Sunday, November 21, 2010

UTSA 2, Rest of the Conference 0

Twice. UTSA beat UCA twice this year. It's the last one that occurred today that really matters. Take that, doubters.

Stand up and show me your hands if at the beginning of the year you had UTSA winning the conference tournament beating UCA while also being the only team in the SLC to beat them in conference play.


Take that, doubters.

This week I heard people touting Central Arkansas. I joined in.
This week I heard people talking about how strong Texas State is this time of year. Yeah, I could see them going all the way.
This week I even heard a few people talking about host Sam Houston playing on their home court and being a possible sleeper. I had that thought too.

I can't say I talked to the SLC Volleyball universe here, but no one I talked to picked UTSA to win the conference tournament. I talked to people both inside of outside of Nacogdoches, mind you.

Take that, doubters.

Come on, let's hear it? Props to Laura Groff, right? What about Kendra Rowland? She played great. Brittney Malloy? Awesome. Jewasko made some ridiculous digs. One person I was particularly impressed with today was Whitney Walls. I think I made a mistake in leaving her off my all-conference teams (she originally was on my 3rd team, but I let Brandt at Nicholls bump her off. There, I admitted it).

I watched the entire match on my computer rather than TV because I couldn't find the match on the Nacogdoches channel that was designated for SLC TV. That really irked me, but after watching an SFA football game earlier in the year where the local affiliate cut out to a country and western dancing show with two minutes to go and the opposition driving to take the lead, nothing surprises me about SLC TV.

UTSA actually gave UCA a beat down in the first two sets. But, the Sugar Bears came roaring back and the overall quality of the match down the stretch was quite high I thought. It was a really enjoyable match to watch and it left me kind of mad at myself for not hoping in the car and driving over to Huntsville after church this morning. (I briefly considered it, before going into the office for an hour or two before game time. Ugh.)

I was also impressed by UTSA's athleticism. I am very familiar with most all of their key players from years gone by, but today their athleticism shone a little brighter than in previous times I've seen them.

So, congratulations to the UTSA Roadrunners - your 2010 SLC representatives in the Big Dance. You played well. You put the Sugar Bears back on their heels in a way I hadn't seen in the last few years. You deserve it.

Finally.. and I will go here only one last time... Jessica Hays. People, come on. Jessica Hays. Were you watching?

Match high 22 kills and career high 22 digs, with three aces to boot. Not just a double-double, she goes off for a double-twenty. How does someone put up a double-20 in the championship match and not make all-tournament? I know UCA was only given two slots to fill, but man, seriously?

Hays was UCA's best player on the court today (again). She serve receives - she did so 24 times more than anyone else from either side - she digs, she hits the living daylights out of her attacks and serves. But, she doesn't get a tournament honor? Robbery.

Call me obstinate. I've been called worse. I'll stand by my decisions from earlier in the week. Hays is the most deserving player in the conference for Player of the Year this year and Groff is the most deserving coach for Coach of the Year.

Something tells me Groff doesn't care as much now. She's got the trophy to add to her case in San Antonio ... and UCA has a long bus ride back to Conway.

Take that, doubters.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

1 vs. 2 for NCAA Birth

Most folks I talked to during the week thought something would happen along the way to keep this from happening: #1 Seed UCA will take on #2 seed UTSA in the title game of the SLC Tournament. Give UTSA credit. Nobody seems to want to. Losing their last two regular season conference games in San Marcos and Arlington made doubters out of many people - myself included. But, they've taken care of McNeese and Lamar and now have earned the right to try and do something twice that no other SLC team was able to do even once this year: Beat Central Arkansas.

Lamar is young. They probably think they underachieved, but I think they overachieved a little bit. Lamar finished at .500 in the conference this year and won one and lost one in the tournament. They were an average team in 2010 that will get better in 2011-2012. To me, they are merely adequate on the outside and on the back row, but if improvement can come in one or both of those spots, then a top half seed next year is at least in the realm of possibility.

UTA loses their setter, Reagan Daniel, as well as Bianca Sauls. I also believe their 2nd middle, Christy Driscoll is forgoing her last year of eligibility for an academic opportunity. The replacement of Daniel seems like the biggest issue - one I am sure they have a plan for, so I don't expect to much of a drop off from them. This is the second year in a row they put together a better record than I expected. They are a club I need to pay a bit more attention to. Aguilera, Frantz, Schaffer and Shearin will all be seniors and a lot of the underclassmen on their team haven't gained a lot of court time, so next year could be their best opportunity to crawl into the SLC elite. Replacing Daniel seems to be crucial to their chances.

Can UTSA beat Central Arkansas again? Sure they can, but I doubt they will. I watched both matches today on SLC NOW and will be tuned into to SLC TV tomorrow to see how it all plays out. UCA still looks like the stronger squad to me.

The first time around UTSA held UCA to .151 hitting and Hays made 13 errors - more than twice as many as any UTSA attacker. Briana Mason had a good game hitting .550 and Schwertlich got 8 kills against no errors from the setter position. So, what about tomorrow? I think given the neutral court together with Hays showing people why I picked her as POTY will get it done. I'll take UCA 3-1.

I have to admit - I want either UTSA to win to justify Groff's efforts this year or for Hays to shine to justify my belief she is every bit as "central" as is Chloe Smith. That being said, Smith has been awesome year in and year out and patiently waited her turn to get to the postseason. She deserves to add a tournament championship to her resume and finally get a chance to play in an NCAA game now that she is a senior.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lamar Will Have Shot at Championship Game

Well, clearly I didn't see that coming. In fact, I'll be really honest, my pick of Texas State sweeping Lamar was the one I felt most confident about. I haven't been impressed with anything Lamar has on the outside all year long. Bazile and the other middles, sure. But, their hitters - strong and weak side - never really did anything for me. I'm quite surprised they beat Texas State. The Bobcats looked poised at the end of the conference slate to storm through the tournament and make trouble for Central Arkansas in the final. Nope. Bye Bye Bobcats.

Texas State just lost a lot: Watlington, Middleton, Cave and Irvin - all done. I thought they were the deepest bench in the conference, so it will be interesting to see what parts play big roles for them in 2011. McCorquodale (S), Calhoun (MB), and Deardorff (OH) look pretty set for playing time. Hilbun played well for them at times, as did Alexander early in the year. Niece and Sanchou should garner back row time. Maybe Schumacher steps in to some meaningful role. They have plenty of decent pieces - plus whomever they bring in new. I doubt they drop off much, if at all. But they definitely lost some serious pieces to their recent success.

Lamar. Wow. Really? Why didn't Hobbs play more against us? She got 27 swings today and hit .407. She only hit seven balls against us. Seems like she's the "X"-factor. I guess I should give McStravick some props - nine blocks. That's about one-sixth of what she had ALL YEAR coming into the match. Where did that come from?

The overall stats in that match were pretty even. I watched most of it on SLC NOW on my work comput....uh never mind where I watched it.... anyway.... it looked pretty even in terms of quality of play too. Lamar just got it done in the end.

UTSA has been fading a bit. I pegged their match with McNeese by predicting a 3-2 narrow win for the "Runners. I don't know what to think about tomorrow. Right this minute I see UTSA and Lamar as a toss up.

I know this.. UCA has to love seeing Texas State go home.

I was surprised Sam Houston didn't play better on their home court. I thought they had a chance to be a surprise team in this tournament. I wasn't alone in that thought. Several people I talked to this week thought they might make noise. But, once again, I don't give enough respect to UTA and it burns me. I thought UTA beat SHSU rather easily. I watched the entire match on my HOME computer tonight and I really never thought the Bearkats really flexed any muscle. UTA might get a set against Central Arkansas, but I have a hard time thinking they will win. If they do, I may have to write some formal apology to Maverick fans for my continual infidelity.

I'll stop short of making formal picks other than to say the the Sugar Bears chance of an NCAA birth are higher tonight than they were this morning - and they were already decent to begin with.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

First Round Picks for the 2010 SLC Tournament

This will be short, but before I list my thoughts on the first round games for Friday, let me say that I thought the coaches and SID's did a great job this year in making the All-SLC selections. I will blog a bit more about the all-conference teams in a few more days, but my choices and the official choices were very similar. As several folks commented to me after my picks, Chloe Smith was indeed a very defensible choice for Player of the Year.

I was a little surprised that McRoberts won Coach of the Year, but then again, 15-1 in conference is nothing to sneeze at. It's just that people knew that Central Arkansas was going to be good. Go back and look at where the same coaches and SID's that snubbed Groff at UTSA for Coach of the Year picked the 'Runners to finish at the beginning of the year. They far exceeded expectations and I think Groff should have been recognized for that. UTSA finishing 13-3 seemed far more unlikely than UCA finishing 15-1 when we began conference play.

The only other spots that gave me even minor pause were Deardorff (Texas State) and Sauls (UTA). Both of those players seem more like Honorable Mentions (at best) to me than actually first or second team. I also think the fact that Northwestern La. didn't win many games hurt Laranda Spann, who I think was deserving of higher than Honorable Mention. But, those points are minor. My biggest beef - while still seeing the logic of the voters - is not honoring Groff.

