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!