Sunday, November 21, 2010

UTSA 2, Rest of the Conference 0

Twice. UTSA beat UCA twice this year. It's the last one that occurred today that really matters. Take that, doubters.

Stand up and show me your hands if at the beginning of the year you had UTSA winning the conference tournament beating UCA while also being the only team in the SLC to beat them in conference play.


Take that, doubters.

This week I heard people touting Central Arkansas. I joined in.
This week I heard people talking about how strong Texas State is this time of year. Yeah, I could see them going all the way.
This week I even heard a few people talking about host Sam Houston playing on their home court and being a possible sleeper. I had that thought too.

I can't say I talked to the SLC Volleyball universe here, but no one I talked to picked UTSA to win the conference tournament. I talked to people both inside of outside of Nacogdoches, mind you.

Take that, doubters.

Come on, let's hear it? Props to Laura Groff, right? What about Kendra Rowland? She played great. Brittney Malloy? Awesome. Jewasko made some ridiculous digs. One person I was particularly impressed with today was Whitney Walls. I think I made a mistake in leaving her off my all-conference teams (she originally was on my 3rd team, but I let Brandt at Nicholls bump her off. There, I admitted it).

I watched the entire match on my computer rather than TV because I couldn't find the match on the Nacogdoches channel that was designated for SLC TV. That really irked me, but after watching an SFA football game earlier in the year where the local affiliate cut out to a country and western dancing show with two minutes to go and the opposition driving to take the lead, nothing surprises me about SLC TV.

UTSA actually gave UCA a beat down in the first two sets. But, the Sugar Bears came roaring back and the overall quality of the match down the stretch was quite high I thought. It was a really enjoyable match to watch and it left me kind of mad at myself for not hoping in the car and driving over to Huntsville after church this morning. (I briefly considered it, before going into the office for an hour or two before game time. Ugh.)

I was also impressed by UTSA's athleticism. I am very familiar with most all of their key players from years gone by, but today their athleticism shone a little brighter than in previous times I've seen them.

So, congratulations to the UTSA Roadrunners - your 2010 SLC representatives in the Big Dance. You played well. You put the Sugar Bears back on their heels in a way I hadn't seen in the last few years. You deserve it.

Finally.. and I will go here only one last time... Jessica Hays. People, come on. Jessica Hays. Were you watching?

Match high 22 kills and career high 22 digs, with three aces to boot. Not just a double-double, she goes off for a double-twenty. How does someone put up a double-20 in the championship match and not make all-tournament? I know UCA was only given two slots to fill, but man, seriously?

Hays was UCA's best player on the court today (again). She serve receives - she did so 24 times more than anyone else from either side - she digs, she hits the living daylights out of her attacks and serves. But, she doesn't get a tournament honor? Robbery.

Call me obstinate. I've been called worse. I'll stand by my decisions from earlier in the week. Hays is the most deserving player in the conference for Player of the Year this year and Groff is the most deserving coach for Coach of the Year.

Something tells me Groff doesn't care as much now. She's got the trophy to add to her case in San Antonio ... and UCA has a long bus ride back to Conway.

Take that, doubters.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

1 vs. 2 for NCAA Birth

Most folks I talked to during the week thought something would happen along the way to keep this from happening: #1 Seed UCA will take on #2 seed UTSA in the title game of the SLC Tournament. Give UTSA credit. Nobody seems to want to. Losing their last two regular season conference games in San Marcos and Arlington made doubters out of many people - myself included. But, they've taken care of McNeese and Lamar and now have earned the right to try and do something twice that no other SLC team was able to do even once this year: Beat Central Arkansas.

Lamar is young. They probably think they underachieved, but I think they overachieved a little bit. Lamar finished at .500 in the conference this year and won one and lost one in the tournament. They were an average team in 2010 that will get better in 2011-2012. To me, they are merely adequate on the outside and on the back row, but if improvement can come in one or both of those spots, then a top half seed next year is at least in the realm of possibility.