Here's how I think Friday will turn out:

UTSA defeats McNeese 3-2

Texas State defeats Lamar 3-0

Central Arkansas defeats Nicholls 3-0

Sam Houston defeats UTA 3-2

Monday, November 15, 2010

2nd Annual All-Conference Teams

Yes, the season has ended and it's time for awards and accolades. Last year, when I did this for the first time I got a mixed - or shall we say, lukewarm reaction from the readership. There was even the accusation that I was "on drugs" a few times. You know the truth: No one ever completely agrees on lists like this. I've spent the last three days off and on pondering these players, reviewing box scores, memories, discussions with coaches - and of course, looking at statistics.

Picking lists like this always involves some tinge of bias. I think that's true no matter what anyone claims. Coaches tend to go for players with "tools" - the players that "look" good, even sometimes when the stats don't really back up the visual appeal. The Sports Information Directors generally are like me in that they DON'T see all the players face-to-face. They have difficult and time consuming jobs and there is a wide variety of ways in which the SID's tend to look at things. I think my list is more a mix of tools/memories & stats than it was last year. The readership can judge it's worth.

As everyone here knows, I am a stats guy: It is how I make my living. Remember, too - I am a fan. I don't have the coaches perspective here. I am not afraid to disagree with them, though. If anything, I am an independent thinker. These things are tough. There are always close calls and the desire to have seen players that you didn't see or see players more than once or have more than one conversation about someone.

Tomorrow is the day I must turn in my annual report for my "real job" as a faculty member at SFA. So, tonight, I will just present the teams that I have selected. I suspect that the conference will release the official lists on Wednesday and so later in the week I will compare the lists and defend my choices. I have a few notes included in this post, but I will elaborate later in the week. My main goal was to get this list published before the conference releases their list so as to not be influenced or open to criticism that I just used the official lists as my basis for selecting players. Hey, who knows. Maybe this list will influence others. Nah, probably not. But, still.. here goes.. I hope the comments box fills up on this one. I openly invite critiques.

Recall, I pick actual teams. Last year, the conference picked 12 players for first team, six for second team and 10 for honorable mention. That's 28 girls. I will pick three teams of seven (21 selections) and then tell you who just missed my cuts.

As I said last year: "There are seven starters each night for any particular team, so we will pick seven girls per team. Each team is required to have a a setter, libero, two middle blockers, two hitters and a seventh player that can either be MB or OH. Now that you know my rules, let's get straight to it."

1st Team All-SLC:
OH Emma Ridley, TAMUCC (3)
OH Jessica Hays, UCA
MB Jayme Bazile, Lamar (3)
MB MC Bottles, SFA (2)
S Marissa Collins, UCA
L Kelsey Jewakso, UTSA
RS Chloe Smith, UCA (1)

2nd Team All-SLC
OH Carli Kolbe, SHSU (1)
OH Amanda Aguilera, UTA
MB Amber Calhoun, Texas State (3)
MB Laranda Spann, NWLA
S Kelsey Schwirtlich, UTSA
L Alicia Schaffer, UTA
OH Kendra Rowland, UTSA (2)

3rd Team All-SLC
OH/RS AJ Watlington, Texas State
OH Jennifer Brandt, Nicholls
MB Taylor Hammonds, UCA
MB Kim Black, SHSU
S Becky Bekelja, McNeese
L Danielle Daigle, Nicholls
MB Jessica Nagy, UCA

(1) SFA 1st Team last year
(2) SFA 2nd Team last year
(3) SFA 3rd Team last year

Just Missed:
OH: Whitney Walls, UTSA (my first cut), Jennifer Brandt and Rachel Yezak (Nicholls), Priscilla Massengale (McNeese), Arielle Daron (SFA) and Kourtney Adams (NWLA)

MB: Jessica Addicks (Nicholls), Briana Mason and Brittney Malloy (UTSA)

S: Reagan Daniel (UTA)

L: I didn't consider any others. The three I have above are relatively interchangeable in their spots, I believe.

Players of the Year: Emma Ridley, TAMUCC and Jessica Hays, UCA
Setter of the Year: Marissa Collins, UCA
Libero of the Year: Kelsey Jewasko, UTSA
Coach of the Year: Laura Groff, UTSA
Freshman of the Year: Marissa Collins, UCA
Newcomer of the Year: Kourtney Adams, NWLA (if she is eligible as an outgoing senior. )
(If not, then: Tina Hobbs, Lamar - if she is eligible given she redshirted at Lamar last year)

The only argument I want to present tonight is for Jessica Hays. The buzz the entire year around the league was about Ridley. I get it. She is a great player. She hits the holy frijole out of the ball. Coaches LOVE her. I'm going to be a little shocked if she doesn't win the actual player of the year award from the conference.

But... I kept hearing arguments like this: "She knocks down 20 a night DESPITE the fact that everyone knows she is main option and gets all those swings. Everyone KNOWS they have really only her to go to and she still puts up numbers."

I understand that logic.. but its overplayed. Actually, I think the reverse is more impressive. Hays puts up virtually the same stats - and before you go "Nuh, uh, she doesn't". YES... SHE... DOES.

Hays is putting up numbers in SPITE of having other options like Smith and Nagy and Hammonds. What's more impressive: Putting up stellar numbers when you are the only option or doing it when you are one of several? Think on that before you give your gut reaction.

Now, someone might ask: "Who are you going to start your club with? Hays or Ridley?" That's a really good argument for Ridley, but before you dismiss Hays as a possible answer, consider this:

Hays has pedigree - she was the Freshman of the Year two years ago. Plus, she is a proven winner. Ridley ain't won jack. Hays has titles to her name and Ridley never played in the postseason. Ridley won 21 games total the last two years at Corpus. Hays' team won 26 this year! You gonna just COMPLETELY ignore that?

I'm not saying it is the most important thing - and realize, I am A-OK if Ridley wins the award. She is a great, great, outside hitter. For that matter, I'm not going to throw a fit if Chloe Smith won again. But Hays is right there people. I'll conclude with the stats:

Ridley: 415 kills, 3.95 k/s, 1234 attacks, .173 attack %, 319 digs, 3.04 d/s, 37 blocks, .35 b/s, .21 aces/set

Hays: 434 kills, 3.91 k/s, 1140 attacks, .171 attack %, 317 digs, 2.86 d/s, 56 blocks, .50 b/s, .62 aces/set

All things considered, Hays generated more points per set for her team than did Ridley.

Ridley is fiery, flashy and has the "it" factor that coaches drool over. I get it.
Hays has conference championships and the same numbers. Flash is trumped by wins, my friends.
The only reason I listed them both is because I have heard coach after coach after coach talk up Ridley and I have to use all the data available to me.

The "look/tools" side of me picks Ridley. The stats side of me picks Hays. Trouble is.. the "look/tools" side of me isn't refined.. the stats side is. I've had some good conversations with fans, parents, coaches, etc. about the fact that stats don't tell it all. But could we please not pretend this is a slam dunk for Ridley, because it's not. If for some insane reason both aren't really first team All-SLC when the voting comes out, the website you are currently reading might explode.

I eagerly await the coaches and SID picks. Let the debates rage on...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

First Reaction to UTSA and Texas State Leaving the Conference

This is usually about the time where I post a preview of an upcoming conference opponent, but given today's news of Texas State and UTSA leaving the Southland to join the WAC, I decided to go a different route. I hope the good people at McNeese will forgive me. I will encourage all that are reading to show up at Johnson Coliseum tomorrow night at 7 PM for our penultimate match of the year.

I haven't had time to talk with many people yet about the Texas State/UTSA situation, so I'm sure my final opinion on this subject will be reached after additional discussion with others. However, blogs are made for sharing "in the moment" opinions as well as more cautioned and reasoned pieces. So, I admit this is my "first take" and so I hope these opinions won't be villanized given that confession.

My overall thought is that the move doesn't really affect the conference that much. It has been pointed out by several people that I did get a chance to talk to tonight that the Southland just gained Lamar in football and will only lose Texas State in football, since UTSA isn't currently playing pigskin in the SLC. Since "football is king", the effect on other sports will be trumped by the relatively neutral impact on football.

At least for now, I tend to agree with that.

The Southland will still have 10 members. For that reason, my immediate thought is that the conference should do nothing in response to Texas State and UTSA leaving.

If the conference went looking for replacements, there is some chance that we could woo some school athletically comparable to the 10 that remain or even upgrade. I think this chance is slim. What is more likely is that replacements would come from schools who currently compete in lesser conferences, are currently independent, or are looking to upgrade to DI. Now, you could get a gem from one of those places, but I don't think so. Again - siding with probability, I think the most likely thing is that if such schools were invited to join the conference, the result would be an overall downgrade in reputation.

So.. maybe the most prudent action is to be idle and continue, at least temporarily, as a 10 team conference. Of course, this assumes that none of these 10 schools plans in the near future to leave as well. Which - is at least an issue worth pondering, right? Is there going to be any form of chain reaction? I have no evidence that there will be, but it is a natural thought when schools leave conferences. It is well known that budget issues in Louisiana have spawned all sorts of rumours about Nicholls and/or Southeastern Louisiana not being long term viable as DI athletic programs anymore. This may only be rumor and have little actual substance, but I'd be lying if I didn't mention that I hear such talk around the conference many times a year.

