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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 sfavolleyblog.net.. 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!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Conference Opponent Preview: Nicholls State

Cue the Party Music: This is SFAVolleyBlog's 100th post of all time! Amazing to think that I've been able to ramble on this long and more amazing that the readership continues to slowly & steadily grow.

This century mark post will take a look at the 'Jacks Saturday opponent: The Colonels from Nicholls State. It's been a while since we've seen Nicholls in Nacogodoches. Last year, we made the trip there and lost in five sets while committing 41 attack errors. In 2009, we swept Nicholls in Johnson Coliseum in the final conference match of the year, but the match in Thibodaux that year will live in infamy.

On the afternoon of October 9, 2009, I got a text message from Ben Rikard, SFA Volleyball main contact and currently the Assistant Director of Media Relations at SFA. Loosely, the text read "We just lost.. TO NICHOLLS!! Thing was... I already knew it. I was staring blankly into my laptop reading the numbers on the screen from StatTracker: Nicholls 15, SFA 10. Ugh. After the final point flashed up, I thought to myself: "We don't lose to Nicholls"... and then a fraction of a second later my phone buzzes on the table next to me with Ben reminding my brain that we just did.

The recap on the Nicholls website had then head coach Chris Laird basically drooling all over himself. The article found about 10 different ways to say the same thing. 'We've never beat SFA while I've been coach', 'This is a great win for our program over a quality opponent'. 'SFA is a great program and we were able to get past them', 'This is the first time in a long time that we've beat SFA'...blah....blah...blah... 'Did I mention that we don't usually beat SFA and we just did...first time since I've been coach.. they are quality...'

Ugh. Stop. Don't make me barf.

It was terrible.

Hey, Nicholls State Volleyball has definitely made strides in recent years. Some old timers may remember that in 2003, Nicholls had to forfeit all their wins over gross academic fraud cases and take an 0-33 record for playing an ineligible player. But, more relevant to recent times....here is a fact I'll bet you didn't know: Nicholls has made the conference tournament three years in a row.

In 2008, we hosted the tournament and they were the 7th seed losing to Lamar in the first round. The next year, while we were in San Antonio, they pulled off the upset of the tournament beating Sam Houston in the first round (they were 7th seed again) before losing to us on our way to the championship match. Last year, they were the 8th seed and lost to UCA in the first round.

Despite my picking on the 2011 team for scheduling one of the most puny non-conference schedules you could possibly imagine, this is still a team that scares me each time we play them. I think it was that 2009 upset that has stuck in my brain the last few times we've played.

The thing about Nicholls is that they really don't have a marquee player. Probably their best player from last year was libero Danielle Daigle. Make no mistake: Daigle was a quality NCAA volleyball player. She was even ranked nationally at times based on her dig per set numbers last year. I'm not going to get deep into it, but it is absolutely clear that current coaches and or athletic administration and Daigle had a major falling out. Hey, you can Google it like anyone else, but the facts are that she didn't come back for her final year and instead left Nicholls and took an assistant coaching job at a Catholic high school in Houma, LA. Needless to say, all of that is unfortunate and ultimately, despite what some may claim, represented a step back in the teams' talent level and overall quality. Proof? There are 12 teams in the conference and Nicholls doesn't have a player (their libero - if they have one - more on that later) in the Top 10 in digs per set.

Last year, outside hitter Jennifer Brandt made my 3rd Team All-SLC team. The conference did not vote her a similar honor. I think Brandt is probably their best player, but Nicholls really spreads the offense around evenly. JUCO transfer middle blocker Sarah Terry has created a mini-buzz and is worth keeping in check at the net. She is currently 3rd in the conference in attack percentage at .331. I think that's pretty legit, but you do have to remember that all offensive numbers for Nicholls are skewed due to their poor quality of opponents from early in the year. Now, in Terry's defense, she has hit .309 in conference matches, which if she qualified for the leader board would still place her in the top 10.

