Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Live Chat: SFA v. ULM

Monday, August 29, 2011

Audio Interviews with Humphreys and Randall

From time to time this season, I'll be posting some digital audio files that were recorded after practices or games. I hope you enjoy hearing directly from the coaches and players as we get started on the 2011 season.

Debbie Humphreys:

Katzy Randall:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

4 and 0 & Headed to Monroe (FOR THE FIRST LIVE CHAT OF THE YEAR!!)

Confidence. That's what matters about this past weekend. No team in the Southland Conference got off to as strong a start as our Ladyjacks who arrive back in Nacogdoches tonight with four wins, no losses, two all-tournament nods, a trophy... and oh yeah.. a boatload of confidence. I'm sure the coaches will find things to work on Monday and Tuesday and break down things that could have been done better, but hey.. from the fans perspective (and that's what you get here at sfavolleyblog.net) - could this have gone any better? Nope. You pack up veterans who suffered through the worst season in program history, throw in nine newcomers who haven't played a lick of NCAA DI Volleyball in their life, and you come home 4-0 with a tournament championship. Are you kidding me? In the words of Ozzy Osbourne.. we're "Flying High Again".... yep, you're reading the Diary of a Madman right now. I'm pretty stoked. Aren't you pumped? How can you not be? Oh, sure there will be bumps and bruises, but can't you just see Humphreys and crew when they get back to the hotel after winning the tourney? Or can't you just imagine the club boarding the bus to drive away from the venue with all that hardware on board? Smiles. C'mon. Imagine that moment when the guard was let down and the feeling of "Dang, we just waltzed in here and beat a 2010 tournament team on their own floor and then picked up three more wins" really set in. Yeah, this is going to be different. Ok, the nay-sayers (I have been known to be one at times) will say "it is just one weekend" or "the competition wasn't THAT great" or "teams have had good starts before and it ain't meant nothing" . Pfffft. Forget that. Confidence dudes and dudettes, confidence. We needed to FEEL what it was like to win. We could go over all the stats - that's what I usually like. We could break everything down and analyze and dissect. Nah, forget that. The important thing - the ONLY important things is that... well, the only important thing is that we WON. And that breeds confidence. Young teams need that. Let's not lose our innocence just yet. Let's let these young players think they can do that 30 times this year. Hey, why not? The freshman haven't even stepped in a classroom yet and they've got four wins, the feeling of "college ain't bad at all", and "we are here to kick butt and take names". Keep it coming. The more this feeling persists the more 2010 gets buried in our current wake. That way, when the first struggle inevitably hits, we won't be looking backward remembering failure. We'll be resting on the fact that we started well and can get back on track. Ok, for the sake of SOME analysis.. let's throw out some props: Bottles shook off a mediocre first game against Georgia Southern to basically return to her dominating self the rest of the tournament including a ludicrous 16-1-26 (.577) attacking performance in Game 2 against Jacksonville. Sabrina Burns. Dominating. Six attack errors in 70 swings? Somebody ate their Wheaties. Burns goes out - serves 6 foot-3-in-your-face notice and hits .414 for the tournament. A worthy all-tourney selection. Katsy rhymes with (first) rate-zy Randall gets her mug plastered all up on the SFA Volleyball website for oh, I don't know.. AVERAGING A DOUBLE DOUBLE in the tournament with 40 kills and 41 digs in 4 matches. And dare I forget Turn the Paige on 2010 Holland? 55 assists - in four sets mind you - against Montana State. Leslie Jackson: In 3 of the 4 matches she only had 1 attack error. THREE MATCHES OUT OF FOUR with only one attack error. Daaaaaaaaang. And what about all-tournament Maddie Hanlan (9 aces, if you please) or the back row contributions of Monica Pannone and front row contributions of Jill Ivy? John Critzer's reply text to me after I sent him congrats on Saturday: "Yeah, it was quite a show". Indeed. And I want a ticket to the next one (well, actually, I get in free, but.. ). Wasn't planning on it originally, but hey.. the fan in me just ain't gonna be kept down. Road trippin' to Monroe, baby. We win Wednesday and we are one win shy of being half way to last years' total. Now that's stupid. Confidence. Let it Build. "Flying High Again.. C'mon and Join Me.." ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- On Wednesday, make sure at match time you point your browser right here and I'll be LIVE court side for the match at ULM. We'll have a chat window up that is super easy to use and you can chat and ask questions as I describe the action as it happens. You don't need to do anything or download anything. Just bookmark this page - you probably have already because you recognize the awesomeness of this site - and then just show up here before the match starts. It all kicks off at 5:45 PM on Wednesday for pre-game comments. I hope you can join me Wednesday night as the chat is usually faster than StatTracker (yes, I have a scoreboard, too) and you'll feel much more plugged in by being in the chat room with me and other fans! Make plans to be here if you can't make it in person to Monroe. I'll see you all in Nacogdoches on September 9 when we kick off the Ladyjack Invitational!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pannone and Jackson: More Than Just Getting By