UTA loses their setter, Reagan Daniel, as well as Bianca Sauls. I also believe their 2nd middle, Christy Driscoll is forgoing her last year of eligibility for an academic opportunity. The replacement of Daniel seems like the biggest issue - one I am sure they have a plan for, so I don't expect to much of a drop off from them. This is the second year in a row they put together a better record than I expected. They are a club I need to pay a bit more attention to. Aguilera, Frantz, Schaffer and Shearin will all be seniors and a lot of the underclassmen on their team haven't gained a lot of court time, so next year could be their best opportunity to crawl into the SLC elite. Replacing Daniel seems to be crucial to their chances.

Can UTSA beat Central Arkansas again? Sure they can, but I doubt they will. I watched both matches today on SLC NOW and will be tuned into to SLC TV tomorrow to see how it all plays out. UCA still looks like the stronger squad to me.

The first time around UTSA held UCA to .151 hitting and Hays made 13 errors - more than twice as many as any UTSA attacker. Briana Mason had a good game hitting .550 and Schwertlich got 8 kills against no errors from the setter position. So, what about tomorrow? I think given the neutral court together with Hays showing people why I picked her as POTY will get it done. I'll take UCA 3-1.

I have to admit - I want either UTSA to win to justify Groff's efforts this year or for Hays to shine to justify my belief she is every bit as "central" as is Chloe Smith. That being said, Smith has been awesome year in and year out and patiently waited her turn to get to the postseason. She deserves to add a tournament championship to her resume and finally get a chance to play in an NCAA game now that she is a senior.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lamar Will Have Shot at Championship Game

Well, clearly I didn't see that coming. In fact, I'll be really honest, my pick of Texas State sweeping Lamar was the one I felt most confident about. I haven't been impressed with anything Lamar has on the outside all year long. Bazile and the other middles, sure. But, their hitters - strong and weak side - never really did anything for me. I'm quite surprised they beat Texas State. The Bobcats looked poised at the end of the conference slate to storm through the tournament and make trouble for Central Arkansas in the final. Nope. Bye Bye Bobcats.

Texas State just lost a lot: Watlington, Middleton, Cave and Irvin - all done. I thought they were the deepest bench in the conference, so it will be interesting to see what parts play big roles for them in 2011. McCorquodale (S), Calhoun (MB), and Deardorff (OH) look pretty set for playing time. Hilbun played well for them at times, as did Alexander early in the year. Niece and Sanchou should garner back row time. Maybe Schumacher steps in to some meaningful role. They have plenty of decent pieces - plus whomever they bring in new. I doubt they drop off much, if at all. But they definitely lost some serious pieces to their recent success.

Lamar. Wow. Really? Why didn't Hobbs play more against us? She got 27 swings today and hit .407. She only hit seven balls against us. Seems like she's the "X"-factor. I guess I should give McStravick some props - nine blocks. That's about one-sixth of what she had ALL YEAR coming into the match. Where did that come from?

The overall stats in that match were pretty even. I watched most of it on SLC NOW on my work comput....uh never mind where I watched it.... anyway.... it looked pretty even in terms of quality of play too. Lamar just got it done in the end.

UTSA has been fading a bit. I pegged their match with McNeese by predicting a 3-2 narrow win for the "Runners. I don't know what to think about tomorrow. Right this minute I see UTSA and Lamar as a toss up.

I know this.. UCA has to love seeing Texas State go home.

I was surprised Sam Houston didn't play better on their home court. I thought they had a chance to be a surprise team in this tournament. I wasn't alone in that thought. Several people I talked to this week thought they might make noise. But, once again, I don't give enough respect to UTA and it burns me. I thought UTA beat SHSU rather easily. I watched the entire match on my HOME computer tonight and I really never thought the Bearkats really flexed any muscle. UTA might get a set against Central Arkansas, but I have a hard time thinking they will win. If they do, I may have to write some formal apology to Maverick fans for my continual infidelity.

I'll stop short of making formal picks other than to say the the Sugar Bears chance of an NCAA birth are higher tonight than they were this morning - and they were already decent to begin with.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

First Round Picks for the 2010 SLC Tournament

This will be short, but before I list my thoughts on the first round games for Friday, let me say that I thought the coaches and SID's did a great job this year in making the All-SLC selections. I will blog a bit more about the all-conference teams in a few more days, but my choices and the official choices were very similar. As several folks commented to me after my picks, Chloe Smith was indeed a very defensible choice for Player of the Year.

