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Monday, October 25, 2010

Conference Opponent Breakdown: UT-Arlington

To me, UT-Arlington is the kind of club that has the potential to cause all kinds of problems if everything is clicking for them. All in all, their list of current starters is pretty impressive...or maybe it's just that I personally like them all. This looks like it would be a good club and if I had to pick a team that is middle-of-the-pack which is most likely to wreak havoc at the end, this team might be my choice. Then again, maybe Sam Houston since they are hosting the tourney. I don't know.

I don't need to tell each of you how important this match is. SFA sits tied with the Mavericks, TAMUCC, and McNeese at 4-6 in SLC play. Technically, a four-way tie at 6th place. Four teams in the conference won't advance to Huntsville in late November. Northwestern La. and Southeastern La. look like they are on the outside looking in, but the other two who stay home may come from the above list of four. Like I said in the post prior to this, a record of 8-8 is most likely going to be required for postseason play. The team that loses Wednesday will drop to 4-7 with five to play. You do the math. Additionally, UTA's schedule down the stretch is slightly softer than ours having four of their last five at home.

UTA caught me by surprise last year. They finished at 8-8 and had the 5th seed in the SLC tournament losing to Lamar in the first round. One of the Mavericks big problems over the last two years was their complete inability to win on the road in conference play. Coming into 2010, they were just 1-15 on the road in SLC play over the last two years. This after going 7-1 on the stage in 2009. The road woes have cleared up a bit as they come to Nacogdoches an even 3-3 on travel trips during the conference slate this year.

Here's a look at the starting lineup that we will more than likely see head coach Diane Seymour turn in to the table Wednesday:

Who's Who?

OH Amanda Aguilera Girl can play. One of the more unheralded outside hitters in the conference. Bet you didn't know that her 28 kills vs. SHSU two weeks ago are the most tallies for any player in the SLC this year. Aguilera was on every one's radar as a freshman two years ago when she made first team all-conference. Last year, I think her stock slipped a little. This year she's a known quantity for sure as she ranks 4th in the SLC in kills per set (only behind Ridley, Hays and Kolbe, so watch out!). Kept unchecked.. she can burn you crisp. I like her a lot.

MB Emily Shearin OK, here is another one that has won me over. I wrote this last year in my now famous rant on the All-SLC teams: " [Nicole] Bowden [of McNeese] blocks 112 balls - third most in the entire conference and she gets nothing? Bowden in every way eclipsed UTA's Emily Shearin. I mean, in every measurable way, Bowden did better and yet Shearin gets 2nd team and Bowden nothing? Again, that decision is just not defensible." Now, I stand by that conclusion for 2009, but clearly Shearin is the better MB at this point. I know Bowden was injured at the end of last season - and I am sure that has played a role - but, I think the voters were wiser than what I was when picking Shearin. She comes into the match with a stellar 1.12 blocks/set which is good for 3rd in the conference. Only a Junior, Shearin should be a force next year too.

By the way, I have to admit I pretty much ignored UT-Arlington last year. Don't get me wrong, I don't think they are a top team in the conference by any means, but they probably deserved better coverage that I gave them last year. I have continued to see some of their stars as overrated until recently - the one that was sort of always on my skewer was now injured OH Tara Frantz.

S Reagan Daniel Again, a bit underrated I think. Daniel is the subject of the Stats Focus below, so I'll be brief here. As steady as she's been the last three years for the Mavericks, I am a little surprised by her omission from the cover of the 2010 UTA Volleyball Media Guide. UTA went with their "all-conference" selections rather than focusing on seniors. I don't like that idea, espcially considering some of those honors were questionable. Gramted.. Sauls is a senior, too.. which leads us to...

OH Bianca Sauls A very athletic player who comes into Wednesday's contest hitting a robust .210 on the year. She probably stands to be a little bigger fraction of the offense with Frantz out. To me, she is a key player on the squad, because if all three of Aguilera, Shearin and Sauls are knocking balls down then I think UTA can be really tough. Her play could really draw attention away from Aguilera and make things more difficult on opposing defenses. Second most digs on the team behind the libero so that tells you she is capable of being a strong all-rotation player on any given night.

L Alicia Shaffer Hey, I keep up pretty good...but what? Talk about a player that I knew NOTHING about until reading specifically about the Mavericks? How did I completely overlook a player who played in every Maverick set last year and started 29 times at libero the year before that? She is 3rd in the conference in digs per set this year at 4.66 d/s - that trails only Daigle (NICH) and Jewasko (UTSA) - two players that get way more pub than Shaffer. Shaffer is fresh off a career high 37 digs against NWLA and ranks 1st in the conference in digs per set during SLC play. She was 6th in the conference last year in digs per set. I just never noticed.

