Saturday, November 19, 2011

SLC Tournament, Day 2

9:47 Two Names: Amber Calhoun and Amari Deardorff. Wow. With UCA up 12-11.. those two BLOCK THREE STRAIGHT BALLS FOR POINTS... THREE STRAIGHT!! That gives Texas State the lead 14-12. Then Toth is called for being in the net and its down to 14-13. After that, Nagy gets a huge kill and that ties it at 14. Toth then kills an overpass and gives Texas State match point at 15-14.. The match ends when Player of the Year Amber Calhoun pushes one to deep center.. right on the line and dashes UCA's upset bid... 16-14 and Texas State wins in 5. A fantastic match.. Has to be one of the best semifinals in SLC history.. Just a fantastic match.. have a great night! Tomorrow at 2 be sure and watch the final on SLC TV if you are not in Conway.. all the seeds hold to form and #1 Texas State will face #2 UTSA.

9:43 PM Not so fast say Deardorff and Calhoun.. a couple of big blocks ties it back up at 12. Classic. Just a classic match. High quality

9:41 PM A DeGeare service error and then an attack error from the Bobcats forces Chisum to take her last timeout.. UCA up 12-9 in control, and looking like they are going to come back from 2-0 and win 3-2.. just three side outs will do it. What a performace from UCA tonite.

9:35 PM Freshmen Alicia Dittrich and Scout Brooks serving notice that UCA is going to be strong in years to come.. Brooks just ripped one past the Bobcat blockers for her 19th kill of the night. UCA leads 9-7 in the 5th.

9:33 PM UCA leads 8-6 at the turn.. I think this comeback is gonna happen.

9:27 PM Ashlee Hiblun on the verge of a triple double: 8 kills, 8 digs and 10 blocks. Scout Brooks leads all - very impressive - with 17 kills.

9:24 I've though all during this match that the libero and overall back row play of Texas State has struggled just a bit and it showed down the stretch.. Several balls that should have been dug and then a complete misplay of a Nagy serve ends it in Set 4 and gives UCA a 25-22 victory... We are going to five for the right to face UTSA in tomorrow's championship. I didn't think anything could top UTA and SHSU in Round 1, but this one takes the cake.. So impressed with UCA's play.

9:22 PM A Toth error followed by a Deardorff error and suddenly UCA is up 22-19.. Texas State playing from a point or two behind most of this set. Unbelievable.. UCA on the verge of forcing five. Again, easily the best match of the tourney.. BY FAR!!

9:16 UCA frustrating the heck out of Texas State right now.. up 17-15 in Set 4 forcing a TO.. The Sugar Bears are playing at a very high level tonight.. Jessica Nagy and Scout Brooks both having strong performances and Curl chasing everything down.. Lesson: Never count out the host team.. I didn't see UCA playing like this at all. Not at all.. Great crowd in here tonight. This place is rocking. If you had half these people in Prince, you'd be deaf.

9:09 PM Calhoun up to 13-0-20 (.650).. still without an attack error early in the 4th set. UCA jumps out to a 6-2 lead in the set but it is quickly erased by the Bobcat defense. Hilbun in on two blocks to swing it back to 8-7 Texas State. She is quite the player.. very active in the middle.. and so stoic. Great poise under pressure.

8:59 PM Nagy ends it out of the TO slamming one off the block and giving UCA the set 3 win 25-23. Going to Set 4 with Texas State still up 2-1. Great, great match.. the UCA crowd really into this one...everyone getting their money's worth on Day 2 at this thing. Will UCA force a Set 5? Gotta give them credit either way.. I didn't see them playing this strong these last two days after limping into the postseason.

8:58 PM A Calhoun kill out of the TO and then Nagy slams an overpass on a joust at the net.. no one is going to win that battle against her strength. That makes it 24-22 UCA, but then Toth, who is playing lights out in this set gets a kill and forces a TO with UCA leading 24-23.

8:54 PM Another back and forth match.. probably the best overall match of the tournament.. No one able to extend a lead of more than two points. Toth having a great set for Texas State but Alicia Dittrich for UCA has just scored two points on a dink then a slam to force a Bobcat timeout and a UCA 22-20 lead.. lets see if they hold on this time to force Set 4.

8:31 PM Halftime postscript: We are seeing why Amber Calhoun won Player of the year. At intermission she leads Texas State with 10 kills on just 12 swings.. no errors. That's an .833 attack percentage if you are calculating along with me from home. She is just ripping it.

8:25 PM Wow. Just wow. Easily, and I mean, easily the most exciting set of the tournament right there.. Here's the sequence down the stretch. Tied at 24, UCA's Geisler commits a service error to give Texas State set point at 25-24. Brooks tied it on a strong kill at 25, only to have DeGeare absolutely destroy one from the middle to give Texas State the advantage again 26-25. UCA goes back to Brooks and she responds and ties the game again at 26 all. Then, Nagy makes the crowd erupt on a kill from an overpass and UCA leads 27-26 and has a chance to tie it up. But then Calhoun and Deardorff just smother Brooks as they went to her one time to many and we are tied again at 27. DeGeare's big serve now... and Brooks fights back and gives UCA a second set point at 28-27 on another kill from the left. UCA just going there over and over. But, Calhoun answers from the middle and forces another play making it 28 all. Then Nagy goes wide on a shot and Texas State has the ad 29-28. Then the controversy ensues as Giesler's shot goes long for UCA, but it looked like to me and most in the gym that she got a touch at the net. Cristin Curl argues strongly to the up ref that there was a touch, but to no avail, no call and Texas State wins the second set 30-28. Got all that. Great.. I gotta go get a bottled water. Wow.. What a set!

8:19 PM The see-saw continues.. Texas State takes advantage of a couple of UCA errors and a big kill from PLayer of the Year Amber Calhoun to go ahead 24-23 and force a UCA TO.. set point and chance at 2-0 lead coming for the Bobcats.

8:14 PM The second set between UCA and Texas State much more competive than the first. Texas State leading most of the set by a few points, but now UCA has pulled out to a 21-20 lead forcing Karen Chisum into a timeout.. Let's see if the host Sugar Bears can hold on tie this thing up at the half...

7:50 PM Texas State looking like a totally different club tonight. Overpowering UCA in Set 1, winning 25-18 and in control for virtually all of that set. So many weapons on offense for Texas State and all of Hilbun, Deardorff, Calhoun and DeGeare contributing in Set 1. DeGeare with several aces in the set to aid her cause as well. Texas State hits a whopping .394.. UCA not able to slow them down at all. Hilbun and Deardorff with 4 kills, DeGeare and Calhoun with three in a very balanced attack.. McCorquodale doing a great job of mixing it up. Impessed with Scout Brooks for UCA.. they are going to her a lot with a team high 13 attacks.. she turned five of them into kills and she leads the club in that department.

6:45 PM The difference in the match for SHSU: 8 more attack errors, five more service errors and UTSA's superior play at the net. All match long.. UTSA was just all over SHSU on attacks.. The Runners finish with 15 total blocks in a fantastic match defensively. Both teams hit under .100. Normally when you see that, you think that it was just lousy offense. That wasn't the case in that match at all. Both teams played really well defensively. Attackers for Sam: Kolbe 12-13-53 (-.019), Hawkins 4-5-24 (-.042), Neisler 5-5-17 (.000). The only girl with over 10 attacks with a positive hitting percentage was Cleveland 8-4-25 (.160). Again, UTSA didn't put up any flashy offensive numbers either. They find themselves in the final without having a girl kill even 10 balls in either match they've played. Huskey, Adams and Walls with 7 each lead the Runners in that one. Amazing. When you look at the score, you see 3-0 sweep, but Sam played better than the score shows. B But, in the end.. this sets up a possible #1 vs #2 match up between UTSA and Texas State. The Bobcats will have to knock off riding high host UCA first though.. .that one starting in about 40 minutes.

6:33 PM A big block by Walls on the right side on a Kolbe attack swung the late momentum to UTSA. The Kolbe paired a kill from the right with an error from the left. After that a Walls kill from the right set up match point for UTSA. In the final sequence, Wimbish made a tremendous dig that then Jewasko was able to track down and enable UTSA to return over the net.. after a bit more of a rally, Thornton finally ended it and UTSA took Set 3 25-23 and completed the sweep. SHSU put up quite a fight to even come back from the early deficit in that one, but UTSA makes the last late push and convincingly finishes off Sam Houston 3-0 to earn a date in the title game tomorrow.

