding and then falling into the referee ladder with head ref Ron Stahl perched upon it. We are sitting directly behind the head umpire chair and I really thought Stahl was coming down! It teetered back and forth, but alas... no tumbling down. Dern. I could have teased Stahl about that for years. Lamar and UTA warming up and they get started in 40 minutes according to the clock here in the Convo.
1:55PM: Wow. UT-Arlington comes out absolutely on fire...and FIRED up. They have WAY more energy right now than Lamar and they take set 1 from the Cardinals by a score of 25-21. Tara Frantz doing her best rebuttal to my headshaking of her being 1st team all-conference. Frantz with 8 kills in the first set with no errors. UTA hit a scorching.381 in the first set and the blocking of Emily Shearin and Christy Driscoll was impressive. For some reason Lauren Holdorff did not play in set 1 for Lamar.
2:15 PM: UTA still with more energy, but the attacking goes completely sour for the Mavs and Lamar evens things up at halftime. Tied 1-1.
2:51 PM: Very impressed with UTA's defense. Emily Shearin with five blocks thru three sets, Driscoll with five as well. Offense? Not so much. UTA hits .051 for the third set and now Lamar owns a 2-1 lead. Play at the net has been very good, but Krell (10 kills), Brewer (9) and Holdorff(7 in two sets) proving to be too strong.
3:16 PM: Arlington plays much better in set 4, but can't hold off the Cardinals who advance to day 2 with a 3-1 win. I was very, very impressed with the Mavs' Emily Shearin. Earlier in the week, I argued for McNeese's Nicole Bowden in that she outplaced Shearin throughout the year. But here today, Shearin showed me a great deal. She finishes the match with 17 kills - most for all players and five blocks. Lamar is paced by Brewer with 14 kills...Krell added 12. UTA showed a great deal more spunk here than when they came to Nacogdoches, but ultimately Lamar had too many weapons. Lamar will face Texas State in the first match tomorrow. Next up in about 40 minutes.... SHSU vs. Nicholls in Game 3 of the day.
3:56 PM: The girls just entered the Convo. Syd sporting some serious shades, I must say.
4:54 PM: Nicholls and Sam Houston tied a one set a piece at halftime. As usual, its the Annacarli and nothing else on offense for SHSU. Neither team hitting over .200, but Nicholls playing much more crisp than they did in Nacogdoches. Sam is vulnerable right now... after losing several matches down the stretch. Manieka Golden leading the way for the Colonels with 11 kills and Ferguson with a match high 13 at the break. Danielle Daigle having an awesome day...digging up a bunch of Kolbe and Ferguson attacks. She heads to the locker room with 14 digs in just two sets.
5:30 PM: We may have our first upset of the tournament brewing after Nicholls takes set 3 behind absolutely ON FIRE Manieka Golden. Nicholls now leads Sam Houston 2-1. Golden has 16 kills against only three errors. Freshman Jennifer Brandt is in to double figures as well with 11 kills. Daigle up to 20 digs. Ferguson has 19 kills for SHSU. Nicholls hit a whopping .325 in the third set. They look like a totally different team than the one that showed up a week ago in Nacogdoches.
6:01 PM: Nicholls completes the upset! #2 Seed SHSU sent packing to Huntsville. What a performance by Golden for Nicholls: 21 kills, 4 errrors, .405 attack percentage. When push came to shove, the Annacarli wasn't enough as some people have hinted at during the year. Nicholls was a force from the get go tonight. Both liberos, Daigle for Nicholls and Hawkins for SHSU had 26 digs. A very impressive performance from Chris Laird's group tonight. That must be a glimpse of the team that beat us 3-2 in Louisiana earlier in the year.
OK, that's all for today...time for you to switch over to http://www.sfajacks.com/. Ben and I will be in the chat room in approximately 15-20 minutes. Winner of SFA/UTSA will play Nicholls State tomorrow at 4:00. We'll have a Day 2 commentary running during the first match tomorrow featuring Texas State and Lamar.
GO SFA! Axe' Em 'Jacks!
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Once we get to game time, you will want to switch over to the Volleyball Home Page at www.sfajacks.com . There, Ben will have set up our live chat window and you can follow along with Ben and I as we chat live during the match with fans, parents, friends and anyone fortunate enough to wander in the chat room! You can even stream along with the action over at www.southland.org AND join us for the chat.
You've got no excuse! There are plenty of ways for you to be right there in the middle of the action even if you can't join us all in San Antonio.
Right now, I am still in Nacogdoches and planning a 5:00 AM departure early in the morning. So, its time for me to get to bed early because we've got a FULL day ahead of us tomorrow. Plus, it looks like rain, so hopefully the drive won't be bad and we'll be dry and comfortable inside the Convo.
Axe 'Em Jacks!
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
So, positives before negatives. Overall, I think the conference did a decent job in picking their teams. If you haven't seen them yet, then click here. The conference made the right choice on Player of the Year, Newcomer, Setter and Libero of the Year. Plus, though I would have preferred Chisum for Coach of the Year, its hard to argue with McRoberts from UCA repeating. I mean, they didn't lose a conference game.
With one huge exception, the first team All-SLC selections are very well done. But, there are a few basically indefensible choices on the SLC lists. The second team list released by the conference is a mess and basically, the conference totally blew the choice for Freshman of the Year. Shocked is not the word here. Stupid is.
I'm sure Wendy Krell from Lamar is a fine young lady and she certainly is a good volleyball player and I look forward to watching her Friday. She is not the best freshman in this conference. She is not one of the best three freshman in this league. She is not the best freshman on her own TEAM. Plain and simple: Krell was a terrible choice for this honor.
Let's look at two players, shall we:
Player 1: 182 kills, 1.92 kills per set, .300 attack percentage in 420 attacks, 71 blocks, 0.75 blocks per set.
Player 2: 177 kills, 1.92 kills per set, .262 attack percentage in 390 attacks, 114 blocks, 1.24 blocks per set.
So, pick one. The conference picked Player 1 as the Freshman of the Year and 2nd team All-SLC. OK. Well, then certainly Player 2 will get an honor, right? An Honorable Mention? Nope. Nothing. Zero. Player 1 is Krell. Player 2 is her teammate and Freshman, Jayme Bazile.
How can you defend Player 1 over Player 2? How? Oh, I see...its that .300 attack percentage, right. I mean, that nice round number that starts with a three. Look. THINK. Maybe, actually COMPUTE. You wanna know what the difference is between hitting .300 and .262 in 420 attacks? A difference of kills minus errors that equals 16. Yes, I calculated it. It's not hard. So, for instance, if Krell makes just eight more errors than she did, and Bazile tallies eight more kills than she did in their same number of attacks, then they have the same attack percentage for the entire season. I implore you: Re-read that statement carefully.