What could the ramifications be for our sport - volleyball? The answer is so unbelievably obvious that it all but guarantees this won't be done: Just create a "Texas Division" - which now functions as the West comprised of SFA, Lamar, UTA, TAMUCC and SHSU. The other division - the East or "Louisiana/Arkansas" division could be NWLA, SELA, McNeese, Nicholls, and UCA.

It would seem a little silly to continue with an 8 team tournament with only 10 teams in conference. So, why not have a six team tournament where the winner of the two divisions get byes and the other top four teams are seeded three through six. For revenue purposes, we could still play the tournament over three days having #3 play #6 and #4 play #5 on Day 1 (rather than having four games like we do now). Then on Day 2, we'd have two games and then a championship on the final day.

From a volleyball perspective, Texas State and SFA have had many the rivalry game in recent years. Despite our current down year, that historical battle will be missed, I think. UTSA is having a good year in 2010 and they can use that as a launch toward moving to the WAC in two years. UTSA Volleyball over the last few years has been an average club, so their impact of leaving isn't quite the same as Texas State leaving - in terms of volleyball reputation,that is.

Of course, Texas State and UTSA become two obvious choices for non-conference games, because the conference schedule would more than likely be shortened if we go forward with just 10 teams. (Edit after initial post: ...or could we play everyone twice and the conference season expanded from 16 to 18 games? Travel costs probably shoot that down)

For now, I think my first reaction to today's news is neutral in terms of across-the-board impact, but slightly negative in terms of the effect on Southland Conference Volleyball. If I had to pick two teams to leave the conference without downgrading the conference's position in volleyball, these would not be the two I'd pick.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

STATS 101: Attack Percentage By Position

One week from today the season will be over and attention will be turned - at least partially - to things not concerning volleyball. For a while, at least. There will be a lot of words spoken, written, and pondered about all that went wrong for Ladyjack Volleyball during 2010. In some ways, it will be a cold winter and a long spring. I'll have time to break down the season in posts to come, but one of the more telling statistics of this years' disappointment can be found in these numbers:

From 2004 to 2009, here are SFA's ranks among Southland Conference schools in opponent's hitting percentages: 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 3rd, and 1st. For years, opposing teams could not find the floor against us. But, now, the cold reality:

In 2010, SFA ranks 10th out of 12 schools in opponent's hitting percentage. Fall. From. Grace.

It is also true that SFA historically has ranked high in attack percentage on offense and this year they are down offensively, too. But, to go from tops in the league in opponent's hitting percentage five out of the last six years and then finish 10th - three spots from the bottom? That says a lot.

The average hitting percentage for teams in this conference is generally between .185 and .190. Last year, the conference hit .190. Right now, the conference as a whole has a hitting percentage of .186.

Bigger conferences tend to hit slightly higher. Conference USA is hitting .210 as a conference. The Big 12 is hitting .216 and the SEC is over .220. These aren't just one year trends, I've checked this sort of thing for several years now. I think - in part - the bigger conferences' attack percentages are slightly higher than ours due to the overall tendency for them to play teams slightly below them in talent before their conference play starts.

At any rate, the average SLC team hits between .185 and .190. But, how does this change across position? Most folks who study the game would guess - and guess correctly - that a team's middle blocker is more likely to hit for a higher percentage than their primary outside hitter. But...would you guess that a team's secondary outside hitter would tend to hit for a higher percentage that the team's primary outside hitter? It's true.

But, what are the differences and how does that average of .185 to .190 distribute itself across positions? That is what this post answers - at least for Southland players.

What I have done is look at each teams primary middle blocker, primary outside hitter and secondary outside hitter and compare hitting percentages across the league. Here are my definitions in use for this analysis:

Primary Middle Blocker: The player who regularly plays MB and who has the most blocks on the team. (this is typically the M1)

Primary Outside Hitter: A player who regularly plays OH or RS who leads the team in attacks. (This is typically the L1 - the primary left side hitter)

Secondary Outside Hitter: A player who regularly plays OH or RS who is second on the team in attacks or has the second most attacks as an outside. No middle blocker is considered here. (This is typically the team's RS hitter or in a few cases a left-side hitter who has racked up a ton of attacks. This player is no less than 3rd on the team is total attacks since the two other players above would be the only players with more)

Now, due to a few specialized offensive strategies and usages of players, I have occasionally bent these definitions slightly as I saw fit. For instance, UCA has spread its attacks among its two middles almost evenly, so that both are included in my analysis. Second, Texas State is so deep that the player who ranks as the secondary outside hitter isn't currently getting as much playing time. There will always be little caveat's like this, but I don't believe they change the main message that the data convey. (In fact, scratch work not included here verifies this belief)

Just so that everything is out in the open here, the players that are included in this analysis are:

Primary Middle Blockers: Bottles, Alverson, Nagy, Hammonds, Bazile, Huckabay, Addicks, Spann, Black, Donald, Calhoun, Shearin, Mason

Primary Outside Hitters: Owens, Ridley, Hays, McCollum, Massengale, Brandt, Adams, Kolbe, Jones, Watlington, Aguilera, Rowland.

Secondary Outside Hitters: Daron, Arciadiacono, Smith, McStravick, Bustamento, Yezak, Deering, Stewart, Krohn, Alexander, Frantz, Walls.

Team Order of Above listings: SFA, TAMUCC, UCA, Lamar, McNeese, Nicholls, NWLA, SHSU, SELA, Texas State, UTA and UTSA.


The average primary middle blocker hits .269

The average primary outside hitter hits .166

The average secondary outside hitter hits .180

Everybody else averages .169

Roughly, the sample sizes for this year will be:

Primary Middle Blockers: Around 7000 total attacks
Primary Outside Hitters: Around 11,000 total attacks
Secondary Outside Hitters: Around 8000 total attacks

That should give you some sense of the distribution. Primary middles attack about 2 times for every 3 attacks by a primary outside and the secondary outside hitters attack at just a slightly more frequent clip that the primary middles.

I have data from 2009 which shows the same basic thing as the data above does. Of course, anyone can scour the internet and get the data - it is all on the conferences' web page, in fact.

I find it interesting that primary middles hit on average 100 points higher than the primary outsides. I knew their percentages would come out higher - but the 100 point spread surprised me a little. Also, I would not have guessed that a teams' secondary hitter would tend to hit for a slightly higher average than their primary attacker.

I have made all sorts of hypotheses as to why the numbers came out this way, but I think I will just stop short and let the reader form their own conjectures. I just wanted to calculate and present the results so that you know what the norms are as you compare players. Any way you explain the numbers, I find this an interesting exercise.

So, before you criticize that L1 for only hitting .175 or lauding that middle for hitting .250, think on these numbers.

Monday, November 1, 2010

2010 Player Profile: MC Bottles

The first time I ever saw Bottles play volleyball was Opening Night 2008. Hurricane Ike had hit and backed up our home opener all the way to mid-September. I wasn't writing this blog then and I so I didn't attend fall practices in that year like I have the last two seasons. I had the list of new freshman memorized: Amber Williams-Roberts, Sydney Ellis, Melissa Miksch and Mary Caitlin Bottles. I had seen pictures of all of them and thought I had their faces memorized, or at least - the best I could from just one preseason mug shot. But, when I walked into the gym on that first night I got confused. Miksch and Ellis were the only blondes in my pictures. There were three girls with blonde hair on the court I had never seen before. The mug shots had let me down as I couldn't separate out the faces from memory.

Ben Rikard steered me right. "That's Bottles over there", he said pointing. "Oh, and don't announce her as Mary Caitlin". She had dyed her hair blonde and preferred to go by her initials. I'd see the color transformation a few times again during the following years. I was actually pleased by the name preference because it gave me a chance to just change the forceful "J-J- Jones" that I used during announcing lineups to "M-C- Bottles". All hail initials! They are great for announcing.

I bring a typed sheet with information on both our players and the opposition to each match. It lists position, height, classification and uniform number before names. It is in 16-point font and arranged numerically so that I can quickly find names to go along with numbers while calling the game and it helps keep me on point while barking the starting lineups. The only night that sheet ever said "MB 6-0 FR 1 Mary Caitlin Bottles" was that very first match.

Granted, this season hasn't gone to form. But when it does end and all thoughts turn to 2011, there will be a conversation among people that matter that goes something like this: "So, what do you think we should think about in terms of personnel for 2011?" Another of those that matter will answer: "OK, let's see, we've got MC in the middle and....."

See, it all starts with Bottles. Wanna know what you're gonna get?

2008: 2.60 kills/set, o.88 blocks/set, .356 attack %
2009: 2.62 kills/set, 1.00 blocks/set, .286 attack %
2010: 2.98 kills/set, 0.95 blocks/set, .271 attack %

Career to date: 2.73 kills/set, 0.95 blocks/set, .297 attack %

Consistent. Solid. Night In. Night Out.

So, while they each have their differences, let the comparisons begin - if they haven't already. Traci Rohde. Brittany Burton. MC Bottles. Does she belong in that company? I say definitely.

Here is roughly - health willing - what Bottles is on pace for:

1280-1320 total kills - that would place her 6th or 7th all time at SFA. Right at Rohde and just shy of Burton.

She is currently 8th all-time in attack percentage at SFA - above Burton and just one slot below Rohde.

Around 450 total blocks. Rohde is first all-time with 483 and Burton is second with 463.

About a block per set. Among people with more than 300 sets played, Bottles is currently 6th all-time at SFA.

