Thursday, September 29, 2011

SLC5: Preview for Thursday (9/29) & Saturday (10/1)

This week we focus on the direction of Lamar and UTA as well as dicuss UTSA's big win over Texas State. UCA's fate without Hays hangs in the balance and we look at statistical accomplishments by players at Nicholls, McNeese and Northwestern State. Finally, the importance of SFA's match with TAMUCC is discussed. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Interview w/ UCA Head Coach David McFatrich

This interview was done about an hour before the UCA/SFA match last Saturday in Nacogdoches. I also had questions for Jessica Hays, but she did not make the Huntsville/Nacogdoches trip due to injury. We wish her a speedy recovery and rehabilitation.

I also want to thank several UCA parents who expressed positive remarks about the blog either after the match or in recent days by email. As I have continually said, I am completely surprised more than say.. 3 people.. read in this space. When I started this three years ago, I knew it was small potatoes. It still is, but it is always positive to meet new people and share in volleyball discussions with folks all around the league.

We will have an SLC5 installment this week and I will also be sending out interview questions via Facebook to Maddie Hanlan, Sabrina Burns and Allison Gideon this week. Look for those discussions to get posted in early October. Two additional posts on more general topics are also in the works. We'll continue to pump out two to three posts per week all during October and November.

SFA Fans: Look for a new addition in Shelton Gym when you get back in there October 13 for the match against Texas State. That's all I'll say about that. I don't think you'll miss it.

Finally, I will be travelling to Huntsville next Wednesday. Expect some form of a live chat for the match against Sam Houston State.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

24 Hours: Two Different Teams

I walked away from Shelton Gym on Saturday afternoon both frustrated and disappointed. In the hours after the match I penned a doom-n-gloom post in my head and was ready late last night to gather my thoughts and write how inconsistent this team has been and just get a few things off my chest. You know, I don't think I was alone in my thoughts yesterday: Many of us were down after the 3-1 loss to Central Arkansas. I looked ahead at the upcoming schedule and allowed myself to think: We're just not going to do much better than in 2010.

I've learned through the years to "hold off" in times in frustration. If your words are worth writing at 11 Pm, then they will probably still be worth writing the next morning or afternoon. Such a patient approach at the keyboard has served me well in an academic environment where many an email has wanted to fly off my fingers in times of anger. So, I took pause. I waited. After all, Sunday was a non-conference game and less than 24 hours away. The post could wait until Sunday night or Monday. Patience 1, Tired Frustration 0.

Look what happened. 24 Hours: Two Different Teams.

After the match today, Bobby Bottles (MC's Dad) came up to me and his first words were: "Who was that team playing here yesterday?". He didn't mean UCA.

And, that's exactly it. Against UCA, there were some fundamentally bad moments. The blocking was atrocious. Horrible. The word disgusting came to mind a few times. You just cannot give a team - any team - the kind of free, uncontested looks that UCA got in that match. They thundered ball after ball to the floor while hitting 1 on 1 and even completely without a block up.. over and over and over. After the first set, when UCA hit .400, the entire media table - SID's, former players, staff that have coached at various levels & myself all looked at each other and said the same thing: Are we going to block "ANYTHING"?

Nope, we were not. We lost. Bad. The comeback in Set 3 only acted as strong cologne over the top of the profuse stink that was the rest of the match. Humphreys told me before today's match that she thought they should have won Set 2. OK. But what's just as true is that UCA went home on the bus (hopefully it didn't break down three times like it did getting over here) saying that they should have swept us. They should have. You aren't going to see many comebacks from 19-10 this year.

OK, enough with that. All things are made new in the morning. Flash forward to Sunday.

Blocking? Check. Right off the bat in Set 1. Go back and look at the play by play. Nah, keep reading - I already did. Check this out:

In Set 1:
SFA 4, Missouri State 3: Block by Bottles and Miksch
SFA 6, Missouri State 4: Block by Bottles
SFA 10, Missouri State 7: Block by Ivy and Burns
SFA 11, Missouri State 7: Block by Randall.

Four of the first 11 points we scored Sunday were off blocks. We blocked better in Set 1 on Sunday than we did in the entire match on Saturday. Frankly, we did so against a team that overall is probably considered stronger than Central Arkansas.

Consistency. We need consistency. I was really pleased to hear Humphreys talk about finding a consistent lineup going forward in her post game interview with Ben Rikard. Two regular components to our floor arsenal will probably include Jill Ivy and Taylor Gross (see interview above).