Attrition. Survival. Falling By the Wayside. Look to your left, look to your Right. One won't be here.

The freshman year in college -- it's not an easy stage in one's life. In all honesty, finishing my first year in college was one of the most joyous moments of my life. I remember all the detail...the release from all the stress: the last final, packing up all my junk, jumping for joy down the hall of my dorm scraping my hands on the ceiling causing my knuckles to bleed. Not caring that my hands were swelling around the steering wheel driving home at excessive speed. Seeing the decorations at my home when I came through the door. I had made it. I had survived.

Fact #1: All freshman DO NOT make it.

It's true on many levels - and its true of freshman NCAA athletes as well. For a variety of reasons, only two of the five first year players we welcomed to the pleasures of SFA Volleyball in 2010 are still with us. But these two are more than just "getting by". They are more than just surviving. These two are in line to play a major role for the club in 2011 and beyond. Sophomores Monica Pannone and Leslie Jackson lead off this years' series of veteran previews and a transcript of our online chat follows below.

But before we get to the Q & A, here are some personal observations. One thing that makes me chuckle when I watch Pannone is that when she wants the ball - she claps. I did the same thing when I played basketball when I was younger. It's a subconscious thing. My Dad used to ask me why I did that, and I didn't have an answer... I didn't even really know I was doing it. Somehow that little tendency made me identify with Pannone.

I think by the time she's all said and done at SFA, Monica is going to be a blog favorite here. I'm coming around on her. Last year, in preseason interviews with Debbie Humphreys, I kept hearing about this defensive whiz we were bringing in. But, then in practices before the season started, I couldn't figure it out. Pannone seemed blown away by the adjustment to college volleyball - at least to me she did. Her talent was evident, but she couldn't consistently shine.

She looks more confident to me and the defense that coaches raved about and was occasionally flashed in matches last year has been evident in 2011 practices so far (at least the one's I've seen). Girl can dig. Plain and simple. Plus, it's natural talent - you can tell. She's not always "textbook' in her footwork and how she takes her arms to the ball, but her reactions are stellar. I've seen her make some crazy ups here and there. The defense is in there.

One thing I wonder when I watch her play is: How much can the coaching staff ooze out of her? All players need a little work on the potters' wheel, but Pannone is someone who you watch and realize CAN be great. She has to be teachable and she has to practice what she's taught - maybe even change a bit in order to be great. But, the thing I see in her is... she CAN. It's not unrealistic that over the next three years she can blossom into a great, great player. I'm a sucker for back-row defense. It's probably my favorite part of the game. Pannone can play half way around - no doubt. I'll enjoy seeing if she gets her game to 6-rotation collegiate level.

Les Jackson: Ms. I'll Fly Under the Radar, Please. Wow. Didn't see this big of a role for her in 2011 coming at the start of last season. I watched her practice and play early on in 2010 just like all the others. I just underestimated her.

Mature. Poised. Humphreys calls her a leader. Today, near the end of practice, the entire team was in a big circle and she was the one talking. I think we've found ourselves something here. Jackson can hit from the right side as well as slide into the middle. In fact, Debbie had her changed on the roster to be listed at "MB". She's in line for a lot of court time - at least early on. If her leadership skills and play at the net step up, then she may become a staple in the lineup all the way through the 2011 campaign.

Random fact: During the Spring, the team ran obstacle courses as a training exercise and a way to do something different. Assistant Coach John Critzer asked me who I thought did the best during these sessions and the obvious correct answer was Mel Miksch. However, right after her, John was quick to point out the athletic ability shown by Jackson.

