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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.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Live Chat: SFA vs. Northwestern State Thursday 7:00 PM

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

LIVE CHAT AVAILABLE FOR CONFERENCE OPENER - FIRST HALF THOUGHTS:

First things first: There will be a live chat available Thursday from Natchitoches hosted right here in this very space where you are reading. Just check back here 15 minutes before first serve (6:45 PM) and SFA Volleyball Sports Information Director Ben Rikard and I will be here to bring you all the action and chat the match as the 'Jacks open up Southland Conference play.

Last year's match in Natchitoches was quite an interesting one. We encountered bats during the match - yeah, bats - as in Halloween and caves and stuff. You can read back over that match here. Quite the read. On the way home that night I came upon a police roadblock where an officer told me... "Yeah, go ahead and drive in that other lane over there...I know it is oncoming traffic, but if you see any headlights...just gun it... it'll be OK". Ask me sometime. Prather Coliseum had partially flooded and we were playing in a different spot in the gym than normal and they had these funky speakers straight out of 1979 pumping out the jams pre-game. Weirdness.

Most importantly, we got the "W" that night and here's hoping - despite whatever else happens - we can same the same thing late Thursday night.

Oh, by the way.... rumor has it that Ben is taking the video camera so maybe some video (ala the Kuepker files from two weeks ago) will come your way in days to come over at
http://www.sfajacks.com/.

Believe it or not, this week marks the half way point in the season in terms of matches played before the conference tournament, so here are my quick hitting observations so far. As always, some positive, some not so positive...but always as I see 'em through this fans eyes. Be warned. I've seen only 8 of the 15 matches so far, but I am filling in gaps for those long road games based on stats (of course...and NO, they don't lie) and conversations with others.

Let's get straight to my main beef:
  • This team lacks consistency. Anyone who got a whiff of the Rice tourney got the drift on this.. Friday (especially the match against Arkansas State), the club was rolling. The offense was clicking, the blocks were there and back row defense was its normal steady self. That kind of volleyball poses a threat to anyone in the conference. However, Saturday was disgusting. The match against Rice was a poor showing all around and the club needs to string more that one or two matches together to be a legitimate threat. And yes - that's how I REALLY feel.

  • The consistency needs to start with Kelsey Owens. Anyone who has watched her play knows what she can do. She just needs to bring it "night in, night out" like a senior L1 can and should. Owens has never hit .200 in a season, and I sincerely hoped - and still hope - this will be the year that happens. But, the current .132 clip isn't good enough. Case in point: vs. North Texas: 24 kills on .380 hitting with 15 digs. The very next match against Samford: 1 kill, -.429 hitting and 5 digs.

  • The team will be better now that we are on a two-game a week routine and Ari Daron is close to returning. Bottles has been battling soreness in her side here and there and Daron hasn't taken the court yet. The normal routine will hopefully give MC the chance to fully heal and getting Daron's all-around athletic game back on the right side will give us a shot in the arm.

  • Despite nagging ailments, Bottles is a beast. Getting nearly a block per set, hitting .306 (4th in conference) and slamming down 3.06 kills per set (5th in conference) is getting it done. Big time. Let's say in print what we all know: She's the best player on this team and its not that close. I wish I had video to make this final point about her: She makes good decisions virtually all the time. In the match against Arkansas State, she touched the ball on four or five straight times the ball fell on our side of the net and she just made little decisions: getting in the right spot, flipping a ball up, getting a hand in the way of an attack and seeing the floor for a kill - all in the span of about 15 seconds and each one had me saying "Wow". It was just one isolated, rather meaningless point in the match, but it showcased her "in-game" savvy, which is 2nd to none.

  • The Hanlan show goes on quietly on the back row. Is there an easier player to overlook than Maddie Hanlan? Steady. Not flashy. Just steady. New nickname: Maddie the Machine. She just is "programmed" to dig balls. About five minutes before the Rice tourney ended, I started thinking: Who is all-tournament for us? I grabbed all the box scores I had accumulated during the weekend (you know I'd been studying them) and then scanned my memories right quick. Burns? Maybe... those 11 blocks were dominant. Mel? Saturday against Arkansas State was still fresh in my mind. Bottles? She had put down her share of balls. But then it hit me all at once... Hanlan. How could I overlook her again. I mean, dang, I only did that for 3/4 of the season last year. We have to nominate Maddie. Five minutes later, the voters agreed. We are lucky to have Maddie.

  • Give some props to Leslie Jackson. Hey, she hasn't had any dominating matches, I really can't even remember a dominating set. But, she's been called on in 50 of 58 possible sets so far and she's done a fine job on the right side. Everyone can guess that her role stands to be lessened a bit upon Daron's return, but hey... not without a little applause. She's filled in nicely and she is a great support piece to come off the bench as we go through conference play.

  • If Miksch is on and Burns is bringing it on the same night as KO and MC are strong, then we are gonna throw down on some people. Hey, you're talking to one of Melissa Miksch's biggest fans right here. That girl is a player. Six rotations all the way. The coaches don't give a flip about my personnel advice, but if I'm coaching, I'm sticking her at L2/OPP and leavin' her in. On or not. She is athletic, she can play defense, she can serve, and as we saw on Saturday, she can be an offensive weapon too. Oh, and she's the backup setter. Just let her play. I'm on the campaign: Miksch should be a consistent starter and be given a little bit more rope when things don't start off hot for her. And again... that's how I REALLY feel.