In fact, probably the biggest positive from the weekend was the emergence of Jill Ivy on the right side. Earlier in the season she saw spotty playing time and didn't play overwhelmingly well. A lot of her errors were going long - hitting the ball over the block and out of bounds. Lately, all that's changed. In fact, in Sunday's loss against UCA she was our best offensive weapon. This week (last three games) she hit 29-9-71 (.281). We'll take that for sure. Plus, it was nice to see her in on 4 blocks in 4 sets on Sunday after only 1 on Saturday.

Then, there is Taylor Gross. I like her hitting out on the edge. She's been very efficient. She hit 17-5-55 (.218) this weekend (Thurs/Sat/Sun) , including only two errors in 35 swings during the last two matches. Plus, she's fiery. Serious energy. She's one of my favorite celebrators after a big block or kill (Les Jackson's up there, too). Plus, Taylor is the designated girl for "Heeeeeeerreeee we go 'Jacks" heard when the team walks on to the court right before the match begins. A good pick.

Hey, we love our freshman. Holland, Ivy, Gross and Randall are all immediately central to the team. Hill has her role and Allen and Spicer are biding their time.. to be heard from. But let me end this post with a short rant.. and yes, its statistically based (imagine that?).

Get... Bottles... The.... Ball....On.... Offense.

There were many reasons we lost on Saturday. But consider this: Coming into Saturday, in games we won, Bottles had received 1 in every 5 sets. OK, follow along: What I am saying, is that when we have won, she has taken 20% of the teams' swings.

Saturday: She got set 1 in every 8 balls, rather than 1 in every five. Only 12%. That was the lowest percentage of swings as compared to the total attacks by the team that she has taken all year. She cannot be set that little (17 attacks out of 135 total by the team across four sets). Hey, I know Ivy was hot. But still, Bottles didn't get her fair share of balls set her way in the UCA match. Now, to be fair.. she didn't block any balls either (As already documented, that changed in a big way on Sunday)

[Warning: I am not a coach. I am a fan. The following is my opinion and I could be wrong. This is my blog and I'll write what I think.

Now, returning to regularly scheduled blogging:]

Listen, I am not blaming Holland. Heck, I'm not blaming anybody. Holland has done a really nice job. Really, really nice. She's a big reason we've won when we've won. But, I think it is perfectly all right to tell Holland.. "Look.. I don't care who is hot.. also always remember to find a way to get Bottles the ball". Last time I checked, she's got a few All-SLC honors on her mantle. Look, I know she's not God or anything, and I think she knows she has to really step up and lead despite all the young guns getting attention. Hey, she's a Senior. She can't make any excuses. But please, let's not get carried away with players that are half way through one season of NCAA volleyball. You wanna go to the tournament? You wanna finish in the top half of the league? You wanna be in a position to make some noise down the stretch? Then, dance with the one who brought ya, sister. Her name is MC.

End of Rant.

During the week I will post a really nice interview with UCA Head Coach David McFatrich. I had a great chat both on and off mic with both McFatrich and UCA assistant Todd Hay. I found out we share a few things in common that made me really identify with those guys. I was sorry to miss out on Jessica Hays, who is injured. I had a whole list of questions for her, just like I did for Kolbe when SHSU came to town. I did meet Hays' father after the match and that was neat. Hays - as any regular reader knows - is probably my favorite non-SFA player in the league.

Oh, and during that conversation with Hays' Dad.. you know who HE said his favorite non-UCA player was in the league?

That'd be MC Bottles.

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

SLC5: Focus on the West, Interviews with Gray & Kolbe of SHSU

You listened yesterday. You know the drill 'cause you catch on quick. So, no need for delay. Here is a trip around the West side of the Southland Conference. Plus, just because you deserve a bonus: Check out the two interviews which follow SLC5. The first is with SHSU Head Coach Brenda Gray and the second is with their All-Southland Conference Senior Outside Hitter Carli Kolbe.

Remember: Three matches in Four Days!! Check out the upcoming schedule on the sidebar --->
Axe 'Em!! We need wins!!