6:25 PM After getting down 9-2, the Bearkats go on a furious 12-1 run to take the lead in Set 3. A great show of strength and fight by SHSU. Defense continues to be the theme in this match. Great play at the net and a ton of great ups on both sides. High level volleyball in this game so far.. clearly two of the top teams in this tournament. Sam Houston not going quietly. Up 21-19 in Set 3.

5:58 PM SHSU at an even .000 hitting after the .067 in set 1 in countered by the same figure in the negative direction in Set 2. UTSA not lighting it up.. hitting only .095 in set 2 and .103 overall. The difference is at the net where UTSA is already out to 10 blocks, with five apiece from Adams and setter Schwirtlich. No big hitters for SHSU able to do anything. Kolbe at 7-8-34 (-.029), Hawkins at 4-3-18 (.056) and Black at just 2-3-6 (-.167). Just like they did against SFA, UTSA is using a well distributed attack as Huksey, Malloy and Adams all have five kills with Schwirtlich getting four of her own. Sam Houston needing to come out firing to avoid the sweep.

5:54 PM After a Brenda Gray timeout at 16-9, the Bearkats could only get as close as five at 25-20 after a Loving ace, but UTSA proves to be too much.. especially at the net and they are able to close out Set 2 with a 25-17 win taking a 2-0 lead in the locker room at intermission. SHSU back on their heels at this point.

5:47 PM Early in Set 2 each team trading runs of three or four points, but then UTSA's block comes up big again and they get it out to 10-6.. After that, SHSU not as sharp and UTSA able to go on a 6-3 run to stretch the lead out to 16-9. SHSU needing a strong push to avoid being down 2-0.

5:30 PM A very competitive first set between the Runners and the Bearkats ends with UTSA taking a 1-0 lead but needing extra points to get it (26-24). Twice Sam Houston had a chance to gain the advantage down the stretch when tied, but in both instances the UTSA front line came up big with blocks. 8 tied scores..many of which were down the final points of the match. Kolbe picking up where she left off with her 81 swings last night.. taking 17 in the first here this afternoon. Neither team hitting for a high percentage.. UTSA at .111 and SHSU at .067 in the first set. Three blocks by McKenzie Adams for UTSA in that first set.. some at very key times. SHSU needing to get Set 2 in order to avoid being in a big hole at half.

4:30 PM Day Two of the Southland Conference Tournament is about to begin.. first match this afternoon will cast the Sam Houston State Bearkats against the #2 seeded UTSA Roadrunners.. Recall that SHSU is the team that not only busted up UTSA's streak of 12 conference games in which they didn't lose a set.. but SHSU went on to foil UTSA's attempt at an undefeated conference slate, beating them in Huntsville in five sets on November 3. Since that time, UTSA has struggled to repeat the dominance they showed prior. After their loss to SHSU, UTSA dropped a set in Nacogdoches, lost to Texas State in four sets and dropped a set against UTA in their final regular season match. So, despite handling #7 seed SFA rather easily yesterday, one has to wonder if Sam Houston isn't set up to spoil UTSA's shot at a championship.

That being said, Sam Houston was involved in easily the most emotional match of Day 1, getting stretched all the way to five games against a feisty Maverick club from UTA. In that match, Sam Houston star Carli Kolbe swung a painful 81 times and registered the ridiculous line of 30 kills with 20 digs. To win this tournament there is no rest.. gotta play three straight days, so we'll see if the Bearkats looked winded during this match against the Runners..

Friday, November 18, 2011

SLC Tournament, Day 1 Continued

8:21 Lamar implodes in Set 4 as UCA runs away with Set 4 in a 25-11 easy win. So, all seeds hold to form and advance to the 2nd round tomorrow. A very poor serving game on both sides in this match, but Lamar's 15 service errors just proved to be their doom. UCA will meet #1 Texas State in the late game.. Lamar has to be disappointed with that result given that they probably thought that they should have been up 2-0 at the break.. However, after UCA won the momentum back at the end of Set 3.. that was all she wrote because UCA absolutely cruises in Set 4 in one of the more lopsided sets you'll see.. check back here tomorrow afternoon as we continue with coverage of Day 2 from Conway.

7:59 PM UCA takes the lead 2-1 after a very strong set from Sugar Bear RS Jessica Nagy.. Lamar couldn't find an answer for her and the 3rd set swings UCA's way. Now, for Lamar to get their anticipated chance of knocking off Texas State again, they are going to have to win this in five. The home crowd really got into that set and once the Bears took the lead at about 17's, the crowd continued to feed off every point.. Earlier in the match the crowd really hadn't been a factor. Krell still the offensive formula for the Cardinals as she leads all with 14 kills. But Nagy is hitting 12-2-30 (.333) for UCA. Amazingly, UCA leads despite making 11 total service errors andgetting no aces. The reason? Lamar has been worse at the service line.. committing a crazy 13 serving errors.. four each for Whittaker and McStravick. The momentum has definitely swung the host's way going into Set 4.

7:27 PM: After getting beat down in Set 1, host UCA makes a nifty comeback from five points down late in the 2nd set to force extra points and then put Lamar away 26-24. So, the last game of Day 1 goes to intermission tied 1-1. All sorts of serving problems in this one.. Lamar with five aces, but also committing six service errors, but UCA has 8 service errors without getting an ace. Lamar getting basically nothing from their outsides.. Krell in the middle.. running a ton of slides has 9 kills, but otherwise McCollum and McStravick - whose had serving problems in this one - only have 7 kills between them. UCA is led at the half by Freshman Alicia Dittrich with 7 kills. Lamar finds themselves tied despite hitting .302 in the match compared to only .188 for UCA. The Cardinals have to feel as though they should be up 2-0, but instead we will play a best of three to see who gets to dance with Texas State in the night match on Day 2.

6:05 PM Texas State gets the win over NSU 3-1, but honestly.. that was unimpressive. Texas State really didn't look "into" the match at all. The only regular that impressed me in that match was Hilbun. But, that's the nature of #1 vs #8.. you don't have to play your best to win. Texas State can hit the reset button tonite and come out firing tomorrow. I wouldn't bet against that happening.. and I've got to think the winner of the last match here tonite will expend more energy. When Texas State is on.. they are really on. And I bet they find their gear before this is all said and done...All in all Northwestern State represented themselves well in that match. DiFrancesco swung 65 times in four sets, but hit just .062 as NSU hit .101 for the match. Texas State righted the ship on attacking in the 4th getting to .364 and raising their match percentage to .207. Still, I can't think Bobcat faithful came away impressed. I know I wasn't.

5:44 PM: Texas State plays complacently and gets burned in Set 3 by Northwestern State. In that set, the Bobcats looked as if they were just sitting back on their heals. No sense of urgency at all by Texas State. Deardorff, who is not playing well, was kept on the bench until 17-17 and then inserted to give the Bobcats a spark. It didn't work. Either Texas State just thought they could play subs and get away with it, Deardorff is slightly hurting or Texas State just played one of the worst sets I've ever seen them play. Pick one or all, but the fact is that Northwestern State just won Set 3 and cut the lead to 2-1. Texas State hits .027 in Set 2 and .119 in Set 3 after hitting .342 in Set 1. Its as it they thought it was a best of one set match. Let's see if that loss gets the Bobcats fired up, because that effort ain't gonna get it done tomorrow or in the championship if they make it. Gotta feel proud for NSU there.

5:05 PM: As might be expected, Northwestern State struggling to produce a lot of offense against the bigger and stronger Texas State. Texas State goes into intermission with a 2-0 lead, NSU managing only 14 points in the first set. Texas State really not stressed at any point in the first half.. getting tons of touches on NSU attacks.. cruising to what will probably be a 2nd round match up with either Lamar or host Central Arkansas.

SLC Tournament: Interview with Hugh Hernesman

As a preview to the upcoming match, here is an interview done about an hour ago with Northwestern State Co-Head Coach Hugh Hernesman:

SLC Tournament: Day 1

During the first day of the SLC tournament, I'll use this space to occasionally post thoughts and comments about the remaining three matches. Currently, Match 2 is underway with UTA and Sam Houston fighting it out to earn the right to meet UTSA in round 2 after the Runners downed the 'Jacks 3-0 in the first match of the day. Check back here in often during the day and all throughout the tournament...

2:02 PM: Amanda Aguilera with a very impressive first set.. carrying UTA to a 26-24 first set win to put Sam Houston State back on their heels. I told folks at lunch I thought this match would go to Sam 3-1, so let's see if this first set loss gets Sam angry and they fight back. Aguilera with 9 kills in the first set... Wow.