Another player that several people this year have independently told me that they admire is Senior OH Rachel Yezak. She is probably the most likely player on the team to have a 'big match'. A six-rotation player, Yezak actually leads the team in digs as well as being 2nd behind Brandt in total kills. Yezak and transfer and Thibodaux native Kathyrn Stock have put up nearly identical numbers. Stock comes from both an athletic and influential family in the Thibodaux area, with many of her siblings also being able to play at the college level. Her sister also played volleyball at Nicholls.

One other sure starter for Nicholls is Junior middle blocker Jessica Addicks. She, like Brandt and Yezak, have historically held down the reputation as good, but probably not first tier, players when compared to counterparts around the Southland. Check out this comparison (all numbers are from 2011):

Player A: 178 kills, 1.96 kills per set, .241 attack %, 86 blocks, 0.95 blocks per set
Player B: 168 kills, 1.81 kills per set, .234 attack %, 91 blocks, 0.98 blocks per set

Those are equivalent numbers, huh? Pretty much dead on.

Player A is Jessica Addicks and Player B is our own Sabrina Burns. Now, you know.

So, Terry and Addicks at MB, Brandt and Stock on the outside and Yezak typically on the right side. That about covers who will do the attacking and blocking. The other two positions to discuss are setter and back row defense and that's where it gets foggy.

In some matches this year, Nicholls has used two setters: Senior Jordan Karst being the primary and Junior Nancy Taylor being the 2nd. Karst has started 16 matches, Taylor has started 6 and transfer Junior Nicole Lund has started three times. Now, these starts aren't mutually exclusive across Nicholls' 25 matches. For instance, several times they have run Karst and Taylor out there together. To give you an idea of the assist distribution, Karst has 530, Taylor has 218 and Lund has 107.

In the last five matches, Karst and Taylor have both started in three of the matches, while in the other two cases its just been Taylor. Now, there could be some injury issues or particular defensive alignments going on here that I don't know about since I haven't seen any tape, etc. But, the point is.. this isn't a slam dunk one-setter offense. So, who knows? In their last match against Southeastern earlier in the week, they won 3-2 and Karst had 49 assists and Taylor had 12. They both started in the first two sets, but then in the last three sets it was just Karst who saw the floor. Final analysis here: Uhhhhhh. ?????????

Finally, on to libero: Try and follow along, here:

Five matches ago: Sophomore Jennifer Dunn starts, but is replaced by fellow sophomore Carley McInnis for the rest of the match after the first set.

Four matches ago: McInnis starts, but after intermission, Dunn takes over for the rest of the match.

Three matches ago: All McInnis

Two matches ago: McInnis starts, but after intermission, Dunn takes over for the 3rd. You still with me?

Last match against Southeastern: All Dunn

Are you serious?

Final Analysis: "Dr. Daigle.... Dr. Danielle Daigle... please report to the court and don the libero jersey, please. Paging Dr. Daigle.... please report to the court and take over at libero as soon as possible."

Look, I know chemistry and stuff is important. But, hey... when dealing with players that make a difference:

Find.A.Way.To.Work.It.Out.Period.

'Cause otherwise... look at what a fine mess you got going on over on the back row. All you are doing is putting on a fashion show for the rest of the league. Overall, Nicholls is middle of the pack when it comes to team digs per set in the conference. But individually, no one on the club averages three per set. For comparison, wonderkid Maddie Hanlan averages five per set.

Prediction: SFA 3, Nicholls 1.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Should We Get Used to Playing HBU?

Wednesday at 6:30, SFA Volleyball will attempt to do something that no other Southland Conference school has done this year: Beat Houston Baptist, a member of the quite defunct Great West Conference, in volleyball.

To date, HBU has played (in order) Lamar, UTSA, Sam Houston, Texas State, Northwestern State, Southeastern Louisiana, and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Seven SLC schools. They've won every time.

By now, it is no secret to fans of schools in the Southland Conference that Texas State, UTSA and UTA are headed for the WAC. One reason I failed to do a "conference preview" article or interview any of Texas State or UTA's players when they came through is that they will be gone next year. No disrespect.. I just figure I should concentrate efforts on schools SFA fans will actually see in conference play again in the future. Which brings us to HBU. Could this team be a candidate for SLC membership?