SLC 5: Western Edition

Chat with Brenda Gray:

Chat with Carli Kolbe:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

SLC5: Updates on the Teams in the East

The audio file below is the first installment of SLC5 which is an acronym representing a "five" minute segment discussing Southland Conference volleyball teams other than SFA. Our main focus here will ALWAYS be SFA Volleyball, but the little subtitle above this article does say that we are bringing you courtside with Ladyjack AND Southland Conference Volleyball. I've wanted to expand my coverage of other teams for several reasons. First, it gives SFA fans a look at the opponents that we will face during the last half of the season. Second, and rather amazingly to me... there is genuine interest at various places around the league in such coverage. Coaches at several schools have been very supportive of this blog as has the conference office. Fans and parents of athletes at other schools have also commented to me about reading material here and I have enjoyed conversing and e-mailing with them because they give me a well-rounded perspective of teams outside of Nacogdoches. The Southland Conference Volleyball site does provide a lot of information, but the majority of the stories posted there are actually from the individual schools' websites. So, here is what SLC5 does: Oh, wait.. by the way.. the "5" is just a placeholder. Some of these audio segments aren't five minutes long, but rather 7 or 8 minutes or something. See, "SLC5" just sounds and looks better than SLC8minutesand37.89seconds. So, most will be "around 5 minutes" but the point is that they are short. Now, here is what SLC5 does: You want info, but you are focused on your school or your favorite players. What I do is read all the conference websites, read all the stats, form some opinions based on what I have read and the conversations I engage in and then summarize it all for you. It's like "Cliff's Notes" for Southland Volleyball. You can listen to these audio files and get up to date without having to read the full 12 websites or pour over pages and pages of stats at the Conference website. Most of the content in SLC5 is factual summary, but occasionally you may differ with an opinion provided here and there. That's OK, the goal is broad coverage and stirring up interest around the league. I'm not claiming exclusivity here, but I am probably one of the few people that does read all 12 websites and pour over stats. Now, I am not trying to keep you from driving up the web traffic on those athletic websites, I am just doing the leg-work for you and putting my own spin on it so that if all you have is five or ten minutes here and there, you can still be informed about the entire conference. This first installment focuses on the teams from the East side of the conference: Northwestern State, Central Arkansas, Nicholls State, McNeese, Southeastern La., and Lamar. I am starting here since our conference opponents this week are from the East. Tomorrow, I will post another SLC5 file that addresses info on the teams in the West. Plus, you get two bonus interviews tomorrow: One with Sam Houston head coach Brenda Gray and another with Bearkat outside hitter Carli Kolbe. Both interviews are great and full of insight and interesting info. We'll always cover SFA first. But, enjoy this look around the league:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Audio Interviews with Humphreys, Bottles & Holland

Debbie Humphreys on the clubs' progress so far, Allison Gideon and others stepping up, and the upcoming match against Sam Houston (5:03):

MC Bottles & Paige Holland talk about the atmosphere in Shelton, the improved play of Sabrina Burns and this weekend's challenges (4:50)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Conference Opponent Preview: Sam Houston, Northwestern St., UCA