3:16 PM: After tying things up at the half, UTA and SHSU still involved in a high quality match. SHSU also got set 3, but most of the overall stats lean the Mavericks way. UTA, in particular is blocking like crazy. I've seen MB Emily Shearin play well at the net in years past, but this has to be one of her best matches of the year. UTA has blocked 13 balls in three sets and Shearin has 7 of those and a few more early in the 3rd set. Kolbe is headed for a record number of attempts this year. She has 53 attacks thru three sets. The most attacks in the conference this year in a three set match is 47 (Kolbe), in a four set match is 64 (Kolbe) and most in a five set match is 65 (Thornton, UTSA). Interview with Northwestern State Co-Head Coach Hugh Hernesman was done during halftime, so I'll post that in just a second...

3:33 PM: We are headed to five sets in this one.. UTA taking advantage of a little more sloppy play by Sam Houston in Set 4.. going to go down to the wire to see who gets to play UTSA tomorrow. Impressed overall with UTA in this match.. especially their play at the net. Totally different than when they were in Nacogdoches mid-way through the season.

4:00 PM: Very very intense match ends in Sam Houston's favor 3-2. Carli Kolbe with 30 kills on 81 attacks.. both numbers shattering SLC highs for this year. Colbe also with 20 digs to lead SHSU. Amanda Aguilera played a great match with 23 kills for UTA and Emily Shearin had 11 blocks on absolutely incredible play at the net. Alicia Shaffer showed why she was Libero of the Year with a great passing day and 37 digs.. which is the 2nd highest tally in SLC play this year. That was an emotional match.. with Kolbe having to carry a heavy fraction the load. The natural question is.. is there anything left in the tank for tomorrow against a tough UTSA team? That was great match, though.. UTA played tough.. their defense was top notch all the way around.. just a missed serve and few serve receive errors late in the 5th proved to be costly.

Live Chat: #7 SFA vs. #2 UTSA: SLC Tournament Round 1

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Eat Crow Post: Northwestern State On The Rise

I just got back from dinner and am now comfortably in a warm hotel room in Conway, Arkansas. Like a lot of people around here, I am pretty excited about tomorrow's full day of tournament action. When I got to the hotel just about a mile north of the UCA campus this afternoon, the attendant at the front desk saw the SFA logo on my shirt and asked if I was in town for "the tournament". Surprised that she knew about such tournament, I said yes and then she proceeded to tell me that a parent from Northwestern State had just checked in a few minutes before me.

A parent from Northwestern State. They are here. They came. Some of their girls' parents came. It's real. Northwestern State Demon Volleyball - those youngin's - they made the tournament and have a date with #1 seed Texas State tomorrow afternoon.

Folks - Sometimes, you just have to admit you are wrong. No excuses. No "Yeah, buts".. just say the words: I...was...wrong.

So there it is. Sometimes we write, say and think things that turn out to just be wrong. I have referred to
this post many times this year. But, virtually all of those times it was to remind you that I had Sam Houston picked higher than most and that people should expect them to be a high seed in the tournament that we are now on the eve of.

But, I wrote something else in that post. I wrote something that turned out to be quite wrong. Seriously,
go back and read it. You'll find all sorts of silly stuff about NSU. To wit:

"Look, you can't judge this team in 2011. You can't judge it in 2012. The next time Northwestern State Volleyball deserves a serious look in terms of the program making strides is 2013 or so. I'm sure that the Hernesman's have given plenty of rah-rah speeches to to rally the troops, but the truth is the team can't be expected to do much other than show up and play hard. After a few years of seeing what these new recruits have to offer, it's possible the Demons can start talking about moving up a notch in the conference."

Uhhh. Well? Hmmmm. Yeah. I wrote that.

And, it is wrong.

There are four other teams sitting at home right now watching re-runs of some boring sit-com while the coaches, players, staff, families and fans of the other 8 are chomping at the bit to get out there tomorrow and make it happen. And somewhere.. within probably a mile of where I am currently sitting are the Hernesman's, their assistants and staff, their players, parents and fans. Each one of them rightfully proud that flippant posts like mine on September 14 didn't mean a darn. Idiot. Wow. Time to eat some crow.

Two second year coaches, nine freshman, two sophomores and a junior. The group deserves some credit.

On September 14, I thought Northwestern State was second only to Southeastern Louisiana in terms of being at the bottom of the barrel in the Southland Conference. I would not have argued with you if you told me that you thought they would finish dead last and struggle to win ANY conference games. In this crazy year, where 6-10 and 7-9 teams are playing in the postseason, count NSU in rather than out.

What an accomplishment. Hey, when you lose 10 out of 16 conference games and play in the weaker East side of the conference, there is still a lot that didn't go right. But, for today, lets celebrate what did go right. Let's be honest and say "good job", because what happened here is pretty amazing.

This team plays basically seven players and six of them are freshman. The typical lineup for Northwestern State is OH DiFrancesco (2011 SLC Freshman of the Year), OH Jimenez, MB Coleman, RS Neely, OH Hajka, S Sweet and L Arneson. Of that group, all but Hajka are freshman. Well, they were. I say they've grown up rather quickly. After this weekend, we can call them sophomores, right?

It'd be easy to use youth as an excuse, wouldn't it? We're too young. We have no leaders. We have no experience. Why should we win? Let's just hope we don't get swept tonight? Let's just have fun. Just get used to the speed of the game. This is our practice year. No one expects us to win. The next time Northwestern State Volleyball deserves a serious look in terms of the program making strides is 2013 or so.

But, no. That is not what they said. It couldn't have been. Had they believed what I believed they'd be in Natchitoches right now.

Instead, they beat Louisiana-Lafayette, beat Nicholls State twice, beat host Central Arkansas here in the very city where I sit now, beat McNeese and got the two against lowly Southeastern to get their necessary six wins and earn the right to come back to Conway. Hey, look, I know this news isn't quite as impressive as UTSA going months before even losing a set in conference, but c'mon... this team was picked to finish 10th and only one vote in each poll from being picked next to last. So, if I was voting (oh, yeah, like THAT would have gone over well with the NSU faithful), then they would have been picked 11th. Southeastern Louisiana was universally seen as really struggling and headed for the cellar and then there was Northwestern State.

So, in open forum.. right here in the same place where I so carelessly dismissed the club, its time to eat crow. This was nice to see. Think about the experience all these girls will take home with them. They can legitimately build on this. This young team accomplished a goal that they can try and up next year.

I know we are all focused on questions like: Will it be UTSA and Texas State in the final? Will Sam Houston pull off more upsets? Will Lamar get another shot at Texas State at tournament time like in years past? Will UCA get their act together and take advantage of playing host? And of course, those of us from SFA are asking: Can we sequence it all together? Can we play like we are capable of playing and pull off an upset? Hey, these are all legitimate questions and that's the fun of this weekend.

But, when player of the year Amber Calhoun and 1st team all SLC and this blog's player of the year Amari Deardorff, and 1st team all SLC setter Caleigh McCorquodale and Coach of the Year Karen Chisum walk out on the floor tomorrow afternoon... guess who they'll be looking across the net towards?

Sophomores DiFrancesco, Jimenez, Coleman, Neely, Sweet & Arneson.. and don't forget Senior Hajka.

Yeah, go ahead and give 'em the new label.

They've earned it.

Freshmen no more.

Monday, November 14, 2011

3rd Annual All-Conference Teams

Right off the bat, I must say that this was the most difficult of the three years to construct these teams. A lot of players that just missed the list could be interchanged on the 3rd team and I'd be just fine. I don't think there is a clear Player of the Year this year at all. In some shape or form, almost all of the players I list on my 1st team below are worthy POY choices.

I would like to state as I have for three years now that I am primarily driven by numbers. That being said, the side of me that can recognize tools is slowly growing whereas the statistics side of my analysis is ingrained in me by training. Furthermore, I have far more conversations with people who actually vote on these lists throughout the year now and because of that I often become aware of players that coaches particularly like. But, I must admit, there are times when I hear coaches and others talk players up and my conclusion is still "the numbers aren't there... I just don't see it." Ultimately, if you have skills/tools, it should translate to production. Because of that, I tend to go off numbers, but not exclusively. I don't see all the teams. Neither do the Sports Information Directors.