I was a little surprised that McRoberts won Coach of the Year, but then again, 15-1 in conference is nothing to sneeze at. It's just that people knew that Central Arkansas was going to be good. Go back and look at where the same coaches and SID's that snubbed Groff at UTSA for Coach of the Year picked the 'Runners to finish at the beginning of the year. They far exceeded expectations and I think Groff should have been recognized for that. UTSA finishing 13-3 seemed far more unlikely than UCA finishing 15-1 when we began conference play.

The only other spots that gave me even minor pause were Deardorff (Texas State) and Sauls (UTA). Both of those players seem more like Honorable Mentions (at best) to me than actually first or second team. I also think the fact that Northwestern La. didn't win many games hurt Laranda Spann, who I think was deserving of higher than Honorable Mention. But, those points are minor. My biggest beef - while still seeing the logic of the voters - is not honoring Groff.

Here's how I think Friday will turn out:

UTSA defeats McNeese 3-2

Texas State defeats Lamar 3-0

Central Arkansas defeats Nicholls 3-0

Sam Houston defeats UTA 3-2

Monday, November 15, 2010

2nd Annual All-Conference Teams

Yes, the season has ended and it's time for awards and accolades. Last year, when I did this for the first time I got a mixed - or shall we say, lukewarm reaction from the readership. There was even the accusation that I was "on drugs" a few times. You know the truth: No one ever completely agrees on lists like this. I've spent the last three days off and on pondering these players, reviewing box scores, memories, discussions with coaches - and of course, looking at statistics.

Picking lists like this always involves some tinge of bias. I think that's true no matter what anyone claims. Coaches tend to go for players with "tools" - the players that "look" good, even sometimes when the stats don't really back up the visual appeal. The Sports Information Directors generally are like me in that they DON'T see all the players face-to-face. They have difficult and time consuming jobs and there is a wide variety of ways in which the SID's tend to look at things. I think my list is more a mix of tools/memories & stats than it was last year. The readership can judge it's worth.

As everyone here knows, I am a stats guy: It is how I make my living. Remember, too - I am a fan. I don't have the coaches perspective here. I am not afraid to disagree with them, though. If anything, I am an independent thinker. These things are tough. There are always close calls and the desire to have seen players that you didn't see or see players more than once or have more than one conversation about someone.

Tomorrow is the day I must turn in my annual report for my "real job" as a faculty member at SFA. So, tonight, I will just present the teams that I have selected. I suspect that the conference will release the official lists on Wednesday and so later in the week I will compare the lists and defend my choices. I have a few notes included in this post, but I will elaborate later in the week. My main goal was to get this list published before the conference releases their list so as to not be influenced or open to criticism that I just used the official lists as my basis for selecting players. Hey, who knows. Maybe this list will influence others. Nah, probably not. But, still.. here goes.. I hope the comments box fills up on this one. I openly invite critiques.

Recall, I pick actual teams. Last year, the conference picked 12 players for first team, six for second team and 10 for honorable mention. That's 28 girls. I will pick three teams of seven (21 selections) and then tell you who just missed my cuts.

As I said last year: "There are seven starters each night for any particular team, so we will pick seven girls per team. Each team is required to have a a setter, libero, two middle blockers, two hitters and a seventh player that can either be MB or OH. Now that you know my rules, let's get straight to it."

1st Team All-SLC:
OH Emma Ridley, TAMUCC (3)
OH Jessica Hays, UCA
MB Jayme Bazile, Lamar (3)
MB MC Bottles, SFA (2)
S Marissa Collins, UCA
L Kelsey Jewakso, UTSA
RS Chloe Smith, UCA (1)

2nd Team All-SLC
OH Carli Kolbe, SHSU (1)
OH Amanda Aguilera, UTA
MB Amber Calhoun, Texas State (3)
MB Laranda Spann, NWLA
S Kelsey Schwirtlich, UTSA
L Alicia Schaffer, UTA
OH Kendra Rowland, UTSA (2)