After this weekend's games finish up, I'll post my first audio "SLC5" segment which will go around the conference quickly in order to keep SFA fans in touch with the other 11 schools gunning for Southland Conference bragging rights. Today, we'll bring three particular schools to the forefront since conference play begins Friday when the Chilly Fillmore's SFA Invitational cranks up in Shelton Gym. Our first three conference opponents this year are Sam Houston, Northwestern State and Central Arkansas. Let's look a little closer and throw out a few opinions about these three teams in order to get prepared for Friday night. Sam Houston State Last Year: 15-17, 9-7 SLC (5th Seed in Tournament, Lost in 1st round to UTA, 3-1) Key Returners: Virtually all including Carli Kolbe (OH), Kim Black (MB), Kelli Stewart (OH), Kaylee Hawkins (UTIL) and Kym Loving (S) Key Additions: Just one in Kendall Cleveland (OH) who transferred from Arkansas. Key Losses: None This team was picked 6th in the coaches' poll and 7th in the SID poll for 2011. I think that's probably two slots too low. In fact, as much as it may pain Purple Nation, I think Sam Houston is a dark horse in the conference race. This is a very veteran focused squad. There were basically no changes in personnel from 2010 to 2011. The team loses no key players, gets a year of experience under virtually every starters' belt and adds Cleveland to the mix and they get picked to drop from 5th? Nah, that doesn't make any sense. Plus, Cleveland is not just a token transfer add. She's started every match this year for the Bearkats and with Kolbe nursing an ankle issue, Cleveland currently leads the team in attacks. I would have picked Sam to finish 4th and I think they pose an interesting test for SFA on Friday. They have played a common opponent in North Texas and they won 3-1 on the road. Now, most of us agree our match in Denton was a disaster at the end of a long road trip. So, SFA getting swept may not be the fairest of comparisons, but still Sam hit .256 and had 12 team blocks against UNT whereas we only managed a .108 clip and half as many blocks. The thing about Sam Houston is that they are well coached, strong at virtually every position and fairly deep. Hawkins can play a front row slot or libero. Black and Haley Neisler hold down the middle positions well, Kolbe, Cleveland, Hawkins, Stewart and Camille Alfaro form a deep unit on the outside. When Hawkins isn't in the off-colored jersey - which has been true of late, Jamie Haas can step in. Now...let's make things clear: If Kolbe doesn't play this weekend it changes things significantly. At the seasons' start, you wouldn't be able to make much of a complaint if someone predicted she's be the league POY for 2011. When Kolbe is healthy, she is as dangerous a hitter as we have in the SLC. She's a treat to watch especially since she is a force from anywhere on the court. She can be standing a foot inside the back line and rear back and smack a shot with a full swing to any spot on the opposing side. Prediction: A Toss Up in Five Sets. Northwestern State Last Year: 13-16, 4-12 SLC (Did not make SLC Tournament) Key Returners: None, this team lost every one of significance. Key Additions: Unknown, the team completely turned over. Key Losses: I think you get it by now. This team plays basically 8 kids and of the seven starters, six of them are Freshman. Go back and read that sentence again. This very well could be the least experienced volleyball team in the nation at the DI level. I just didn't have the energy to try and research it. But, here are some numbers... and again these are NOT typos: MC Bottles has three letters at SFA. Northwestern returns four letters on their ENTIRE team. Across the entire 2011 team, there were only 7 NCAA starts represented coming into the year. This club hasn't had a winning season in any of these kids' lifetime. Again, that isn't a typo. The husband-wife coaching team of Hugh and Stephanie Hernesman is starting from scratch. Here you go: 12 players consisting of 9 freshman, two sophomores and one junior (poor Nicole Hajka must feel like a grandma). Hajka - the teams' lone upperclassman has half of the letters on the squad and killed 16 balls last year. Have I mentioned I'm not making any typographical errors, here. 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. Hey, the team won 13 games last year compared to only three in 2009. But again, the athletes who helped make those strides are gone. There is one interesting find in their early schedule: They beat UL-Lafayette in their most recent match by a score of 3-1. A few days earlier, ULL had disposed of Lamar 3-1. Lamar was picked to finish fourth in the SLC race and even got a few first place votes. Now, just like the UNT/SFA/SHSU issue, these single common opponent things aren't always meaningful, but I found it interesting nonetheless. You gotta root for them in general, right? They've been down for so long, we shouldn't constantly kick them. Let's see if they can make strides in the next couple years. So far in 2011? 2-8 with a team hitting percentage below .100 while getting out-blocked nearly two to one. Hey, I learned from their Facebook page that they just re-lacquered their floor! Ok, that was an excuse to use the word "lacquered" and I just admitted I read NWLA Volleyball's Facebook page. Let's move on. Prediction: Sweep. Make sure and have plenty of pizza. Mid-week game vs. NWLA? Ugh. Do we have to? Central Arkansas Last Year: 29-7, 15-1 SLC (Lost to UTSA in the SLC Tournament Championship Game) Key Returners: The majority of their starters including: Jessica Nagy (MB), Jessica Hays (OH), Taylor Hammonds (MB), Marissa Collins (S) and Cristin Curl (L) Key Additions: Time will tell. A few newcomers have made spot starts, but haven't put up anywhere near impressive numbers. Key Losses: Chloe Smith - three time SLC Player of the year and quite possibly the best player the conference has ever seen. Exaggeration? Try this one for size: She is the only player in conference history to win the Player of the Year three times and the only player in Southland history ACROSS ALL SPORTS to be named both Player of the Year three times and Student-Athlete of the Year three times. I'll state the obvious: You can't come close to replacing her. In addition to losing Smith, UCA also lost head coach David McRoberts to the University of Tulsa. Well, so at least we know he won't win SLC Coach of the Year this year. He wasn't the right choice for the award last year( and click here too), but he got it anyway. The David McFatrich (former McRoberts assistant) era has begun and well, that's not going so hot given that they have already lost one less match in 2011 than they did all of last year. This club was picked 1st in the coaches poll and 2nd by the SID's. They are certainly still a stacked club with all those returners, but I think I'd have picked them 3rd. 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. UCA has played nine matches as of this writing and already been swept five times. Now, to be fair, UCA has had a couple of tough clubs on their schedule and they (incredibly) play their first 16 games this season on the road. UCA's home opener is in October! Wow. Before hosting the conference tournament, which won't be on their usual small gym floor, they will only have 9 total home games. Of those nine regular season home games, five of them are in a row. How's that for goofy scheduling? They have three home stands all year. That's it. They play in the weak Eastern side of the Southland and so they will surely benefit from not having to play Texas State, UTSA, Sam Houston, SFA, Lamar and UTA twice. That may have factored into their pre-season rankings by the coaches and SID's. Regular readers will know that I am a huge Jessica Hays fan. Something is going on with her as she didn't play in UCA's recent tournament appearance in Oxford, MS. Not sure if that is an injury, illness or coaches decision (I'd doubt the latter). Hays led the conference last year in kills per set, Collins led in assists per set and Nagy led in hitting percentage. Oh, and statistically speaking... Hays is the best server in the conference. By far. With all those weapons, UCA is bound to be good. But, the coaching turnover and the loss of Smith are going to put a few chinks in the armor. Was the loss to UTSA in the 2010 tournament title game a tell-tale sign of a possible fade from dominance. I think so, but not by much. They'll be in the hunt, but they've got plenty of company. It's a good year for them to host the tournament. They'll need the boost of having the most fans in the gym now whereas last year you felt confident in picking them to get to the final game on the road. McFatrich is someone I'd like to interview for the blog. Maybe he'll agree to a short chat when they come over. Prediction: The Hays situation is an X-factor. I expect a dogfight, but one we might have a tough time coming out of unscathed. I'm not sure we beat both SHSU and UCA, but it would be a great, great sign if we did.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tough Tournament Test Awaits Ladyjacks