She's increasing her strength for someone so slight in build and she fits the bill of workhorse. She's not a powerful attacker and how many kills she can actually amass is an issue. But, coaches love players like her. My question: Can she fill up the stat sheet? This team doesn't have enough superstars for Jackson to just be a coaches' favorite in word only. Having all the intangibles is one thing. Putting up numbers is another. A sign that the numbers will be there? Did you know she was third on the team in blocks per set as a freshman? (Behind the incomparable Bottles and the 6'3" tower that is Sabrina Burns)

On with the interview:

SFAVolleyBlog: Les, coaches and teammates rave about your athleticism and work ethic. Who is most responsible for creating that work ethic in you as an athlete? Are there any coaches or other people in your past that you think were particularly important in your development?

Les Jackson: That's sweet of them all to say. There are so many phenomenal coaches I have had throughout my life. From YMCA, Howard Middle School, Summit High School, Legacy High School, Strength and Conditioning, TAV, and SFA, it is impossible to name them all. I carry a little bit of knowledge with me from each coach I've had throughout my life. Every time I step on the floor, in the weight room, and when I'm out with friends, whether it be a mental, physical, or life aspect, I have learned so many things from so many amazing people. One person I would have to thank above all is my Daddy. He has been my biggest supporter throughout my entire life. He compliments me when I've played well, and gives out the criticism when I've played bad. He taught me to always give it my all no matter what I'm doing. He planted a competitive seed in my head when I was a little girl, and it has only grown bigger ever since.

SFAVolleyBlog: Monica, on the subject of family, I remember meeting your parents in Houston last year while we were all at Rice and I often saw your sister at matches. Describe the importance of family support on you as an athlete.

Monica Pannone: Family support means the world to me. I honestly could not have done it without them. They come to every game that they possibly can and tell me I played great even on the days that I clearly didn't!

SFAVolleyBlog: Having gone through it for the first time last year, what’s the number one piece of advice you could each give the first year players as they go through Fall workouts?

Monica: I would tell them to make sure that they take care of their bodies!

Les: Expect to come in everyday willing to work as hard as you possibly can. There are gonna be many times your body is going to tell you you've got nothing left, but I promise you will make it through and only come out stronger than you were before.

SFAVolleyBlog: With your rookie year done, and so many new players coming in for 2011, tell me one way that you and the other veterans can make the transition easier for the freshman and other newbies? Do you guys have any “team bonding” plans for the Fall in order to build relationships?

Monica: We plan to be very welcoming and positive. We do team bonding pretty much on the weekends. For Summer II, a lot of us stayed in the same house and really got to know each other.

SFAVolleyBlog: Les, if you had to make a pick, what’s a bigger thrill… thundering down a kill on offense or rejecting an opponent attack at the net?

Les: I would say rejecting an opponents attack at the net HANDS DOWN. Nothing gets me more excited then a big block to end the rally. It's an alarming way to tell the person on the other side of the net their not getting through you and your pin blocker. If you don't think it was a big deal, the wild yelling and screaming that comes after will be evidence enough.

SFAVolleyBlog: Les, what changes do you sense will take place in 2011? How do you project the team in 2011 will be different than the team from 2010?

Les: Practices seem so much more competitive. We yell and scream at each other during competition no matter what. Even if we're lying about a call, nothing is gonna stop the drive to keep the point. It also seems like we've all bonded better. I love each one of my teammates and would do anything for any of them.

SFAVolleyBlog: Monica, you were used a lot to help out with back row defense during your freshman season. What is the number one thing that is different (or harder) about defending on the back row in college as opposed to defending in high school/club ball?

Monica: The fact that all hitters in college are smart and really know how to place the ball in the perfect spot.

SFAVolleyBlog: Monica, while talking with Coach Humphreys before the 2010 season began, she believed you had the chance to develop into a consistent six-rotation player during your time at SFA. What is one thing that you feel like you have to improve on in order to become that six-rotation presence?

Monica: In order to become a six rotation player, I think I need to really work on freezing my platform when I pass the ball and just remember to talk on every play.