Excuse me Ms. Shaffer.. I will start paying attention.. Geez. A week ago, I could have told you something about every starter in their lineup - plus Frantz, of course, except her. Shows you that there are always players that fly under the radar even when you are trying to study up.

MB Christy Driscoll A lanky red-shirt junior who's a decent blocker. Second on the club in total blocks to this point this year and held that honor last year as well. Not flashy, but a middle-of-the-road M2. Not the kind of player that will beat you, though. Had a really nice freshman year, but then Shearin took over the main blocking gig and Driscoll has adequately played second fiddle to her since.

OH/MB Eld-hah Kaswatuka A short player for her position, but with good hops, Kaswatuka has been in the lineup the last two times out in place of Tara Frantz. I recently became aware that Frantz was in an accident after UTA's match against Sam Houston, but I really don't know the full extent of her injuries. Here is not the place to discuss them at any rate, so I will instead pass along "Get Well Soon" wishes and I seriously hope that she is OK and recovers quickly. Kaswatuka's did get 36 sets thrown her way against NWLA last Saturday. If she falters, look for freshman Emily Gentle in her place. This rotation spot has been rotating in/out with freshman DS Kendall Whitson when it moves back row. Otherwise, UTA doesn't tend to sub a lot. In fact, over the last three matches, the only person not mentioned to this point who has seen the court is sophomore Charae Grosser.

Who to Watch?
Well, Shaffer, obviously. I haven't paid her any mind for two years, I think it might be time to learn who the Maverick libero is. More seriously.. here are her digs per set over the last five matches: 5.50, 4.50, 6.60, 4.00 and a whopping 9.25!! Yeah, that merits some attention.

Aguilera attacking, Shearin blocking and Shaffer digging...this team isn't half bad.

We beat them 3-1 two weeks ago in Arlington as we had Bottles (13-1-27/.444), Daron (13-5-30/.267) and Owens (12-5-34/.206) all contributing on offense. Aguilera struggled that night committing 12 errors to match her 12 kills for a big-fat .000 attack percentage.

We hit .229 as a team that night. We have hit over one-hundred points lower since then (.124, 164-100-515). That coupled with Aguilera likely not to repeat her zero should be two causes for concern.

Stats Focus
You won't see these stats broadcast every day at your local leader board. Say, you like setters that are offensive weapons? Then this is the match for you. Here are the SLC's starting setters ranked by kills per set. Teams that use two setters or don't have a definitive starter have both their contributors listed.

1. Gideon, SFA (1.59)
2. Daniel, UTA (1.21)

3. Schwirtlich, UTSA (1.09)
4. Nolan, TAMUCC (0.94)
5. Bekelja, McNeese (0.77)
6. Cruckshank, SELA (0.73)
7. Morford, Lamar (0.72)
8. Peltier, NWLA (0.61)
9. Loving, SHSU (0.56)
10. Collins, UCA (0.55)
11. McCorquodale, TX ST (0.32)
12. Piatt, Lamar (0.29)
13. Karst, NICH (0.25)
14. Irvin, TX ST (0.18)
15. Young, SELA (0.16)

I did the math for you: That's 1.41 kills per set for Gideon and Daniel combined, and 0.56 kills per set for the rest of the setters in the conference combined. That's almost a full kill more in each set earned by the setter being offensive-minded. Remember, when comparing attackers, a full kill per set is statistically significant in general. So, with that 1.41 figure sitting there.. we'd expect Gideon and Daniel together to put up around 2.8 kills per set. How many did they put up together the first time they met? 11 kills in four sets for an average of 2.75 kills per set. Nifty how that works out, huh? See.. that's why you should read here more often.

Outlook for Wednesday's Match:
It's the most important match of the year, right? Has to be. Corpus Christi plays Central Arkansas on Wednesday, so whoever loses our match will more than likely be stuck at 4-7 in the basement of the SLC West with the Islanders. Considering we've lost to TAMUCC at home that would spell trouble (big time) for our hopes at advancing to postseason if that's us.

We'll have to get back to winning ways without standout libero Maddie Hanlan. What is known is that Maddie suffered a knee injury of some sort at Nicholls last weekend. I have no first hand details - and just like in the case of Frantz from UTA - those aren't the kind of things that are divulged in this space anyway. However, a brief chat with a few folks doesn't sound overly optimistic concerning Hanlan. Consultations with doctors surely await and the club should know more as the week goes on. Here's to a speedy recovery, Maddie. For those that aren't aware, Hanlan just topped the 1000 dig plateau for her career last week.