3rd Team All-SLC
OH/RS AJ Watlington, Texas State
OH Jennifer Brandt, Nicholls
MB Taylor Hammonds, UCA
MB Kim Black, SHSU
S Becky Bekelja, McNeese
L Danielle Daigle, Nicholls
MB Jessica Nagy, UCA

(1) SFA 1st Team last year
(2) SFA 2nd Team last year
(3) SFA 3rd Team last year

Just Missed:
OH: Whitney Walls, UTSA (my first cut), Jennifer Brandt and Rachel Yezak (Nicholls), Priscilla Massengale (McNeese), Arielle Daron (SFA) and Kourtney Adams (NWLA)

MB: Jessica Addicks (Nicholls), Briana Mason and Brittney Malloy (UTSA)

S: Reagan Daniel (UTA)

L: I didn't consider any others. The three I have above are relatively interchangeable in their spots, I believe.

Players of the Year: Emma Ridley, TAMUCC and Jessica Hays, UCA
Setter of the Year: Marissa Collins, UCA
Libero of the Year: Kelsey Jewasko, UTSA
Coach of the Year: Laura Groff, UTSA
Freshman of the Year: Marissa Collins, UCA
Newcomer of the Year: Kourtney Adams, NWLA (if she is eligible as an outgoing senior. )
(If not, then: Tina Hobbs, Lamar - if she is eligible given she redshirted at Lamar last year)

The only argument I want to present tonight is for Jessica Hays. The buzz the entire year around the league was about Ridley. I get it. She is a great player. She hits the holy frijole out of the ball. Coaches LOVE her. I'm going to be a little shocked if she doesn't win the actual player of the year award from the conference.

But... I kept hearing arguments like this: "She knocks down 20 a night DESPITE the fact that everyone knows she is main option and gets all those swings. Everyone KNOWS they have really only her to go to and she still puts up numbers."

I understand that logic.. but its overplayed. Actually, I think the reverse is more impressive. Hays puts up virtually the same stats - and before you go "Nuh, uh, she doesn't". YES... SHE... DOES.

Hays is putting up numbers in SPITE of having other options like Smith and Nagy and Hammonds. What's more impressive: Putting up stellar numbers when you are the only option or doing it when you are one of several? Think on that before you give your gut reaction.

Now, someone might ask: "Who are you going to start your club with? Hays or Ridley?" That's a really good argument for Ridley, but before you dismiss Hays as a possible answer, consider this:

Hays has pedigree - she was the Freshman of the Year two years ago. Plus, she is a proven winner. Ridley ain't won jack. Hays has titles to her name and Ridley never played in the postseason. Ridley won 21 games total the last two years at Corpus. Hays' team won 26 this year! You gonna just COMPLETELY ignore that?

I'm not saying it is the most important thing - and realize, I am A-OK if Ridley wins the award. She is a great, great, outside hitter. For that matter, I'm not going to throw a fit if Chloe Smith won again. But Hays is right there people. I'll conclude with the stats:

Ridley: 415 kills, 3.95 k/s, 1234 attacks, .173 attack %, 319 digs, 3.04 d/s, 37 blocks, .35 b/s, .21 aces/set

Hays: 434 kills, 3.91 k/s, 1140 attacks, .171 attack %, 317 digs, 2.86 d/s, 56 blocks, .50 b/s, .62 aces/set

All things considered, Hays generated more points per set for her team than did Ridley.

Ridley is fiery, flashy and has the "it" factor that coaches drool over. I get it.
Hays has conference championships and the same numbers. Flash is trumped by wins, my friends.
The only reason I listed them both is because I have heard coach after coach after coach talk up Ridley and I have to use all the data available to me.

The "look/tools" side of me picks Ridley. The stats side of me picks Hays. Trouble is.. the "look/tools" side of me isn't refined.. the stats side is. I've had some good conversations with fans, parents, coaches, etc. about the fact that stats don't tell it all. But could we please not pretend this is a slam dunk for Ridley, because it's not. If for some insane reason both aren't really first team All-SLC when the voting comes out, the website you are currently reading might explode.