Last year there was a discussion of AVCA guidelines for choosing players. Respectfully, I will ignore them. In my mind, they are biased against certain positions. If you would like to discuss this again, then please - send me an email and I will flesh out my thoughts on that in more detail.

Additionally, I will remind you that I actually pick "teams". The conference does not do this. Last year, the conference put 12 girls on the first team, six girls on the 2nd team and had 9 girls listed as honorable mention for a total of 27 girls recognized. I will have three teams of seven for 21 girls honored and then a list of the players I considered for the list and "just missed".

As I said each of the last two years: "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."

This list may get dissected at a later time, but my goal is to publish this each year on the Monday following the conclusion of the regular season. Primarily I do this so that I am not influenced by the official All-SLC teams which I expect to be named on Wednesday.

And now for the lists...

First Team

OH Carli Kolbe, Sam Houston
RS Amari Deardorff, Texas State
MB Amber Calhoun, Texas State
MB McKenzie Adams, UTSA
S Kelsey Schwirtlich, UTSA
L Alicia Shaffer, UTA
RS Whitney Walls, UTSA

Second Team

OH Tara Frantz, UTA
OH Elise Huskey, UTSA
MB Brittany Malloy, UTSA
MB Nicole Bowden, McNeese
S Caleigh McCorquodale, Texas State
L Kelsey Jewasko, UTSA
OH Melissa Toth, Texas State

Third Team

OH Amanda Aguilera, UTA
OH Stacy DiFrancesco, Northwestern State
MB Kim Black, Sam Houston
MB Ashlee Hilbun, Texas State
S Becky Bekelja, McNeese
L Madison Hanlan, SFA
OH Sierra Whittaker, Lamar

Just Missed:
OH: Jennifer Brandt, Nicholls

MB: A whole slew of players. Choosing MB's this year was tough. I considered all of the following for a 3rd team spot: Brooke Alverson, TAMUCC; Taylor Hammonds, UCA; Jessica Addicks, Nicholls; MC Bottles, SFA; Sabrina Burns, SFA; Christina Hobbs, Lamar.

S: Kym Loving, Sam Houston; Marissa Collins, UCA.

L: Cristin Curl, UCA.

Player of the Year: Amari Deardorff, Texas State
Setter of the Year: Kelsey Schwirtlich, UTSA
Libero of the Year: Alicia Shaffer, UTA
Newcomer of the Year: McKenzie Adams, UTSA
Coach of the Year: Brenda Gray, Sam Houston
Freshman of the Year: Stacy DiFrancesco, Northwestern State

I am not going to add a dissertation worth of a defense in this post, but I will give you some insight to some of my picks. First, I am happy with any of Deardorff, Kolbe, Calhoun, Walls or Adams winning player of the year. Deardorff has been my pick for several weeks now, but I strongly considered shifting to Kolbe in the last 48 hours. Ultimately, I went with Deardorff for two reasons: 1) In Texas State's most critical match in conference play - against UTSA recently, she came up huge: 19-1-39. When I read that box score last week it clicked in my mind...that's an MVP type performance when it really counted. 2) I can't ignore the attack errors for Kolbe and the fact that Deardorff only committed 56 errors all year. That hitting percentage is nearly twice that of Kolbe's. Now, I know that they differ a ton in total attacks and that Kolbe is a full six rotation player and Deardorff isn't. It's that kind of argument - along with the fact that Kolbe racks up a ton of digs because she plays all the way around - that is convincing.

Calhoun, Walls and Adams can all dominate too. Whitney Walls destroyed us. Her performance against SFA really sticks in my mind, but at the end of the day, I think I'd take Deardorff over Walls by just a hair. Again, if you prefer Walls, then I am not going to put up much of a fight.

For years, I have touted Nicole Bowden. I am through defending her. Her performance and numbers speak for themselves. I won't be surprised if the voters ignore both her and Bekelja. Collins will probably win the voters over because of her excellence last year. Bekelja is a fine defender, leading all setters in digs, and that's my tiebreaker on the 3rd team. I also suspect voters will rate Curl higher than I have, especially since she won the last Defensive Player of the Week award and that will be fresh in people's minds. Curl is a fine libero, I just don't believe she was as consistent as either of the three girls on my list.

Some may object to DiFrancesco purely because she racked up so many kills because of attacking over 1300 times and hit only .131. To this argument, I say: Where were you last year when you were making arguments for Emma Ridley? Now, DiFrancesco is no Ridley (not even close), I am just pointing out that Ridley also racked up kills in the same way as DiFrancesco.. namely, their teams tend to set them incredibly often. So what? She killed more balls than anyone in the conference. That's got to be worth at least 3rd team.

In terms of the 3rd team middle blockers, I broke the tie based on team quality. Some will object to this. In one version of this list, I had both of our own MB's in there. But, if you are going to put Burns in there, then you have to put Addicks in there because they are the same player. Hammonds was also in one draft, but ultimately I went with Hilbun and Black primarily because I have been personally impressed with the play I have witnessed from both of them and they play for better overall teams than those on the "just missed" list.

Finally, in terms of Coach of the Year. I know Groff and Chisum have a case.. and they are both good ones. Hey, remember I picked Groff last year when everyone had a love affair with McRoberts. But, let me ask you this: What's more impressive - taking a team that was picked to be first or second to the tournament as a #1 or #2 seed, or... taking a team picked as low as 7th in one poll and bringing them to the tournament as the #3?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Interview w/ Justin Gibert

We head to Conway as the #7 seed and have a date with #2 seeded UTSA in the opening match of the 2011 Southland Conference Tournament. The match this past weekend against Lamar left a lot to be desired after one of the more uninspiring performances SFA has played through this year left us with a 3-1 defeat in Beaumont.

Instead of moving up to the #5 seed, Lamar will have that honor and take on host UCA in the nightcap on the first day of action this coming Friday evening. Lamar head coach Justin Gibert has been a strong supporter of my efforts here at the blog. Justin and I exchange emails fairly regularly and along with our own coaches, parents, players, opponent parents and coaches, has been one of the folks I believe I've learned a little from during the past few years that I have been writing in this space. Of course, I remember Justin from his days as an assistant to Debbie Humphreys in Nacogdoches. I was a fan and fan only during those days - not working or writing in any official capacity during those years.

Before the match in Beaumont, I got a short tour of the volleyball setup in McDonald Gym. The facility of offices is quite nice having been recently built and appeared to be kept in very sparkling condition. About an hour before first serve, Coach Gibert and I got a chance to visit in a "ready room" on the south end of the McDonald Gym setup... away from the gym itself. Our thorough conversation is included below.

My final question to Justin concerned impressive players he has seen around the conference in 2011. Toward this end, I will post my 3rd Annual All Conference Teams on either Monday or Tuesday of this week. I anticipate the leagues' official announcements of All-Conference Selections will appear on Wednesday.

If you care to review the last two years of my picks they appear here (2010) and here (2009). I got a little less flak last year than two years ago, so hopefully I can make some sensible picks.. well, sensible in the eyes of others... gosh knows I'll be able (for good or bad) to defend my selections.

We'll also talk more about the tournament as we near Friday. I will have a live chat going during our first round game and will blog live throughout the tournament from Conway. I hope also this week to post an "Eat Crow" article concerning Northwestern State and get an interview with a few NSU coaches and players done on Friday in Conway.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Live Chat: SFA vs. Lamar

Career High !!

What in the world?

I stormed around my living room last night shaking my fist at Live Stats and those that were supposed to be assuring its function in Lake Charles. No stats. And no, I am not signing my life away and paying money to McNeese just so I can watch some crummy video feed. I want my Live Stats, man!!

Then, after every other match in the SLC finishes and some are already written up by Sports Information Directors (Texas State beat UTSA! Told you.)...finally McNeese decides to post our box score.

What in the world?

Let's recap this stuff:

Hanlan is hurt and against UTSA replaced by Hall. After the match, a short conversation with Debbie Humphreys made me think that we'd see Hall or Miksch in the libero jersey. So, if you give me two guesses as to who started at libero last night, those would be my first two. Then, I guess, if you told me I was wrong, my next level of guesses would go to the DS types on the team.. maybe Spicer or hmmm.. maybe Hill.

Wrong Again. SFA starts (usually) primary L1 Katzy Randall at libero and tabs Miksch to swing near 50 times. Huh?

And then... weirdness ensues....check it:

  • SFA kills more balls (82) than any other SLC team in a match this year.

  • SFA lands one attack shy (218) of having the most attacks of any SLC team this year.

  • SFA has the most assists (78) of any SLC team in a match this year.

