Friday, October 1, 2010

Keep the Jury Out for One More Week...

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

@ 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.