I eagerly await the coaches and SID picks. Let the debates rage on...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

First Reaction to UTSA and Texas State Leaving the Conference

This is usually about the time where I post a preview of an upcoming conference opponent, but given today's news of Texas State and UTSA leaving the Southland to join the WAC, I decided to go a different route. I hope the good people at McNeese will forgive me. I will encourage all that are reading to show up at Johnson Coliseum tomorrow night at 7 PM for our penultimate match of the year.

I haven't had time to talk with many people yet about the Texas State/UTSA situation, so I'm sure my final opinion on this subject will be reached after additional discussion with others. However, blogs are made for sharing "in the moment" opinions as well as more cautioned and reasoned pieces. So, I admit this is my "first take" and so I hope these opinions won't be villanized given that confession.

My overall thought is that the move doesn't really affect the conference that much. It has been pointed out by several people that I did get a chance to talk to tonight that the Southland just gained Lamar in football and will only lose Texas State in football, since UTSA isn't currently playing pigskin in the SLC. Since "football is king", the effect on other sports will be trumped by the relatively neutral impact on football.

At least for now, I tend to agree with that.

The Southland will still have 10 members. For that reason, my immediate thought is that the conference should do nothing in response to Texas State and UTSA leaving.

If the conference went looking for replacements, there is some chance that we could woo some school athletically comparable to the 10 that remain or even upgrade. I think this chance is slim. What is more likely is that replacements would come from schools who currently compete in lesser conferences, are currently independent, or are looking to upgrade to DI. Now, you could get a gem from one of those places, but I don't think so. Again - siding with probability, I think the most likely thing is that if such schools were invited to join the conference, the result would be an overall downgrade in reputation.

So.. maybe the most prudent action is to be idle and continue, at least temporarily, as a 10 team conference. Of course, this assumes that none of these 10 schools plans in the near future to leave as well. Which - is at least an issue worth pondering, right? Is there going to be any form of chain reaction? I have no evidence that there will be, but it is a natural thought when schools leave conferences. It is well known that budget issues in Louisiana have spawned all sorts of rumours about Nicholls and/or Southeastern Louisiana not being long term viable as DI athletic programs anymore. This may only be rumor and have little actual substance, but I'd be lying if I didn't mention that I hear such talk around the conference many times a year.

What could the ramifications be for our sport - volleyball? The answer is so unbelievably obvious that it all but guarantees this won't be done: Just create a "Texas Division" - which now functions as the West comprised of SFA, Lamar, UTA, TAMUCC and SHSU. The other division - the East or "Louisiana/Arkansas" division could be NWLA, SELA, McNeese, Nicholls, and UCA.

It would seem a little silly to continue with an 8 team tournament with only 10 teams in conference. So, why not have a six team tournament where the winner of the two divisions get byes and the other top four teams are seeded three through six. For revenue purposes, we could still play the tournament over three days having #3 play #6 and #4 play #5 on Day 1 (rather than having four games like we do now). Then on Day 2, we'd have two games and then a championship on the final day.

From a volleyball perspective, Texas State and SFA have had many the rivalry game in recent years. Despite our current down year, that historical battle will be missed, I think. UTSA is having a good year in 2010 and they can use that as a launch toward moving to the WAC in two years. UTSA Volleyball over the last few years has been an average club, so their impact of leaving isn't quite the same as Texas State leaving - in terms of volleyball reputation,that is.

Of course, Texas State and UTSA become two obvious choices for non-conference games, because the conference schedule would more than likely be shortened if we go forward with just 10 teams. (Edit after initial post: ...or could we play everyone twice and the conference season expanded from 16 to 18 games? Travel costs probably shoot that down)

For now, I think my first reaction to today's news is neutral in terms of across-the-board impact, but slightly negative in terms of the effect on Southland Conference Volleyball. If I had to pick two teams to leave the conference without downgrading the conference's position in volleyball, these would not be the two I'd pick.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

STATS 101: Attack Percentage By Position

One week from today the season will be over and attention will be turned - at least partially - to things not concerning volleyball. For a while, at least. There will be a lot of words spoken, written, and pondered about all that went wrong for Ladyjack Volleyball during 2010. In some ways, it will be a cold winter and a long spring. I'll have time to break down the season in posts to come, but one of the more telling statistics of this years' disappointment can be found in these numbers:

From 2004 to 2009, here are SFA's ranks among Southland Conference schools in opponent's hitting percentages: 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 3rd, and 1st. For years, opposing teams could not find the floor against us. But, now, the cold reality:

In 2010, SFA ranks 10th out of 12 schools in opponent's hitting percentage. Fall. From. Grace.