  • SFA has the most digs (103) [tied] of any SLC team in a match this year.

  • SFA outhits McNeese .229 to .177, has 18 more kills, 14 more assists, 26 more statistical points and out blocks McNeese 13-8 and still manages only to squeak by in five...using extra points in the 5th set

  • Paige Holland has 74 assists...10 more than the previous individual high in the SLC this year and even more than the previous TEAM high in the SLC this year.

  • As noted by SID extraordinaire Ben Rikard, Holland has more assists than any SFA player in a match in over a decade. What the...?

  • Miksch....oh...Melissa Miksch... can I get an "amen" from the crowd?? Career high 23 kills. That SHATTERS her former record of 15 on a career high 49 attacks. Ice, please.

  • Jill Ivy: Career high 20 kills on a career high 44 attacks. Career high 11 digs.

  • Holland, in addition to 74 assists: Career high in digs with 14.

  • Amanda Hall: Career high 16 digs. Do you have the theme of these bullets, yet?

  • Taylor Gross: Career high 45 attacks.

  • MC Bottles: Career high 10 digs. Wow. Ok, I do want video now.

  • Sabrina Burns: Career high 31 attacks.

  • Katzy Randall.. excuse me... Katzy 'Libero' Randall (or KLR, pronounced "killer") with 27 digs. Yep, career high.

  • I know a lot of these "career" higs are freshman, but roll with it. It's fun. And don't doubt me.

  • SFA hits a ridiculous .515 in Set 1 (18-1-33)

  • The match lasts 2 hours and 20 minutes (and none of it was on Live Stats. Boo!)

  • Stuff I missed

  • SFA has four players with a double-double (Bottles 10k, 10d), (Ivy 20k, 11d), (Holland 74a, 14d) and Miskch (23k, 19d). Miksch lands one dig shy of a double 20, and Burns lands three blocks shy of a double-double and Bottles is five blocks shy of a triple-double.

Now, THAT's a volleyball match.

It appears (other stuff can happen) that SFA is headed for the 5th or 7th seed in the tournament. If we win and UTA loses to UTSA, then we'll be 5th and play host UCA in the first round in the night game on the first day of the tournament. If we lose (still assuming UTSA beats UTA), then we'll be 7th and play UTSA in the first round. That's assuming TAMUCC doesn't upset Texas State, which they probably aren't.

If we win and UTA wins against UTSA, then we'd be 6th and play Sam Houston in the first round. If we lose, and UTA wins, they we are still 7th. We cannot slip to 8th in any scenario because there are four teams TWO games behind us at 5-10 going into the last game of the season. A 6-10 team WILL make the tournament. I wonder if that has ever happened before?

I will end this post with a reminder that if you would like to fund me on your next casino visit, then I am fair game for a road trip. Way back on September 14 in this post I said the following concerning picks for the end of the year standings:

"I think I would have gone: Texas State, UTSA, UCA, SHSU and then throw us, UTA and Lamar in a pot and draw out cards for 5th, 6th and 7th."

Thank you. Thank you very much. Nailed it with slight exception that SHSU and UCA flip-flopped. All year I've been saying there was little-to-no gap between UTSA and Texas State and all year I've been saying that Sam Houston is legit.

Now, I am not the only one that picked the standings like that. A few of the coaches and SID's and others as well probably thought similar. I just think people got carried away with UTSA. They still have just as much a shot to win the tournament as other folks. But, let's not forget this: Sam Houston was the one that beat UTSA first. As recently as October, Sam Houston lost to Corpus Christi who probably isn't going to be in the tournament. My point: Take NOTHING as a given.

Once we all get to Conway, a lot of stuff can happen. But one thing is for sure. You slip up once and don't play your best? Your season is over.

Reminder: Live Chat available tomorrow afternoon against Lamar! Make sure you are supporting the 'Jacks and please join us in the chat room right here in this space tomorrow!

I hope to see a lot of you in Beamont, in Conway or in the chat rooms! Axe' Em!!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Scattered Seeds: Where Will They Fall?

Sam Houston shocking UTSA. UCA falling off a cliff. Lamar riding a hot streak. Northwestern State finally running out of gas and McNeese suddenly relevant again.

What a week of Southland Conference Volleyball. What an emotional week of Stephen F. Austin Ladyjack Volleyball.

After a strong showing against Texas A&M Corpus Christi - assuring the tiebreaker against the Islanders if necessary - the 'Jacks came out strong before intermission against the 'Runners of UTSA. I saw something at times on Saturday that I think very few people have seen out of UTSA this year: frustration.

The team that was absolutely crushing its way through Southland play until this week got a rude, rude greeting in Huntsville last Thursday. Not only did UTSA drop its first set in SLC play, Sam Houston dropped three on them and
as predicted here earlier in the season, becomes a legitimate dark horse going into the tournament next week in Conway. Then, after SFA rips UTSA in Set 2 on Saturday to go into intermission tied, the 'Jacks take the lead early in Set 3 and go toe-to-toe with the 'Runners until about "17's" at which point UTSA rattled off four straight around an SFA timeout to pull out to a 21-16 lead that would essentially dash SFA's hope of being the second team to pull off an upset. The match Saturday really wasn't that far from going 5 sets, but to be fair, UTSA destroyed us in Set 4.

But, before the match.. what a great Senior Day scene with Melissa Miksch and a clearly reflective and emotional MC Bottles each getting their due moment in the sun. I've had the pleasure of roaring through some wonderful write-ups by Laida Sanchez and Ben Rikard over the last six years, but I'll have to admit.. reading MC's senior day accolades ranks as one of my favorite "on-mic" moments. We finally had a speaker system that was worth half a fart set up in Shelton Gym - even if it was straight out of 1975. So, at least the crowd could rightfully hear what Bottles and Miksch have accomplished. Always an emotional PA guy, I was proud that I hit the energy right during those two announcements and it was very moving to see the genuine emotion from the Seniors. I left last Thursday's match against TAMUCC so completely frustrated with the deplorable sound set-up in Shelton Gym. I was glad to see we went to Plan B so that at least we could get a little volume in there.

But, hey.. we've got plenty of volleyball left to play here. The matches upcoming this week against McNeese and Lamar are critical to say the least. Even though there is only one week remaining in regular season play, are you aware that there are 4096 different ways that this weeks' games could turn out? Yep, 4096. There are 12 games remaining and two possible outcomes in each, so basic math tells us that 2 to the 12th power is 4096. Now, there aren't 4096 ways the standings could fall.. there are much fewer ways for that.. so let's look at just a few.

First, the most rosy scenario puts SFA all the way up to the 5th seed in the tournament. We can't get to 4th, because despite UCA's recent choking attacks, they hold the tiebreaker on us. But, if SFA wins both matches this week and UTA loses to either TAMUCC or UTSA on the road, then SFA would finish in a three way tied for 5th at 8-8 with both Lamar and UTA assuming Lamar also loses to SHSU. Having beaten Lamar and already holding the breaker on UTA, we would be granted the 5th seed and wind up (probably) playing host UCA in the first round.

The worst case scenario - which we won't dwell on - has us staying home. Two losses puts us at 6-10 and McNeese would hold the tie break on us. We would then be concerned with Nicholls and how they do this week at UCA and at Northwestern State.

I believe the most critical game that SFA doesn't play in this week is Thursday's match between Nicholls and UCA. If Nicholls loses to UCA and TAMUCC loses to UTA on Thursday, then we are in no matter what happens on Saturday. Far, far more scenarios remaining have us getting in the tournament than out, but of course, it would be nice to up our seeding as much as possible.

I've said all along that I thought ALL the 7-9 teams would make the playoffs, but it is actually possible that two 6-10 teams will make the playoffs! Wild. Check this out: Suppose we lose both games. Then imagine that Nicholls loses both to UCA and Northwestern State and that McNeese loses to Sam Houston. Also, suppose TAMUCC loses to both UTA and UTSA. Then both SFA and McNeese would finish 6-10 and then we'd possibly go deep into tie breaking rules if Northwestern State beats Southeastern on Thursday because then there would be a three way tie at 6-10. The McNeese/NWLA tiebreak would go to a third-level because they each beat each other 3-1. If Northwestern State held the overall tiebreak at the 3rd level, then we'd be the 7th Seed. If McNeese held it, we'd be the 8th seed. Confused?