A special thanks to both Monica and Les for returning all my questions. It is clear that these two more than just "got by" during their first year in purple. It's nice to know they have THREE years remaining with us. They each should pay dividends this year as well as in 2012 and 2013.

After a brief look at the conference as a whole later in the week, we'll continue these veteran previews shifting to Seniors Melissa Miksch and MC Bottles.

The team leaves for Georgia bright and early Thursday morning! Axe' Em 'Jacks!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ladyjacks Heat Up Practice in Icy Shelton Gym

106, 108, 110, 106, 106, 106, 104, 104, 104, 104, 102, 102, 100, 106, 104, 106.

The official high temperatures in Nacogdoches this month.

Ridiculous by any one's standards. But the coldest place in Nacogdoches yesterday might have been Shelton Gym. The air conditioner pumped in icy cold air for hours as players and coaches went through workouts - now just eight days away from boarding a plane for Georgia to get this party started.

Various home repair projects involving water and glass have kept me with wallet open and away from campus until yesterday when I took my perch for the first time this preseason on freshly painted bleachers atop Shelton Gym.

A few weeks ago I walked around the new home of the Ladyjacks alone late one afternoon admiring the new lighting, art, paint and scoreboards. I arrived yesterday right at the 3:00 scheduled practice time and got a second chance to see the new artwork up close. Additional panels of the scoreboard had been added since my last visit and a nice new piece of technology for taping and cataloguing practice/match video was in use.

But what I enjoyed most was just seeing the two nets strung up with all the buckets of balls gathered together ready for use. As I walked around the gym I could hear the rumble of laughter from the new locker room as players and coaches were getting ready for the 2+ hours of workouts about to commence.

My notepad had only one line written on it: Allen, Gross, Hall, Hill, Holland, Ivy, Philogene, Randall, Spicer.

A few veterans and coaches acknowledged my presence during stretching. Sabrina Burns - noticing that I was looking around ask me if I liked it all and I half-way lied and said "Sure, its nice".
The newbies aren't used to my attendance yet. But, I didn't need their introduction - I know them all. Faces memorized before ever walking in. Bios read, research done, discussions had. I recognized all nine of them easily.

I focused almost entirely on the new players during my vigil. Randall was impressive - seemingly undaunted by the newness of college volleyball. She looked like she belonged. Holland's athleticism shined in subtle ways - often the first to finish in suicide line short running drills for not "winning" certain practice games that Debbie so often weaves in. Gross and Allen each had their defensive moments at the net that got coaches smiling at each other. Hill's digging and passing caught my eye more than once. Despite returning from a battle with a small illness, Ivy hit a heavy ball. Good things. Lots of good things. There are definitely some usable new parts here.

Most of the drills seemed to have more energy behind them than I recall from last year. A purposeful, spunky, energy was carried from one routine to the next - even fiery at times.

I got a glimpse of "it" one time. Of what might be. Of course, there is no "clock" in volleyball, but the scoreboard chimed off time remaining in drills during the two-net phase of practice. During one of these sessions, Assistant Coach Critzer had three-girl teams working on back row defense while he stood on blocks firing shots down at them. A sort of competition was built around how many balls could be successfully "upped" and passed to a front row receiver. At one point, right as the clock ran to 0:00 signaling the end of the drill, sophomore Monica Pannone made a tremendous dig and the entire gym erupted as the buzzer went off.

A flash of "it".

For that split second I could envision an audience bigger than one in that old rat-hole of a gym. Maybe this is gonna be OK, I thought. I know I'll slowly be won over to this new place. It's just going to be slow for me.

Still, all those new faces. All that uncertainty and moving parts. How does it all fit?

I know this, though: And its the same thing Debbie and I have said to each other for years now. When I left, I knew I wanted to come back. I wanted to see this again. If people will just make the effort to show up at a home match, they'll get "it". They'll want to come back.

You know what? Friday, if you are in Nacogdoches at 2:00 you'll have a chance. The SFA Volleyball Facebook page has posted an advertisement that the scrimmage on Friday is open and free to the public. There was some discussion that I'd get a chance to try out the new PA setup during that practice, but I think I'll be in Houston with family instead. But, if you are reading this and can make it - you should come check it out.

From here on out, I should be at afternoon practices about every other day leading up to the season opener in Georgia next weekend. It's a new season, and things should definitely be different. The hope is that it all translates into more winning and a return to 20+ victory seasons and tournament appearances.