It is also true that SFA historically has ranked high in attack percentage on offense and this year they are down offensively, too. But, to go from tops in the league in opponent's hitting percentage five out of the last six years and then finish 10th - three spots from the bottom? That says a lot.

The average hitting percentage for teams in this conference is generally between .185 and .190. Last year, the conference hit .190. Right now, the conference as a whole has a hitting percentage of .186.

Bigger conferences tend to hit slightly higher. Conference USA is hitting .210 as a conference. The Big 12 is hitting .216 and the SEC is over .220. These aren't just one year trends, I've checked this sort of thing for several years now. I think - in part - the bigger conferences' attack percentages are slightly higher than ours due to the overall tendency for them to play teams slightly below them in talent before their conference play starts.

At any rate, the average SLC team hits between .185 and .190. But, how does this change across position? Most folks who study the game would guess - and guess correctly - that a team's middle blocker is more likely to hit for a higher percentage than their primary outside hitter. But...would you guess that a team's secondary outside hitter would tend to hit for a higher percentage that the team's primary outside hitter? It's true.

But, what are the differences and how does that average of .185 to .190 distribute itself across positions? That is what this post answers - at least for Southland players.

What I have done is look at each teams primary middle blocker, primary outside hitter and secondary outside hitter and compare hitting percentages across the league. Here are my definitions in use for this analysis:

Primary Middle Blocker: The player who regularly plays MB and who has the most blocks on the team. (this is typically the M1)

Primary Outside Hitter: A player who regularly plays OH or RS who leads the team in attacks. (This is typically the L1 - the primary left side hitter)

Secondary Outside Hitter: A player who regularly plays OH or RS who is second on the team in attacks or has the second most attacks as an outside. No middle blocker is considered here. (This is typically the team's RS hitter or in a few cases a left-side hitter who has racked up a ton of attacks. This player is no less than 3rd on the team is total attacks since the two other players above would be the only players with more)

Now, due to a few specialized offensive strategies and usages of players, I have occasionally bent these definitions slightly as I saw fit. For instance, UCA has spread its attacks among its two middles almost evenly, so that both are included in my analysis. Second, Texas State is so deep that the player who ranks as the secondary outside hitter isn't currently getting as much playing time. There will always be little caveat's like this, but I don't believe they change the main message that the data convey. (In fact, scratch work not included here verifies this belief)

Just so that everything is out in the open here, the players that are included in this analysis are:

Primary Middle Blockers: Bottles, Alverson, Nagy, Hammonds, Bazile, Huckabay, Addicks, Spann, Black, Donald, Calhoun, Shearin, Mason

Primary Outside Hitters: Owens, Ridley, Hays, McCollum, Massengale, Brandt, Adams, Kolbe, Jones, Watlington, Aguilera, Rowland.

Secondary Outside Hitters: Daron, Arciadiacono, Smith, McStravick, Bustamento, Yezak, Deering, Stewart, Krohn, Alexander, Frantz, Walls.

Team Order of Above listings: SFA, TAMUCC, UCA, Lamar, McNeese, Nicholls, NWLA, SHSU, SELA, Texas State, UTA and UTSA.


The average primary middle blocker hits .269

The average primary outside hitter hits .166

The average secondary outside hitter hits .180

Everybody else averages .169

Roughly, the sample sizes for this year will be:

Primary Middle Blockers: Around 7000 total attacks
Primary Outside Hitters: Around 11,000 total attacks
Secondary Outside Hitters: Around 8000 total attacks

That should give you some sense of the distribution. Primary middles attack about 2 times for every 3 attacks by a primary outside and the secondary outside hitters attack at just a slightly more frequent clip that the primary middles.

I have data from 2009 which shows the same basic thing as the data above does. Of course, anyone can scour the internet and get the data - it is all on the conferences' web page, in fact.

