Monday, September 21, 2009

Conference Opponent Breakdown: Northwestern State

Today we continue a look at foes from around the Southland. The Demons from Northwestern State will be in Nacogdoches on Saturday afternoon so in this entry we'll focus exclusively on them. Let's get right to this. Northwestern State is an average club at best. That might be too kind.

They return virtually everyone from a so-so 2008 season in which they squeaked into the Conference Tournament as the final seed. Any improvement from last year is going to be provided by veterans taking substantial steps forward. That probably isn't going to happen. Now, to give them their due, they did come into Johnson Coliseum for the 2008 tourney and temporarily stun #1 seed Texas State by winning the first set. Yelena Enwere and Laranda Spann knocked down several balls each and Spann dropped in a few aces and a what-d-ya know... the Demons were rolling. I was on the mic loving every minute of it. The Bobcats won that match in four sets, but each of them were close. The Demons only played seven players that night. It was a decent showing for Northwestern State and they left the SLC Tourney with some level of hope for 2009.

But, I just can't get excited about this team at all. I mean, not at all. Do they get to the 2009 SLC tourney in San Antonio? Yeah, probably. But one-and-done is their destiny. They'll get matched up against Texas State or us or host UTSA and get rocked.

Let's break this club down and give you a sense of what you'll see on Saturday. First, like last time with TAMUCC, let's remind you of what they return from last year:

Kills: 89% (1st of 12)
Assists: 99% (2nd of 12)
Blocks: 92% (1st of 12)
Digs: 93% (2nd of 12)

So, if you recall the
Stats 101 post from late August, these guys and Southeast Louisiana are returning basically everyone instrumental from 2008. Now, returning veterans is fine if you are returning a lot of talent. That just isn't the case here. A step forward for Northwestern would mean a .500 record in the Southland - nothing more. By the looks of their early season struggles, the club may actually be moving backward rather than forward. As of this writing they have played nine matches and won only five SETS. Not good. Now, I've got to give them some props. They lost 3-0 to Central Arkansas - a really good team - and each set was lost by only the minimum two points. In fact, Northwestern State beat UCA to 23 in the first two sets. But, we gotta play to 25, or in the case of game two of that match, 27. That was interesting to see. But, that was at their gym. When they go to Conway, they'll get their teeth kicked in.

They're not going to win here. They have never won here. Shoot, they have never beaten SFA in the Debbie Humphreys era. SFA is a mind-blowing 34-0 against them during that time. You read that right....Thirty-Four-and-oh against the Demons since Humphreys became the coach at SFA in 1988.

So what does their club look like?

2008 Record: 10-17, 5-11 SLC - their best win being their SLC home opening defeat of McNeese 3-2. Recall, we lost to McNeese in Lake stop it. Let's just forget that one.

Key Losses: None really. Angelica Cruz, maybe. She was fifth on the club last year in kills, attacks and kills per set. She was 6th on the team in digs. So, that's not really much to have to replace.

Key Additions: None that appear to be impact players. Panola Junior College transfer MB Brittany Fruge has earned some starts and true freshman OH Nicole Hajka has been in the lineup regularly as well. Fruge has got 10 blocks in nine matches and Hajka has a negative hitting percentage in 147 attacks. So, you know what that amounts to? Meh. Freshman Sarah Jones could turn out to be a decent player. She is second on the team in blocks averaging 0.48 blocks per set. However, as a means of comparison, the leaders in the conference are blocking at twice that rate.

Who to Watch: This one is simple. This team is all about Yelena Enwere. She is a preseason first team all SLC selection and she is easily the Demons best player. Last year, only Kendra Rowland of UTSA had more kills per set. She also finished sixth in the conference in blocks per set and third in aces per set. Megan Dockery is both a decent setter and good server as well - finishing fourth in aces per set in the conference last year. Overall, Northwestern was a decent blocking team in 2008 with Enwere and Spann doing their share of damage to opposing attacks. Markie Robichau deserves mention here too. A couple of years ago, I thought Robichau was shaping up to be a very good player, but for whatever reason, she hasn't seen much playing time of late. Maybe it was that Arkansas State game a little over a week ago that got coach Brittany Uffelman thinking about change. Robichau and Hajka started on the outside. They got 25 swings between the two of them. Total number of kills: Zero. Robichau hit -.231 and Hajka hit -.333. Ouch.

Possible Lineup: Unknown. Lately, its been Dockery at setter, Enwere, Hajka, and Megan Manning as hitters. Manning is a decent back row player as times she's played libero. She's not the main opposite type hitter, but rather a complementary piece when hitting. Then, you've got Spann and Fruge as the middles. The libero of late has been Zanny Castillo. Then again, it's not a surprise if veteran Robichau or freshmen Jones gets the start.

Final Thoughts: The formula is simple. Enwere is the only player that can consistently hurt you on this team. If you know where she is at all times, then there isn't enough of a supporting cast to really do any damage. Just force other players to get involved and Northwestern will hit a paltry .100 and you'll cake walk. Right now, opponents are hitting .223 against them. As well as they were able to hang in against UCA, the Bears still hit .248 against them. You can already see it coming can't you? Bailey, Bottles go boom-boom. Despite our need to solidify the contribution from our outside hitters, this isn't a team that is going to stop us offensively - no matter where on the net we attack. We should easily hit over .200 -probably closer to .250 or .275 - and win in straight sets.