It's a little too early in the semester for that first big exam in all of our college courses. But, the 'Jacks will re-open the Shelton Gym era with quite a test as Texas A&M and Northern Illinois come to town this weekend. Both clubs recently received a handful of Top 25 votes in the latest NCAA Divsion I AVCA poll. Reports of these teams being Top 30 in the country are probably slight overstatements given they only appeared on a scarce few number of ballots, but the point is well-taken: We will be the underdog twice this weekend.

To this point, Debbie Humphreys scheduling has been with the purpose of putting SFA against teams from similar conferences and/or similar strengths as what we expect to face in Southland league play. I like both that idea and the current one of mixing in a few even tougher challenges before conference play settles in.

The best thing about this weekend is that we get to play at home after having been out on the road for almost a week. The travel strain showed as SFA put up possibly their weakest effort of the season on Labor Day in a three-set defeat to North Texas. The Ladyjacks service errors doomed them in Set 1 and by the time the blowout in Set 2 was done, we were basically already back on the bus. Everyone knows we are capable of much higher quality play than what was shown in that match and I'm sure the club will be out to prove it against NIU and Texas A&M.

The Ladyjacks came within a single set win of taking home their second tournament title this year while in Martin, Tennessee last weekend. Brief conversations had with a couple of folks revealed high praise for Illinois State. Despite getting out to a 2-0 lead against the Redbirds, Illinois State put up three straight set wins and kept SFA from returning to Texas with the tournament title. MC Bottles and Sabrina Burns were honored with All-Tournament accolades for their performance. The honor marked the second in as many tourneys for Burns who is clearly improved beginning her third year in purple. Burns and Bottles play in middle has been quite solid with both hitting at or above a .300 clip while - as expected - also leading the team in blocks.

I think I might have been just a year early last year when predicting Burns' breakout. Both in practices I've witnessed and in game situations she is making contact with the ball more flush and with more strength. The result has been less mishits and more thundering shots from above defenders due to her height and reach. It's early, but Burns is hitting at a clip more than twice her .160 mark of 2010.

I watched the UNT match live on the computer and have just chalked that one up as a mulligan. I also attended the ULM match at the beginning of the trip. We had a great crowd in the chat room that night and I went with more of a play-by-play style since StatTracker was completely down that night. Our next live chat will be October 5 from Huntsville.