I find it interesting that primary middles hit on average 100 points higher than the primary outsides. I knew their percentages would come out higher - but the 100 point spread surprised me a little. Also, I would not have guessed that a teams' secondary hitter would tend to hit for a slightly higher average than their primary attacker.

I have made all sorts of hypotheses as to why the numbers came out this way, but I think I will just stop short and let the reader form their own conjectures. I just wanted to calculate and present the results so that you know what the norms are as you compare players. Any way you explain the numbers, I find this an interesting exercise.

So, before you criticize that L1 for only hitting .175 or lauding that middle for hitting .250, think on these numbers.

Monday, November 1, 2010

2010 Player Profile: MC Bottles

The first time I ever saw Bottles play volleyball was Opening Night 2008. Hurricane Ike had hit and backed up our home opener all the way to mid-September. I wasn't writing this blog then and I so I didn't attend fall practices in that year like I have the last two seasons. I had the list of new freshman memorized: Amber Williams-Roberts, Sydney Ellis, Melissa Miksch and Mary Caitlin Bottles. I had seen pictures of all of them and thought I had their faces memorized, or at least - the best I could from just one preseason mug shot. But, when I walked into the gym on that first night I got confused. Miksch and Ellis were the only blondes in my pictures. There were three girls with blonde hair on the court I had never seen before. The mug shots had let me down as I couldn't separate out the faces from memory.

Ben Rikard steered me right. "That's Bottles over there", he said pointing. "Oh, and don't announce her as Mary Caitlin". She had dyed her hair blonde and preferred to go by her initials. I'd see the color transformation a few times again during the following years. I was actually pleased by the name preference because it gave me a chance to just change the forceful "J-J- Jones" that I used during announcing lineups to "M-C- Bottles". All hail initials! They are great for announcing.

I bring a typed sheet with information on both our players and the opposition to each match. It lists position, height, classification and uniform number before names. It is in 16-point font and arranged numerically so that I can quickly find names to go along with numbers while calling the game and it helps keep me on point while barking the starting lineups. The only night that sheet ever said "MB 6-0 FR 1 Mary Caitlin Bottles" was that very first match.

Granted, this season hasn't gone to form. But when it does end and all thoughts turn to 2011, there will be a conversation among people that matter that goes something like this: "So, what do you think we should think about in terms of personnel for 2011?" Another of those that matter will answer: "OK, let's see, we've got MC in the middle and....."

See, it all starts with Bottles. Wanna know what you're gonna get?

2008: 2.60 kills/set, o.88 blocks/set, .356 attack %
2009: 2.62 kills/set, 1.00 blocks/set, .286 attack %
2010: 2.98 kills/set, 0.95 blocks/set, .271 attack %

Career to date: 2.73 kills/set, 0.95 blocks/set, .297 attack %

Consistent. Solid. Night In. Night Out.

So, while they each have their differences, let the comparisons begin - if they haven't already. Traci Rohde. Brittany Burton. MC Bottles. Does she belong in that company? I say definitely.

Here is roughly - health willing - what Bottles is on pace for:

1280-1320 total kills - that would place her 6th or 7th all time at SFA. Right at Rohde and just shy of Burton.

She is currently 8th all-time in attack percentage at SFA - above Burton and just one slot below Rohde.

Around 450 total blocks. Rohde is first all-time with 483 and Burton is second with 463.

About a block per set. Among people with more than 300 sets played, Bottles is currently 6th all-time at SFA.

What is it likely to all mean - at least, statistically, when she finishes making her mark? Maybe the best way to sum it up is that she may very well rank as one of the top five middle blockers to ever play at SFA.

Bottles is a Facebook hound. Along with Lo, she was the the first player to "find" the blog when it went live during late summer 2009. I knew I needed a Facebook and Twitter presence to help drive traffic here. It worked. Bottles was probably the first person to ever load this page other than myself.

Between her phone and my knack for using too many computers, our Facebook chat that you'll read below got lost in the shuffle a few times. No matter. That's just given us all more time to learn about what really matters: That "1" she wears on her jersey signifies her appropriate status as our "ace".