What is it likely to all mean - at least, statistically, when she finishes making her mark? Maybe the best way to sum it up is that she may very well rank as one of the top five middle blockers to ever play at SFA.

Bottles is a Facebook hound. Along with Lo, she was the the first player to "find" the blog when it went live during late summer 2009. I knew I needed a Facebook and Twitter presence to help drive traffic here. It worked. Bottles was probably the first person to ever load this page other than myself.

Between her phone and my knack for using too many computers, our Facebook chat that you'll read below got lost in the shuffle a few times. No matter. That's just given us all more time to learn about what really matters: That "1" she wears on her jersey signifies her appropriate status as our "ace".

Read on to figure out why IHOP will never be the official pancake of Ladyjack Volleyball. Which is too bad 'cause you know a "pancake" is when you stretch your hand out on the floor to keep the ball from hitting... ohh.. never mind.. just read on... Around the court, basically everyone calls you “MC”. How far back does that go and do friends outside of volleyball tend to use that shortening of your name, too?

MC: When I first started playing sports my coaches quickly realized that "Mary Caitlin" was much too long to yell at a kid. So my first basketball coach and good family friend Dave Thomas gave me the name “MC”. None of my friends or family started to call me that until high school and since then it’s what most people call me. The only people who still call me Mary Caitlin are my family and a few friends from church back at home. There has been little doubt about your effectiveness when running a slide over the past two years. Is that your favorite play to run or are there others that are preferred in your mind. I ask Allison if there were little “likes” and “dislikes” that her attackers have in how balls are set. What about that issue from the attacking perspective?

MC: The slide is definitely my favorite play set to run! As an attacker there are different likes and dislikes for each of us. Some players do better with tempo or faster sets while some prefer a slower tempo. Also some players like their sets to be more inside so that they can hit a sharper angle or pushed farther outside to swing down the line or cross court. It also depends on the team that you play and if you want to challenge their outside blocker or middle blocker. Whenever there is a new setter you always have to communicate about the set and what you prefer. For example, Sabrina and I hit a much different type of “A” set because she reaches much higher than I so Allison and Lo have to set her higher than they would set me. It takes a lot of communication at the beginning but once everyone gets used to each other than there is less communication between the setters and hitters. With Ashley Bailey gone, you are the primary middle blocker and will be again next year. Give us a breakdown of each of the other middles and what you think they bring to the club.

MC: Sabrina is one of the most coachable players I have ever played with. Whatever the coaches ask of her she will immediately do it. She is one of those players who would practice for five hours a day if you allowed her to! Lindsay is full of energy. As a player - no matter how she is doing - she always has constant energy and that’s huge to be able to bring that on the court every single day. Carrie is someone who is always pushing you to be a better player. She’s a workhorse and never slacks off during practice or a game. Even though just a junior, you are certainly looked at as one of the leaders on this team. Do you embrace the “leader” tag or is that something that comes less naturally than blocking and hitting volleyballs?

MC: Being a leader definitely comes less naturally to me than playing. I have always been the kind of player who leads by example, but this year I have become more vocal. As an upperclassman my leadership role is to be more of a vocal leader this year. But, then again I have never had a problem saying what is on my mind so that has helped me step into that vocal/upperclassman role. Finally, often on social media sites like Facebook, you’re known to express your desire for Chipotle and/or Waffle House. The team often hits local Chipotle’s when on the road, etc…and I totally get it. But, enlighten us on Waffle House a bit. The only ones I have ever been in have been well…shall we say…suspect in terms of passing health inspections. Are there other eatery favorites on the road for either you personally or the team as a whole?

MC: As a team I think we love Texas Roadhouse and On the Border the most. We also like Cracker Barrel and since coach loves Cracker Barrel we eat there all the time! But Waffle House is breakfast food and the only person I have met who doesn’t like breakfast food not at breakfast is Maddie! I think Waffle House is amazing. In Dallas they are all pretty clean so I have no problem with them! In my opinion, Waffle House beats IHOP any day!

Thanks to all those who have been commenting here at the blog and sending me emails. I appreciate all of the questions, opinions and pats on the back as well as constructive criticism to make the site better. I think this a good opportunity to especially thank the coaches and parents from Sam Houston and Lamar who are regular readers. I was shocked earlier this season when various parents recognized me at road games and came up to introduce themselves and talk volleyball. It's always a pleasure to meet other fans that are just as passionate about this sport as I am.

The 'Jacks head down to Corpus Christi and then over to San Antonio at the end of the week. Make plans to be at our last two home matches against McNeese and Lamar. Be especially sure to get there early and stay late on Saturday the 13th as we honor our three seniors: Laurel Kuepker, Ari Daron and Kelsey Owens.

KO is the only returner this year who has not had a profile, and we'll fix that in the next two weeks. I still intend to do something with the freshmen, but I think I'll wait and get their thoughts on their first year experience when we are all said and done.

See you in Johnson Coliseum next week!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Conference Opponent Breakdown: UT-Arlington

To me, UT-Arlington is the kind of club that has the potential to cause all kinds of problems if everything is clicking for them. All in all, their list of current starters is pretty impressive...or maybe it's just that I personally like them all. This looks like it would be a good club and if I had to pick a team that is middle-of-the-pack which is most likely to wreak havoc at the end, this team might be my choice. Then again, maybe Sam Houston since they are hosting the tourney. I don't know.

I don't need to tell each of you how important this match is. SFA sits tied with the Mavericks, TAMUCC, and McNeese at 4-6 in SLC play. Technically, a four-way tie at 6th place. Four teams in the conference won't advance to Huntsville in late November. Northwestern La. and Southeastern La. look like they are on the outside looking in, but the other two who stay home may come from the above list of four. Like I said in the post prior to this, a record of 8-8 is most likely going to be required for postseason play. The team that loses Wednesday will drop to 4-7 with five to play. You do the math. Additionally, UTA's schedule down the stretch is slightly softer than ours having four of their last five at home.

UTA caught me by surprise last year. They finished at 8-8 and had the 5th seed in the SLC tournament losing to Lamar in the first round. One of the Mavericks big problems over the last two years was their complete inability to win on the road in conference play. Coming into 2010, they were just 1-15 on the road in SLC play over the last two years. This after going 7-1 on the stage in 2009. The road woes have cleared up a bit as they come to Nacogdoches an even 3-3 on travel trips during the conference slate this year.

Here's a look at the starting lineup that we will more than likely see head coach Diane Seymour turn in to the table Wednesday:

Who's Who?

OH Amanda Aguilera Girl can play. One of the more unheralded outside hitters in the conference. Bet you didn't know that her 28 kills vs. SHSU two weeks ago are the most tallies for any player in the SLC this year. Aguilera was on every one's radar as a freshman two years ago when she made first team all-conference. Last year, I think her stock slipped a little. This year she's a known quantity for sure as she ranks 4th in the SLC in kills per set (only behind Ridley, Hays and Kolbe, so watch out!). Kept unchecked.. she can burn you crisp. I like her a lot.

MB Emily Shearin OK, here is another one that has won me over. I wrote this last year in my now famous rant on the All-SLC teams: " [Nicole] Bowden [of McNeese] 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." Now, I stand by that conclusion for 2009, but clearly Shearin is the better MB at this point. I know Bowden was injured at the end of last season - and I am sure that has played a role - but, I think the voters were wiser than what I was when picking Shearin. She comes into the match with a stellar 1.12 blocks/set which is good for 3rd in the conference. Only a Junior, Shearin should be a force next year too.

By the way, I have to admit I pretty much ignored UT-Arlington last year. Don't get me wrong, I don't think they are a top team in the conference by any means, but they probably deserved better coverage that I gave them last year. I have continued to see some of their stars as overrated until recently - the one that was sort of always on my skewer was now injured OH Tara Frantz.

S Reagan Daniel Again, a bit underrated I think. Daniel is the subject of the Stats Focus below, so I'll be brief here. As steady as she's been the last three years for the Mavericks, I am a little surprised by her omission from the cover of the 2010 UTA Volleyball Media Guide. UTA went with their "all-conference" selections rather than focusing on seniors. I don't like that idea, espcially considering some of those honors were questionable. Gramted.. Sauls is a senior, too.. which leads us to...

OH Bianca Sauls A very athletic player who comes into Wednesday's contest hitting a robust .210 on the year. She probably stands to be a little bigger fraction of the offense with Frantz out. To me, she is a key player on the squad, because if all three of Aguilera, Shearin and Sauls are knocking balls down then I think UTA can be really tough. Her play could really draw attention away from Aguilera and make things more difficult on opposing defenses. Second most digs on the team behind the libero so that tells you she is capable of being a strong all-rotation player on any given night.

L Alicia Shaffer Hey, I keep up pretty good...but what? Talk about a player that I knew NOTHING about until reading specifically about the Mavericks? How did I completely overlook a player who played in every Maverick set last year and started 29 times at libero the year before that? She is 3rd in the conference in digs per set this year at 4.66 d/s - that trails only Daigle (NICH) and Jewasko (UTSA) - two players that get way more pub than Shaffer. Shaffer is fresh off a career high 37 digs against NWLA and ranks 1st in the conference in digs per set during SLC play. She was 6th in the conference last year in digs per set. I just never noticed.