You gonna give the highest freshman honor to Krell and ignore Bazile completely over a grand total of 16 attacks across 27 matches? Oh, yeah.. we haven't even looked at the blocks! Geez, Bazile blocked 43 balls more than Krell. Plus, Bazile LED THE CONFERENCE IN BLOCKS PER SET. You think 43 blocks more isn't significant? Consider that the leading blocker for Southeastern La. had 49 blocks for the year! And she gets nothing? Whatever. That's not defensible. Any SID or coach who voted for Krell and not Bazile simply doesn't understand the statistics that are generated in their sport.
Of course, the real snub was our own Madison Hanlan. The conference did the right thing in giving Curl the Libero of the Year and sticking another libero on the first team. Just read my post below for my argument for doing exactly that. Just one problem. They put the wrong libero on the first team.
Hanlan and Kaylee Hawkins each dug balls at a rate of 4.28 per set. So, how do you separate out how to honor each of them? Only, libero of the year Cristin Curl had a higher rate. Certainly, two liberos putting up equal dig rates ought to be close in terms of their recognition. Nope. The conference blows it again by naming Hawkins on the first team and Hanlan as honorable mention. That gap in recognition is not equal to their gap in contributions. I think what happened here is that people look too heavily at conference only stats and weekly conference honors. Hawkins led the SLC in digs per set by quite a large margin in conference-only games and Hawkins won defensive player of the week one more time than Hanlan. But, I think you have to look at the entire picture. Hanlan had more aces than Hawkins and had a slightly better serve receive percentage than Hawkins - and serve receive is an important dimension of a libero. So, all in all, I just don't see the argument that these two liberos should be so far apart in recognition?
But, Greg...isn't that what YOU did? You named Hanlan 1st team and Hawkins third... so aren't you being hypocritical? No, I'm not. Because I actually selected TEAMS. I honored 14 girls between the first and second teams combined. So, me saying Hanlan deserves first team and Hawkins third doesn't separate them much. The conference put 12 girls on the first team alone and just one libero. If there is some rule that only one libero can be named to first team while simultaneously allowing 12 players on the first team, then that rule is goofy. If you are going to put 12 girls on the first team then what would be wrong with two liberos on the first team? They put two setters on the first team, right? My point: At least put two of Hawkins, Hanlan and Curl on the first team, so that the other can be on the second team. Hanlan getting snubbed all the way down to Honorable Mention just isn't right.
Plus, I'm gonna beat this drum one more time. Hanlan, Hawkins, Bazile and McNeese's Priscilla Massengale are all better choices for Freshman of the Year than Wendy Krell. To be honest, I see very little difference between the contributions of Krell and Nicholls State freshman Jennifer Brandt. I mean, Brandt led her team in kills with almost 100 more than Krell and she killed more than half a ball more than Krell per set. She didn't post many blocks and she hit .206 compared to Krell's .300, but please people...get off of that.300 thing. Hitting .300 in just 420 attacks is meaningless. That's just not that many attacks, so .300 isn't that impressive in that few swings. What' impressive is Anna Ferguson hitting .283 in 1069 attacks and Chloe Smith hitting .280 in 1121 attacks. But hitting .300 in just 420 attacks? It just isn't that big of a deal, because the chance Krell could maintain that over 700 more attacks is really low. Voters clearly don't understand rate statistics and therefore they inflate their value. Remember, the difference between .300 and .262 is 16 swings over the season if you are going to attack only 420 times. That's meaningless.
But finally....and this is ridiculous...what do the voters have against McNeese? Chanel Tyler, Nicole Bowden and Sarah Cartie all left off the entire list of honors? You can't be serious? One of them left off? Well, maybe...but all three?
Meengs of Lamar gets first team with 857 assists, 8.74 per set and 216 digs, but Cartie gets nothing with over 1000 assists and 9.42 per set with 270 digs? That makes no sense at all. Oh, wait....Meengs hit .293 in 444 attacks- among the conference leaders. Cartie hit .251 in 263 attacks. Do I need to do the math again to show you how insignificant those differences are?
Bowden blocks 112 balls - third most in the entire conference and she gets nothing? Bowden in every way eclipsed UTA's Emily Shearin. I mean, in every measurable way, Bowden did better and yet Shearin gets 2nd team and Bowden nothing? Again, that decision is just not defensible. Do you realize that two of the top four leading blockers per set in the entire conference didn't even get an honor? Dang. Why call the position middle BLOCKER, if you're not going to honor people for blocking the friggin' ball?
But leaving Chanel Tyler off the entire list? Pure insanity. Here is what is absolutely stupid: Tara Frantz is a first teamer, while Chanel Tyler is left off the list. Frantz, by far was the worst pick on the first team.. she didn't come close to deserving that. She's the only first rounder named by the conference that I look at and think something horribly went wrong.
Frantz: 220 kills in 598 attacks, 2.75 kills per set, .179 attack %, 40 blocks, only 27 digs and actually served the ball nine times all year (zero aces).
Tyler: 340 kills in 1010 attacks, 2.96 kills per set, .185 attack%, 31 blocks, 323 digs and 32 service aces.
I'm just gonna end it right there. How anyone could look at Tara Frantz and see a first team selection and then look at Chanel Tyler and see someone who doesn't deserve an honor just isn't caring about their responsibility of voting on teams like this. Its just that simple.
Monday, November 16, 2009
1st Team All-SLC
S Robyn Smith, Central Arkansas
L Madison Hanlan, SFA
OH Chloe Smith, Central Arkansas
OH Carli Kolbe, Sam Houston
MB Ashley Bailey, SFA
MB Anna Ferguson, Sam Houston
OH Jessica Weynand, Texas State
2nd Team All-SLC
S Sarah Cartie, McNeese
L Cristin Curl, Central Arkansas
OH Chanel Tyler, McNeese
OH Yelena Enwere, Northwestern State
MB MC Bottles, SFA
MB Nicole Bowden, McNeese
OH Kendra Rowland, UTSA
3rd Team All-SLC
S Adrianne Meengs, Lamar
L Kaylee Hawkins, Sam Houston
OH Emma Ridley, Texas A&M - Corpus Christi
OH/MB Lauren Holdorff, Lamar
MB Amber Calhoun, Texas State
MB Evaree Franklin, Central Arkansas
MB Jayme Bazile, Lamar
Setter of the Year: Robyn Smith, Central Arkansas
Libero of the Year: Cristin Curl, Central Arkansas
Newcomer of the Year: Emma Ridley, TAMUCC
Freshman of the Year: Madison Hanlan, SFA
Coach of the Year: Karen Chisum, Texas State
Player of the Year: Chloe Smith, Central Arkansas
S Michelle Miller, Sam Houston
L Danielle Daigle, Nicholls State
OH Jessica Hays, Central Arkansas
MB Briana Mason, UTSA
So, how do I justify giving Hanlan first team All-SLC, but not libero of the Year? Well, to be honest, I had a really hard time deciding between Hanlan and Curl. In the end, I felt like Hanlan's additional attributes such as her good serve and higher reception percentage made her the better overall player. But, Curl's significantly higher digs per set per her as the top at that position. I went with the better overall player for 1st team, but better specifically in terms of the statistics that defines liberos when it came to the award. Plus, I decided on Hanlan for Rookie of the Year, so that gives her more total accolade anyway. The only person that could knock Hanlan off of Freshman of the Year would be Bazile at Lamar, but I think Maddie's made her case.