Read on to figure out why IHOP will never be the official pancake of Ladyjack Volleyball. Which is too bad 'cause you know a "pancake" is when you stretch your hand out on the floor to keep the ball from hitting... ohh.. never mind.. just read on... Around the court, basically everyone calls you “MC”. How far back does that go and do friends outside of volleyball tend to use that shortening of your name, too?

MC: When I first started playing sports my coaches quickly realized that "Mary Caitlin" was much too long to yell at a kid. So my first basketball coach and good family friend Dave Thomas gave me the name “MC”. None of my friends or family started to call me that until high school and since then it’s what most people call me. The only people who still call me Mary Caitlin are my family and a few friends from church back at home. There has been little doubt about your effectiveness when running a slide over the past two years. Is that your favorite play to run or are there others that are preferred in your mind. I ask Allison if there were little “likes” and “dislikes” that her attackers have in how balls are set. What about that issue from the attacking perspective?

MC: The slide is definitely my favorite play set to run! As an attacker there are different likes and dislikes for each of us. Some players do better with tempo or faster sets while some prefer a slower tempo. Also some players like their sets to be more inside so that they can hit a sharper angle or pushed farther outside to swing down the line or cross court. It also depends on the team that you play and if you want to challenge their outside blocker or middle blocker. Whenever there is a new setter you always have to communicate about the set and what you prefer. For example, Sabrina and I hit a much different type of “A” set because she reaches much higher than I so Allison and Lo have to set her higher than they would set me. It takes a lot of communication at the beginning but once everyone gets used to each other than there is less communication between the setters and hitters. With Ashley Bailey gone, you are the primary middle blocker and will be again next year. Give us a breakdown of each of the other middles and what you think they bring to the club.

MC: Sabrina is one of the most coachable players I have ever played with. Whatever the coaches ask of her she will immediately do it. She is one of those players who would practice for five hours a day if you allowed her to! Lindsay is full of energy. As a player - no matter how she is doing - she always has constant energy and that’s huge to be able to bring that on the court every single day. Carrie is someone who is always pushing you to be a better player. She’s a workhorse and never slacks off during practice or a game. Even though just a junior, you are certainly looked at as one of the leaders on this team. Do you embrace the “leader” tag or is that something that comes less naturally than blocking and hitting volleyballs?

MC: Being a leader definitely comes less naturally to me than playing. I have always been the kind of player who leads by example, but this year I have become more vocal. As an upperclassman my leadership role is to be more of a vocal leader this year. But, then again I have never had a problem saying what is on my mind so that has helped me step into that vocal/upperclassman role. Finally, often on social media sites like Facebook, you’re known to express your desire for Chipotle and/or Waffle House. The team often hits local Chipotle’s when on the road, etc…and I totally get it. But, enlighten us on Waffle House a bit. The only ones I have ever been in have been well…shall we say…suspect in terms of passing health inspections. Are there other eatery favorites on the road for either you personally or the team as a whole?

MC: As a team I think we love Texas Roadhouse and On the Border the most. We also like Cracker Barrel and since coach loves Cracker Barrel we eat there all the time! But Waffle House is breakfast food and the only person I have met who doesn’t like breakfast food not at breakfast is Maddie! I think Waffle House is amazing. In Dallas they are all pretty clean so I have no problem with them! In my opinion, Waffle House beats IHOP any day!

Thanks to all those who have been commenting here at the blog and sending me emails. I appreciate all of the questions, opinions and pats on the back as well as constructive criticism to make the site better. I think this a good opportunity to especially thank the coaches and parents from Sam Houston and Lamar who are regular readers. I was shocked earlier this season when various parents recognized me at road games and came up to introduce themselves and talk volleyball. It's always a pleasure to meet other fans that are just as passionate about this sport as I am.

The 'Jacks head down to Corpus Christi and then over to San Antonio at the end of the week. Make plans to be at our last two home matches against McNeese and Lamar. Be especially sure to get there early and stay late on Saturday the 13th as we honor our three seniors: Laurel Kuepker, Ari Daron and Kelsey Owens.

KO is the only returner this year who has not had a profile, and we'll fix that in the next two weeks. I still intend to do something with the freshmen, but I think I'll wait and get their thoughts on their first year experience when we are all said and done.

See you in Johnson Coliseum next week!