I think most folks were disappointed in the Monroe match because of the fact that ULM has had virtually no historical success against SFA. I honestly didn't think we played all that bad that night. We just couldn't block a ball in the deciding fifth set as ULM didn't even make an attack error at all in Set 5. I also thought we should have gone to Bottles more in the clutch. MC only got ONE touch in Set 5 of that match and that's unacceptable. I thought it was good to mix in Jackson more in the 5th since Randall was just flat going off on people and starting to get keyed on down the stretch. I commented as much live in the chat room that night. But that being said, you just can't give Jackson and Pannone 10 balls between them while setting MC only once. Despite Randall deserving the lion's share of sets, if you are going to go down, you need to go down going to your best & MC is our best.

Honestly though, this team is off to a decent start. Despite losing three of the last five, we clearly should have won at ULM and had a really good shot at beating Illinois State. This weekend is going to be tough, but we look to be in good shape now that we are only a week away from opening conference play against Sam Houston.

The lineup looks pretty set with Bottles and Burns in the middle, Holland setting, Randall playing all the way around at OH, and Hanlan playing well at libero. Jackson has pretty much been a mainstay on the right side, but in occasional sets and a solo start, Gideon has been there. However, I think you can pencil Les in as a regular starter at this point. The final slot on the floor has an ebb and flow to it currently. It hasn't - and may not ever turn out to be - a six-rotation spot and has featured freshman Jill Ivy starting recently with the rotation spot being shared by another more defensive minded OH like Miksch or Pannone. I've already insinuated in another post that I think Mel needs a longer leash.

So, one question going forward is how much court time is divided between the three of Ivy, Miksch and Pannone. That will be an interesting rotation spot to watch this weekend. There is also the issue of time for Amanda Hall who has earned a start and additional back row time to stabilize passing and defense at assorted times. I think she's been a pleasant contributor in spotty situations. Freshman Janet Hill played a bit more in that role early on in the year than what she has recently. Hall's experience and ability to hit may be winning out on the back row DS time that always seems to be floating around in limited amounts. But still, Hill stands to get looks here and there.

I think it appropriate to compliment Holland on her work to this point. She looks pretty steady and issues like the one I raised earlier about Set 5 at ULM are minor in the grand scheme of things. I mean, think about it.. she is so used to going to Randall in critical situations because she's been on the court with her for years. And, its not like Katzy hasn't handled her opportunities well.

For strategic purposes, I won't get into specifics, but about a week ago former setter and assistant coach LA Lanford got Holland alone on a court during practice and was working on a variety of offensive "options". While watching the match against UNT, I saw Holland successfully integrate most of the things Lanford was working on during that practice drill. A few times, I was actually talking to myself in my office (shh, I was supposed to be working) pointing at the computer screen yelling "That's what LA was teaching her right there!!" Setters are always in the limelight and the positives from Paige have far outweighed any negatives in my mind. Debbie raves about her ability to quickly incorporate advice and I've witnessed it a few times from where I sit. She's been a big part of why we are 6-3.

This weekend should be really interesting. I got a chance to see the new media table that was installed in Shelton. It has "SFA Volleyball" plastered on it and looks really nice. Some paint on the walls at court level went up today and some additional trim work is planned for tomorrow as well. I won't give it away, but I've been given approval by the powers that be to add my own..... uhhhhh.. "decoration".... to the joint. You won't be able to miss it, but you may have to wait a couple weeks until it gets integrated into the gym's interior design.

You need to make time to be in Shelton on Friday at 6 PM and again on Saturday at 4 PM. If for some lame reason you can't be there, then just go ahead and block off the following weekend 'cause we'll dance again with three more teams coming to town for the Chilly tournament on the 16th and 17th!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Two At The Top: MC and Mel

Today's entry shines the spotlight on two familiar names. If you walk around campus this time of year you are sure to see the strategically placed Fall sports posters. There is one on a notice board between Steen Hall and the Cafeteria. Another is posted at the bus stop in Lot 14 behind the library. I believe there may be others. But, if you see one - you'll see a collage of photos - various sports being represented. Our two seniors are among them. MC in an attacking pose and Mel in defensive position with platform established about to dig a ball. They are each appropriate shots and ones that have been used in SFA literature here and there. I think I have a copy of each picture somewhere on the laptop I am currently typing on. I'll spice up this post with pictures other than those.