What really stands out to me is how balanced Texas State as a team is. Weynand was my hardest choice for 1st team...the others are locks, I believe. Chanel Tyler, or our own MC Bottles almost pushes her out in my mind. The teams announced by the conference may very well include both of those on the 1st team since they usually balloon those beyond seven players. But, for as good as Texas State is, they don't have many players worthy of individual honor - which points to depth, and I believe coaching. Despite our rivalry with Texas State, I believe Karen Chisum deserves the credit for organizing this depth and getting that group of players to truly play as a team. In my mind, they are the definitive favorite this weekend. That being said, any number of teams could trip them up including us. It just won't be Southeastern Louisiana, who is foolish to book any more than one night worth of a hotel.
It would not be an upset in my mind if Anna Ferguson won Player of the Year. I would not argue with that. Compare Smith and Ferguson:
Smith: 442 kills, 4.46 kills/set, .280 attack %, 59 blocks, .60 bl/s
Ferguson: 434 kills, 3.50 kills/set, .283 attack %, 120 blocks, .97 bl/s
So, do the blocks make up for the roughly one kill per set less? That's twice as many blocks as Smith you're looking at there. Of course, she's an MB and Smith hits from the right side. Still, I think Chloe Smith is the best player in this league this year, Ferguson second and Ashley Bailey third.
How is McNeese bad? I think all three of their second team picks are more than defensible. Nicole Bowden had a great year (112 blocks, 1.o1 blocks per set, 242 kills and 33 aces), Cartie is so solid and Tyler could have made my first team. Then, there is Priscilla Massengale, who dropped off a little at the end of the year, but still had a solid freshman season at over three kills per set. How are they terrible? How did they not make the tournament?
For those that want Daigle in place of Hawkins...fine. That was a toss up to me. I saw Hawkins make some unbelievable digs early in the year when they played UL-Lafayette and I wasn't overly impressed with Daigle when she came to Nacogdoches, so I let my own eyes rather than stats break the tie.
The four girls that just missed were my best of the rest picks. I seriously considered them for third team. I will also tell you that I stared hard at the following players: Priscilla Massengale (McNeese), Jennifer Brandt and Jasmine Harris (Nicholls), Alex Greer (SELA), Mo Middleton and AJ Watlington (Texas State), Whitney Walls (UTSA), Tara Frantz and Emily Shearin (UTA), Jessica Korda (TAMUCC) and Arielle Daron (SFA). So, if a girls name is not in this article, I don't think they have a case for the top-three teams at all.
Finally, I want to end where I began with the comments. If you could just lift everything in 30+ posts I've written this year about Maddie Hanlan and put it all in chronological order, you'd realize that at the beginning of the year I was quite skeptical about how sticking a freshman at libero was going to work out. But, when its all said and done.. what more can you say about her? She racked up some serious stats. Midway through the year, I really thought Bazile or Massengale was your best Freshman. But honestly, after reviewing the numbers and thinking back over things I've seen, I don't really think its close: Hanlan is the best. She flies under the radar a bit because she really isn't a flashy player. She's just....there. She's just where the ball is hit. It's not an upset if she gets first team-SLC, Libero AND Freshman of the Year. So, I know it took me an entire year, but the numbers don't lie: Maddie Hanlan can play.
Picking teams like this always creates a wave of emotion and any two people rarely completely agree. Then of course, I do not actually SEE all these teams equally, nor am I paid to follow college volleyball. As I said at the mid-point in the year. I do study and I do read around the conference daily. So, I feel like I've picked the folks that are most deserving. I'm a stats guy, but what was picked above wasn't based solely on numbers. Its also based on observation, conversation, reading and listening at just the right times.
Got a different opinion that me? Snub your favorite player? Let me know what you think. See you in San Antonio! Axe' Em 'Jacks!!
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Friday, November 20
11 AM: (8) Southeastern La.(9-18, 5-11 SLC) vs. (1) Texas State (19-12, 13-3, SLC)
1:30 PM: (5) UT-Arlington (12-16, 8-8 SLC) vs. (4) Lamar (14-13, 9-7 SLC)
4:00 PM (7) Nicholls State (12-18, 6-10 SLC) vs. (2) Sam Houston State (20-13, 12-4 SLC)
6:30 PM (6) UTSA (12-18, 7-9 SLC) vs. (3) SFA (22-12, 11-5 SLC)
Saturday, November 21
1 PM: Winner of Southeastern La./Texas State vs. Winner of UT-Arlington/Lamar
4 PM: Winner of Nicholls State/Sam Houston State vs. Winner of UTSA/SFA
Sunday, November 22
2 PM: Championship Match
Later in the week, I will breakdown our first round opponent UTSA, so check back in a few days to read up on what they bring to the table. Earlier in the year, SFA defeated UTSA 3-2 in Nacogdoches. Make sure and check out www.southland.org as well as www.sfajacks.com leading up to the tournament for additional information. There are a lot of options available to you as a fan including free live streams of the games. The championship will be televised by the SLC TV Network. Check www.southland.org for affiliates in your area.
Once I get to San Antonio, I will post running entries each day all during the day so you can connect with www.sfavolleyblog.net while following all the action. Ben Rikard and I will be court side for all SFA matches and as always, we will keep you informed.
Consider making the trip to San Antonio! We need some purple in the stands Friday night since we will be playing the host team. If you can't be in the Alamo city, then make sure and follow the tournament both here and at the websites listed above.
Friday, November 13, 2009
A victory will also secure my status as prognosticator extraordinaire since I stated we'd finish at 22-12 back on August 24. Before I get into breaking down the club you'll see Saturday, let me say that I am looking past them again. I am already focused on next weekend in San Antonio. I'll admit I am anxious to bolt out of here next Thursday and see what damage we can cause at the tournament. Last season, I had a court side seat as, of course, I did the PA for the tourney which was here in Nacogdoches. This year, I'll be fortunate to have court access again, but I intend to enjoy things more as a fan (and blogger) as opposed to actually "working". Of course, it's highly debatable that doing PA is "work". Let me know if you are headed to San Antonio next week...maybe we can catch some good Mexican food and talk volleyball.
So, Nicholls. This is a team that is probably going to squeak its way into the "dance" in San Antonio, but their prize will more than likely be to play Texas State in the first round on the side of the bracket opposite us. That ain't gonna go well. Here is what they brought into 2009 from 2008:
Edit: Actually, last night's victory over McNeese assures Nicholls at least the #7 seed in next week's tournament. A UTA victory over UTSA today or a Nicholls win vs. SFA would propel them to #6...and hence play us in the first round.
