One weekend. Three matches. Obviously, that's not a lot to to go on, but here are a few first impressions.
No matter what happens, the memory of the first set of the year will live large. Wow. What a way to come out of the gate against Baylor. I was seriously pumped up after that one. I mean, here we are starting three freshmen and two sophomores going up against the #27 ranked team in the country in their gym. We get ahead 12-7 by scoring five straight points, then manage to stay ahead until it gets knotted at 19-19. Fold and give in? No. Instead, Sabrina Burns kill to take the lead. They score and take the lead 21-20. Fold and give in? No. Instead, Monica Pannone sends two shots to the floor. After a service error gives Baylor set point do we fold and give in? No. Instead, Allison Gideon decides to strike rather than set at just the right time and we are tied. You want more? Baylor gets up 26-25 and has their second set point? Give in now and be happy with stretching this set out? No. A block by Bottles and Gideon, an attack error by Baylor and then Bottles ending it with a kill and you've got one exciting way to begin a a season.
Yeah, Yeah, I know the other sets didn't go as well as that one, but still - there was some spark shown there out of the gate that holds promise.
Overall, the positives that I saw were that Bottles is awesome as usual and after an off night on Friday, KO played well against Butler and SMU. It actually looked like MC was jumping higher on her attacks than I remember in years past. Maybe it was just my angle, but it looked to me as though she added an inch or two to her contact point.
Other quick positive observations: Pannone was thundering them down on Friday. Not quite as sharp on Saturday, but if MC and KO are leading the offense then players like Burns, Pannone and Jackson can be more complementary, rather than having to lead on offense. That formula was more in play on Saturday - even against SMU despite the three set loss.
Hanlan and Miksch had some ridiculous ups on Saturday. Mel had one in particular where she was basically going backward and just popped one up back over her head that looked like her arm was in this weird contorted angle. Freaked me out.
Gideon has great floor vision. I can remember two distinct rallies in which I saw that Butler was leaving the left front corner wide open with a girl cheating really far over to cover a block on the right front. Both times (and obviously many others that I didn't see), Gideon picked up on it and while jump setting just flicked the ball over her right shoulder barely over the net into the open left front for a point. Many other times she was able to attack on 2nd touch which is something we haven't seen consistently in a very long time at SFA.
Despite not having an obvious answer right now on the right side, there are enough people being auditioned over there (Jackson and Hill a little bit) that I think we are going to be OK until Ari returns.
On the flip side, I thought our block was slow to set up at times giving opponents too many open shots or just one-on-ones. Passing was hit or miss. It probably needs to get better in order to be more consistent on offense. Despite Gideon's attempts to set deep in the attacking zone, at times I thought sets were too far off the net and of course, that in part, can be attributed to weak passing putting the setter in more difficult situations than are necessary. The other part of it may just simply be that despite practices, this is the first Fall season that Gideon has set to our primary attackers and of course, the first time ever she has set to the freshmen.
Debbie seemed like she was cool with what she saw. Overall, I mean. Sure, there were things she commented on that are not going to be printed here, but I think overall, there was enough positive play that she can capitalize on during the next week as we prepare for ULM and our next tournament.
To be perfectly honest, Baylor and SMU are really good teams. The total talent on both those teams probably eclipses us by a decent margin. I should add here that SMU looked really, really good against Baylor. Their block was really effective against a strong set of Baylor attackers. I thought SMU played noticeably worse against us, so in a way, it was disappointing not to finish off a set or two against them in the last match.
Tuesday night is the home opener and if we play even moderately well it should be a quick win. Louisiana-Monroe was 3-30 last year, and so we picked a good home opening opponent. I mean, we are 32-0 all time against ULM, OK? Not taking them for granted, but 2-2 is probably where a lot of folks thought we'd be after our first four matches. I'd like to see the freshmen contribute tomorrow night in their first match at Johnson Coliseum.
Your assignment is to get back here during Tuesday afternoon and read the interview with Setter Allison Gideon and then put on purple and get over to the Coliseum. I'll be piping out the lineups at one minute to 7:00. See you there!