  • Burns needs her own bullet here, too. Just remember: there is 11 block potential in that 6'3" sophomore body. It will come. I've already called the breakout a few posts ago. Just give her time. Yes, she needs to play consistently, too. But, she is still relatively young. She'll have her nights where Hill or Hahn will have to come in to spell her, but she can dominate at the net. The faster she develops the better, but lets not rush things with her. There is still time and we shouldn't expect TOO much just yet.

  • Freshmen often have a tough time adjusting to college life and its even harder of a transition on freshmen athletes. Hill hasn't played much recently, so the jury is still out on what she can do. I think what we are getting out of McDaniel is fine and it probably isn't going to be any more than what it is for her freshman campaign. Which is OK, she'll have her chance for more later. Pannone can give us more. I really think she can seize more court time if she steps up. Of course, in a perfect world, KO, MC, Mel, Sabrina and Ari do enough to make Pannone and Jackson icing. Veach is a nice serve to offset KO's rainmakers.

  • SFA is hitting only .166 as a team (9th in the league). We are giving up a .218 attack percentage (11th in the league). SFA is 7th in the conference in blocks. None of that is good enough to challenge for a conference title and everyone knows it. The team does need to step up its play a little bit and frankly, I think they've underperformed just a bit so far.

What do you think? Am I totally off, here? As always, you can sound off in the comments. Once we have put three or four strong matches together in a row, I am going to write an entry about how we were able to do it. We'll see if it matches my thoughts above regarding keys to consistency.

Time to bring it. Conference play is here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Live Chat: SFA vs. Rice (Rice Invitational II) Saturday 3:00 PM

Friday, September 17, 2010

Live Chat: SFA vs. Arkansas State (Rice Invitational II) Friday 5:00 PM

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Live Chat: SFA vs. Samford (Rice Invitational II) Friday 10:30 AM

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

SFA Plays and Wins Second Longest Set in NCAA 25-Point Set D1 History

Tonight SFA beat North Texas 3-2 in match that featured a truly epic 3rd set. By truly epic, I mean epic in the sense of NCAA history of 25-point sets. SFA won the 3rd set tonight by a score of 39-37. You read that right: 39-37.

This post will be a running collection of facts and tidbids I find concerning long sets in NCAA history, but for now we begin with this:

Tonight's set ties for the 2nd longest set during the 25-point set era in NCAA Division I history. The longest set - in terms of points - ever played in 25-point format in DI Volleyball is:

Manhattan vs. Rider on October 23 of last year. Manhattan won a set in that match 45-43.

The second longest is:

Oregon vs. Oregon State on October 27 of last year. Oregon won a set in that match 39-37 and
Stony Brook vs. Central Connecticut State on 8/30/2008. Stony Brook won a set in that match 39-37 also.

So, our set tonight ties those two matches and makes for the longest set in Southland Conference history in the 25-point set era.

Keep in mind that this is only the third year of 25-point format in collegiate volleyball.

I am also assuming (possibly incorrectly) that there has not been a longer set played so far this year in NCAA DI Volleyball. That would be very tough to check given that record books are only released once per year by the NCAA which is where I got all my facts listed above. However, I have already sent an email to the contact person for DI Volleyball records at the NCAA. If she replies, I will pass along any information I learn.

The record book is public domain and can be found here (see page 26):

http://web1.ncaa.org/web_files/stats/w_volleyball_RB/2010/D1.pdf

________________________________________________

Update on Thursday, 9/16/10 8:30 PM:

The following is (the relevant portion of) an email correspondence with Jenn Rodgers at NCAA Statistics:

Original E-mail:

Jenn,

Tonight in Nacogdoches, Texas, Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) beat the University of North Texas 3-2 and the 3rd set was won by SFA by a score of 39-37. According to the 2010 Record book for Division I NCAA Volleyball this ties for the 2nd longest set - in terms of points scored by the winning team in the set - in the 3 year history of 25-point set scoring.

Please reference page 26 of the 2010 Division I record book.

I am writing to ask you if you are aware of any set in Division I Volleyball this year that has gone longer than 39-37? Have you been notified of such or is there a way I could search to find out among NCAA box scores?

Obviously, this set makes for the longest set in 25-point set format involving a Southland Conference Team.

Thanks for any information you can provide..
______________________________________________________
Reply received today....

Hi Greg – thanks for the note… I will add this to the list of updates for the 2011 book. In terms of longer sets being played this year, I’m not aware of any. Georgia/Northern Colo. played a 38-36 third set. With our system, I do not have the ability to search for set scores though, just the overall match outcome, so I can’t confirm 100% that this is the longest set played.
______________________________________________________

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

LIVE CHATS AVAILABLE ALL DURING RICE TOURNAMENT

This weekend when the 'Jacks travel to Houston to compete in the Rice Invitational II, you can follow all the action here at sfavolleyblog.net. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, if you are reading this on Tuesday or Wednesday...make sure you get to Johnson Coliseum at 6:00 on Wednesday night for our match against North Texas.

Starting with our first match on Friday morning at 10:30 and continuing for the other matches during the weekend, you can come here to the blog and you'll see a chat window that you can click on and follow along with the action as I'll be court side all weekend long. Feel free to ask questions, make comments and talk volleyball as we face off against Samford, Arkansas State and Rice.

Here are the game times for the weekend:

Friday: vs. Samford 10:30 AM (Chat begins at 10:15)
Friday vs. Arkansas State 5:00 PM (Chat begins at 4:45)
Saturday vs. Rice 3:00 PM (Chat begins at 2:45)

If you can't be in Houston.. be right here at www.sfavolleyblog.net and you'll get score updates faster than StatTracker or LiveStats and get the chance to interact with fellow fans.