I've missed this. I'm glad its back.

The next post in this space will focus on second year players Leslie Jackson and Monica Pannone. A set of questions to our two seniors - MC and Mel - will go out soon and I am hoping to preview the two of them before the Georgia Southern Tournament. We'll also be going around the league soon as we look at other SLC teams and their own changes and upcoming challenges.

Make plans right now to be in Shelton Gym on September 9 at 6 PM for the 'Jacks home opener against Texas A&M!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

This... This Should Be Different

You know that feeling of living day to day? You know, those times in your life where you just can't see past tomorrow. That was Summer 2011 for me. Between a car crash that totalled out a vehicle (everyone is OK) and family members being diagnosed with strange and rare illnesses (everyone is OK) and ever changing job responsibilities (I THINK everyone is OK)... the Summer of 2011 was about living one slow day at a time.

Volleyball was so far from my mind this summer. It had to be. The aforementioned changes in job responsibilities will probably at some point take their toll on my relationship with SFA Athletics. I think Volleyball will be immune to these changes, though. Despite having complete confidence that I'd be on the mic come fall, I wondered about this space. I wondered if two years of writing here was gonna be it. Maybe it was time to move on - call the blog a nice phase - and just get back to barking out lineups and hanging around practices like a gym rat. After all, I love SFA Volleyball, but I write basically all day -every day- for many reasons.. I might could let this die. So, I didn't write. All Summer.

But then, the emails came in. From a parent who was bored and had done some of his own statistical analysis. From another set of parents just checking on me and reminding me of their enjoyment from reading posts now and then. Another coach - a frequent commenter here - emailed to ask what was up. Then, a Facebook message would pop up inquiring why I was away.

Hey, I've got no delusions of grandeur here. We average a few dozen readers a day during the season.. nothing huge. But, the encouragement was enough. Plus, now.... now that the summer is about to bid farewell, it is time for volleyball. It is time to write. Time to get back to what I've been doing for years. So, I need to say I'm sorry. I'm sorry for not being consistent in filling this space with even the most basic of news over the summer. I thought I'd do better in Summer 2011, but now, I'll have to aim for 2012 to be the first COMPLETE year of writing. Oh, well, that's the past. On to the future. Let's play. Let's write. Let's get on with it.

SFA Volleyball 2010 didn't experience a whole lot of success. But, 2011 - whether more wins come or not - is going to be a different season.

Changes. So many changes. A new assistant coach. A new gym. Nine new players. Nine! A new conference structure on the horizon. New challenges.

I sat down last week with Debbie Humphreys like I do every year about this time. Assistant Coaches Critzer and Lanford were out of the office, but when I walked in there were Debbie's kids - Will and Reagan - watching TV, playing video games, hanging out while Mom worked on the computer. I had brought some pretty sharp questions with me and instantly I wondered if kids would notice/care/get mad if I pinned Mom/Coach to the wall with a question or two. Chit chat and small talk began our Q&A, but I knew I had to get to some tough stuff right off the bat. As usual, Coach was graceful. Graceful to the degree that I have never been thrown out of her office. Yet. The kids didn't seem irritated with me when I left and I walked out without any bruises.

One thing is for sure. Last year is long gone. I found it interesting that Coach said that after the season she did some "research" into her own SFA Volleyball history. A sort of trying to find out where 2010 fit in her past. But, she doesn't seem regretful. I ask her if there were things involving personnel that she would have changed and she mainly balked. It is clear she's moved on.

So, I decided to throw out a zinger: Is 2011 a rebuilding year?

We talked for probably 45 minutes, but during the entire session, there wasn't a question that I ask that she was any more prepared for than that one. Oh, she is always prepared. But, it was almost as though she KNEW I (and likely others) would be asking that. She gave me a fantastic analogy as an answer that in a nutshell conveyed that storied programs should still be feared and that they don't sit around licking wounds. They bounce back.. and often with a vengeance. I liked it. It was convincing.

We talked about the change in location - from the spacious Johnson Coliseum to the cozy Shelton Gym. I've been working on a post for months on this issue. I'm not the biggest fan of this move, but I'm glad I've held off writing about it. The more I talk with people, the more I am slowly - very slowly - coming around to the idea that this can be a good thing.