When it comes to MC, we've all been spoiled. Outside Hitters? We've had some, we've gone a few years with lean production, we've got some new ones that excite and give promise. But still, a lot of unknown. Libero? We've had Kuepker - and then Lo got hurt. We've had Maddie - and then Maddie got hurt. Now, Maddie is well, but this position has been stable in only bits and pieces. Right Side? Lots of activity and shifting there over the last few seasons. Setter? Don't get me started. I've learned that you shouldn't assume today's setter is tomorrow's. I listen - politely - when staff and such begin to talk setters and the "future". But, it's talk. And we all know the cost of talk.

But, middle blocker? Particularly, the position we call the "M1"? There's only one sentence you need to know: "At Middle Blocker, a 6 Foot Senior, #1.. M.C. Bottles". Every home game. Every lineup. The first one out of my mouth. All. The. Time.

This team has a lot of good players. This team has a lot of players that could be good players. This team may even have a few players that could be stars. Let's be clear: This team has one star. It's Bottles. She is rightfully the face of this team. She deserves - and commands - respect. The question is only where she will fit among the many great middles that SFA has suited up. She is among the best and she's the first name opposing coaches talk about when going over SFA scouting reports. I'm not making that up. I talk to these coaches. They talk about her.

I don't want to stir up any controversy because after all, this post is to celebrate our two seniors for 2011. But, I'm going to lay it out there: Melissa Miksch is under appreciated, under utilized and underrated. She's garnered a decent amount of playing time during her time at SFA, but I think she's deserved more. We've experimented in places and at times where Miksch has deserved to just play it out and work through a few things. It's just my opinion and I'll just leave it at that.

We've been through all this before, but let's say it again. Melissa Miksch is an athlete and you're not. She is always in great shape and is the poster child for conditioning and strength. She is versatile and can play basically anywhere. See, most players you can put in a box. Put her in the "middle" box or put her in the "DS" box. Mel can't be put in a box. OH? Yes? Libero? Yes. Back row? Yes. More than three rotation capability? Yes. (Oops, I said I'd leave it at that). She's a volleyball player. She's got legitimate ability all over the court.

The following interview is brought to you courtesy of Chipotle Restaurants.

SFAVolleyBlog: Mel, we have only two seniors on this team this year. In what ways do you intend to be a leader both ON and OFF the court? What type of leadership style fits you best?

Mel: I intend to be a leader this year in various ways. I believe that becoming good friends and being more comfortable with everyone can add good chemistry in a team. MC and I want to be the best senior leaders as possible this year in order to win that ring at the end of the season. We both expect everyone to do their job with 100% effort every time they step out on the court. I do believe that I have become more of a vocal leader on the court, but I am also a leader by example. Whether it is in the weight room or in Shelton the girls can watch me and see what they can build up to and learn from the way I play. I have played every position except for middle, so it is easy for me to relate to any of the positions.

SFAVolleyBlog: MC, any time a team experiences a down season like we did in 2010, there are sure to be changes the year following. What do you think will be the one biggest difference between the team last year and the team in 2011?

MC: This year I believe that the biggest difference is the depth of our team. We have 16 girls on our roster this season and that’s the most girls we have had on our team since I have been here. Along with the depth I also think this is the most competitive group we have had. No practice goes by without any trash talking or multiple arguments about a call!

SFAVolleyBlog: So, with those 16 girls on the club this year and many of them new, what is the biggest piece of advice that you could give the new players about the rigors of college volleyball? What’s the one thing you hope they learn the quickest in order to create the biggest opportunity for success?

MC: When given the opportunity to play you have to step up and do your job or you won't get that playing time that everyone wants. I didn’t start for the first 4 or 5 games as a freshman but once given the opportunity I proved that I should be on the court. You have to take advantage of those opportunities!! Also, to be successful you have to be a mentally stable and a consistent player.

SFAVolleyBlog: Mel, when you finish your Senior season, do you see yourself involved in volleyball in some way after college or do you think the memories will be enough and you’ll begin to put the game behind you as you transition to other phases in life?

Mel: I will definitely miss the game of volleyball and working out with the team after this season is over. It will be a hard transition, because I have been playing volleyball since I was in 5th grade. I do not see myself coaching volleyball later in life, but I will for sure step in to play a game of volleyball whenever the opportunity arises.