If Hanlan is out for Wednesday, then in all likelihood Melissa Miksch would get the call at libero. Well, at least that's who replaced her at Nicholls. Mel is an excellent back row defender and I think folks are confident with her in that capacity. I have to wonder aloud if Laurel Kuepker's health would allow her to take on such a role again. She did start against Nicholls - rotating in and out with Daron. However, I think if they went with Mel in the match against Nicholls, we'd see her again Wednesday.

This should be an intense match.. make sure you are there..... Johnson Coliseum at 7:00 on Wednesday!

Axe' Em!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Looking Ahead: Just A Fan Wondering About The Future

10/14/10 EDIT: The original version of this post omitted the section on Sam Houston State. I don't know what I was doing. I went in order of the teams in the right hand margin & for some reason the section on SHSU got left out. I stated I thought they'd finish at 8-8 in the wrap up, but didn't include their paragraph. I have put it in during this edit a few days late.

I am giving this disclaimer upfront: This is a post that coaches around the league just aren't going to like.

Coaches have the responsibility of getting their teams ready to play and believing that they can go out on the court night in - night out - and play to win. Expect to win. No coach says "Let's go win five of the next nine games - that'll be good". Coaches prep their teams for the next opponent and try and guide their team to give their maximum effort the next time out. We'll worry about preparing for three weeks from now when that opponent is on the horizon. All SFA should care about TODAY is going out and playing their best volleyball on Thursday night against UTA.

But.. we are fans, here. We can think about further out in the future... because that's what fans do. C'mon admit it: If you are an SFA Volleyball follower and you have watched our club over the past three weeks then you've asked this question in your head -- "Are we still in line to make the tournament at the end of the year?"

I want to remind each and every reader of something. Here is the hierarchy of my relationship to SFA Volleyball:

1) A Fan. I am a fan first. I have been a fan for WAY longer than I have been a PA announcer and blogger. Plus, with all due respect to my meager readership: I have been a fan of SFA Volleyball for a lot longer than most of you. Again, I say that with the up most courtesy. Notice, I am not saying I am more knowledgeable about volleyball than my readership. THAT would be a violation of one of the cardinal rules of writing. Most of you have been following volleyball as a sport for as long or longer than I have. Most of you are quite well versed in the fine points of the game. However, few of you will count yourselves fans of 'Jacks volleyball for 13+ years.

2) I am the PA announcer and this is subordinate to being a fan. However, the "fan" part of me is off while doing my job in Johnson Coliseum. Yes, arena announcers should/can use voice inflection changes to convey energy for the home team. After all, we are at home. You've all heard of "home field advantage". However, the "fan-boy" in me MUST take a back seat while announcing so as to be respectful to the opposition and complete in my descriptions of the action. The emotion displayed is simply arena announcer inflection - and it has little to nothing to do with SFA per se. For example, if asked to do PA for Nacogdoches High School volleyball, I would do it similar to how I do it for SFA even though I have no fan commitment to NHS Volleyball whatsoever.

[Now, those of you who know me are aware that the "fan" gets immediately turned back on after matches and while discussing the club during the week with other fans.]

3) I created this website. SFA Athletics website includes a link on their site to this blog, but I am not paid directly to write this blog by SFA Athletics. I am not paid to write this blog at all. I do it because I want to. So, I am loosely part of the general media, despite the fact that I am an SFA employee.

The blog definitely is here to support SFA Volleyball, but the writing here is not in the same style that Sports Information Directors (like Ben) should/must use as formal employees of their respective athletics departments. Plus, the writing here is not in the same style as someone who works for a newspaper or the conference. Those folks aren't employees of SFA at all and they are not dedicated to 'Jacks volleyball and frankly, they don't know the club as well as Ben and I do.

Let me digress a minute more... Ben is (under)paid to know this club. It is, in part, his job. He does a damn good job of it. Take the time to look at his "notes package" or read his write-ups. They are generally done in a more organized and professional way that what you'd find around the conference. Ben is a good writer. That's my opinion, anyway. By contrast, I am not paid to know this club. I am weird. I just decide to try and know this club - yes, for fun.

So, what we are going to do here is look at the remaining schedules of the other 11 SLC teams and give an opinion of how many games they will win as a way of trying to figure out how tough/easy it will be for SFA to gain a tournament birth.