Excuse me Ms. Shaffer.. I will start paying attention.. Geez. A week ago, I could have told you something about every starter in their lineup - plus Frantz, of course, except her. Shows you that there are always players that fly under the radar even when you are trying to study up.

MB Christy Driscoll A lanky red-shirt junior who's a decent blocker. Second on the club in total blocks to this point this year and held that honor last year as well. Not flashy, but a middle-of-the-road M2. Not the kind of player that will beat you, though. Had a really nice freshman year, but then Shearin took over the main blocking gig and Driscoll has adequately played second fiddle to her since.

OH/MB Eld-hah Kaswatuka A short player for her position, but with good hops, Kaswatuka has been in the lineup the last two times out in place of Tara Frantz. I recently became aware that Frantz was in an accident after UTA's match against Sam Houston, but I really don't know the full extent of her injuries. Here is not the place to discuss them at any rate, so I will instead pass along "Get Well Soon" wishes and I seriously hope that she is OK and recovers quickly. Kaswatuka's did get 36 sets thrown her way against NWLA last Saturday. If she falters, look for freshman Emily Gentle in her place. This rotation spot has been rotating in/out with freshman DS Kendall Whitson when it moves back row. Otherwise, UTA doesn't tend to sub a lot. In fact, over the last three matches, the only person not mentioned to this point who has seen the court is sophomore Charae Grosser.

Who to Watch?
Well, Shaffer, obviously. I haven't paid her any mind for two years, I think it might be time to learn who the Maverick libero is. More seriously.. here are her digs per set over the last five matches: 5.50, 4.50, 6.60, 4.00 and a whopping 9.25!! Yeah, that merits some attention.

Aguilera attacking, Shearin blocking and Shaffer digging...this team isn't half bad.

We beat them 3-1 two weeks ago in Arlington as we had Bottles (13-1-27/.444), Daron (13-5-30/.267) and Owens (12-5-34/.206) all contributing on offense. Aguilera struggled that night committing 12 errors to match her 12 kills for a big-fat .000 attack percentage.

We hit .229 as a team that night. We have hit over one-hundred points lower since then (.124, 164-100-515). That coupled with Aguilera likely not to repeat her zero should be two causes for concern.

Stats Focus
You won't see these stats broadcast every day at your local leader board. Say, you like setters that are offensive weapons? Then this is the match for you. Here are the SLC's starting setters ranked by kills per set. Teams that use two setters or don't have a definitive starter have both their contributors listed.

1. Gideon, SFA (1.59)
2. Daniel, UTA (1.21)

3. Schwirtlich, UTSA (1.09)
4. Nolan, TAMUCC (0.94)
5. Bekelja, McNeese (0.77)
6. Cruckshank, SELA (0.73)
7. Morford, Lamar (0.72)
8. Peltier, NWLA (0.61)
9. Loving, SHSU (0.56)
10. Collins, UCA (0.55)
11. McCorquodale, TX ST (0.32)
12. Piatt, Lamar (0.29)
13. Karst, NICH (0.25)
14. Irvin, TX ST (0.18)
15. Young, SELA (0.16)

I did the math for you: That's 1.41 kills per set for Gideon and Daniel combined, and 0.56 kills per set for the rest of the setters in the conference combined. That's almost a full kill more in each set earned by the setter being offensive-minded. Remember, when comparing attackers, a full kill per set is statistically significant in general. So, with that 1.41 figure sitting there.. we'd expect Gideon and Daniel together to put up around 2.8 kills per set. How many did they put up together the first time they met? 11 kills in four sets for an average of 2.75 kills per set. Nifty how that works out, huh? See.. that's why you should read here more often.

Outlook for Wednesday's Match:
It's the most important match of the year, right? Has to be. Corpus Christi plays Central Arkansas on Wednesday, so whoever loses our match will more than likely be stuck at 4-7 in the basement of the SLC West with the Islanders. Considering we've lost to TAMUCC at home that would spell trouble (big time) for our hopes at advancing to postseason if that's us.

We'll have to get back to winning ways without standout libero Maddie Hanlan. What is known is that Maddie suffered a knee injury of some sort at Nicholls last weekend. I have no first hand details - and just like in the case of Frantz from UTA - those aren't the kind of things that are divulged in this space anyway. However, a brief chat with a few folks doesn't sound overly optimistic concerning Hanlan. Consultations with doctors surely await and the club should know more as the week goes on. Here's to a speedy recovery, Maddie. For those that aren't aware, Hanlan just topped the 1000 dig plateau for her career last week.

If Hanlan is out for Wednesday, then in all likelihood Melissa Miksch would get the call at libero. Well, at least that's who replaced her at Nicholls. Mel is an excellent back row defender and I think folks are confident with her in that capacity. I have to wonder aloud if Laurel Kuepker's health would allow her to take on such a role again. She did start against Nicholls - rotating in and out with Daron. However, I think if they went with Mel in the match against Nicholls, we'd see her again Wednesday.

This should be an intense match.. make sure you are there..... Johnson Coliseum at 7:00 on Wednesday!

Axe' Em!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Looking Ahead: Just A Fan Wondering About The Future

10/14/10 EDIT: The original version of this post omitted the section on Sam Houston State. I don't know what I was doing. I went in order of the teams in the right hand margin & for some reason the section on SHSU got left out. I stated I thought they'd finish at 8-8 in the wrap up, but didn't include their paragraph. I have put it in during this edit a few days late.

I am giving this disclaimer upfront: This is a post that coaches around the league just aren't going to like.

Coaches have the responsibility of getting their teams ready to play and believing that they can go out on the court night in - night out - and play to win. Expect to win. No coach says "Let's go win five of the next nine games - that'll be good". Coaches prep their teams for the next opponent and try and guide their team to give their maximum effort the next time out. We'll worry about preparing for three weeks from now when that opponent is on the horizon. All SFA should care about TODAY is going out and playing their best volleyball on Thursday night against UTA.

But.. we are fans, here. We can think about further out in the future... because that's what fans do. C'mon admit it: If you are an SFA Volleyball follower and you have watched our club over the past three weeks then you've asked this question in your head -- "Are we still in line to make the tournament at the end of the year?"

I want to remind each and every reader of something. Here is the hierarchy of my relationship to SFA Volleyball:

1) A Fan. I am a fan first. I have been a fan for WAY longer than I have been a PA announcer and blogger. Plus, with all due respect to my meager readership: I have been a fan of SFA Volleyball for a lot longer than most of you. Again, I say that with the up most courtesy. Notice, I am not saying I am more knowledgeable about volleyball than my readership. THAT would be a violation of one of the cardinal rules of writing. Most of you have been following volleyball as a sport for as long or longer than I have. Most of you are quite well versed in the fine points of the game. However, few of you will count yourselves fans of 'Jacks volleyball for 13+ years.

2) I am the PA announcer and this is subordinate to being a fan. However, the "fan" part of me is off while doing my job in Johnson Coliseum. Yes, arena announcers should/can use voice inflection changes to convey energy for the home team. After all, we are at home. You've all heard of "home field advantage". However, the "fan-boy" in me MUST take a back seat while announcing so as to be respectful to the opposition and complete in my descriptions of the action. The emotion displayed is simply arena announcer inflection - and it has little to nothing to do with SFA per se. For example, if asked to do PA for Nacogdoches High School volleyball, I would do it similar to how I do it for SFA even though I have no fan commitment to NHS Volleyball whatsoever.

[Now, those of you who know me are aware that the "fan" gets immediately turned back on after matches and while discussing the club during the week with other fans.]

3) I created this website. SFA Athletics website includes a link on their site to this blog, but I am not paid directly to write this blog by SFA Athletics. I am not paid to write this blog at all. I do it because I want to. So, I am loosely part of the general media, despite the fact that I am an SFA employee.

The blog definitely is here to support SFA Volleyball, but the writing here is not in the same style that Sports Information Directors (like Ben) should/must use as formal employees of their respective athletics departments. Plus, the writing here is not in the same style as someone who works for a newspaper or the conference. Those folks aren't employees of SFA at all and they are not dedicated to 'Jacks volleyball and frankly, they don't know the club as well as Ben and I do.

Let me digress a minute more... Ben is (under)paid to know this club. It is, in part, his job. He does a damn good job of it. Take the time to look at his "notes package" or read his write-ups. They are generally done in a more organized and professional way that what you'd find around the conference. Ben is a good writer. That's my opinion, anyway. By contrast, I am not paid to know this club. I am weird. I just decide to try and know this club - yes, for fun.

So, what we are going to do here is look at the remaining schedules of the other 11 SLC teams and give an opinion of how many games they will win as a way of trying to figure out how tough/easy it will be for SFA to gain a tournament birth.

This is not the type of exercise that would be done by anyone in print other than a blogger. The conference itself won't do it, the SID's at the schools won't do it. It would inappropriate. I am a fan. It is entirely appropriate for fans to look at schedules and ask: "What if?"

If you are a fan and have some knowledge of the conference, you might look at these schedules and come up with your own opinion and then share the differences you find in the comments or by email.

I will proceed in the order of the links to the other teams web pages in the right hand margin of this page.

Central Arkansas (7-0)
Home (3): TXST, Lamar, McNeese
Away (6): Lamar, McNeese, TAMUCC, UTSA, NICH, SELA
I think they win all but one. I think one team will get 'em at some point in the regular season.
Prediction: 15-1
Extra: Clearly the best team in the SLC. But, not invincible. They could run the table, but I don't think they will.

