Saturday, October 31, 2009

Live Blog Planned From Natchitoches on Thursday

I just wanted folks to know that is planning a live blog for Thursday's match against Northwestern State. This will be similar to the ones that have been hosted by in recent weeks. I will travel to Natchitoches on Thursday afternoon and we will begin the blog slightly before 7:00 first serve. You'll need to navigate your way here to this website to join in on the chat. This will be a solo effort by yours truly as Ben has other duties to attend to in Nacogdoches and won't be making the trip this time. If you participated in the live chat that Ben did from Denton or the match that Ben and I worked together from Huntsville, then you know what to expect. I will be using the same "Cover it Live" platform that has been using for all fall sport live chats.

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

Conference Opponent Breakdown: UT-Arlington

Quick: Which Southland Conference school has the best all-time winning percentage in conference games? What, you say the answer is UT-Arlington? No, you goof, its Stephen F. Austin. But, who is second all-time? Now THAT would be UT-Arlington.

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

Conference Opponent Breakdown: Texas State

First off, I did not leave out the Lamar preview on purpose. I'll have to catch them before the conference tournament in a few weeks. A few of my kids were really sick last week- one almost to the point of hospitalization - so illness continues to interfere with blogging. All are well now and I hope this post finds you well since so many people have been sick lately.

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' 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

Reflections on Debbie Humphreys and 500 Career Victories

If you want to read a good one or two page biographical sketch of Ladyjack Volleyball head coach Debbie Humphreys all you really need to do is pick up a media guide. That's not what I am going to try and do here. See, Volleyball Sports Information Director Ben Rikard puts together the media guide each year and it always contains a sketch of Humphreys - and its always well done. You can flip to pages 18 and 19 of this years guide to read up. What follows is more of a personal reflection of my association with Coach Humphreys.

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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Conference Opponent Breakdown: Sam Houston State

The Ladyjacks travel to Huntsville on Wednesday night to face off with upstart Sam Houston State. I am pleased to announce that Volleyball Sports Information Director Ben Rikard and I will be teaming up to bring you a LIVE BLOG from Huntsville during the match. You can access the live blog here or you can click on the sidebar that says "Ben Rikard/Laurel Kuepker Blog". If you can't be in Huntsville to root on the club, then be sure and be with us as and team up to give you complete coverage of Ladyjack Volleyball.

So, let's breakdown these West Division leading Bearkats. You might remember that earlier in the year, I made a previous trip to the other Johnson Coliseum to watch SHSU face off with our first home opponent Louisiana-Lafayette. I try and keep tabs on all of the teams in the Southland, but I'll have admit that I have kept a little closer watch on Sam Houston and Texas State than the others. The reason for this is: I am curious to answer whether Sam Houston is really this good and whether Texas State is really having a down season from what people expected. We'll deal with the fact that the Bobcats shouldn't be written off yet later, the focus today is SHSU.

So, what gives? Seven straight conference wins coming into this week. Best record in the conference this side of Conway, Arkansas. Are they this strong? Well, I'll say this - what they are doing is impressive. Very impressive. For this most part, this team is young. They are making their run through the conference with a little different cast of characters than even they would have expected at this point. Let's begin by recapping the fact that this is actually a very different club than what they put on the floor last year - save for the two soldiers named Ferguson and Kolbe.

What They Return for 2009:

Kills: 52% (11th in SLC)
Assists: 80% (8th in SLC)
Blocks: 42% (11th in SLC)
Digs: 76% (7th in SLC)

Below the median in all four categories. What this club has managed to do is find more than decent pieces to complement the two-headed monster of Ferguson/Kolbe. Its one thing to replace stars when they graduate. Its an entirely different thing to piece in the puzzle around your existing and returning stars and make it an efficient machine. That's exactly what Sam Houston has done, so give Brenda Gray credit. By the way, Gray enters Wednesday's match with 537 career victories, so like our own newest member of the "500" club, Gray has been around the block a few times.