This is not the type of exercise that would be done by anyone in print other than a blogger. The conference itself won't do it, the SID's at the schools won't do it. It would inappropriate. I am a fan. It is entirely appropriate for fans to look at schedules and ask: "What if?"

If you are a fan and have some knowledge of the conference, you might look at these schedules and come up with your own opinion and then share the differences you find in the comments or by email.

I will proceed in the order of the links to the other teams web pages in the right hand margin of this page.

Central Arkansas (7-0)
Home (3): TXST, Lamar, McNeese
Away (6): Lamar, McNeese, TAMUCC, UTSA, NICH, SELA
I think they win all but one. I think one team will get 'em at some point in the regular season.
Prediction: 15-1
Extra: Clearly the best team in the SLC. But, not invincible. They could run the table, but I don't think they will.

Lamar (4-2)
Home (5): UCA, NWLA, UTSA, NICH, SELA
Away (5): McNeese, UCA, NWLA, SHSU, SFA
I think they win three at home and three on the road.
Prediction: 10-6
Extra: This team has surprised me a bit. I thought they were headed for a down year. Their loss to TAMUCC reinforces to me that they will still have a few bumps down the stretch.

McNeese (1-5)
Home (6): NWLA, UCA, Lamar, TAMUCC, SELA, NICH
Away (4): NWLA, UCA, SFA, SHSU
I think they win 2 at home and one on the road.
Prediction: 4-12
Extra: How's this for odd scheduling: All six of those home games are in a row and they start up this week. I just don't see much from reading about this club that convinces me that they'll be a factor.

Nicholls State (3-3)
Home (5): TAMUCC, UTSA, SFA, UCA, NWLA
Away (5): SELA, Lamar,McNeese, TX ST, UTA
I think they win 2 or 3 at home and 2 or 3 on the road. So, I'll split the difference and give them 5 wins.
Prediction: 8-8
Extra: The road game we have with them could be crucial. They beat Lamar & Lamar got beat by TAMUCC. Go figure. This is a team to watch because they should be on the border of making it in at the end.

Northwestern La (2-5)
Home (3): UTA, McNeese, Lamar
Away (6); McNeese, Lamar, UTSA, TAMUCC, SELA, NICH
I think they win 1 at home and 2 on the road.
Prediction: 5-11
Extra: They beat SHSU and SHSU beat us, so maybe they shouldn't be completely dismissed. But a 7-9 finish seems like an absolute generous ceiling. It won't be enough to make the tourney.


Sam Houston State (3-3)
Home (4): TXST, UTA, Lamar, McNeese
Away (6): TXST, UTA, SFA, SELA, UTSA, TAMUCC
I think they will win two at home and three on the road.
Prediction: 8-8
Extra: Like Nicholls, this is also a team for SFA fans to keep an eye on as they will probably hover around the 'Jacks in the standings. That road schedule is pretty brutal especially with Corpus playing a little better. The only real lockdown game they have on the road is SELA. The 'Jacks have to hope I am generous with assigning them three road wins - if that three becomes only one, then we could leapfrog them in the standings. Our rematch in Nacogdoches holds a fair amount of weight.

Southeastern La (1-5)
Home (6): UTSA, TAMUCC, NICH, SHSU, NWLA, UCA
Away (4): McNeese, Lamar, UTA, TX ST
I think they win one each at home and on the road.
Prediction: 3-13
Extra: Of the six teams we've played so far, they were clearly the one with the most issues. They got a bit of glory in making it to postseason last year. There just isn't a probable scenario that would lead to a repeat appearance.

TAMUCC (2-4)
Home (4): UCA, NWLA, SFA, SHSU
Away (6): NICH, SELA, UTSA, McNeese, UTA, TX ST
I think they win 2 at home and three on the road.
Prediction: 7-9
Extra: I don't know what to make of this team. I will do a complete write up on them before we go down there to play again. Will they fold? They have beat us and Lamar. They have lost to TX ST, UTA, SHSU and UTSA. Our loss to them at home and our rematch with them in Corpus looms large. I have to admit that I would not have thought that they would project as a possible tournament team, but they just might be. Graystone for coach of the year if they make it? Can't give it to McRoberts three years in a row, right?