It is entirely possible that only the Top 4 seeds will be over .500 in league play and if UCA suffers a total collapse, there is even a wild scenario that has UTSA, Texas State and Sam Houston as the ONLY three teams with a winning record going into the tournament. How about that? Just crazy.

Let's go back to SFA for a moment. The 'Jacks must get a handle on middle blocker Nicole Bowden on Thursday. Sabrina Burns and MC Bottles need to paste Bowden's picture in their locker and look to shadow her at all turns. McNeese really doesn't have any other consistent offensive threat other than Bowden. Long time readers will know that she is one of my favorite players in the conference, but I am not being partial here.. Bowden can bring it. She is 5th in the conference in hitting percentage and 4th in kills per set. Her blocking is down this year. If it was at a block per set, where it has been in some years past, then I say she would be a legit first team all-conference player. Shoot, she might be anyway. I'll think more about that in a week when I post my 3rd annual awards.

Anyway, control Bowden and I think we have the edge in Lake Charles. Frehman OH's Rachel Cagnina and Megan Carlton along with Junior RS hitter Taylor Bustamento are adequate, but this team really doesn't have a whole lot of offensive fire power. I really do think you can lock in on Bowden and just say she's not going to beat you and you'll be OK. Bowden has averaged just shy of 18 kills per match during McNeese's recent three game winning streak and no one else on the club is even close to that... Cagnina being the main 2nd option averaging 11 kills per match over that stint. SFA can't play complacently and win, but if they play as well as they did this past week, then we will come out on top.

The match with Lamar looks pretty even on paper to me, but they are riding high - winning three straight after being embarrassed by Southeastern. If you catch Lamar on a day when they put it together, then they can be tough. If you catch them on one of their off days - and they've had plenty - then they can be easily had. I may get more into the Lamar match as the week rolls on. For now, let's see how they hold up against the Bearkats on Thursday. My guess is that the three game win streak comes to a halt. I'll be in Beaumont on Saturday and hope to have an interview with former 'Jacks assistant and now captain of the Lamar ship, Justin Gibert, while I am down there.

For now, that as good a segue as any to tell you that we will have live chat windows going both this Saturday from Beaumont and also all during the tournament in Conway. Whether you are in Beaumont or Conway or not, you can join in on the chat using your smartphone. Of course, if you can't make it to either venue, then be sure to jump on your computer and follow along with us online.

Finally, to follow up on a recent post about parents. I had two big surprises come my way last Saturday. First, Dan Kuepker,
who was mentioned in the article - made a return to Nacogdoches to see the UTSA match. It was great to catch up with him and hear that Laurel is doing well in Lewisville. Second, Sophomore Leslie Jackson's father made these awesome axes for Seniors Miksch and Bottles. They were decorated and labelled really well and serve as a great memento for the girls. For reasons undeserved, he also made one for me and I will proudly find a place to display it. Each axe contains a full set of signatures from this year's players on one side of the axe blade. I am particularly proud of that little feature. To all those involved in that gift I say a heartfelt "thank you". The kindness continues and I can assure all that are reading that I'll do my darndest to continue to cover SFA Volleyball in the most devoted and complete way possible.

Prayers for Maddie.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Projecting Maddie Hanlan: Stuff You Don't Know

SFA took a big step towards a trip to the 2011 Southland Conference Tournament in Conway last night by defeating Texas A&M - Corpus Christi 3-1 in what was quite a strange match. More on that and other Southland Conference wackiness in upcoming posts, but for now, let's focus on junior libero Maddie Hanlan. Here's a short interview with her after the match:

Now, let's just go straight to the list of all-time dig leaders at SFA:

1. Stephanie Figgers (03-06) 2598
2. Heather Stumbaugh (96-99) 1631
3. Maddie Hanlan (09-12) 1562

The ace, king and queen of defense in SFA Volleyball history, right there. Of course, you can easily calculate that after digging 70 more balls, Hanlan will elevate to kingly status on that list.

We are math friendly here at the blog, so lets do a little projecting. The following is just for fun, but is NOT out of the realm of possibility, so hang on tight:

This year, we've played 108 sets in 28 matches for an average of 3.857 sets per match. We have at least four matches remaining (three plus tournament). Now, we all are shooting to play in way more than 4 matches in the next few weeks, but lets be conservative for the sake of statistics. Thus, we probably have at least 15 more sets to play this season. Hanlan is averaging right at 5 digs per set and so we add 75 more digs to her current total to land at 1637. Clearly, the chase to #2 all time will be exciting to watch in the next few weeks.

If Maddie does post 75 more digs this year, her season total will be 618. Her personal record at SFA is 585. By the way, the only person to ever post 600 digs in a season for SFA? Figgers. Figgers did it three times: 620 in '04, 621 in '05 and the absolutely insane total of 853 digs in '06. People, you have to realize: Stephanie Figgers' 853 dig season in 2006 was one of the best by a libero... all-time. Notice, I didn't say "SFA all time". I said, "all time".. as in NCAA DI Volleyball history. I witnessed it. I have never seen anything like it. Remember, Figgers was an All-American.

So, Hanlan:
1) Can become the 2nd player ever to have a season at SFA with 600 digs with 57 more digs this year
2) Can get to 2nd all time at SFA with 70 more digs this year
3) Can post the 2nd highest single season digs mark in SFA history with 79 more digs this year
4) With 618 digs this year (projected) and 618 next year (pray for health and as good a year in '12 as '11), could finish with 2255 digs.

She's not going to catch Figgers, but she cleanly projects as only the 2nd Ladyjack ever to dig 2000 balls.

Now for something you didn't know: The all-time NCAA Division I career record for digs is 3176 (Laura Newberry, Chattanooga, '05-'08) Figgers' total ranks 7th all time in NCAA DI history and is the most in Southland Conference history. To get into the Top 25 all time in NCAA DI history (25 is the number of girls printed in the NCAA record book), you would need 2298 for your career - just 43 digs above Hanlan's projected career total. By the way, the "UTSA Libero" Maddie refers to in the interview, Kelsey Jewasko, currently has 2183 career digs. She's a senior and so she and Maddie project to finish their careers very close to each other in terms of grand totals.

So, I'd say it is still remote, but at least possible, that Hanlan finishes her senior season in the Top 25 all time among NCAA DI liberos. Bet you hadn't calculated that. That's what I am here for.

Now, check this out: Suppose Hanlan can get to 2300 and finish in the Top 25 all time.

Then, SFA will be the only volleyball program in NCAA DI history with two liberos in the all-time Top 25 career dig leaders.

Pray for health and one more step forward in ability 'cause that would be really neat to say, wouldn't it? Regardless of how all that shakes out - after all, a year is a long time - I think its safe to say we are watching one of the all-time SFA digging greats. Enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Dedicated Parent Makes the Best Fan

People sometimes ask me "How do you have time for all this volleyball stuff? Don't you have a wife and a bunch of kids?"

Here's a trick: I don't ever, ever, ever believe it when people say "There just isn't enough time in the day". That statement is universally and unequivocally false in all contexts in which it is used. We get used to saying it, but it just isn't true. There IS always enough time in the day. We just need to learn how to use it more wisely and fully. You see, I have a very, very short priority list in my life and if an event doesn't fit on that list, then I literally ignore it and move on. I care about God and family, my job and my hobbies. That's it.

My hobbies revolve virtually entirely around baseball and volleyball. If some opportunity comes my way to do something that doesn't involve God, family, being a professor, baseball or volleyball, then my answer is going to be "No" 99.99% of the time. Too limited? Too boring? Not enough variety, you claim? Hogwash.

So many people have got so much going on ALL THE TIME that they are basically addicted to being busy. That ain't for me, man. I compartmentalize and organize my time to a high, high degree. When I am with my family, they have 100% of me. No job. No volleyball. Nothing. Just them. But, when I am in "job" mode or "volleyball" mode, then I am completely dedicated to the cause. And that's why virtually all of you see me as a volleyball loving stat-head and have never met my family. I keep things that are important to me highly organized and separated so that whatever I am currently "on" gets all of me.

I can assure you - I have a wonderful wife and three amazing children. My time with them is active and cultivating. It's not idle. I can assure you - I have a job full of responsibilities in which I am considered successful.

A SHORT priority list. Try it. It works.

One of the recent ways I have found myself spending more time with my oldest son, Jacob, is through his local "select" (volleyball parents, think "club") baseball team here in Nacogdoches. He has been invited to play on "club" teams before, but after years of playing "all-stars" type tournaments, we now find ourselves travelling from city to city a few times a month playing in various weekend tournaments. This new experience for me as a parent has caused me to reflect on all the illustrations of parental sacrifice I have witnessed through the years of watching SFA Volleyball.

