Friday, July 23, 2010

The Dozen In Charge, Part 2

This weekend we continue our three part post introducing you or re-familiarizing you with the head coaches in the Southland. Last week we took a brief look at the three 500-game winners and today we survey five coaches I'll tab the "veterans" of the league.

The first two on this list have nearly 400 total wins each as a head coach, but those victories coming primarily out of the Southland and at smaller schools. The remaining three are veteran coaches whose time in charge has solely or predominately been in the SLC.

As with the first post, I'll try and throw in a personal memory or two along the way in terms of sitting adjacent to their huddles while in Johnson Coliseum or pre/post matches.

The Legends (Chisum, Gray, Humphreys)

The Veterans

Steven McRoberts, Central Arkansas
McRoberts is going into his 6th year at UCA after a slightly longer tenure at Lubbock Christian. McRoberts has 145 wins while in charge of the Sugar Bears and a grand total of 396 victories between his two head coaching stops. If you've been keeping up at all, you know McRoberts has won the last two SLC Coach of the Year Awards and UCA went undefeated in league play last year. Possibly more impressive is that the Bears have lost only one road conference game in the last two years (UTA, 10/17/08, 2-3).

One thing that struck me the first time UCA came to play at SFA while I've worked for the club is that they have an all-male coaching staff. They are unique among conference teams in that arrangement and I've always been curious as to how not having the "female" presence with female athletes works in terms of the team dynamic. Clearly, it hasn't been an issue in terms of the ultimate measuring stick - wins and losses.

I've never had a conversation with McRoberts. He's one of several coaches in the conference - and in this post - that I'm rather positive has no idea who I am. I remember being impressed that he made the trip to San Antonio last year for the SLC Tournament, but I guess I shouldn't be. He's never seemed very animated to me, but I'll admit that UCA's play is typically so good that I am less focused on him and more focused on the beast that is Chloe Smith and all her cronies when they are in town. UCA's eligibility for postseason play now makes it likely I'll have more opportunities to see him coach this year.

Laura Neugebauer-Groff, UTSA
Neugebauer-Groff is similar to McRoberts in that she had experience as a head coach for several years before taking the helm in the Southland at UTSA. She has 380 career wins, with the majority coming as the coach of St. Mary's. Her 124 'Runner victories are highest all time for a UTSA head volleyball coach. She spent 8 years at St. Mary's and has been in charge at UTSA for an equal eight years. Groff probably was the best player among Southland coaches in that she was an All-American at The University of Texas. During her four years of college, the Longhorns won the Southwest Conference Championship each year. She even made the SWC 1980's all-decade team.

Groff easily ranks as the coach I've seen most irritated in our gym. While rather docile last year when she came to Nacogdoches, in past years I have vivid memories of her inflammation with hecklers and being fairly bothered by fans, bad calls, and generally everything around the bench. Much like the interaction between Gray at SHSU and prima donna Carli Kolbe, I've seen some interesting joint reactions between Groff and to-be senior Kendra Rowland. Rowland has always been a player who strikes me as sassy and a few times in Nacogodoches, Groff and Rowland have had a collective- shall we say - tizzy or two.

All that aside, Groff clearly has a really high volleyball IQ (not that these other people don't). She can be loud, and I've heard her specifically one-on-one coach players during time outs with an amazing sense of clarity. That is... not just "here is what I need you to do", but rather "Here is WHY you need to do this and what will happen to us if you don't". I get the impression she is good one-on-one as a teacher.

I'll admit that along with Gibert (below) she is one of the coaches I most like to see come to SFA because you might get a show.

Diane Seymour, UTA
The coach most likely to get seasick reviewing her clubs performances over the years. Up and down, to and fro. Good and bad...reviewing UTA's record under Seymour gives you the feeling of being tossed about on a boat at sea. Witness: 2004 (1st year head coach), 24-7, 15-5 SLC. Good for 3rd place. Next year: 6-21 overall. The following year (2006): 25-10 overall, 2nd place in the SLC. So that strong season is followed up by what in 2007? Another good year! Second in the conference again. Alright, we're on a roll now. Wrong. UTA goes 7-23 in 2008 finishing next to last. Last year, they were mediocre.