Currently, they sit at 15-10 - as many wins as last year already - and a spiffy 7-1 SLC Record. They have a weird schedule remaining, with four straight home games (SFA, McNeese, UTSA and TAMUCC) followed by four games on the road to end conference play (UTA, Texas State, UCA and Northwestern). I'm guessing they'll win five of those and finish with a 12-4 SLC Record. If they do that, then there is a good chance we are looking at the #1 or #2 seed in San Antonio here. Turning inward for a moment, SFA still has Texas State, Lamar and UCA remaining on their schedule. More than likely, if Sam Houston beats us tomorrow, we will have a hard time catching them the rest of the way. We'd have two more conference losses than them and they'd hold the tiebreaker. Needless to say, the reality of SFA obtaining a top two seed in the tournament probably rests with the outcomes of games this week against Sam Houston and Lamar.

2008 Record: 15-19, 9-7 SLC - Sam Houston finished last year with the 5th seed in the SLC Tournament and beat you know who in the first round. The next day they lost to Texas State in the semifinals. In all honesty, it can be argued that they had only one really impressive win last year and that was against Lamar just a few weeks before the end of the SLC slate. They lost to Southeastern Louisiana and got pushed to five sets by (last years' versions of) Nicholls State and TAMUCC - both at home. Their straight set win against UTSA and the aforementioned win vs. Lamar made some of us turn and look just enough to give them some credit at the end of last year. Of course, they beat us on our home floor when in counted, so in a way, they finished 2008 on the up.

Key Losses: A lot actually... they lost Haley Thomas who was their top blocker last year and second on the team in kills per set. Sarah Hazlewood transferred to Houston Baptist. Hazlewood was their second leading blocker and fourth on the team in kills per set. Launa McClung, a starter from last year who was fourth in blocks and fifth in kills is also done suiting up in orange as is starter turned back-up setter Megan McNamara. They lost other role players as well. I believe many folks looked at the seniors that were leaving and Hazlewood up and bolting and thought... well, they just have Ferguson and Kolbe and that's not enough. I think that's proven to be a mistake in logic. I think Sam Houston is flying under the radar and people are expecting them to come back down to earth because all they really have is Ferguson and Kolbe. Go ahead, use that logic. I'm sure SHSU enjoys being thought of as the overachievers. I think they are for real. Now, it is true.. all these young players aren't battle tested, so come playoff time, they may not hold up. But as far as sifting back in the standings...nah, ain't happening. Texas State and Lamar have their hands full in the SLC West.

So...who are these newbies that are filling in the slots around the big two...

Key Additions: Well, if I had been writing this at the beginning of the season, I would be singling out Freshman Outside Hitter Kelli Stewart. She was starting at the time I last was in Huntsville and looked to be in a position to play a key role. She got injured and that gave opportunity to another freshman Camille Alfaro. She's hit under .100 to this point, but recently has been integral and is currently fourth on the team in kills. Another freshman has benefited from injury as well as Michelle Miller replaced veteran Kym Loving after Loving went down. Miller may be the catalyst for Sam's resurgence as she currently sits third in the conference in assists per set. She very much seems to have made the transition to the college game quickly and despite Loving being a strong quarterback, Sam may have received a little blessing in disguise by finding Miller to be capable.

Then, there's libero Kaylee Hawkins - another freshman. She wasn't playing in the libero spot early in the season, but she's settled in there in recent weeks. She had some tremendous digs in the match I saw against ULL early in the season, so its no surprise she has been a steady defender. She is listed as an OH, so we may have an eventual six-rotation player here in years to come if they find another taker for the off-colored smock. Believe it or not, early in the season SHSU was using yet another freshman at libero: Jamie Haas. Haas still ranks third on the team in digs as of this writing - although her playing time has diminished. All this without evening mentioning that yes - freshman - Kim Black - has been starting recently as well.

When you factor in all these freshman you can only come to one conclusion: this was an awesome recruiting class for Brenda Gray...especially when you consider Kelli Stewart was one of, if not the, prize recruit they had coming into the year. If they find a filler for Ferguson next year, this team could be really strong going forward.

Who to Watch: Just watch Kolbe. She's one of the most entertaining players in the conference...and part of it is that she plays and acts like a brat. Its what gives her an edge and its what can be her downfall. She's downright sassy. She wears her emotions on her sleeve, but she is dogged and fierce...and she could play for me any day. Yeah, she's probably a little too much for her boots at times - its entertaining to watch her get frustrated because she pouts, but she's good, and its entirely within her reach to be a Player of the Year in this conference at some point. No one in the conference has swung more than her this year - that includes Ms. My Shoulder Is Gonna Fall Off Ridley down in Corpus.