Texas State (4-2)
Home (7): SHSU, SFA, UTA, NICH, SELA, UTSA, TAMUCC
Road (3): UCA, SHSU, SFA
I think they win 6 at home and one on the road.
Prediction: 11-5
Extra: Right now they don't impress me the way they have in years past. But, they always seem to get things together. It's truly too bad we couldn't take advantage of their two losses so far. Those three road games are all within the span of one week - otherwise it's home sweet home for the Bobcats. They've only played five matches at home so far all season compared with 15 on "neutral" courts or "away" courts. But, you know what? We've only played five at home too.. compared with 16 on neutral or away. I think that makes you stronger down the stretch, but especially in their case because they have 7 of 10 at home.

UTSA (5-1)
Home (5): TAMUCC, NWLA, UCA, SHSU, SFA
Away (5): SELA, NICH, Lamar, TXST, UTA
I think they win three at home at two on the road.
Prediction: 10-6, but a better chance at 11-5 than 9-7. Skewed left for all you stats fans out there.
Extra: They're legit. Maybe they hosted the SLC tournament a year too early.

UTA (3-3)
Home (6): SFA, SHSU, SELA, NICH, TAMUCC, UTSA
Road (4): TXST, NWLA, SFA, SHSU
I think they win 4 at home and two on the road.
Prediction: 9-7
Extra: How do you rank these teams: SFA, SHSU and UTA? They may also be legit. Beating Texas State turned a few heads. See, SFA needs a quality win like that. That legitimizes things.

In summary:
UCA 15-1
TX ST 11-5
UTSA 10-6
Lamar 10-6
UTA 9-7
SHSU 8-8
NICH 8-8
TAMUCC 7-9

That's eight teams. So, if I am anywhere in the ballpark, what does it mean for SFA? It means that 8-8 may be the absolute worst record that shows up in the tournament. We are 2-4. We have 10 games to go.

Think for a second. That makes this week really, really critical. Do you see now why I "drew the line" in a previous post about schedules at this point?


If we stumble some more and lose to UTA and Texas State on the road this week then we'll be 2-6 and probably needing six wins out of our final eight matches to have much hope. The last eight matches are:

Home (5): SHSU, UTA, TXST, McNeese, Lamar
Away (3): NICH, TAMUCC, UTSA

If we are 2-6 with that remaining schedule, then six wins would require a major change of fortune since we would have previously lost to five of those eight teams.

You can ponder all the other scenarios, but the road games at Nicholls and Corpus look like they are of major importance even if we play well this week. I think 8-8 can get into the tournament. If we even our record at 4-4 this week, then I think you can look at those remaining eight games with confidence that we'd get at least four more.

I've been asked about "must wins" in the comments sections of these posts during the last few weeks. I've had more emails come my way in the last three weeks than at any time previous in writing at the blog. I think the only "must wins" are those games where you would be eliminated otherwise.

But, I feel very secure in saying that we are at the crossroads of our season.

So, where did I miss? Who am I overrating or underrating? Agree or disagree? Keep the emails and comments coming.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

LIVE CHAT: SFA vs. Sam Houston State

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Conference Opponent Breakdown: Sam Houston State

Before we get into breaking down the Bearkats, let me remind you that we will have a live chat here at the blog for Wednesday's match against Sam Houston. We'll get started around 6:45 with pregame commentary.

There are a lot of ways in which Sam Houston and SFA are similar at this point in conference play. SHSU is 7-12 and 1-3 in the SLC. We are 8-11 and also 1-3 in the SLC. SHSU has recently been mixing and matching their starting lineups, especially on the back row. SFA has had three different lineups in each of the last three games. Last weekend, freshman Lindsay Hill got her first start at M2 and the match before that featured a two-setter attack. One slight difference though exists in preseason expectations. The 'Jacks were given the 3rd overall ranking by both the coaches and SID's (Sports Information Directors) while Sam Houston was picked 5th in one poll and 6th in the other. We all know that SFA currently is playing nowhere near the level of what would be expected out of a #3 seed in the conference tournament.

There is a lot of meat in the Stats Focus today, so let's dispatch with the intro and get right to our breakdown...

Who's Who?

Trivia: Name the only freshman on the first team all-conference list last year?
The answer is a paragraph or so down.

The main name to know at Sam Houston is outside hitter Carli Kolbe. Her partner in crime, middle blocker Anna Ferguson has had her four-year parking meter expire and now Kolbe finds herself as the main go-to on offense without an equally effective offensive weapon along side her. Kolbe isn't dissimilar to what we saw last Saturday in TAMUCC's Emma Ridley in terms of her being a very large proportion of her teams' offense. More on this in the 'Stats Focus' section below.