Lamar (4-2)
Away (5): McNeese, UCA, NWLA, SHSU, SFA
I think they win three at home and three on the road.
Prediction: 10-6
Extra: This team has surprised me a bit. I thought they were headed for a down year. Their loss to TAMUCC reinforces to me that they will still have a few bumps down the stretch.

McNeese (1-5)
Home (6): NWLA, UCA, Lamar, TAMUCC, SELA, NICH
Away (4): NWLA, UCA, SFA, SHSU
I think they win 2 at home and one on the road.
Prediction: 4-12
Extra: How's this for odd scheduling: All six of those home games are in a row and they start up this week. I just don't see much from reading about this club that convinces me that they'll be a factor.

Nicholls State (3-3)
Away (5): SELA, Lamar,McNeese, TX ST, UTA
I think they win 2 or 3 at home and 2 or 3 on the road. So, I'll split the difference and give them 5 wins.
Prediction: 8-8
Extra: The road game we have with them could be crucial. They beat Lamar & Lamar got beat by TAMUCC. Go figure. This is a team to watch because they should be on the border of making it in at the end.

Northwestern La (2-5)
Home (3): UTA, McNeese, Lamar
Away (6); McNeese, Lamar, UTSA, TAMUCC, SELA, NICH
I think they win 1 at home and 2 on the road.
Prediction: 5-11
Extra: They beat SHSU and SHSU beat us, so maybe they shouldn't be completely dismissed. But a 7-9 finish seems like an absolute generous ceiling. It won't be enough to make the tourney.

Sam Houston State (3-3)
Home (4): TXST, UTA, Lamar, McNeese
I think they will win two at home and three on the road.
Prediction: 8-8
Extra: Like Nicholls, this is also a team for SFA fans to keep an eye on as they will probably hover around the 'Jacks in the standings. That road schedule is pretty brutal especially with Corpus playing a little better. The only real lockdown game they have on the road is SELA. The 'Jacks have to hope I am generous with assigning them three road wins - if that three becomes only one, then we could leapfrog them in the standings. Our rematch in Nacogdoches holds a fair amount of weight.

Southeastern La (1-5)
Away (4): McNeese, Lamar, UTA, TX ST
I think they win one each at home and on the road.
Prediction: 3-13
Extra: Of the six teams we've played so far, they were clearly the one with the most issues. They got a bit of glory in making it to postseason last year. There just isn't a probable scenario that would lead to a repeat appearance.

TAMUCC (2-4)
Home (4): UCA, NWLA, SFA, SHSU
Away (6): NICH, SELA, UTSA, McNeese, UTA, TX ST
I think they win 2 at home and three on the road.
Prediction: 7-9
Extra: I don't know what to make of this team. I will do a complete write up on them before we go down there to play again. Will they fold? They have beat us and Lamar. They have lost to TX ST, UTA, SHSU and UTSA. Our loss to them at home and our rematch with them in Corpus looms large. I have to admit that I would not have thought that they would project as a possible tournament team, but they just might be. Graystone for coach of the year if they make it? Can't give it to McRoberts three years in a row, right?

Texas State (4-2)
Road (3): UCA, SHSU, SFA
I think they win 6 at home and one on the road.
Prediction: 11-5
Extra: Right now they don't impress me the way they have in years past. But, they always seem to get things together. It's truly too bad we couldn't take advantage of their two losses so far. Those three road games are all within the span of one week - otherwise it's home sweet home for the Bobcats. They've only played five matches at home so far all season compared with 15 on "neutral" courts or "away" courts. But, you know what? We've only played five at home too.. compared with 16 on neutral or away. I think that makes you stronger down the stretch, but especially in their case because they have 7 of 10 at home.

UTSA (5-1)
Away (5): SELA, NICH, Lamar, TXST, UTA
I think they win three at home at two on the road.
Prediction: 10-6, but a better chance at 11-5 than 9-7. Skewed left for all you stats fans out there.
Extra: They're legit. Maybe they hosted the SLC tournament a year too early.

UTA (3-3)
I think they win 4 at home and two on the road.
Prediction: 9-7
Extra: How do you rank these teams: SFA, SHSU and UTA? They may also be legit. Beating Texas State turned a few heads. See, SFA needs a quality win like that. That legitimizes things.

In summary:
UCA 15-1
TX ST 11-5
UTSA 10-6
Lamar 10-6
UTA 9-7
SHSU 8-8
NICH 8-8

That's eight teams. So, if I am anywhere in the ballpark, what does it mean for SFA? It means that 8-8 may be the absolute worst record that shows up in the tournament. We are 2-4. We have 10 games to go.

Think for a second. That makes this week really, really critical. Do you see now why I "drew the line" in a previous post about schedules at this point?

If we stumble some more and lose to UTA and Texas State on the road this week then we'll be 2-6 and probably needing six wins out of our final eight matches to have much hope. The last eight matches are:

Home (5): SHSU, UTA, TXST, McNeese, Lamar

If we are 2-6 with that remaining schedule, then six wins would require a major change of fortune since we would have previously lost to five of those eight teams.

You can ponder all the other scenarios, but the road games at Nicholls and Corpus look like they are of major importance even if we play well this week. I think 8-8 can get into the tournament. If we even our record at 4-4 this week, then I think you can look at those remaining eight games with confidence that we'd get at least four more.

I've been asked about "must wins" in the comments sections of these posts during the last few weeks. I've had more emails come my way in the last three weeks than at any time previous in writing at the blog. I think the only "must wins" are those games where you would be eliminated otherwise.

But, I feel very secure in saying that we are at the crossroads of our season.

So, where did I miss? Who am I overrating or underrating? Agree or disagree? Keep the emails and comments coming.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

LIVE CHAT: SFA vs. Sam Houston State

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Conference Opponent Breakdown: Sam Houston State

Before we get into breaking down the Bearkats, let me remind you that we will have a live chat here at the blog for Wednesday's match against Sam Houston. We'll get started around 6:45 with pregame commentary.

There are a lot of ways in which Sam Houston and SFA are similar at this point in conference play. SHSU is 7-12 and 1-3 in the SLC. We are 8-11 and also 1-3 in the SLC. SHSU has recently been mixing and matching their starting lineups, especially on the back row. SFA has had three different lineups in each of the last three games. Last weekend, freshman Lindsay Hill got her first start at M2 and the match before that featured a two-setter attack. One slight difference though exists in preseason expectations. The 'Jacks were given the 3rd overall ranking by both the coaches and SID's (Sports Information Directors) while Sam Houston was picked 5th in one poll and 6th in the other. We all know that SFA currently is playing nowhere near the level of what would be expected out of a #3 seed in the conference tournament.

There is a lot of meat in the Stats Focus today, so let's dispatch with the intro and get right to our breakdown...

Who's Who?

Trivia: Name the only freshman on the first team all-conference list last year?
The answer is a paragraph or so down.

The main name to know at Sam Houston is outside hitter Carli Kolbe. Her partner in crime, middle blocker Anna Ferguson has had her four-year parking meter expire and now Kolbe finds herself as the main go-to on offense without an equally effective offensive weapon along side her. Kolbe isn't dissimilar to what we saw last Saturday in TAMUCC's Emma Ridley in terms of her being a very large proportion of her teams' offense. More on this in the 'Stats Focus' section below.

S Kym Loving: Back in the quarterback position after being injured most all of last year and tutoring freshman setter Michelle Miller. Miller has moved on and Loving is healthy and now appears to be back to her 2008 form when she stole the setter role from then senior Meagan McNamara. Loving - at least in years past when I've watched her -- is quite the firestorm. Historically, she's been very vocal, emotional and flamboyant with her facial expressions and on-court chatter and occasional taunts after blocks, etc. Quite the opposite personality to our rather "controlled" and stoic Allison Gideon.

MB Kim Black: A hometown product from right there in Huntsville, Black may be one of the more improved Bearkats over the last two years. She's stepped into big shoes trying to take over for the aforementioned Ferguson, but so far so good as Black has out blocked anyone on our squad and ranks as one of only seven players in the conference to average more than a block per set.

L/OH Kaylee Hawkins: Ahh.. here is the answer to the trivia question above. Hawkins was a first-team all SLC pick at libero last year. So, you've got a freshman who garners that kind of honor and how many games has she started at libero this year? A grand total of three! Now, what's relevant here is that those three come in the last few weeks. Sam Houston has played libero musical chairs through the first half of this season. Early on, the off-colored jersey was worn by Camille Alfaro - who interesting enough was a freshman last year too. When, I first saw that early in the year, I couldn't believe it. Did SHSU need offense so bad that they would shift Hawkins to an outside hitter and install a brand new libero? At any rate, that experiment didn't last long as Brenda Gray tabbed Jamie Haas - who incredibly was ALSO a freshman last year - as the new libero.

Isn't that weird? You've got a freshman FIRST TEAM all-conference libero and you then go with not one, but two of her sophomore classmates before making the decision in recent weeks to go back to her at libero?