Despite all the supporting cast, this team squarely sits on the shoulders of the brash Kolbe and the underrated Ferguson. At some point tomorrow night, Kolbe will swing for the 1000th time this year - her 979 total attacks leads the SLC. She's powerful - both as an attacker and as a server. Want proof?... take a look at this
photo. Look at her head and get a grip on where the ball must be in that picture. Then, realize she is off the net. That is one powerful looking swing. Sam runs a tremendous fraction of its offense thru this two-headed monster I call the Annacarli. Only one team has two of the top five performers in kills per set and its SHSU - Kolbe being third in the SLC behind wonderchild Chloe Smith (UCA) and arm-fall-off Ridley. Ferguson is fifth.

Possible Lineup: Miller at setter, Katie Phillips, Black and Ferguson - all listed as middle blockers. Then, on the outside expect to see Kolbe and Alfaro with Hawkins at libero. That's three freshman and two sophomores in starting slots.

Final Thoughts: Before the season began, I looked at this match up and chalked up one in the win column for the good 'ol purple, red and white. Now? Its gonna be a dog-fight for sure. We have no more time to figure out who we are. They are way hotter than us right now...riding a seven game match winning streak. Beating them tomorrow would go a long way in making a statement to the conference that we should still be considered among SLC elite. If Sam wins? Well, then they rightly should take the attitude of "eat my dust"...all the way to a top-two seed in San Antonio.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

500 !!!

Earlier this evening, SFA Volleyball head coach Debbie Humphreys won her 500th career match in a 3-2 victory over UTSA at Johnson Coliseum. We'll have a special entry devoted just to this milestone later in the week here at

After getting out to a good start in set 1, SFA went flat in the second set, but managed to stretch the match out and finally get a win in a five set match - their first in six tries this season.

Head on over to to catch Ben's recap. Anyone in attendance tonight would recognize that I am still fighting off a little bit of illness - a little raspy all night long. Check back here later in the week for a celebratory post devoted just to Coach Humphreys.

Tentatively, Volleyball SID Ben Rikard and I are planning a co-live blog from Huntsville on Wednesday night. We have a few details to work out and I am not promising it yet - but we talked about it tonight at the match. If you'd like to see us do the live blog thing - then shoot one of us a short note. I know he is planning on being in Huntsville and so am I at this point. Hopefully, we can make it work.

For now, Congrats to Coach Humphreys on a well-deserved 500th career win!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sickness and Southland Schizophrenia

All right, what in the world is going on? First off - everybody is sick. Raise your hand if you haven't had some form of the cooties over the last month? That's what I thought. What is up with that?

I thought I was getting better. I really did. Two shots - the location of which will not be revealed here, but let's just say - in a fleshy part of one's body - coupled with a five day Z-pac and a prescription cough medicine later says that I am still on the mend. I haven't missed a day on the mic in four years as our PA announcer, but I am tellin' ya that if we had played at home last Sunday one of you would've been doing the intros.

So, this entry is going to be short. It's just proof that I can still type.

The focus today is succinct: This conference is schizophrenic. Let's recap the first third of conference play shall we?

Sam Houston beats Lamar at a tourney, but then Lamar gets them back in Beaumont
UTSA loses to Sam Houston, but beats Lamar
UTSA also loses to UT-Arlington
Texas State loses to SHSU and Lamar

SFA has UCA on the ropes, can't finish the deal, can't win a five-set match if they were threatened with shots with long needles in the butt (oops!), then loses to Nicholls State. What the H-E-double hockey sticks?

Oh yeah, Nicholls - two weeks earlier had been blasted by Southeastern home! For what it's worth Nicholls also swept McNeese - a team earlier in the year was looking pretty strong.

Got all that?

This conference is messed up.

With one exception. Central Arkansas continues to roll. Well, we'll see about that. Wednesday they are in San Marcos. That should be one to keep our eyes on.

But, what else? Is Sam Houston really this good? They've already got wins over Lamar, Texas State and UTSA. Let's not forget that they are doing this with a freshman setter in place of injured Kym Loving and without the services of their freshman recruit Kelli Stewart who was headed for a meaningful role on the club before her own injury.