I've met some amazing parents and continually their sacrifice absolutely floors me. The girls these parents travel to see will probably only realize the dedication shown many years down the line. I played basketball all through high school until my Father passed away from lymphoma right after my Junior season ended. Because of this and other circumstances, I didn't play my Senior season at Spring High School which sits just north of Houston. During the summer time, I would play on various teams that might now be considered "club" style teams. At the time, I just wanted to play. I didn't think about all the games my Mom - and my Dad when healthy - were having to travel to all over the Houston area. I didn't think about all the shoes, jerseys, balls, equipment, tournament fees, booster club events, etc, etc., that they were involved in - all just because I wanted to throw a ball into a hoop.

Then I think about the college athlete. Even if I had enjoyed a successful Senior season in high school, I wasn't good enough to play basketball at the junior college level, much less the NCAA DI level. That wasn't even discussed at my house. Not one day. But, all the parents I've witnessed come through Johnson Coliseum and Shelton Gym during the years are making an even heavier sacrifice than what the parents of a high school or club team athlete has to make. The amazing thing? They do it.. and they love doing it.

Again, I've met some amazing parents during my 10 or so really devoted years to SFA Volleyball. As a tribute to all the parents both past and present, here are a few of my favorite stories. There are many, many more.

During the 2001 season, one of the first that I was a regular in the stands at Johnson Coliseum, we had a defensive minded player named Julie Goodson. Like our current Senior Melissa Miksch, Goodson was at times a three rotation back row player during part of her career and at others played a little at the libero position. Julie's parents were particularly kind to me. They were regulars at home matches, driving up from Julie's home town of Alvin. Julie's father, Charlie, was a jeweler and one day I happened to tell him that my brother had given me a watch years ago and that recently the crystal in the watch had cracked when I accidentally dropped it. I had obtained a local estimate on replacing the crystal and I had judged the cost too expensive to pay for. Charlie asked if I'd bring the watch to the next home match just so he could look at it.

A few weeks later, I brought the watch to a home game and he then asked if he could take it back to Alvin with him because he thought he could custom cut a new crystal to fit. I told him he was welcome to do that, but to make sure and let me know what the cost would be. He assured me that it would be less than the estimate I had obtained at a local shop. A few weeks later, he brought the watch back to a home game in a nice new jewelers box and the crystal perfectly replaced and fit. I was amazed - the watch literally looked brand new now. The cost? Nothing. He wouldn't take a dime for it. He said it was his way of saying thanks for supporting SFA Volleyball and his daughter. I was shell-shocked and grateful. Such random acts of kindness aren't forgotten, people. That was 10 years ago and I tell that story just about every season to someone.. and now you know.

One of the true greats in SFA Volleyball history is JJ Jones. Just look through the record books for setters that attended SFA and you'll see JJ's name scattered all throughout. JJ was recently an assistant for Justin Gibert at Lamar and now is assisting former UCA head coach Steven McRoberts at Tulsa. JJ's Dad, Peron, was quite the character and as unique as his first name. You could recognize his voice from anywhere in the gym. He would literally lead cheers. Right during the middle of sets, he would jump up, organize a cheer, and get everyone in the joint hopping and clapping and laughing. He always brought axes - some foam, some plastic, some wood - to matches and would wave and bang them all during the match.

During my rookie season on the public address microphone in Johnson Coliseum, JJ's Dad was the VERY first person to come up to me before a match and encourage me. He always recognized the small roles that those of us that work at the media table preform. Without fail, he would acknowledge us all.. the scorekeeper, the stat callers, the libero tracking sheet people, the music guy or gal, and the PA announcer. He knew us all and considered us essential when in reality we are secondary. Anyone who attended games during the JJ Jones era knew her father. His energy and dedication were unrivaled.

In 2006, we brought in a recruit to watch a match and she and her father sat on the front row right behind the SFA bench taking it all in. Her name was Laurel Kuepker and during her four years that would follow at SFA, I would be continually amazed by the dedication of her Dad. Anyone who knew Laurel, or Lo, as she was known, became aware that she was proud to represent her home state of Indiana. Lo's father, Dan, would not only attend most home matches - coming all the way from Indiana EACH time, but he would also travel to many of our road matches in Louisiana and elsewhere. He'd fly, drive, teleport - whatever it took - to see his daughter play.

He'd tell me stories about Laurel playing in high school and the pride would literally gush from his lips. Some of his favorite stories were about Lo's attacking abilities in high school. Now, to get the irony, you have to realize that Kuepker was a 5'6" libero/DS/Setter type. The thought of her "attacking" in NCAA DI volleyball was well.... far-fetched. But, to hear Dan tell it, she could rip balls from the left pin over 6'6" middle blockers with ease in high school. I loved these stories. They just told me the obvious. This guy was dedicated. His daughter had decided to leave Indiana and come play volleyball in Texas and gosh darn it, that wasn't stopping him. Many, many times I "forgot" that after matches he didn't just have a few hours drive home. I took for granted that I would see him every other weekend at matches. The sacrifice he made was amazing. I wish I knew how many total miles that man drove and flew during the four years Laurel was at SFA. We don't keep stats on such things, but it has to be an all time SFA record.

The same year that Lo arrived in Nacogdoches, we also brought in a tall, slender dark-haired outside hitter named Kelsey Owens. She soon became universally referred to as "KO". I would actually announce her as "Kelsey 'KO' Owens" when doing the starting lineups. She told me once that she wanted me to always do that after just impromptu going with it once early in her sophomore season. KO suffered through some injuries during her latter years at SFA, but when healthy, she was a strong outside hitter and she really ranks as one of my favorite players during the years of watching SFA Volleyball. Her parents, Bruce and Lori, were regulars at matches and would often strike up conversations with me before and after games.

When I first began this blog three years ago, I knew one of the things I wanted to do is travel more to away matches that were within driving distance. Doing this occasionally puts me in position to stay at the team hotel or wind up eating with the team at a restaurant or hanging out with parents and players between matches at tournaments. Now, some people just do not like to eat or read or sit by themselves quietly, but I am perfectly content to do these things. I know the girls want to hang out with the girls and the parents tend to want to hang out with each other, so I tend not to look to be included in much, and that is just fine. But Bruce and Lori would always invite me to eat at their table or sit in their corner or join in on their conversation. I'd always come away from these situations genuinely impressed with their kindness.

I remember in particular a tournament at Baylor - my undergraduate Alma matter. We all wound up back at the team hotel after the first day of competition and many players and parents began eating at the hotel's restaurant. The coaching staff was nowhere to be seen - probably already shacked up in their rooms preparing for the next day's game. I was hungry after a day of sitting in the gym, but I certainly wasn't going to impose on daughter-family time after a match. That's a big no-no. I had decided that I would be perfectly content to just grab a burger and fries and eat over in the corner while re-reading the days' box scores or looking through the local paper.

Kelsey had her parents and grandparents in town and they were all ordering food and pulling tables together getting ready for a late night meal. Bruce came over and invited me to join in. I felt a little awkward about it, but then Kelsey asked me to do the same. A simple gesture, but one that I won't forget. Another random act of kindness that was typical of the Owens' and illustrated that - at least in some way, shape or form - they thought of me as an ally.

All these parents. All this sacrifice. All this travel and commitment. The dedicated parent makes the best fan. Yet, virtually all of the parents I have known throughout the years have also gone out of their way to be kind. They don't owe people like me that kindness, you know? They are there for their daughters.

Think about it from their point of view. Each of their daughters was a high school and/or club dynamo. Team leaders. They were the best scorers, attackers, blockers, setters, defenders at their high school or on their club team. All the other parents knew who they were because their daughters were the best. Now, they are here at SFA and in most cases their daughters aren't the studs anymore. This is a different ballgame. A faster, more competitive ballgame. Their daughters are dealing with being away from home, adjusting to college, getting up at ungodly hours to lift weights and work out. They are travelling many more miles than ever before - in some cases - to sit on a bench, but still have the pride to wear a college jersey. Why, with all this adjustment, and all this pressure, and all this newness, would the parent of a player give one care about someone in my position? I ask myself and remind myself of this constantly.

"These people owe you nothing. They love their daughters and they are here to support them. They don't have to care about bloggers and the like. You are just a novelty. You don't play. You don't win and lose. You don't practice and you don't wear the jersey. You are way, way down the line. Know your place."