Could that possibly be because no one else is stepping up on the attack to go along side Kolbe? One can only assume that Gray thought that Hawkins - despite her prowess at libero - was still her 2nd best option on the outside. Despite the recent shift back to libero, Hawkins is still second on the team in total attacks. Will we see Hawkins at libero tomorrow. Who knows? Haas has started more games there than anyone this year, but she hasn't started there recently.. so that's a bit of an unknown as we travel to Huntsville.

Kolbe, Black, Loving and Hawkins are the only four consistent starters for the Bearkats. Freshman OH Lauren Bohlen was starting regularly for a long while, but hasn't of late. Redshirt freshman OH Kelli Stewart started early in the season, but then didn't start for a string of several matches, but has recently been reinserted into the starting lineup. Clearly, Sam Houston is looking for help on the outside. The starting hitters aside from Kolbe have been in flux. Alfaro started the last match against UTSA, but that's only her second start after she was booted from libero. Recently, the M2 has been occupied by yet another freshman Haley Neisler. Finally, Coach Gray's daughter, Tayler Gray has earned spot starts over the last few weeks. Oh yeah.. she's a freshman too.

Clearly, this team is young. Very young. In fact, there won't be a senior night in Huntsville this year 'cause they ain't got one!

Who to Watch?
You can't help but watch Kolbe. She's emotional. She hits very hard... she's actually quite graceful. That big powerful swing comes from a huge arching of her back as she approaches.. and she can hit the ball hard from anywhere on the court. She takes full - very full - swings from the back row. Despite my semi-picking on her in years past about her temper tantrums, I actually think she was a bit more under control last year. To be honest, she's the kind of player any coach would want on her side. Gray has told me that she actually likes Kolbe to play "possessed" because she's better when she's emotional rather than calm.

My actual focus tomorrow will be on Black, though. She's my pick to watch. In addition to her leading the team in blocking, she is also an excellent server as she currently ranks second in the conference in aces behind the incredibly effective serve of Jessica Hays over at UCA. I'll be interested to see how well our attackers do going up against Black, Neiser and Stewart. All three average more blocks per set than anyone on our roster.

Stats Focus
It's easy to look on the conference website and find the leaders in kills per set. But, what about ATTACKS per set? Look at these two top 10 lists and then ask yourself what pattern you see in the Top 5 during 2010. I have highlighted these in bold.

Top 10 in Attacks Per Set in 2009 (SLC):
1. Emma Ridley, TAMUCC (12.47)
2. Chloe Smith, UCA (11.32)
3. Carli Kolbe, SHSU (11.16)
4. Kendra Rowland, UTSA (9.13)
5. Priscilla Massengale, McNeese (9.13)
6. Jessica Weynand, TX ST (9.12)
7. Yelena Enwere, NWLA (8.90)
8. Chanel Tyler, McNeese (8.78)
9. Anna Ferguson, SHSU (8.77)
10, Kelsey Owens, SFA (8.65)

Top 1o in Attacks Per Set So Far in 2010 (SLC):
1. Emma Ridley, TAMUCC (10.45)
2. Carli Kolbe, SHSU (10.02)
3. Jessica Hays, UCA (9.63)
4. Kendra Rowland, UTSA (9.58)
5. Chloe Smith, UCA (8.84)
6. Jennifer Brandt, Nicholls (8.58)
7. Priscilla Massengale, McNeese (8,44)
8. Amanda Aguilera, UTA (8.41)
9. Lauren Chapman, Nicholls (8.25)
10. Kourtney Adams, NWLA (8.25)
(Our Kelsey Owens would be 11th at 8.22 on this last list)

So, what about the current top five?
Last match was against TAMUCC. Ridley. We lost.
Next to match last was against UTSA. Rowland. We lost.
Match before that was UCA. Hays. Smith. We lost.

Tomorrow: Kolbe.

In four consecutive matches we are facing the five most prominent attackers in terms of being the largest proportion of their teams' offense that the conference has to offer.

If you are on these leader boards it implies that you are in an offense that repeatedly uses you as the primary attacker and it also signifies that you are on a team that runs a heavy, if not disproportionately heavy, dose of its offense through you. The exception being UCA that has two in the top five. But still: My point is that possibly we are seeing a pattern here. Could it be that we have particular trouble containing those offenses where there is one primary weapon? That seems paradoxical. But, we certainly KNEW that Ridley was going to swing 50 to 60 times and we weren't able to stop her.

Same story tomorrow: We know Kolbe is going to swing a lot. In their five set match against TAMUCC she swung 70 times! Will we contain her? The data above says we haven't won against teams that feature an offense which runs the bulk of its offense through one weapon. That is certainly something to ponder as we get closer to 7 PM tomorrow night.

Outlook for Wednesday's Match:
The loser of tomorrow's match will remain in last place in the SLC West. A team that is 1-4 has got to go 7-4 the rest of the way to finish at .500 in conference. I will remind you that we still have to play Texas State twice, UTSA in San Antonio and Lamar who is surging right now. That doesn't even consider that UTA isn't a pushover and we lost to TAMUCC and have to travel there. So, yeah... this is important. There is very little time to waste. We'll see where we are at the end of this week, but a few more steps backwards and SFA may be playing for its tournament life against McNeese and Lamar in the second week of November.

We need to come out strong. I think its time we shake this thing off and re-establish ourselves in this conference. Let's play like we've got something to prove. 'Cause....... We do.

Monday, October 4, 2010


If you've read the article below which was written before the match with TAMUCC, you may now be saying "It looks like the jury may have returned an early verdict." I think I'll stick with my original thought and wait to really form a strong opinion until after this week is over. However, clearly we are not playing our best volleyball right now.

This post is super short since all I wanted to communicate is:

a) I will travel to Huntsville and do a live chat for our match which starts at 7 PM on Wednesday night. Just surf on over here and join me in case you can't make the trip


b) There will be a Sam Houston preview posted here Tuesday night so you can read that tomorrow evening or during the day on Wednesday before the match.

Sam Houston is playing with a bit of inconsistentcy too.. mixing and matching their lineup similar to our changes the last match or two, so it will be a battle of underachievers to this point. Here's hoping we right the ship immediately and get back to winning ways.

Check back tomorrow and look for the chat on Wednesday night live from Huntsville.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Keep the Jury Out for One More Week...

vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christi
@ Sam Houston
vs. Southeastern Louisiana

@ Texas State
vs. Sam Houston
@ Nicholls
vs. Texas Arlington
vs. Texas State

Those are the next 9 matches. You see where that line is drawn in there? Unfortunately, if the league isn't given a better impression by that point it will probably be time to change our outlook.

Stephen F. Austin volleyball expects to contend for league titles and conference tourney title games EVERY YEAR. Newsflash to freshman and possible recruits if they don't understand this: We expect to be at the top EVERY year and that's just the culture around here.

We all know Central Arkansas and Texas State will hover around the top of the standings, but while UCA hasn't been knocked off (yet), Lamar proved Texas State can be taken down. That provides an opportunity. Get your squad straightened out, start playing consistent ball in all phases of the game - get hot - and what d'ya know - we are right up there in standings too. That's the theory, at least.

But, after taking a whipping by UTSA earlier this week are we right to still "believe" in such theory? I say yes. I think the jury is out for one more week.

Why the optimism? After all, I personally heard UTSA star Kendra Rowland say after the match yesterday "We just beat SFA at SFA" in a tone that conveyed even she didn't believe what had just happened. Nobody is happy with where we are right now. The league has to feel good about coming to Nacogdoches because we've been shaky on our home floor so far. Isn't this all a bunch of reason to doubt?

When I left Johnson Coliseum last night, I didn't have a lot of hope. But, as is so often the case, after a good night of sleep and pondering during the day, I have changed my mind. I believe. Am I being a home-towner blasting sunshine here just cause there is purple all over this page and my pay stub has the university logo on it? Nope - and if you really believe that, you haven't read here very long.

I "believe" still because I have a memory of Samford. I saw it. I watched while in Houston as the Ladyjacks showed what we are when firing in sync and playing consistent, fundamental volleyball. I sincerely believe that if you had stuck Central Arkansas, Texas State, or any other conference opponent on the other side of the net that afternoon they would have left the gym losers. It wasn't just the level of competition.. it was us. It was us playing good volleyball.

That team we saw that day can still emerge as the norm. But it better do so quick.

Let's be honest. There isn't one problem here.

One night - like last night - we get really good performances by KO and MC and then no one steps up offensively to support them, the setting is shaky, the usual outstanding back row play looks average and we serve too many balls in the net.

The next night.. the blocking is on fire, but our outsides hit BingO-54 or something like that and serve receive goes in the trash.

Later in the week, Gideon looks all-world - no problems, but none of the attackers are on and the block looks like its in slow motion.

Next, Maddie and Mel dig everything this side of the Mississippi, but the setting has attackers begging for a back massage after the match and the net might as well be 15 feet off the floor 'cause we ain't hitting any over it.

I think you get it. If you've been to the matches, then you've seen exactly what I am talking about.

Rewind on the UTSA match....

Total Points: SFA 86, UTSA 99
Attack Percentage: SFA .169, UTSA .201
Total Digs: SFA 58, UTSA 67
Total Blocks: SFA 11, UTSA 1o
Service Errors: SFA 9, UTSA 3
Total Errors (attack+block+serve+receive+ ball handling): SFA 44, UTSA 33

Despite all the stuff in the middle of that list.. I think the first and last entries say a lot. They scored 13 more points than us. We had 11 more total errors than them. There it is, huh?