Plain and simple: Anna Ferguson and Carli Kolbe are beasts. I still think they are underrated despite each getting a fair amount of attention this year (Ferguson is the reigning offensive SLC POTL and Kolbe won it the week before)

Finally, what about us? Well, you read the last post, right? Next SLC games: Home against UTSA, at Sam Houston (planning to be there), at Lamar (would LOVE to be there but can't, sorry Gibert) and then home against Texas State. Of course, I need not say more. So, I won't. Time to rest.

Well...I will say this since the match finished while I was writing: Ashley Bailey with 10 rejections of Islanders' shots tonight. Yeah, she's good. Oh, and the winner of "my shoulder is most likely to fall off before the end of the year": Emma Ridley of TAMUCC. My goodness? Do they set anyone else?

Regular posts to resume soon. Some interviews with veterans, showcasing the Assistant Coaches and honoring Debbie Humphreys on her upcoming 5ooth career win are all coming up!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Catching Up

Whoa...its been way too long since a new post appeared here - for lots of reasons. First, like a lot of folks, I've had a little bit of the "crud" lately. You know - change of seasons brings all sorts of cooties into town. For me, its felt like somebody put a bag of rocks in my lungs. Kids have been sick too...and oh yeah.. baseball season winding down. I know I'm supposed to stay away from baseball on a volleyball blog, but this time of year has me glued to the tube anticipating the playoffs and ultimately the World Series. Now, see, some people like this other game that's played in the Fall. The one with the ball that bounces funny and guys hit each other with pads on. Infidels. Ye followers of inferior sports. And finally, yes I have a day job - that being a professor thing. Shhhh..they think I'm in my office right now.

I've said this before, but man...these long road trips stink. I hate going weeks at a time without a game to look forward to in Johnson Coliseum. But, we gotta wait until October 17 until UTSA drives over for our next home match. Let's catch up on what's going on with SFA. I'll handle an update on what's going on around the league in a a couple of days from now.

What have we learned recently about our own club?

Issue #1) We hate five set matches.

They stink. They exist just to break your heart. Or maybe just to tease you, be a flirt, and then rip your heart out. Yeah...that's better. We've played in four matches this year that have gone to five sets (Tulsa, North Texas, Central Arkansas and Tulane). We've lost all four. Now, if there is a silver lining in there it might be that only one of those losses was to a conference opponent.

That five set match against UCA was rough. The day after that match I had a half of a post written and I just chunked it all. Decided I didn't want to live it over again. We out hit them. We out blocked them. We had more digs than them. We scored more total points in the match than them. We lost.

The serving that night was horrendous. Sorry...gotta tell the was terrible. By both teams. But, we had 16 service errors which has to border on completely unacceptable.

My number one negative thought that night was: We need one more person on the outside. Then, I thought back to my opinions on day one of the season. My main conclusion then was: We need one more person on the outside.

My number one positive thought about that night was....

Issue #2) Kelsey Owens is back. Big Time.

Owens vs. UCA: 16 kills against five errors, 15 digs, 4 blocks
Owens vs. Tulane: 15 kills against eight errors, 19 digs, 5 blocks
Owens vs. McNeese: 20 kills against five errors, 13 digs, 2 blocks.

Three double-doubles in a row. Over that span Owens hit .232. Over that same time span, the rest of the team hit .162. The fact that Owens has come back from injury strong has offset MC Bottles' mini-slump. The last few matches serve as a reminder of how consistent Bottles has been over her first one and a half collegiate seasons. She hasn't been at her best the last few times out, but I don't want to hear it. She and Bailey basically carried this team offensively through the first third of the season. She is entitled to a little bump in the road. If I'm placing bets, the money is on her busting up one or both of Nicholls and Southeastern LA.

Issue #3) There is one hole in the offensive puzzle.

Opinion time here: Daron has proven she should start. Bottles, Bailey, Owens, Hanlan and our two setters,are fixtures as well. That leaves one spot. Gonna shoot it straight here: We better start getting better production from it.