If nothing else, it should be louder. That gym - at least before some renovations were done this year - is/was basically an eyesore. Everyone tells me it is a work in progress - a work that will take three years or so and we are only in year one. OK. I ain't going anywhere. Let's give it time. But still, every time I see it, I almost vomit a little in my mouth. I work right next door to this place. Believe me.. it needs a lot - a ton - a lions' share worth of work. But, I digress... I'll write my Shelton Gym piece while they are all out on the road at Georgia or something. That way, it'll be a few days before any of them can come hurl sharp objects my way. The reality is that I am warming up to it all and my comments won't be as slanted as I once thought they'd be.

We talked about all the new players. Holy smokes. Nine new players. I usually attend two practices a week during August, but I am going to have to step it up to get good preseason look at all these new girls. My first visit to workouts will be next Friday the 12th.

One thing is for sure.. there is going to be some serious competition for court time. I love, love, love that this recruiting class was particularly sought out in terms of pedigree and what Debbie calls "athleticism coupled with Volleyball IQ". Love it. We needed to bring in a group of athletic girls as well as some girls who have been to the fight before. Most of these freshman played on very successful high school teams and/or club teams. They are a more battle-tested group than others in recent years and they are used to winning. I really, really like that approach.

Last year, people who asked to remain nameless, would often tell me that SFA wasn't as athletic a club as usual. That they felt we had gotten away from good pedigree. There must be a shred of truth to it.

I will chime in here with a personal opinion: We need to be nastier, meaner, and get a little more pissed off when we lose. I wish we'd play with a little more bravado and carry a tad of a chip around on our shoulders. Last years team was anything but intimidating. It occasionally might have been called soft by some. I think that is in the rear view mirror now. At least, it better be.

Oh, I guarantee you these freshman get knocked on their butts a few times. There will be matches where NCAA Division I volleyball will hit them square between the eyes. But, I think this group, along with our veterans will get up off their can and spit right back in the face of what just pushed them down.

Losing stinks. Nobody likes it. I'm not talking about poor sportsmanship, I am just talking about taking some serious pride in that jersey you put on. Hey, we can all get along and be a "volleyball family" and all that off the court, but how about a little on court swagger and attitude?

The girls have already taken a fair amount of pride in their new home. They've painted, they've decorated. Hey, Shelton Gym is THEIRS. It belongs to them now. Maybe that will translate into a stronger sense of "protect this house".

I'm not trying to stir up trouble here.. but I would love to see some intense battles in some of these Fall practices. How about a freshman thundering one down on a veteran and yelling in her ear about it? How about a veteran rejecting a freshman attack and giving her the look of "not here - not now"? Hey, we can all get along off the court. How about cultivating an attitude of "bring it" right from the start?

Let's be honest. There are more NEW players on this team than VETERANS. Hey, veterans: Make these rookies work. You know how this goes, you can show them the ropes and all that, but how about letting them know that you are the leaders? How about making them feel like they've got a mountain to climb in order to take your playing time away from you? Give them the feeling that you didn't like a season that finished 12-19 and you are out to do something about it. Make them earn it. Metaphorically knock them down a time or two and let's see if they can get up. Build toughness - physical and mental - from Day 1.

These freshman better strap it on, because there are 16 people in Fall camp this year, and last time I checked only six can play at a time. You know what that means. A lot of riding the pine.

You want to play? You better bring it in practice. You used to playing lots of minutes in club and high school? Guess what.. that's minor league compared to this. You a veteran who is hoping to see more playing time? Better not look over your shoulder - there are some young guns in town now.

Intensity. Competition.

This... This Should Be Different.

And, I'd like to say again: One losing season is enough. If it takes all this change to usher in a new winning era?

Fine. This is SFA Volleyball, damn it. Winning is Fun. Losing Sucks.

(Questions out to Pannone and Jackson who will lead off our Veteran Previews!!)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Yes, We Are About To Get Started Again

Yes, the blog is still alive. Yes, regular posts are about to resume. Yes, we have new banner. Yes, the countdown clock is active.

You better strap in now, because Year 3 of this thing is going to be furious.

Anybody ready for some Volleyball?