S Kym Loving: Back in the quarterback position after being injured most all of last year and tutoring freshman setter Michelle Miller. Miller has moved on and Loving is healthy and now appears to be back to her 2008 form when she stole the setter role from then senior Meagan McNamara. Loving - at least in years past when I've watched her -- is quite the firestorm. Historically, she's been very vocal, emotional and flamboyant with her facial expressions and on-court chatter and occasional taunts after blocks, etc. Quite the opposite personality to our rather "controlled" and stoic Allison Gideon.

MB Kim Black: A hometown product from right there in Huntsville, Black may be one of the more improved Bearkats over the last two years. She's stepped into big shoes trying to take over for the aforementioned Ferguson, but so far so good as Black has out blocked anyone on our squad and ranks as one of only seven players in the conference to average more than a block per set.

L/OH Kaylee Hawkins: Ahh.. here is the answer to the trivia question above. Hawkins was a first-team all SLC pick at libero last year. So, you've got a freshman who garners that kind of honor and how many games has she started at libero this year? A grand total of three! Now, what's relevant here is that those three come in the last few weeks. Sam Houston has played libero musical chairs through the first half of this season. Early on, the off-colored jersey was worn by Camille Alfaro - who interesting enough was a freshman last year too. When, I first saw that early in the year, I couldn't believe it. Did SHSU need offense so bad that they would shift Hawkins to an outside hitter and install a brand new libero? At any rate, that experiment didn't last long as Brenda Gray tabbed Jamie Haas - who incredibly was ALSO a freshman last year - as the new libero.

Isn't that weird? You've got a freshman FIRST TEAM all-conference libero and you then go with not one, but two of her sophomore classmates before making the decision in recent weeks to go back to her at libero?

Could that possibly be because no one else is stepping up on the attack to go along side Kolbe? One can only assume that Gray thought that Hawkins - despite her prowess at libero - was still her 2nd best option on the outside. Despite the recent shift back to libero, Hawkins is still second on the team in total attacks. Will we see Hawkins at libero tomorrow. Who knows? Haas has started more games there than anyone this year, but she hasn't started there recently.. so that's a bit of an unknown as we travel to Huntsville.

Kolbe, Black, Loving and Hawkins are the only four consistent starters for the Bearkats. Freshman OH Lauren Bohlen was starting regularly for a long while, but hasn't of late. Redshirt freshman OH Kelli Stewart started early in the season, but then didn't start for a string of several matches, but has recently been reinserted into the starting lineup. Clearly, Sam Houston is looking for help on the outside. The starting hitters aside from Kolbe have been in flux. Alfaro started the last match against UTSA, but that's only her second start after she was booted from libero. Recently, the M2 has been occupied by yet another freshman Haley Neisler. Finally, Coach Gray's daughter, Tayler Gray has earned spot starts over the last few weeks. Oh yeah.. she's a freshman too.

Clearly, this team is young. Very young. In fact, there won't be a senior night in Huntsville this year 'cause they ain't got one!

Who to Watch?
You can't help but watch Kolbe. She's emotional. She hits very hard... she's actually quite graceful. That big powerful swing comes from a huge arching of her back as she approaches.. and she can hit the ball hard from anywhere on the court. She takes full - very full - swings from the back row. Despite my semi-picking on her in years past about her temper tantrums, I actually think she was a bit more under control last year. To be honest, she's the kind of player any coach would want on her side. Gray has told me that she actually likes Kolbe to play "possessed" because she's better when she's emotional rather than calm.

My actual focus tomorrow will be on Black, though. She's my pick to watch. In addition to her leading the team in blocking, she is also an excellent server as she currently ranks second in the conference in aces behind the incredibly effective serve of Jessica Hays over at UCA. I'll be interested to see how well our attackers do going up against Black, Neiser and Stewart. All three average more blocks per set than anyone on our roster.

Stats Focus
It's easy to look on the conference website and find the leaders in kills per set. But, what about ATTACKS per set? Look at these two top 10 lists and then ask yourself what pattern you see in the Top 5 during 2010. I have highlighted these in bold.