Returning for 2009:
Kills 68% (6th in SLC)
Assists: 97% (5th in SLC)
Blocks: 68% (T6th in SLC)
Digs: 75% (8th in SLC)
So, they returned/lost about the median amount of stats when considering all teams in the conference. They seemed to have replaced it and possibly slightly improved a bit, but not in a major way. By way of example, compare last year to what they've done coming into Saturday:
2008 Record: 9-18, 6-10 SLC, Lost to Lamar in 1st round of SLC Tourney
2009 Record: 12-17, 6-9 SLC
You can see that their overall record and conference performance in 2009 won't be substantially different from last year.
Overall though, I think you can point to a few more impressive matches this year as opposed to last. During 2008, they really didn't have a single impressive win among those nine that they put up - with a possible exception being a conference win in San Antonio. This year, in addition to beating us in five sets, they have swept McNeese and posted a 3-1 win over UTSA. Maybe that's a tad more impressive than last year.
Still, this team can't play on the road, with their only three road victories this year being at Prairie View A&M, Northwestern State and tonight in Lake Charles. That - among other things - is why we shouldn't expect a repeat of what happened to SFA earlier this year in Louisiana.
Key Losses: Nicholls two top attackers from 2008 were Manieka Golden and Rachel Yezak and they are both back this year. The squad lost their next two best offensive players in Chelsey Adams and Mallory McInnis. Adams was third in kills and fourth in kills per set. She was also the teams best blocker. McInnis finished fourth in 2008 in kills and third in kills per set. So, these two were integral, but not the main go-to's on offense. A few freshman recruits have basically filled these statistical holes. Any gains the Colonels have made in 2009 represent mainly veterans taking a few steps forward and the following freshman filling in places left behind by seniors.
Key Additions: Freshman Jasmine Harris leads the team in blocks with an impressive tally of 92. That's good enough for 0.88 blocks per set, which is more than respectable. Main go-to Golden hasn't been able to play in all matches this year, which has allowed fellow newcomer Jennifer Brandt to lead the team in kills. She is second only to Golden in kills per set. She's hit a decent .208 as a freshman and should be a central figure in the Colonels plans going forward in 2010. A third freshman, Jessica Addicks, hasn't been as central to the teams' meager success as Harris and Brandt, but she has managed to hit .265 in almost 300 attacks and is also 4th on the team in blocks. It will be interesting to see if these three coupled with young Yezak form the nucleus of an improving team going forward. Team leaders Golden and setter Amy Whitehead are gone after this year, so they definitely have two big holes to fill if they are going to move forward rather than tread water at .500 or just below in the league.
Who to Watch: The issue with Nicholls may be more "what" to watch, than who. From talking with coaches, it appears Nicholls plays a fast, disruptive style of offensive volleyball centered around their setter Whitehead. Many are complementary of Chris Laird as head coach and I am eager to see this "offensive system" that I keep hearing about. Of course, an offensive system is really only effective if you have the talent to execute it, no matter how different it appears to opposing defenses.
So, who should I direct your attention to? Last year, at our place, we hit a ridiculous .371 against Nicholls and they swung only .089. It was a complete mismatch. Nicholls scored 25 points in the final two sets compared to our 50. Golden was the only player with more than four kills for Nicholls that night. I'll direct your attention to Golden then, along with Rachel Spreen. I'll pick that pair of Colonels for their serve. Spreen and Golden are currently one-two in the conference in aces per set. If you like serving, you may see some good ones from those two. Golden was also sixth in the SLC in aces per set last year, so she's been consistently good at starting play.
Possible Lineup: Nicholls regularly gets in nine girls through a full rotation set and it appears that certain starters are based on opposing match-ups with the knowledge that two of the girls not starting will rotate in early. Their four consistent starters are Golden and Yezak on the outside, Whitehead at setter and Danielle Daigle at libero. The three freshman mentioned above (Harris, Brandt, Addicks) combine with middle blocker Amy Beshir and Spreen to fill in the other spots. There has been no consistent starting lineup of late. For what it's worth, tonight in Lake Charles they started the four regulars and the three freshmen.
Final Thoughts: Should be nothing to see here. Move on. I wouldn't be surprised if Nicholls managed to play a competitive set or two, possibly stretching us to four sets, but that's the extent of it. They will be tired from playing in Lake Charles tonight and they won't have much time to rest with a 3:30 start on Saturday. Southesastern Louisiana didn't stress us in the least yesterday and we didn't play today, so physically, we should have the advantage. Given that we have more total talent, we are looking at 3-0 or possibly 3-1 if Nicholls puts up a fight. If I'm wrong, then I'll print an apology to the Colonels for looking past them twice.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Many folks have pointed out that Sam Houston revolves around its two stars: Anna Ferguson and Karli Colbe. While we were live blogging from Huntsville a couple weeks ago we sure did type their names a lot. Now, Colbe did go cold today against Texas State and amazingly...Ferguson had 10 kills, Colbe had five and then NO ONE ELSE had more than two! So, yes, it can be said... as the Annacarli goes, so goes the Bearkats. But, you know, I think its something else. I actually think Michelle Miller and Camille Alfaro give them a more well-rounded attack than others believe. I think Sam's stalling out in recent days can be attributed to seven conference matches going to five sets including four straight before their straight set losses to UTA and Texas State. Could it be their reliance on two players PLUS fatigue?
Texas State finishes at UTSA and at TAMUCC. Sam Houston also finishes on the road. They have to play UCA and Northwestern. I think when you look at that, your first reaction is that Texas State is headed for the #1 seed after all. Wow. It sure didn't look like it at times, but gosh dog it...they always do this. That team always seems to get things together come tourney time. There is no question they are the hottest team in the conference right now (again, UCA is the outlier...they are undefeated, but won't be playing in SA). Texas State has won 8 straight in the league and could very well make it 10 before they meet up with seed #8 in two weeks.
So, UTA bounces Sam on Thursday and then does what for an encore? Rips Lamar to shreds this afternoon. Now, that's kind of scary. In a year like we are having in the conference this year, teams like UTA have to be licking their chops. If a top seed were to fall on the first day of the tournament, then I wouldn't rule out something crazy like a 6, 7, or 8 seed playing the the championship.
Then, to add to the fun, TAMUCC decides it really doesn't want to go 0-fer the conference and so they go out and sweep Southeastern La. and Nicholls on the road! Yes, the Islanders beat the Colonels in straight sets in the same gym where we lost. This is just nuts.
What all this madness should - and I accent - should do is solidify SFA as the third seed in the tournament. Let's look at the current standings as of RIGHT NOW and what games these teams have remaining:
Seed #1/2 (Tie): Texas State 11-3 (@ UTSA, @ TAMUCC)
Seed #1/2 (Tie): SHSU 11-3 (@UCA, @NWLA)
Seed #3: SFA 8-5 (vs. McNeese, SELA and Nicholls)
Seed #4: Lamar 8-6 (@NWLA, @UCA)
Seed #5: UTA 7-7 (@TAMUCC, @UTSA)
Seed #6: UTSA 6-8 (vs. Texas State and UTA)
Seed #7: McNeese 5-8 (@SFA and vs. SELA and Nicholls)
Seed #8 Nicholls 5-9 (@McNeese and @SFA)
SELA is still alive - they are 4-10 in conference and they have the same finishing schedule as Nicholls. While, I am at it.. is there any more hot-n-cold team than McNeese? I don't know what to make of them any more. They lost to Northwestern today in the bat cave.