The SLC currently has 9 schools on the books for 2012-2013. One issue is whether the conference would be happy with 10 members or if it would seek to replace all three of the schools who have left and get back to 12. The idea of going to 10 seems more plausible in the short term. What I am going to do here is just discuss possibilities. I have no inside information, nor do I expect to ever have such information. There are articles out there in the "cloud" and websites that anyone can go to and check to read up on this stuff. Some of what is presented here is motivated from
collegesportsinfo.com. Some people like that site, others think it is hogwash. As always, read and think for yourself on stuff like that. Some of the rest of what I write here is from various conversations I've had here and there and other articles I have read in the last year.

For the most part, when the Southland does look to expand/replace it has two choices: 1) Invite schools from similarly reputable conferences that are Division I, but are open to moving or 2) look to Division II schools looking to upgrade to Division I. Of course, a good chunk of this is driven by football. If the SLC could add a school that has a football presence, then in a lot of ways, this would be considered positive.

Let's take a look at possible conferences & teams that deserve a mention as possible additions to the SLC. There is clearly some opinion spinning in here, so do your own research to see if my suggestions are reasonable or not. I don't mean to imply that my list of schools here is exhaustive, but I think it is close.

First, one conference that has had its issues is the Great West. Many of this conferences' schools have recently left to join other conferences or in the process of leaving. The conference currently has only five schools competing in football and six in volleyball, but some of those schools are leaving. The six volleyball schools are geographically all over the map: HBU, North Dakota, Utah Valley, UT-Pan American, New Jersey Institute of Technology & Chicago State. Wow. Just Wow. What a mess.

A lot of people feel that any of those teams that got an invite from a larger, more stable conference would likely jump ship and join up with another group. Reading the "
HBU Football Plan" just screams "Southland" and I know that UTPA has been a school discussed before when SLC expansion comes up. Clearly, of the teams in the Great West, the two from Texas are the two most logical fits. My thoughts are that if you want to invite one of the two and get to 10 schools, then HBU is your pick. Purely for the Houston presence and not to be geographically biasing... but, Edinburg, TX is just a long, long way from... well.... anywhere.

What about other DI schools from more stable conferences, but still might consider leaving? One school I have always wished could be sucked in is Louisiana Tech. Ain't gonna happen. They have always been really geographically challenged by being a member of the WAC, but teams don't tend to move to conferences that they would see as decreasing visibility. I doubt LaTech would consider a move to the Southland an upgrade when it is clear schools like UTSA, Texas State and UTA are doing the opposite. Hey, did you know that LaTech WAS in Southland at one point? They were members from 1971 until1987.

About a month ago,
a report was put out via Twitter that Oral Roberts University, a member of the Summit League, was in contact with the Southland regarding a possible invitation. I have not been able to confirm or deny the validity of such a conversation, but the Summit League and the Sun Belt are two conferences similar enough to the Southland in terms of overall footprint that it makes sense to see what schools from these conferences could be targets. Other than Oral Roberts, a school of less than 3500 located in Tulsa, OK, the only other Summit League school that even looks intriguing to me is UMKC (Univ. of Missouri at Kansas City), if only for the presence of the league in a larger city. That's a long way from our current schools, though.

As far as the Sun Belt, a conference that former Southland member Louisiana-Monroe joined in 2005, the only school that does not have football is Arkansas-Little Rock (UALR). Here's the thing I like about UALR: They are about the same size as SFA and some other Southland schools. They have right at 13,000 students. It is obvious that they would be a perfect travel partner for UCA if they were in the Southland. The Sun Belt appears to be pretty stable as there tends to be less realignment talks out of that conference than others. But, despite this, the conference does house some familiar names. North Texas, ULM, UL-Lafayette, and Arkansas State are all former Southland Conference members. Of course, for some of those schools that was a LONG time ago. Troy also competed in the SLC as a football school for some years. They are our nearest "reasonable" geographic member conference, but it is not as though those schools are just itching to leave, and I don't know that the Southland would have anything better to offer them than what they currently have in the Sun Belt.

