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'.