When I look at those seeds, we seemed destined for #3. Even if we were to slip once this week (please, no slip ups...just win out), our insurance is that UCA is favored to beat Lamar. We have the same number of wins as them, own the tiebreaker and have one more game than they do. If we don't stay ahead of them, then well... we won't have much reason for optimism in two weeks. We just need to win two of our last three to get the three seed...and again, I think we should win all three.
Here is what is interesting: The winner of the 3/6 game plays the winner of the 2/7 game in the second round. Looking at those schedules, I am thinking SHSU might wind up with the two seed. That might be a nice path for us to get to the championship. Formula: Take care of business with three wins here in the last week. Sam rides into the tournament lukewarm having lost to UTA, Texas State and UCA in recent days and we get them back for what happened in our place this time last year. Sound about right? Well..hold on..keep reading.
Now, the astute reader is thinking: "Greg, you sound like you are making a prediction. And do you remember what happened the last time you reminded us of one of our predictions... you know 500=TAMUCC, well...we lost to Nicholls and there went your grand plan."
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. But, hey I wasn't the only one that looked past Nicholls, right? Plus, my role for this club is to blog and yell girls' names, so what do I really matter? While we are on the subject, you'll recall that in addition to predicting 500 would come at TAMUCC, my guess for our record going into the tourney was 22-12, 12-4 SLC. Well, if we win the the three games this week against our East foes, then we will be....drum roll please....22-12 overall and 11-5 in the SLC. Off by one game in conference. Damn Nicholls.
If you ask me right now to look at those schedules and pick seeds, then I say nothing changes. I'll predict the seeds are exactly as they are now. Which is dangerous. Because if that's the way it falls, then we would match up against host UTSA in the first round. Playing the host in the first round makes me a tad uneasy. But, if our side of the bracket is SFA/UTSA and SHSU/McNeese, then that's not a bad bracket to have in order to get to the final.
Of course, this is all speculation, some of which may be worthless. The bottom line is: For us to really have a shot at the final, we need a greater level of consistency. As topsy-turvy as the conference is this year, there are still plenty of reasons to be excited about the prospects of competing for the tournament championship. But, we have shown a tendency to fall into funks at times. Sometimes these funks last for matches at a time (see Texas State), and sometimes just sets at a time (see set 3 at NWLA), or sometimes just at critical times for a few points at a time (see final points of Set 4 at SHSU).
A funk at the wrong time in San Antonio means checking out of the hotel a day or two earlier than what is desired. I personally don't want to drive five hours just to turn around the next day and come home. How 'bout ya'll? The best thing to do? Dispose of McNeese, SELA and Nicholls by playing consistently good volleyball this week so we can travel to San Antonio on a high.
I'll see all of you in Johnson Coliseum on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday!
Monday, November 2, 2009
Saturday, October 31, 2009
If you can't be in Natchitoches, then please make plans to chat with me live Thursday night.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't throw complements the Ladyjacks way after tonight's convincing win against UT-Arlington. Several folks caught that I was a bit harsh in my criticism after the lackluster performance against Texas State. I felt that criticism was deserved, but so is praise for much stronger back-row defense, passing and overall play from the Ladyjacks tonight.
Ashley Bailey was great at the net with nine blocks - one that actually bonked off the face of a UTA player - and KO and Ari had fantastic offensive nights as well. Special congrats to Emily Frankin who played her best match as a 'Jack so far - it was great to see her excel tonight with nine kills. Finally, Hanlan, Miksch and Milburn totalled 33 digs between them. They did an outstanding job getting the ball to Paloma and keeping Maverick attacks from hitting the floor.
Let's keep it going next week against the Demons and Sugar Bears! Axe' Em!!
Friday, October 30, 2009
Do you realize however that UT-Arlington has won more regular season SLC Championships than any other school (12, next highest is us with 7). Also, did you know that UT-Arlington has won more SLC Tournaments than any other school? (10, next highest is Texas State with 5!) The Mavericks have won 45 matches in SLC Tournament history. And to think... Southeastern Louisiana has won none.
Why all this history? Two reasons. First, to remind you that UT-Arlington once absolutely dominated this conference in volleyball. They won nine straight regular season championships from 1982 to 1990. Then after 1990, the won the conference again in '92, '98, and '02. The second reason? They are an example of what SFA hopes NOT to become: A team that was once dominant, but has fallen by the wayside. See, UTA hasn't won the conference since '02 - their longest spell without a championship in school history. In recent years, they haven't been able to maintain their once stellar reputation and now sit as one rung above scraping the bottom of the SLC barrel.
To be fair, UTA has been decent at times this year. They've already won more games in 2009 than they did in 2008. They are certainly capable of beating anyone this side of Conway if the chips fall just right. Speaking of UCA...well, UTA DID beat the Sugar Bears last year in their trump card win on an otherwise terrible 3-13 conference mark.
This club isn't close to ending the drought. They pretty much put the same kids on the floor as last year and barring some big addition for 2010, the same will be true next year. What does it all add up to? Middle of the pack average-ness. Nothing more.
What do they bring back from 2008? Just about everything:
Kills: 81% (4th in SLC)
Assists: 98% (4th in SLC)
Blocks: 86% (2nd in SLC)
Digs: 86% (4th in SLC)
They return five or six starters depending on how you count on what is a very young team. They have only one senior, so youth is on their side. If a lot of the sophomores that they regularly start make huge gains over the next two years, then UTA may have something brewing in 2011, especially if they recruit some impact players in the near future. Their freshman for this year aren't contributing in any meaningful way. So what you see in 2009 may be what you get next year too -again, unless they bring in a ringer.
2008: 7-23, 3-13 SLC, Did not make the Conference Tourney
One of the biggest shocks of the 2008 season was when UTA beat UCA in Arlington. It was a real head-scratcher because the match before that win they had lost to Northwestern State in straight sets. They scored 13 points in one of those sets and only 11 in another! Then, after beating UCA - their very next match they lost to Southeastern Louisiana in straight sets. They scored 14 points in one of those sets and only 13 in another! That is almost unbelievable when I look back on it. Amanda Aguilera almost had a double-twenty that night against UCA (18 kills, 19 digs). UT-Arlington also beat McNeese - who beat us last year, but other than the two wins against UCA and McNeese, there were really no other reasons to write home.
Key Losses: Basically just one: Ally Wade. She was second on the team in kills per set. But still, as you see above, they retained 81% of their successful spikes. Freshman Lauren Carpenter is not back with the team this year either. She started a few matches and was a role player that contributed, but her top statistical claim to fame is that she was 5th on the club last year in digs - which probably wasn't worth typing.
