Are they better? By enough to create a fortune even better than 2009?
OK, that's not fair. You don't just come back from the dead of winter, start posting on the blog again and ask that direct a set of questions right from the get-go? You gotta build up to that, right? You know, kind of avoid the big questions while generating basic interest and then address this later.
They are the obvious two questions, though. Sure, we won't know the answer until a long time from now. But comparisons are constantly made in sports, so I see no reason to avoid such discussion here even though there is some speculation involved. The pieces in the puzzle will change between now and the first practice on August 9. They'll change again between then and August 27th's first serve. They will change some more once we begin winning and losing and travelling and getting banged up and injured. It's that way for any club.
Penciled in? Well, your gut tells you there is no such thing, but in all estimation we should expect to see Bottles, Owens, Daron and Hanlan run out on the floor under the gold dome of the Ferrell Center in Waco come 8/27. If health is kind to those four, they should all be better. This will be KO's swan song and she and Ari, along with senior Laurel Kuepker will begin their last hurrah. Owens led the club in '09 by a slender margin in kills per set, but she didn't play in 10 of the 37 matches last year. To say we need her healthy and leading on the outside is obvious, so let's dispose of that and move on. She'll get her own preview along with all the others in days to come.
Bottles - a junior. Really? Just a junior. She's been here two years and it already seems like forever. Woah, that didn't type right. I meant it as a complement. You see, she burst on to the scene so quickly in '08 that it just seems like she should be about done, but she's only half way there. Check this out:
2008 (FR) 2.60 kill/set, 0.88 block/set, 0.63 dig/set, .356 attack %
2009 (SO): 2.62 kill/set, 1.00 block/set, 0.67 dig/set .286 attack %
Aside from the slight dip in attack percentage, she's been amazingly consistent. More than you think, though because 2009 consisted of significantly more matches than 2008 (Ike!).
Of course, she's the main middle now. Ashley Bailey (Foster, now) won't be her counterpart anymore. Nevertheless, we should bank on MC and KO being better. We should expect them to take another step or two.
Hanlan's gonna dig 'em. I wasted too many words while ringing my hands in worry over whether or not she'd hold down the back row as a true freshman, so this year, I will carry a new banner of 'In Maddie we Trust'. No telling what we're going to see the next three years from her. I've spent a fair amount of time in the last few days thinking about last year and looking over box scores, stats and articles. Hanlan was amazing. I didn't give her as many props as she deserved.
One of the things Coach Humphreys and I spent a lot of time talking about last week was 'breakthrough' candidates. Last year, she identified Melissa Miksch from spring practices as someone who she thought was ready to shine. Of course, Mel goes out and gets an all-tourney nod early in the year to back Humphrey's hunch up. The person who really stuck out for me last year while watching the August practices was Arielle Daron. Of course, we all know how instrumental she became last year. Her flexibility of moving from the middle to the right really paid off and we should look for her there this year too - again expecting improvement.
So, MC, KO, Ari, Maddie. Great. With those four mentally in my mind filed in the folder labelled "Yeah, yeah", I asked Coach about THIS years step-it-up, breakthrough, breakout, whatever you want to call it player.
Let me let you in on a little secret. Many, many players through the years have told me that Humphreys is more than demanding on setters. OK, maybe that's not a secret. But, it makes sense. The setter is the quarterback, so coaches should focus a ton of energy on the floor general. Allison Gideon might as well be the second coming of sliced bread or banana pudding, or whatever...this girl's been talked up since she arrived on campus last year. I gotta tell you: I'll probably spend a couple entire practices in August just focused on watching the setting alone, because geez Louise, how many more times do I have to hear it about Gideon?
She's the setter. Everything points toward this redshirt plan working out dandy. It is really going to be exciting to see her out there after taking her turn on the bench for a year watching and learning. The setter thing drove me absolutely nuts last year. Buckner was a transfer only having one year's worth of experience at SFA and Lo was hurt. All that after Schott decided to go play with polar bears or whatever they do in Green Bay. But now... we go into the Fall with a setter. Notice, the word "a" in front of setter. By "a", I mean a single starter - a clear starter. Kuepker still has aches and pains to deal with and they'll give newcomer Veach practice reps at the net, but Gideon is the setter.
So, Humphreys sees her as the breakout candidate. I'm sitting there in my chair across from her desk thinking "You would". Actually, its probably obvious that Allison is the most likely to make an impact, but I've got a personal dark horse and their may be others among the newbies too.
One point early in the year last year - really early in the year, I went out to the web to double check something. Yep, the roster says Sabrina Burns is an outside hitter. My little pea-volleyball brain began to cramp. What? She LOOKS like a middle blocker, She IS a middle blocker I kept telling myself in denial. That height, that reach...that's a MB. Humphreys actually had to correct me a few times last year when I'd start talking about the middles and kept including Burns in the conversation. But, not now. Burns makes the transition over to MB during the off-season, and from what I gather from the Spring slate things went pretty good with sophomore Sabrina.
So, if last year it was Mel and Ari, this year, I think we look to Allison and Sabrina as making the biggest leaps forward. Gosh, I hope so, cuz we're gonna be damn good if those two bring their A-game and the quintet of Bottles, Daron, Owens, Hanlan and Miksch take it up a notch.
But, if you're out there reading the new names on the roster card, realize any one of the six could play a role unrealized just yet. I got the feel from Coach Humphreys that they are particularly proud to have high jumper Carrie Hahn on board to fill the slot vacated by Amber Doolittle. While Coach talked up all the incoming freshman, a few words about Monica Pannone left me scribbling notes and underlining her name. When you look at the roster, the L2 position does appear vague and Pannone is in the pot swirling around somewhere when it comes to finding the right person to support on the outside.
Each of the last several years, freshman have really made an impact. Undoubtedly, one or more of the freshmen will be a piece of the puzzle.
It's just fun to get the puzzle out of the box again, isn't it? Then again, not as much fun as seeing it all put together.