SFAVolleyBlog: MC, many of your teammates regularly engage in social media sites like Facebook. But, you in particular are an active poster and commenter. With all the stories in the media about athletes engaging in Facebook/Twitter, has the need to watch what one posts in open forum ever come up in team discussions? What is your thought about social media sites and the responsibility (if any) an athlete has when using them?

MC: As an athlete you're always in the spotlight. As a team I don't think we have any issues with Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes I think people are a bit harsh on athletes, but we do represent SFA and at the end of the day we have to be responsible for our actions. I think Facebook is a great way to keep up with old friends from high school and club!

SFAVolleyBlog: Mel, are/were your parents or siblings athletes? In all honesty, who is the best athlete in the family?
Mel: My family is very athletic. My Dad ran track in high school and then went to Blinn on a track scholarship. My Mom was a cheerleader in high school. My brother played basketball in high school. I followed in my sister’s footsteps the most. She played volleyball in middle school, high school and in college. She went to Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. We even had the same high school coach (Jason Landers), so we always make the comment that he had to coach a “Miksch” for 8 years! My family (especially me and my sister) always discuss who is the best athlete in the family, and we always ends up agreeing that I am.

SFAVolleyBlog: Senior night this year will honor just the two of you. Tell me one thing about the other one that you’ll always remember. What part of the others' game do you most admire? And finally, what’s one thing about the other that you think few readers would know ?

MC: My favorite memory actually happened this summer. It was the night of my 21st birthday and were driving through my neighborhood and drove past a party. While were driving past, Mel tells me that I should yell “ It’s your &%$#@! birthday!!” It was hilarious! I was not expecting her to yell that out like that, but it was the funniest thing I have heard her say! For people who don’t know Mel she seems like she’s quiet but she’s not! I love Mel and I really admire her for stepping up last season and filling our libero position. She was amazing and still is! Also her ability to be a solid 6 rotation player is something that I will always admire! [Ed. Note: Agreed, but remember, I am not bringing it up again].

Mel: There are so many things about MC that it is hard to pick just one thing, but if I had to pick one it would be her competitive nature. She would be willing to do whatever it takes to win a game. I believe that is why she has been so successful since her freshman year. One thing about MC’s game that I admire the most is her ability to see the court on the other side and mix up her shots. Something I know about her that others might not know is that she loves Chipotle and that she will have it at her wedding! [Ed. Note: How could you not know MC loves Chipotle? Seriously. The wedding part, though? That's good stuff right there]


Many thanks to both Mel and MC for their great responses to my questions. I want to pass along something else about these two seniors. I occasionally, like in these interviews, contact players and others via email or Facebook in order to ask questions. These two are ALWAYS prompt, courteous and seem to "get it" when it comes to dealing with auxiliary personnel like me.

There are times when I wait a long time for responses and I get it. I really do. These girls are busy and they really don't have an obligation to me. But, these two seniors have figured it out. They know how to respond in a professional and prompt way to requests such as interviews and people trying to solicit information. It speaks well to their character. It speaks well to their leadership and it speaks well to how they were raised. People in my "on the perimeter" position notice this sort of stuff because we recognize that WE are NOT integral to the team, but the players are. When those integral to the club deal positively with those of us in the shadows it reveals a level of maturity that is elevated above the norm. That shouldn't go unmentioned in regards to these two.

The home slate begins on Friday night as we get the official first match back in Shelton Gym underway at 6 PM. I'll admit to being really curious as to how everything is going to look and sound. On Thursday, I'll briefly breakdown the recent road trip and we'll also look forward to our final veteran interviews that will feature Madison Hanlan, Sabrina Burns and Allison Gideon. In coming days we will have more audio interviews posted and I'll also begin a new audio feature that kicks off in 2011 that I'll call "SLC5". Our main focus here at the blog is always on Ladyjack Volleyball, but SLC5 will be a weekly segment that takes a quick tour around the entire Southland Conference. It is my hope that you'll enjoy that post each week as we near conference play. In addition to starting up SLC5, it is my intent to expand my coverage of the conference by posting interviews with other players and coaches from around the league. When Sam Houston comes to town in another week, we may get a chance to see how that works.

As always, we are "SFA's Strongest Presence on the 'Net" and we've got both SFA and Southland Volleyball in focus in a unique way that you really can't get anywhere else. I told you last month that 2011 was going to be furious - you'll want to check back here a couple times a week to what new we've got in mind for feeding your volleyball brain!