Key Additions: Really, none. They do have three freshman on the team, but none of them have been instrumental in the Mavericks season to this point. Guys and gals, this is the same set of girls UT-Arlington ran out there last year with the only real exception being that sophomore Tara Frantz is playing the spot vacated by Wade.
Now, the maverick in you might look at the current SLC standings and say "Hold on there mister hot shot PA blogger dude.... UTA is 5-5 in SLC play and that's only one game behind us at 6-4, so they'd be tied with us if they pull off the trick and treat tomorrow night".
True. True. But, consider that UTA's conference record to this point is a tad bloated. They haven't played us, plus they have to play SHSU, Lamar and Texas State again and they have already lost to all three. Granted, those three are at home whereas the losses were on the road. They also have to play at UTSA to end the season. All things considered, UTA probably finishes the conference schedule under .500 rather than at or above. Worst case scenario is that TAMUCC is their only win left on the slate and they finish 6-10 in the SLC. Of course, even that will probably be good enough to return to San Antonio for the conference tournament. I mean, TAMUCC, Northwestern State and Southeastern Louisiana don't look like post-season teams to me.
Who to Watch: It might be tempting to single out Aguilera here based on her past, but she isn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard with that bing-089 hitting percentage she's got going. Early in the year, I told folks to watch for Bianca Sauls, and I still think she can be dangerous - she has more total kills than anyone on the team. But, I think I'll direct your eyes to sophomore Emily Shearin. She is averaging right at a block per set and hitting a decent .224 coming into tonight's match against McNeese. She also leads the team in service aces (and errors, mind you). There just isn't really a star on this team...not even in the way it was easy to tell you to watch for Yelena Enwere on the pitiful Northwestern State club. UTA just really doesn't have a "wow" type player. Shearin is their only player that is in the top 10 across the conference in a major statistical category. Well, except their setter (assists per set) and libero (digs per set), but really...there basically are only 12 setters and 12 liberos that start in the conference so top 10 isn't an achievement at those positions.
Possible Lineup: They should run out out the following list.... the previously mentioned Sauls, Frantz, and Aguilera at the hitters. Shearin and fellow sophomore Christy Driscoll at middle blocker. Then, Raegan Daniel at setter and another sophomore Alicia Shaffer at libero. That's a really young lineup - two juniors and five sophomores. Oh, and they will early rotate in their one senior Teena Sobczak who is UTA's version of our own Melissa Miksch. Sobczak is there to serve and hold down the back row during her half-way around rotations and she can attack if necessary.
Final Thoughts: The Mavericks and next Thursday's road game against the Demons are two good teams for SFA to get back on track against. But, after Thursday night's downright deplorable game against Texas State, I'll have to admit that I am looking at Saturday with a more scrutinizing eye. UTA lost in straight sets to McNeese while I was writing this article and they are currently on a bus our way I would imagine. They won't be fresh and they're not as talented as us. We should win.
But, SFA can't come out and play like they did on Thursday. Frankly, that was unacceptable. It was disgusting. It was one of the worst matches I can remember witnessing in recent days and the girls really should be embarrassed about what happened. And they should be mad. If you can't get peeved over a performance like that, then you just don't really care enough about winning and losing. I ain't sittin' here calling anybody out, but I think it's time to show a little more resolve. Otherwise... we've got no reason to complain if we go 'one-n-done' next month at the Convocation Center.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Today, we focus on Texas State since they will be in Johnson Coliseum tomorrow night at 7:00 for an always exciting showdown with our club. When I originally was planning for this post I thought that the match tomorrow was the most important left on our regular season schedule. My thought was - these two teams are tied for the 2nd seed in the conference tourney right now and so if we win, we control our destiny to the #2 seed in San Antonio the rest of the way. Logical, right?
But, here's the catch...and I wouldn't say this in most years: The seeds in this years' tournament aren't going to matter. I mean, really? Other than Central Arkansas (who won't be playing in San Antonio) this conference is totally up in the air. Now, yes, it would be nice to say you had a high seed rather than fall to the middle of the pack, but looking at how the brackets are stacked, I really can't see any advantage in being the #2 over the #3. The winner of 2 vs. 7 plays the winner of 3 vs. 6 anyway.
I think you want to beat Texas State for the obvious reasons, but I also think you want to win so that you can tell yourself that you should have gone 4-0 against UTSA, SHSU, Lamar and Texas State. 'Cause really...the SHSU loss was tough - two match points in Set 4 blown on over passes. Serve receive that night was terrible. I can be a bit more open here on the blog than I could chatting live that night. I thought the back row game really struggled in Huntsville - and it usually doesn't. Beating Texas State would allow us to reasonably tell ourselves that we can beat anyone and really believe it...especially after we show Nicholls in a few weeks that the previous meeting with them was a fluke. It was, right?
So, what about the Bobcats? This was the consensus pick to win the Southland in 2009...over and above Central Arkansas. Wow. Doesn't seem that way now, does it? They are right there in that big pot with us and Lamar - looking at Sam Houston and scratching their heads asking "How'd you guys get up there?". Oh, that's right... the Annacarli.
Here is why Texas State still is just as likely to win the tournament as anyone: 1) Karen Chisum. 2) They tend to do a good job of pulling things together historically near tournament time and 3) They are legitimately deep.
They are NOT like Sam Houston. They do not ride two players and hope its enough. They can survive the off nights by Jessica Weynand if one of several other cast of characters comes up big. They lost to Sam Houston in Huntsville 3-2 just like we did. But, I bet they get 'em in San Marcos next Saturday.
What did the Bobcats return in 2009 that they had in 2008? By way of review from previous posts...
Kills: 59% (9th in SLC)
Assists: 93% (T6th in SLC)
Blocks: 49% (9th in SLC)
Digs: 78% (5th in SLC)
That's about middle of the pack in terms of turnover compared to the rest of the conference. Notice the blocks however...they are not as strong at the net this year as they were in 2008, as two of their middle blockers that were instrumental to their success in years' past have gone. More on that below...
2008: 23-14, 16-3 SLC, Lost to Lamar in SLC Tourney Championship Game
Say what you will about Texas State, but there are two things that are different about them than anyone else in the conference. First, people come to watch them. A lot of people. The Texas State Volleyball page actually provides a link to a national attendance report. At last report, they were 27th in the nation in average attendance. I'll admit, I'm jealous. They have the same average attendance as Michigan and more than schools like Notre Dame, Kansas, USC, and LSU. C'mon...you have to admit... that is impressive.
Second, and I'm not saying this is good or bad - but they run circles around the rest of the conference in terms of non-conference scheduling. Last year, they played Texas when they were ranked #3...and took a set from them mind you. They also played Pepperdine, who was ranked #21. They played and beat Sacramento State which is generally regarded as a strong volleyball school and they also scheduled Baylor - who is in the Top 25 this year and Texas A&M. Arizona - who is also Top 25 this year, Georgia and other California volleyball schools appeared on the slate as well. This year, they've played Baylor, Texas A&M and Missouri from the Big 12 - all of which are currently in the RPI Top 50.