Yet, again.. here we are now in 2011. A decade after the Goodson's. Many years after Peron Jones. A year or so removed from Dan Kuepker and Bruce and Lori Owens. And what do we have?



Because kindness still triumphs.

Kindness and the sense of "team" still rules. Doesn't matter whether we go 3-28 or 25-6... we- yes, WE, in some small way.. are alike. We wear the same letters on our chest and that unites.

I think as a parent, I am just now starting to "get it". If you are for my kid, then I can easily be for you. Anytime someone goes out of their way to pay attention to my son's efforts on the baseball diamond, I can identify with them. Maybe that's what all these parents feel?

I don't know. I am just amazed at the level of dedication and camaraderie I have witnessed through the years. Without them knowing it, maybe the support of parents like those in this article, the ones we have now, and many others throughout the years are what has TRULY kept me coming back. Oh, I love volleyball. I think the game is awesome. I could (and have, in some cases) talk your ear off about it.

But, to think of the people I've met. To think of the parents I've seen commit so much and sacrifice so much for their kids. Wow. It's amazing when you think of it.

So, girls: Realize what you have. You've got some amazing parents.
Parents: Thanks. Your dedication inspires me to do the same as my kids continue in school and sports as they get older.

And to anyone who just might be reading this article as a prospective player or parent of prospective player?

Yeah. You want to be like us. This is an amazing place.

We play some pretty good volleyball most of the time.

But I've got a lot of memories that really aren't about volleyball. They are simply about people making the conscious choice to be nice.

Refreshing, isn't it?

The Dedicated Parent Makes the Best Fan. I'm lucky to have known many of you throughout the years. Thanks for your example.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Live Chat: SFA vs. UTA

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oral Roberts Added to SLC While on Volleyball High

Following up the post from last week, it was announced earlier this week that Oral Roberts University (Tulsa, OK) will begin play in the Southland Conference effective next academic year. In case you didn't watch the 20 minute press conference on the web (link here) when the announcement was made, here are a few nuggets of interest: 1) The Southland went to ORU, instead of ORU soliciting membership. I would have guessed this, but ORU's athletic director made a point of saying the university would have been perfectly content to have remained in the Summit League had the Southland not come knocking. There were no other opportunities available, so it is not like ORU was considering some other conference. 2) Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett made a point of saying that the conference would look to any future members to be eventual contributors to football. ORU has no intention of pursing a football presence. This was specifically asked by a member of the media to ORU's athletic director and academic president. 3) The Southland is prepared to go into next year with its current 10 teams and dissolving the East/West structure. It was specifically stated that in basketball all teams will play all others in home/road contests resulting in 18 conference games. One would assume the same would be true about volleyball. 4) When asked about ORU's intent to pursue conference tournaments, volleyball was specifically mentioned as a sport in which ORU would remain interested as a potential host. So, with that selective recap in place, what do we know about Oral Roberts Volleyball? Their head coach, Sheera Sirola, has a rich ORU tradition. She was a member of the ORU Elite Eight Volleyball team in 1995. During that year, she lead the NCAA in service aces. This is currently her 8th season at the helm of the program with the last five years producing records of 12-14, 12-15, 22-9, 16-14 and 26-9, respectively. That 26-9 season was in 2006 and that was good enough to earn ORU their most recent trip to the NCAA tournament. SFA fans will remember that year as possibly the most memorable in Ladyjacks Volleyball history. In 2006, SFA also made the NCAA tournament and beat Alabama in the first round before being eliminated by overall 7th seeded Texas in the Austin Sub-Regional. ORU was across the bracket from us in the Fayetteville Sub-Regional (hosted by Arkansas) and they lost in straight sets to overall 13th seeded Oklahoma. Texas made it to the Elite Eight and Oklahoma made it to the Sweet 16. Sirola played on the Yugoslavian Junior National Team as a youngster and the after wars in Yugoslavia split the country and Croatia was formed, Sirola played on the Croatian National Team. Her background has clearly given her an international vision because during recent years, ORU has been able to attract volleyball athletes from around the globe. While you will see some international players on a few Southland rosters from time to time, ORU has probably concentrated their efforts in international recruiting at a higher rate than most or all of the current SLC membership. Their current roster includes 12 girls, half of whom are from Brazil. Of the six girls listed as having hometowns in America, four are from Oklahoma, the other two representing Arkansas ...and Idaho, of all places. The 2011 ORU Volleyball club looks strong and this probably means that next year, ORU will instantly be competitive in the Southland. This is because they will return everyone - no seniors this year - and they currently have a national RPI ranking of 61. Interestingly, they also have no freshman. All 12 girls are either sophomores or juniors. Concerning RPI comparisons, the top ranking Southland Conference team - UTSA - holds a current RPI of 85, with Texas State coming in at 98. For what its worth, SFA is 134th out of 327. So, is it possible that upon entry in the conference, Oral Roberts should be picked to win the league in their first year? Remember, UTSA and Texas State will be gone. The highest RPI school currently among those that will be with us next year is Sam Houston at 122. However, read on... I am not so sure their current competition could truly be considered equivalent to ours. Now, I know RPI is meant to partially include strength of schedule, but still, I am not completely convinced ORU would waltz through the Southland if they were playing in it currently. Oral Roberts is currently on a 12-game Summit League winning streak and they stand at 19-4 overall and 12-1 in conference play. Their only conference loss came in the first league game of the year when they lost to South Dakota in five sets. Notably, they lost their first match of the year 3-1 to Missouri State, a team SFA beat in Nacogdoches about a month ago. ORU has also played McNeese (ORU won 3-2) who we will see in the final week of the season, ULM (ORU won 3-0, we lost 3-2) and South Dakota State (ORU won 3-2, we won 3-0). I know that we all are more familiar with Southland Conference volleyball than teams from the Summit League, but my general impression is that our league is slightly more competitive in volleyball (by that I mean, slightly stronger overall) . Current Summit League foes for ORU include: South Dakota, Univ. of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC), Southern Utah (who is leaving the conference for the Big Sky next year), Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI), Oakland University, South Dakota State, North Dakota State, Western Illinois and Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne (IPFW). Clearly, the the Summit League puts a new spin on acronym schools. For fun, folks often pronounce the acronym IUPUI as "ooo-eee poo-eee". I think the comparison between Southland Volleyball and Summit League Volleyball is just a a reflection of overall conference strength. Ranking the mid-major conferences is tough, but I'd stand by the statement that the Southland was an overall stronger mid-major conference than the Summit League before ORU joined. The gap now widens even a bit more with the Golden Eagles on board. Overall, I think the Southland does good here. And I think Southland Volleyball does good here. In general, this represents a little shift for the Southland. Oral Roberts becomes the school with the smallest enrollment in the conference (by quite a ways) and also becomes the first private school in the conference. Overall, I have always considered ORU to have a decent to strong academic reputation, but I worry a tiny bit about ORU being a really, really small school. Maybe this is inconsequential and offset by the Tulsa market, but it still concerns me a bit. As I said last week, I would have been happy with either ORU or schools like UALR or HBU getting an invite. If you know ORU athletics, it is probably from their decent basketball reputation and for what it is worth, they have won the Summit League in baseball for 14 straight seasons. In case you don't recognize the "Summit League" as a long-standing conference, that's because the name "Summit" has only been used since 2007. Prior to that date the league was known as the MCC - the Mid-Continent Conference. Overall, I see this move as positive. I can also see why ORU would want to come here. I think they have a better recruiting base by looking to the South - and Texas in particular, than in the Midwest where they sit toward the south of the Summit footprint. ORU's athletic director admitted as much in the press conference. The fact that the Southland now has a presence in Oklahoma is also positive. Geographically, it extends the Southland to truly be considered a multi-state conference as opposed to historically, I believe, people identifying the Southland as primarily a league of Texas schools despite our membership in other places. In coming months, I intend to make contact with some folks in Tulsa, and surely, I will run previews about the club in 2012 and attempt to interview coaches and players when they come here for the first time next Fall. For now, "welcome" to Oral Roberts University... and specifically, "welcome" to ORU Volleyball. If you are a fan of an SLC Volleyball club, you've got to acknowledge this as a positive step towards replacing the quality programs at UTSA, Texas State and UTA. I've got a very different topic brewing for our next post here at our next post will focus on parenting. You read that right. Curious? Then check back in a few days as we tribute the parents of student-athletes. Don't forget... live chat available on Saturday from UTA starting at 1:45. Be here!