From all that ebb and flow its not hard to guess that UTA is basically a .500 program under Seymour (93-89 in six years). Before, I became the public address announcer and back about a decade or so ago, THE road game for me to attend as a fan was at Arlington on the stage. If you've never heard about or seen what is meant by "the stage" then you've missed something. Plain weird. More recently though, I have never been scared of a UTA club coming to Nacogdoches. In fact, during my time court side, UTA has never so much as won a set against us at Johnson Coliseum.

Like Groff, I judge Seymour a really good communicator. I've seen Seymour stay incredibly calm and in "teaching" mode despite getting absolutely blasted off the court a few times in Nacogdoches. I know it will sound weird, but she's taken some 3-0 losses here in Nac with a great deal of grace. Some others on this list probably would have needed an overdose of blood pressure meds before getting on the bus if they had witnessed the destruction that Seymour has here.

While never having directly chatted with her, she has always been polite to the table and I can offer up a bit of trivia. One of my very best childhood friends married a former UTA volleyball player (Sue O'Connell Amsler) and Seymour was instrumental in getting them together I am told. Small world.

Justin Gibert, Lamar
What can I really print about Lamar? Talk about no love lost. Man, ever since the conference winning streak was ended at their hands in Nacogdoches, its been really tough to stay objective about Cardinal volleyball. You just want to beat their brains in and there a few people who are going to read this and know exactly what I am talking about.

Recall, Gibert is a former assistant at SFA who last year hired SFA standout JJ Jones to be his own assistant. SFA South, they be.

It's undeniable that Gibert has had a good dose of early success in his head coaching career. While 78 wins in five years may not be overly impressive, they always seem to be in the mix of things. Last year's SLC Tournament was a great example. They made me so nervous. Adrianne Meengs played out of her soul during that tournament - posting a ridiculous 15 kills with only two errors, 19 digs and 35 assist triple-double in a semi-final loss to Texas State. I couldn't take it. I had to swallow my pride a bit. I went up to Meengs and her family and basically gushed like a school-girl-in-love-with-quarterback in praise. It was disgusting. But, she deserved the props.

One thing I like about Gibert, is that like Humphreys, he isn't afraid to get the crowd involved. He's excitable and likes to play off the emotion of the crowd. Unfortunately, the Lamar faithful travel well and there have been times when he's been able to stir up Cardinal fans in our house. Gibert - when his team is ahead - absolutely cannot shut-up. It's just not possible. If he's in the lead then every pass is met with "good one" and every set is met with "Yesssss" and then every attack has a simultaneous "boom" uttered from Gibert. Annoying beyond belief.

Gibert is a regular reader here, so I hope he takes my comments in good humor. To be completely honest, I really hope I have more face to face conversations with him during the years. It's not like he's unapproachable. I honestly meant to seek him out at the SLC Tourney, but I talk a lot - and it seemed like I was always preoccupied when he was around. I was probably spouting off stats to Ben at the table while he was trying to work or something and missed my chance to talk w/ Gibert.

He clearly is off to a strong start in his head coaching career and I have little doubt about his ability to continue to run a successful program. But, everyone has to have that one team that just drives you nuts, right? For some SFA faithful it is Texas State, but for some of us.... it is...well, let's just move on....

Julie Langford, Southeastern Louisiana
Langford qualifies as a veteran now as she is entering her 5th year as the head coach of the Lady Lions. Prior to her 34 wins at SLU, she was in charge for three years at Belhaven College. She helped earn SLU a minor dose of respect by squeaking into the SLC Tournament last year earning the right to go home first as the 8th seed having to face Texas State.

Southeastern Louisiana, like UTA, just has never been a match that created much of a buzz in Nacogodoches. Indeed, SFA is 27-2 all-time against SLU with no losses in the Langford era. I don't have much of a memory of SFA/SLU matches and don't have a single recollection about how Langford has coached or interacted with folks. Chances are, I was overdosed on Dr. Pepper in order to make it through the matches we've had with them over the years and just never thought to strike up any form of conversation.

I should end with a more serious congratulations on their tournament appearance last year. When you are trying to build a program, those are the things you use as stepping stones. The Lions are bringing in five new players next year - from five different states. Which is interesting only in that they have no native Louisiana player on their roster. They need a couple of gold mines to develop in their young crop. Time will tell if Langford and her staff will be able to add steps to the one taken last year.