Key Losses: Texas State lost three very good players and honestly, they've struggled to replace them. The redheaded bean pole Emily Jones Wilkes is done. This reduces the level of obnoxiousness in visiting stands around the Southland. Jones Wilkes was really a fine player, though. She had 111 blocks in 2008, which led the team and she was third on the squad in kills per set. She and Amy Weigle really haven't been suitably replaced in the middle in 2009 for the Bobcats. Weigle was second on the team in blocks and 4th in kills. Texas State also lost Lawrencia Brown, a fine all-around rotation player who actually led the Bobcats last year in digs per set and finished second in kills and kills per set. So, collectively, Texas State lost three of its top four attackers and its top two blockers. That's a lot...and possibly the reason why they haven't coasted at all through the conference slate to this point.
Key Additions: The Bobcats have many new players, but New Mexico transfer OH Mo Middleton probably deserves to be singled out here. She currently ranks second on the team in kills and kills per set and third in digs. She's hit a mediocre .163 to this point in the season, but she's earned a starting job and is doing her best to shadow Brown's performance from last year, though it will probably fall significantly short. Freshman Lydia Werchan has earned some starts at libero, but has been nothing overly special. The club seemed high on freshman outside hitter Matti Schumacher in the preseason, but to this point a .125 attack percentage and limited time have only been good for 6th best on the club in kills per set. Transfer MB Jillian Wolpman has made fair contributions at times as well. Overall, the losses outweigh the gains and I think the preseason voters and folks such as myself didn't realize quite how different the input and output are in transitioning from '08 to '09. However, the club has so many above average players that it manages to stay in the hunt.
Who To Watch: The star for Texas State is Preseason First Team All-SLC selection Jessica Weynand. She is currently 6th in the conference in kills per set and is arguably one of the conferences best players. She will be the main 'go-to' on offense. But.... here's some trivia for you: Name the only person to make the All-SLC Tournament team the last two years running? The answer is AJ Watlington. Don't lose sight of her tomorrow night either. She has gone unmentioned in this article, but only because it is focusing on newcomers and what was lost. Watlington is a mainstay. She may actually be one of the more underrated players in the conference. She won MVP honors in the 2007 tourney and then was instrumental again in the 2008 run to the tournament championship game. She's third on the team in kills and second in blocks, but is very capable of putting up the best stats in a match on any given night. Finally, Sophomore Amber Calhoun deserves attention too. She has tallied an impressive 0.97 blocks per set and will probably be a name to remember for the next two years when breaking down Texas State.
Possible Lineup: The libero situation isn't overly stable with the aforementioned Werchan and veteran Ally Buitron each seeing time. But on the outside it will be Weynand, Middleton and Watlington and in the middle it will be Calhoun and Melinda Cave. Shelbi Irvin and Brittany Collins will split the setting duties. Schumacher has occasionally started over Middleton, but I expect Middleton at this point.
Final Thoughts: I didn't want to split attention when positing about Debbie Humphreys' recent 500th win post a few weeks ago. But, it should be noted that the Southland boasts Sam Houston's Brenda Gray and Texas State's Karen Chisum as 500-game winners too. In Chisum's case it is 687 to be exact. She entered this season as the 8th most victorious coach among those active in Division I. There was some outside shot at her hauling in #700 this season, but that won't happen until early in the 2010 season. Chisum's impact is major. Consider this: The coaches ahead of her in terms of active DI victories coach at UCLA, Hawaii, Penn State, Minnesota, UC Santa Barbara, USC and Stanford. Impressed? Well, you should be. EVERY ONE of those schools is currently in the Top 16 in the nation with the exception being UCSB which is ranked 27th. My point is that her records sit among schools with outstanding volleyball histories and reputations.
Overall, I think the match tomorrow night is a toss-up. Does that mean it will go five? I hear you sighing...thinking "oh, no...please not five, we don't do good in five set matches." Well, hold on... you might want to consider that Texas State HAS NOT WON a five set match this year. They are o-4 in that situation. Collectively, the two teams are 1-10 in five setters. Something has to give, right?
Our middles are better. They'll get to us on the outside, but our back row defense will be solid and the intangibles are even. So, I'm callin' it: Ashley Bailey has a HUGE night and yes....we win it in five.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Debbie Crown played volleyball at Texas Tech from 1982 until 1985 and if you poke around on the Tech athletics' website you'll still see her name a few times. For instance, who knew that she has the 11th best tally in school history for career solo blocks? Its right there on the website. Now, I didn't find any playing day pictures, so I can't pass those along, but you probably also should know that the then-named Crown was 2nd team All-Southwest Conference in her senior year in 1985. In researching all that fun stuff, it hit me momentarily that I might have actually SEEN Debbie Crown play college volleyball. But, I began at Baylor in 1987 as a freshman and Crown finished her playing days in 1985 - despite being a graduate assistant for the Red Raiders in 1986. Baylor played volleyball in a rinky-dink place called Marrs McLean Gym during those days - it appears I missed by a year or two actually seeing coach play during our college days.
The now-named Humphreys began coaching at SFA in 1988. Check this out, though: SFA - under Humphreys - played at Baylor in 1989 and again in my senior year in 1991. Could I have seen this matches? Maybe. I didn't attend a whole lot of volleyball games as a student, but I did go to some. Who knows? Maybe I was in the stands rooting against her one of those two nights in Waco. Baylor won both times via a sweep, but I doubt Humphreys remembers. After all, she's got 501 reasons now to forget.
I came to SFA in 1997 and when volleyball season began in late August of '97, Debbie Humphreys had 197 career victories. The club was fresh off a first place finish in the Southland - for a third time in a row. I found that impressive, but not as much as the fact that two of the best students I had in an introductory statistics class were on Humphreys' squad. Late in that season, I went to my first SFA Volleyball game - mainly at the urging of these student-athletes. I can't remember who we played, but we won. We didn't lose a conference game at home that year and in fact, the club got on a long run of wins at the end of the conference slate and marched all the way to the NCAA's - losing to Texas - in the first round. That was it. I was a fan now.
After a few years regularly attending games, I started bringing my then toddler son, Jacob, to the matches. He'd love running around on the court chasing balls after the games and the girls loved playing with him post-match. He'd dive around on our living room carpet pretending to dig balls saying that he was playing like "Joci and Marisa" - referring to Joci Shaw and Marisa Dorcheus, two of the players at that time. Jacob has since forgotten those days, but I still keep up with Joci and Marisa. It was during this time that I actually met Coach Humphreys. I had several other volleyball players in my classes through the years and without exception they were strong students and always light-years more mature than the average student I taught. I wrote Debbie an e-mail to this effect a couple times and I kept coming to matches.