So, it looks to me that HBU, UTPA, Oral Roberts and UALR are the four Division I schools in neighboring conferences that either make some sense or have been rumored to be interested. The instability of the Great West points to HBU in my opinion. I wouldn't be surprised if they became a part of the SLC. That being said, I think Oral Roberts or UALR would be an overall better "get" for the conference.

Now, there are Division II schools out there that may look to make the leap to Division I. Some schools in the Southland locale that have at least been mentioned as thinking of making the upgrade athletically are: Tarelton State, West Texas A&M, North Alabama (that's a stretch to say they are in Southland area), Incarnate Word, Delta State (in Mississippi, same comment at UNA), Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma City University. Some of these schools belong to the DII Lone Star Conference and some others belong to the DII Gulf South Conference. Others belong to neither of those. While I am sure that some of these are great places, I think we'd all admit that losing Texas State and UTSA and replacing them with two of these schools would be a tough pill to swallow. It'd be best to invite schools that already have Division I athletics and are looking to upgrade or slide across conferences for geographical reasons.

So, in the end, I think we might should get used to seeing HBU in town. I think they are a reasonable fit for the Southland. They sure have feasted on SLC Volleyball this year. I'd prefer UALR among all mentioned here, I think. The size of the school appeals to me on several levels. Maybe we could bring them in with the promise that they'd eventually add football. HBU and Oral Roberts are really small campuses. Nicholls is the smallest school in the Southland and they are roughly twice as big in terms of enrollment as HBU and Oral Roberts.

There is one other thing to think about. What about the Southland Conference Volleyball Tournament with only nine or ten teams in the conference? What about the conference schedule? It seems to me that with nine teams, you might could just abort the "East/West" idea and go back to lumping everyone in one pot and play each other twice. That would create 16 conference games, just like we have now. Even if you had 10 teams, you might could do this and just play 18 conference games rather than 16. You know, I get the feeling that - at least in terms of volleyball - not many people like the "East/West" split standings thing.

Finally, in terms of the end-of-the-year tournament, I think it only makes sense to drop it to six teams, with the top two obtaining byes. Day One of the tournament could be Seed 3 vs. Seed 6 and Seed 4 vs. Seed 5. Then Seed 1 could play the winner of 4/5 and Seed 2 could play the winner of 3/6 on Day 2. The championship would still be on Day 3. It doesn't seem reasonable to have an eight team tournament with only 9 or 10 teams in the conference.

Monday, October 17, 2011

UTA Postgame & Exhibit A

I'm sorry this post is a little late. I haven't felt too good the last couple of days - sinus infection & head cold. You can hear it a little bit in the interview below! After the match against UTA (which was AWESOME by the way), I got a brief conversation in with Katzy Randall and Leslie Jackson. You can hear their comments below.

I want to thank the many people that commented on the post from last week. I got a handful of emails and had several conversations at Shelton Gym during the week about the points that were being made. The response was overwhelmingly positive to what I was attempting to communicate. Some were concerned that I'd get a negative backlash from it. I did not - and I didn't expect to when I penned the article. People that know me well are aware of where my allegiances lie. I all but bleed SFA Volleyball at times. Constructive - and I think, relatively light - criticism is natural in sports (and in academics -my "real world"). When the balance of all my words written in these spots is evaluated, it is definitively shaded to the extreme positive. I can rest comfortably knowing the truth in that.

I heard from coaches around the league, parents (both ours and from other clubs) and yes, I discussed the post with some of our own coaches. Some of their comments really made me feel good about what I am trying to do in this space.

In case anyone is still confused as to what my motivation was... I present to you Exhibit A below.

In the interview with Randall & Jackson, you hear Les talk about Houston Baptist possibly being interested in our conference. This serves as a perfect segue to the next post which will appear in the next day or two about the upcoming conference realignment. This post about possible replacements for UTA, UTSA and Texas State will appear in lieu of SLC5 this week.

