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.