From win number 197 at the end of 1996 until #500 the other night court side against UTSA, I've seen most of those home wins - and a few of the road ones as well. Through the years, I'd have the occasional chance to talk to Debbie after matches and get to know some of the girls on the team - either by teaching them in class - or just becoming acquaintances by "hanging around" other fans and/or parents at matches.
During all this time, I became more and more impressed with Humphreys. Her in-game demeanor, the way she dealt with both winning and losing, the things I heard from the girls themselves - they all resonated that she was a winner. I loved how she wasn't - and still isn't - afraid from encouraging the crowd to get into the match and get loud at just the right moment. I guess I watched her mannerisms from afar more than she or others realized. Now all coaches have their moments, but Debbie has always seemed to be the utmost professional. I'm positive she's chewed the butt off of many a player that needed it, but not once can I remember her being demeaning of anyone out in the open. That's rare to say about coaches. Most of them are downright disrespectful to people at times and they just chalk it up to being a coach and needing to have the authority. That's not what I've seen out of Debbie.
After a few years of being a "regular' at Johnson Coliseum, I began to see how SFA Volleyball as an "institution" functioned. It really was - is - a little family. The coaches, the players, the parents, the boosters, the athletics' department staff and assorted others that were devoted to the team - they all acted like a little family. It was genuine. They enjoyed each others' company. I was amazed by this. For the most part, that sense of togetherness has been created by Humphreys - after all, she's the intersection of it all. She's the only constant member of that family. Players have come and gone - so have coaches, and parents, and fans. But, Debbie just keeps cultivating a sense of unity. It's impossible to be around it and not respect it. Plus, as a faculty member, when you see all of that and then year after year you become aware that Volleyball ranks high on the academic achievement lists put out by the athletic office, it just solidifies your admiration.
At the end of the 2001 season, I felt like I was let into the family in a very, very small way. One day, near the end of the semester a few of the girls showed up at my office door. I hardly recognized them out of uniform and hair-down rather than pinned up like on game days. I did a double-take and then managed to ask them why they had come by. They wanted to give me a signed team ball - the club had decided that it wanted to thank a few folks for being regulars at the matches and thought that I might like a memento of the season. I still have that volleyball - signatures in sharpie faded from the sun and all - still proudly sitting on my office shelf. A random act of kindness - but one that created additional loyalty. It takes leadership to cultivate an organization that thinks like that and again... Humphreys is at the center of that leadership.
During the early 2000's I'd often wish that there was some way that I could "help" SFA Volleyball. We play in this huge, impressive 7,200 seat arena, but only a few hundred fans come to games. Ladyjack Volleyball was - and in some ways still is - the best kept athletics' secret on campus. It just seemed like more people ought to be into this. It just seemed like if more people would give volleyball a chance, they'd get hooked like I did. I didn't know of anything tangible I could do to help Coach Humphreys or the volleyball program, so I just decided I'd keep coming - and yelling - I was a pretty vocal fan. And, I'd keep trying to get other faculty and students to come to games - sometimes successfully, but most of the time not.
All during that time, the wins kept piling up...300 career wins in 2001 and then up to 400 in 2005. Across these years, I'd see Coach Humphreys at matches, our kids would swim at the same times during the summer at the SFA pool, and I'd continue to watch and read about all-SLC players and witness outstanding student-athletes in the classroom and see high team GPA's reported by the athletics office. I even became committed enough to go to a few road games here and there....usually to Waco, when they'd play my alma matter or to UT-Arlington, near where I had family.
Then came 2006. SFA brought baseball back and I was pumped...and fortunate... to land the public address job at Jaycees Field. I knew Sports Information Director James Dixon from church and he knew I had interest in doing PA. At first, it looked like the job would go to a student, but he backed out and James called me one afternoon to say that they would "try me out" for the non-conference games. Of course, they had no idea if I was any good at this or not - in their minds, I might tank and they needed an out in case I stunk up the joint. I'm still doing that gig, so I guess either I stink and no one else wants to do it, or I actually do a decent job at times. I don't really care which one is the truth. I'm just glad they let me show up.
One day during that first season, Debbie brought a prospective recruit out to the ballpark. Later in the season, then Baseball Sports Information Director Laida Sanchez - who also handled Volleyball - let me know that Debbie had inquired about who did the PA for baseball because she thought it was well done. I can still remember that day in the press box at Jaycees Field. I was trying not to look too interested. Inside, I was hoping Laida was about to say that Volleyball needed PA help. She did.
See, all that year, I had wondered whether or not there would be a chance to tell the right people at the right time in the right way that I'd love the opportunity to do PA for Volleyball. I had really been looking for a way that I could help Humphreys and the program. By this time, I was an SFA Volleyball junkie and I needed a fix. Laida didn't know that I wanted that job. Through the years, I had heard students on the PA stumble over names in lifeless ways and apathetically announce points without being descriptive. I'm sure there were some good ones in there, but generally, the team deserved a little better. Now, I ain't sittin' here telling you that I do a great job every time out - anyone who heard me last week against UTSA probably thinks I was the second coming of death - but look, I WANTED to do this. And, still WANT to do this. I knew I would enjoy it and pour a lot into it.
That day at Jaycees Field, I told Laida I would "think about it", but I knew damn well I was gonna say yes - as long as my family would support it, and they did.
These last four years, I've been able to see Humphreys from a different angle and my impression of her as a coach and as a person has only been enhanced. I will forever be grateful that I began my formal association with the team in 2006 - arguably THE most successful season in Ladyjack Volleyball history. My first season was during the famous conference win-streak and I announced the game on October 27, 2007 when it all came to an end. I still see Ashley Todd serving in my nightmares.
How much can Humphreys' legacy grow? She is in the Top 30 among active Division I coaches with 501 career victories and to steal from the media guide: four time SLC coach of the year, guided team to 10 SLC tourneys out of the last 15 seasons, 59 all-SLC selections coached, six conference players of the year, five freshman of the year, the first four ever SLC liberos of the year and two setters of the year in the Southland.
How many more matches can Humphreys win? Who knows. That depends on so many things - some of which only Humphreys knows. All we can do is some simple math and wonder. During her tenure here, her teams have averaged right at 23 wins a year (which is astounding when you think about it). If you were paying attention earlier and factor in the admittance that this here blogger is 40 years old, then you could probably roughly deduce Humphreys' age. So, quick and dirty math... 23 wins per year for 10 more years puts her at just over 700 career wins. Projecting 23 wins across fifteen more seasons elevates the projected total to around 830. And, if health and desire permit...what if Humphreys coached 20 more seasons at SFA? I know...that's getting way out there...but if the past indicates the future the projected total would rise to over 940 wins. Amazing to just think about, huh?
Some perspective...only eight coaches in the HISTORY of college volleyball have won over 800 matches. I hope I am there....on the mic... to see it happen. For now, enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts. The honor of 500 career victories is well deserved. In time, just about everything associated with SFA Volleyball will have Humphreys name attached to it. We are watching a legend.