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.