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...
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.
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.
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.