Friday, November 13, 2009

Conference Opponent Preview: Nicholls State

Saturday afternoon the regular season ends around the Southland Conference and the Colonels from Nicholls State will be in town. The match won't affect SFA's seeding in next weekend's Southland Conference Tournament as the #3 seed has already been assigned our way. This match serves only to keep some good vibes going and to get payback on Nicholls for their five set victory in Thibodaux in early October.

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.