There used to be a fairly controversial adage in baseball about what was the best way to measure the quality of a batter. I think sabermetrics has solved that problem now. In baseball, outs are bad. Don't make outs. The only way your team is made to stop hitting is to make outs. Don't make outs - you get to keep hitting. If you keep hitting, you will score. If you score, you can win.

In Volleyball hitting the ball into the net, out of bounds, touching the net while blocking and the like are bad. Every time you hit the ball over the net and in bounds, the probability remains positive that you will score. When you hit the ball out of bounds or into the net, the probability you will score is zero.

September 17: SFA Total Errors: 40, Samford Total Errors: 56. (Win)
September 25: SFA Total Errors: 48, Central Arkansas Total Errors: 32 (Loss)

A gap of 16 each time. Funny how that works isn't it.

Despite all of this... I have another thought. This I am actually gathering hard data to study and I will present my findings later in the year:

Thought: Tied 1-1, the 3rd set is of paramount importance to a teams eventual chance of winning.

I know, that seems rather obvious, but still, if you think its obvious then doesn't that explain last night against UTSA better than anything?

Again to bring in a baseball reference, it is well known that when a batter has a 1 ball, 1 strike count that the 3rd pitch is incredibly predictive of the ultimate outcome of the at-bat. The difference between a 2 ball, 1 strike count versus a 1 ball, 2 strike count is LARGE.

Let's study this in volleyball, OK? I think we need some data on this and not just our intuition. Just how critical is that 3rd set when tied 1-1? Measure it. I'm working on it.

Let's keep the jury out one more week. Corpus-Christi took Sam Houston to five sets. We all know what they are: Emma Ridley and bunch of interchangeable, not-so impressive parts. Ridley is going to have more attacks than anyone in the gym tomorrow. Their offense is completely geared around her. Just contain her.

Beat TAMUCC convincingly. Go on the road and get some swagger back by taking down Sam Houston. Come back to Nacogdoches and get on a three game - well played - winning streak after beating SELA and then the games below that line at the top of the page will have the implications we expected them to when we began our season in Waco.

It's too early to doubt. I still believe.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Conference Opponent Breakdown: UTSA

In the brief two year history of this blog, I haven't written many words on UTSA. Last year when they came to town, the focus was on Debbie Humphreys' 500th career victory. That night wasn't so much about the Runners as it was about SFA finally winning a five set match and honoring our legendary coach.

We met up with UTSA again later in the season. Most of us remember our first round SLC Tourney match in their gym. That match will always be burned into my brain for several reasons. One of which is that SFA Volleyball Media Relations guru Ben Rikard and I sat directly - and I mean DIRECTLY- in front of a bunch of screaming, shirtless - in some cases, large - UTSA students stomping and yelling in our ears all night. Did we get put at the media table for the tourney? Oh, no....we got put at the table across the court in front of the students. Needless to say, we needed some time down on the Riverwalk later that evening to decompress.

So, what about now? Thursday night, UTSA will come calling again in Nacogdoches. What should we expect and what implications does this first home conference match have for SFA? Read on amigos y amigas....

Who's Who?
The interesting thing about UTSA is that minus their setter from '09 (Amber Brooks), they will more than likely trot out the exact same squad as they did in last years' conference tourney:

OH Kendra Rowland: a bit of a free spirit & sassy player. Her final go-round at UTSA. Rowland, a very hard hitter, can definitely catch fire if left unchecked. Read more on her down in the 'Stats Focus' section.

MB Briana Mason: leads the club with 14 solo blocks to this point the year. By contrast, SFA has no one in double figures in solo blocks.

OH Whitney Walls and OH Elise Huskey: Walls was one of the players last year that I kept hearing people talk about (she was a freshman), but she didn't really do much against us, so I think I missed the boat. While Huskey had a decent freshman campaign, her numbers this year as a junior are up all the way around as compared to her sophomore effort. I have memories of being impressed with her at times over the last three or four meetings with UTSA. Of the two, Huskey is clearly the better back-row defender (123 digs) as it appears Walls rotates out a lot when she shifts back (only 17 digs on the year).

MB Brittany Malloy: She blocked 7 balls against us here in Nacogdoches last year.

S Kelsey Schwirtlich: A sophomore who got the starting nod after incumbent Amber Brooks transferred to Houston. We discovered this while at the Baylor tournament on a break. The subject of UTSA came up in discussion between Debbie, Brian and I at one point and Brooks name surfaced. After searching box scores, I noticed she wasn't in them. After a little more detective work (Google is great, ain't it) I found her in the roster at the University of Houston. I'm sure there is a story there. For now, coming into this week of play, Schwirtlich trailed only Marissa Collins at UCA for the conference lead in assists per set.

L Kelsey Jewasko: Sigh. Yes, OK, OK - she's good. Do a search on the articles I've written here about Maddie Hanlan and you'll see me sound off on Jewasko a few times. The numbers and honors don't lie: UTSA is the top digging team in the conference and Jewakso is the reigning SLC defensive player of the week. If you like back row defense (I actually like it better than at-the-net defense), then show up on Thursday - you may get a clinic between our back row and theirs.

Who Else Will We See?
On the offensive side, Andee Josserand has seen decent playing time and defensively, look for senior Megan Schauffelle and freshman Katie Milam. Schauffelle, as a reserve, averages nearly two digs per set, which isn't bad for limiting playing time.

Who to Watch?
The obvious names here are Rowland on offense and Jewasko on defense, but I think my eye will be on Walls just like it was last year. She is a returning all-conference selection from 2009 and because of that was named pre-season 1st team All-SLC. There are two odd names on that list to me personally (
you can find it here), the first being UTA's Tara Frantz (who I think is overrated) and the other being Walls. The reason Walls is strange to me is because she's been entirely unimpressive in her matches against SFA, but in reading Runners' stories and boxes from last year, she had some truly terrific outings. So, here's to her staying under the radar against SFA. But still... I am kinda curious about her skill set given others have seen it and I haven't.

Stats Focus
Are Kendra Rowland's best days actually behind her? Rowland is basically putting up the EXACT SAME numbers on offesnse as she did last year. Yet, her freshman and sophomore years were clearly more productive offensively. To wit:

2007 (FR**) 3.18 k/s, .181 attack % in 1285 attacks
2008 (SOPH) 3.74 k/s, .210 attack% in 1248 attacks
2009 (JR) 2.72 k/s, .155 attack% in 1087 attacks
2010 (SR) 2.72 k/s, .154 attack% (on pace for 1130 attacks)

** The 2007 kills per set statistic is translated to 25 points per set. Recall, we played to 30 in 2007 (so, 3.81 k/s per 30 = 3.18 k/s per 25)

Fun fact: Rowland has played in every UTSA match in all four of her years there. (Don't know about every set...didn't check it)

Clearly, Rowland's best offensive year came as a sophomore. Is it possible that she is riding the reputation of her first two years at UTSA and really hasn't improved that much in the last two?

Maybe that's too much of a leap, but they are interesting numbers, eh?

Oh, and I wouldn't buy the explanation that she was better because she got more total sets her way as a freshman and sophomore. Those differences of around 200 total attacks through the years equate to about six more attacks per match in her first two years as opposed to her last two. Six attacks per match is less than two per set and that's not enough to explain a full kill per set drop from 2008 to 2009/2010.

In fact, I'll spare you the math, but a .250 hitter (which she isn't) would expect to drop a little over one-third of a kill per set when experiencing Rowland's drop off in attempts. My point is that Rowland's drop off in kills per set is three times higher than what one would expect in going from 2008 to 2009/2010. I'm not trying to draw any firm conclusions, but I do have an opinion:

Rowland was on the way to being a great hitter, but at this point she's merely above average. Which is still more than enough to steal the show every once in a while.

Outlook for Thursday's Match
I honestly believe this is a gut-check match for SFA. Let's be candid: We are 1-1 in the SLC and most in the conference would have picked us to beat NWLA and lose to UCA. That being said - and I wasn't there - so figure that in - I thought we'd fair a little better than what we did in Conway. But do you think others around the conference see Thursday's match as a slam dunk for SFA? I doubt it.

Let's look at the three common opponents we've shared with UTSA:

Baylor: We lost 1-3. They lost 0-3
Rice: We lost 0-3. They lost 2-3
North Texas: We won 3-2. They won 3-2

Doesn't look that different to me.

UTSA isn't going to be a push over. They weren't last year. To be perfectly honest, they are the kind of team that could absolutely wax us if we play a sloppy match. Northwestern State was a little more forgiving. There is the chance that UTSA will come in here and make us all really peeved.

But, on paper, I still believe this is a match where SFA should be favored. Both teams will know each other well from years gone by. Other than the two setters, the only new starter I expect to announce for either side is Sabrina Burns.

So, could the setters be the X-factor? Maybe. They are the people most unknown to each side.

UTSA is a good measuring stick. Win convincingly and optimism about matches against the conferences toughest teams is reinstated. Lose in a sloppy effort and we are a step or two from facing the reality that we are looking up at several other SLC teams rather than looking across the table at them.

I seriously doubt this is a quick match. Should be good volleyball! Make plans to be there Thursday night at 7:00 PM and again on Saturday at 2:00 PM when we take on Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.