Top 10 in Attacks Per Set in 2009 (SLC):
1. Emma Ridley, TAMUCC (12.47)
2. Chloe Smith, UCA (11.32)
3. Carli Kolbe, SHSU (11.16)
4. Kendra Rowland, UTSA (9.13)
5. Priscilla Massengale, McNeese (9.13)
6. Jessica Weynand, TX ST (9.12)
7. Yelena Enwere, NWLA (8.90)
8. Chanel Tyler, McNeese (8.78)
9. Anna Ferguson, SHSU (8.77)
10, Kelsey Owens, SFA (8.65)

Top 1o in Attacks Per Set So Far in 2010 (SLC):
1. Emma Ridley, TAMUCC (10.45)
2. Carli Kolbe, SHSU (10.02)
3. Jessica Hays, UCA (9.63)
4. Kendra Rowland, UTSA (9.58)
5. Chloe Smith, UCA (8.84)
6. Jennifer Brandt, Nicholls (8.58)
7. Priscilla Massengale, McNeese (8,44)
8. Amanda Aguilera, UTA (8.41)
9. Lauren Chapman, Nicholls (8.25)
10. Kourtney Adams, NWLA (8.25)
(Our Kelsey Owens would be 11th at 8.22 on this last list)

So, what about the current top five?
Last match was against TAMUCC. Ridley. We lost.
Next to match last was against UTSA. Rowland. We lost.
Match before that was UCA. Hays. Smith. We lost.

Tomorrow: Kolbe.

In four consecutive matches we are facing the five most prominent attackers in terms of being the largest proportion of their teams' offense that the conference has to offer.

If you are on these leader boards it implies that you are in an offense that repeatedly uses you as the primary attacker and it also signifies that you are on a team that runs a heavy, if not disproportionately heavy, dose of its offense through you. The exception being UCA that has two in the top five. But still: My point is that possibly we are seeing a pattern here. Could it be that we have particular trouble containing those offenses where there is one primary weapon? That seems paradoxical. But, we certainly KNEW that Ridley was going to swing 50 to 60 times and we weren't able to stop her.

Same story tomorrow: We know Kolbe is going to swing a lot. In their five set match against TAMUCC she swung 70 times! Will we contain her? The data above says we haven't won against teams that feature an offense which runs the bulk of its offense through one weapon. That is certainly something to ponder as we get closer to 7 PM tomorrow night.

Outlook for Wednesday's Match:
The loser of tomorrow's match will remain in last place in the SLC West. A team that is 1-4 has got to go 7-4 the rest of the way to finish at .500 in conference. I will remind you that we still have to play Texas State twice, UTSA in San Antonio and Lamar who is surging right now. That doesn't even consider that UTA isn't a pushover and we lost to TAMUCC and have to travel there. So, yeah... this is important. There is very little time to waste. We'll see where we are at the end of this week, but a few more steps backwards and SFA may be playing for its tournament life against McNeese and Lamar in the second week of November.

We need to come out strong. I think its time we shake this thing off and re-establish ourselves in this conference. Let's play like we've got something to prove. 'Cause....... We do.

Monday, October 4, 2010

LIVE CHAT AVAILABLE FROM HUNTSVILLE ON WEDNESDAY

If you've read the article below which was written before the match with TAMUCC, you may now be saying "It looks like the jury may have returned an early verdict." I think I'll stick with my original thought and wait to really form a strong opinion until after this week is over. However, clearly we are not playing our best volleyball right now.

This post is super short since all I wanted to communicate is:

a) I will travel to Huntsville and do a live chat for our match which starts at 7 PM on Wednesday night. Just surf on over here and join me in case you can't make the trip

and

b) There will be a Sam Houston preview posted here Tuesday night so you can read that tomorrow evening or during the day on Wednesday before the match.

Sam Houston is playing with a bit of inconsistentcy too.. mixing and matching their lineup similar to our changes the last match or two, so it will be a battle of underachievers to this point. Here's hoping we right the ship immediately and get back to winning ways.

Check back tomorrow and look for the chat on Wednesday night live from Huntsville.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Keep the Jury Out for One More Week...

vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christi
@ Sam Houston
vs. Southeastern Louisiana
_______________________

@Texas-Arlington
@ Texas State
vs. Sam Houston
@ Nicholls
vs. Texas Arlington
vs. Texas State


Those are the next 9 matches. You see where that line is drawn in there? Unfortunately, if the league isn't given a better impression by that point it will probably be time to change our outlook.

Stephen F. Austin volleyball expects to contend for league titles and conference tourney title games EVERY YEAR. Newsflash to freshman and possible recruits if they don't understand this: We expect to be at the top EVERY year and that's just the culture around here.

We all know Central Arkansas and Texas State will hover around the top of the standings, but while UCA hasn't been knocked off (yet), Lamar proved Texas State can be taken down. That provides an opportunity. Get your squad straightened out, start playing consistent ball in all phases of the game - get hot - and what d'ya know - we are right up there in standings too. That's the theory, at least.