I don't believe this team has hit on all cylinders yet at all. They might be close. Maybe the upcoming schedule is going to provide us with exactly what we need to get to the point where we are playing at peak level. The three upcoming road games are games we can and should dominate in. But after that there is no more time to talk about it "is coming together". By then, it better BE together. After this three game road swing, the next matches are against UTSA, SHSU, Lamar and Texas State. A good bit of our seeding in the SLC Tourney will revolve around how we handle that most strenuous part of the conference schedule.

Sure, you want to be playing your best ball in November come tourney time. Blah. Blah. Blah. Look, no one is going to believe that you can pull it all together magically at a tourney if you haven't proven you can take down some of the heavyweights in the conference during league play.

The time is now. Right now. In these next three games. I'm glad there has been some experimentation over the last three matches as to how to get the best personnel on the floor in order to give ourselves the best chance to win. I'm glad we're not just sticking with people for the sake of sticking with them. But, at some point - you are what you are. If that is a team with a hole the never got properly filled, then that probably correlates to driving home on the Sunday of the tourney while two other teams fight it out to see who plays in the NCAA's.

Issue #4) Humphreys is going to win #500 at Corpus Christi as
I predicted in the pre-season.

So, all that means is that in terms of wins and losses the club is where I thought they'd be before we starting playing. But despite that, and despite my rant in Issue #3 above, I think now that we are actually ahead of where I expected we'd be at this juncture.

See, there are several things that have turned out better than what I would have predicted: Hanlan's steadiness, the setter issue not rocking the boat, Daron is better than I imagined, Miksch is better than I had imagined.

If I had foreseen those things, I would have predicted us to be better than 13-8 after 21 matches or better than what I expect will be 16-8 after 24 matches. The team shouldn't look past Nicholls, Southeastern LA and TAMUCC, but I am. They should be "W"'s - plain and simple.

To celebrate Coach Humphreys' 500th career victory, I will devote an entire post to that issue when the time comes. I am anxious to see what the athletic department is planning for her. She deserves a fair amount of recognition for this. 500 wins ain't by accident. It's by quality - year in - year out. This program is respected within our conference and among other conferences and no person is more responsible for generating that respect than Debbie Humphreys. She is Ladyjack Volleyball. Without her efforts and leadership, this program is a pale fraction of what it is today.

We expect to win here. We don't talk a bunch of crap about "turning the corner on a winning street" or make up a bunch a wannabe statements about contending in the conference. The goal, the EXPECTATION here, is to win. Last year, Ben used the phrase "Reloaded" when he crafted the Volleyball Media Guide. That's exactly right. This program doesn't rebuild - it just reloads. That type of attitude is present because of the historical results that give us our confident swagger. Look, man...we won friggin 63 straight conference games all right? By the way, where is the banner for that in Johnson Coliseum? Somebody get on that.

Nobody, I mean nobody, has a more dominant impact historically in this conference than Stephen F. Austin. Yes, there are some other good programs - and damn good coaches - in this conference, but when viewed holistically - SFA is the crown jewel of Volleyball across the history of the Southland. The primary reason? Debbie Humphreys. And here's the thing: deep down... among the other teams and coaches in this conference: They know it's true. Dang, we've got people piping off in comments about "fear the bird" and all that who cut their teeth here and then go and hire OUR former players- not their own- to be non-volunteer assistant coaches.

That being said, I am glad other teams are reading here. I've become aware that several other teams' fans and coaches are sneaking over here and reading. That's fine. I want to cover the entire SLC when I can. But my SFA contingent knows that ain't nobody gonna question where my loyalty lies in my writing. I've got zero kills and zero digs on the season, but I want to see us crush opponents all the same. So, take your little red bird, that buzzard-looking roadrunner thingee and all those variants of cats or kats or whatever they're called and just play the game.

Now, none of that history or posturing means squat for 2009. I think everyone knows that. I'm not trying to be disrespectful. I know that there are other quality teams in this conference. Throwing around a little smack talk is just part of having competitive fire.

But, one thing is a fact: ain't nobody gonna bow down and throw roses at our feet when we walk into their gym. We didn't have the best conference record last year. Texas State did. We didn't win the SLC tourney last year. Lamar did. We don't sit on top of this conference at present: Central Arkansas does. Whether SFA's legacy is protected going forward depends upon what happens in the future, not the past - and it has nothing to do with what I write here.