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 truth...it 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 here..no, 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.