But, after taking a whipping by UTSA earlier this week are we right to still "believe" in such theory? I say yes. I think the jury is out for one more week.

Why the optimism? After all, I personally heard UTSA star Kendra Rowland say after the match yesterday "We just beat SFA at SFA" in a tone that conveyed even she didn't believe what had just happened. Nobody is happy with where we are right now. The league has to feel good about coming to Nacogdoches because we've been shaky on our home floor so far. Isn't this all a bunch of reason to doubt?

When I left Johnson Coliseum last night, I didn't have a lot of hope. But, as is so often the case, after a good night of sleep and pondering during the day, I have changed my mind. I believe. Am I being a home-towner blasting sunshine here just cause there is purple all over this page and my pay stub has the university logo on it? Nope - and if you really believe that, you haven't read here very long.

I "believe" still because I have a memory of Samford. I saw it. I watched while in Houston as the Ladyjacks showed what we are when firing in sync and playing consistent, fundamental volleyball. I sincerely believe that if you had stuck Central Arkansas, Texas State, or any other conference opponent on the other side of the net that afternoon they would have left the gym losers. It wasn't just the level of competition.. it was us. It was us playing good volleyball.

That team we saw that day can still emerge as the norm. But it better do so quick.

Let's be honest. There isn't one problem here.

One night - like last night - we get really good performances by KO and MC and then no one steps up offensively to support them, the setting is shaky, the usual outstanding back row play looks average and we serve too many balls in the net.

The next night.. the blocking is on fire, but our outsides hit BingO-54 or something like that and serve receive goes in the trash.

Later in the week, Gideon looks all-world - no problems, but none of the attackers are on and the block looks like its in slow motion.

Next, Maddie and Mel dig everything this side of the Mississippi, but the setting has attackers begging for a back massage after the match and the net might as well be 15 feet off the floor 'cause we ain't hitting any over it.

I think you get it. If you've been to the matches, then you've seen exactly what I am talking about.

Rewind on the UTSA match....

Total Points: SFA 86, UTSA 99
Attack Percentage: SFA .169, UTSA .201
Total Digs: SFA 58, UTSA 67
Total Blocks: SFA 11, UTSA 1o
Service Errors: SFA 9, UTSA 3
Total Errors (attack+block+serve+receive+ ball handling): SFA 44, UTSA 33

Despite all the stuff in the middle of that list.. I think the first and last entries say a lot. They scored 13 more points than us. We had 11 more total errors than them. There it is, huh?

There used to be a fairly controversial adage in baseball about what was the best way to measure the quality of a batter. I think sabermetrics has solved that problem now. In baseball, outs are bad. Don't make outs. The only way your team is made to stop hitting is to make outs. Don't make outs - you get to keep hitting. If you keep hitting, you will score. If you score, you can win.

In Volleyball hitting the ball into the net, out of bounds, touching the net while blocking and the like are bad. Every time you hit the ball over the net and in bounds, the probability remains positive that you will score. When you hit the ball out of bounds or into the net, the probability you will score is zero.

September 17: SFA Total Errors: 40, Samford Total Errors: 56. (Win)
September 25: SFA Total Errors: 48, Central Arkansas Total Errors: 32 (Loss)

A gap of 16 each time. Funny how that works isn't it.

Despite all of this... I have another thought. This I am actually gathering hard data to study and I will present my findings later in the year:

Thought: Tied 1-1, the 3rd set is of paramount importance to a teams eventual chance of winning.

I know, that seems rather obvious, but still, if you think its obvious then doesn't that explain last night against UTSA better than anything?

Again to bring in a baseball reference, it is well known that when a batter has a 1 ball, 1 strike count that the 3rd pitch is incredibly predictive of the ultimate outcome of the at-bat. The difference between a 2 ball, 1 strike count versus a 1 ball, 2 strike count is LARGE.

Let's study this in volleyball, OK? I think we need some data on this and not just our intuition. Just how critical is that 3rd set when tied 1-1? Measure it. I'm working on it.

Let's keep the jury out one more week. Corpus-Christi took Sam Houston to five sets. We all know what they are: Emma Ridley and bunch of interchangeable, not-so impressive parts. Ridley is going to have more attacks than anyone in the gym tomorrow. Their offense is completely geared around her. Just contain her.

Beat TAMUCC convincingly. Go on the road and get some swagger back by taking down Sam Houston. Come back to Nacogdoches and get on a three game - well played - winning streak after beating SELA and then the games below that line at the top of the page will have the implications we expected them to when we began our season in Waco.

It's too early to doubt. I still believe.