Be in Shelton Gym on Wednesday at 6:30 as we take on HBU and again on Saturday as we square off with Nicholls at 1:00.

Postgame with Katzy Randall & Leslie Jackson:


video

Exhibit A to go along with post of 10/9:




Tuesday, October 11, 2011

SLC5: Greatest Hits Edition

SLC5 focuses on last week's best individual offensive performances, applauds the conference SID's for their Player of the Week voting and attempts to set the record for the most usages of the word "props" in a single audio recording.

Happy digging, setting and spiking this week volleyball fans!




video

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Re-Evaluation: There is Still Enough Time

Time for a little reflection. Are the 2011 Ladyjacks meeting expectations from before the season? Are they a disappointment to this point? What?

I'm going to go against my personal grain a little bit here. I'm used to - both in posts and in audio recaps like SLC5 - going heavy on the stats for my justifications. I think I could make a statistical defense for my points in this post, but I choose not to for the most part. I am going to go with my eyes and with my gut this time.

Are we underachieving? On par? A conference tournament team? Rebuilding? Reloading? Organized? Confused? I'll try and address most of all of this under the caveat that I always lay down: I am a self-trained volleyball semi-expert, with the massive emphasis on "semi". I am a fan. And I am perfectly happy to be disagreed with.

My overall gut reaction to the 2011 Ladyjacks is that we have slightly underachieved to date. To go from out of the tournament last year to top of the conference this year is too much to ask. I had early season conversations with coaches and players whose themes were "Why not us and why not now?". Fine. Love it. Don't shoot under the mark. Go for broke. I get it.

Problem is: There was little chance of this team dominating the conference. Why? Not enough returning strength. Plus, the 2010 recruiting class hasn't produced a solid-every match type player and the 2011 class just brought in can't be counted on to make a dominant impact.

Toward these last two points:

I don't understand what this team wants Les Jackson to do? At the beginning of the year, she held down the right side. But now, Ivy has assumed this role and I don't think we know what to do or how to use Jackson now. She played a lot as a freshman and was assumed strong enough to garner a lot of court time early, but lately it's hit-or-miss with playing time for her. I just don't see a plan. I'm confused. She's got a role, right? What is it?


Pannone just can't be 100%. I'm not giving anything away by writing that. How can you watch her and think she is 100% healthy? Most every match I've seen her play in recently, she is noticeably limping in late sets. So, what do we expect her to do given that she isn't healthy? She didn't play against Southeastern La. so maybe this point has finally been realized. But still, there were times when I've wondered why we have even tried to play her? Not because she hasn't got innate skills - she does. I mean, she's probably the best overall player from the 2010 incoming class. But, why put her out there if she is physically limited?

And thus ends any production from that recruiting class, 'cause the rest of it is gone. We are paying for that recruiting year being a bust. Too strong a word? I think not. Jackson and Pannone are good players, but only two of five players brought in for 2010 on the current roster isn't good. You don't need two of five each year to be retained.. you need (on average) two of five each year to start and become integral.

As far as the freshman go - we've been over all this before, right? There are some nice pieces here. Holland has done a good job at setter. From what I heard and read about her coming in and from what I've seen, I think she is just about as advertised. It is clear that Randall, Ivy and Gross all are collegiate quality volleyball players. So far, I think about Gross what I think about Jackson: What are we doing with her? One day in the lineup, the next day out. One day first off the bench, the next day deep on it.


You know, we all recognize that this team has struggled with consistency. That's the mark of a young team. But, its tough to establish consistency when the majority of players on a team don't have a definitive role with only 10 games to go in the season. I think, more than anything, that points to why we aren't headed for a top seed in the tournament. Good teams have players that step up, take roles and establish enough consistency that when one or two poor matches come along, the coaching staff has enough faith in those players to leave them in their role and keep going. Frankly put - this team doesn't have close to that. And I think all involved share a little responsibility.

Rest assured. If we lose a couple of matches in a row... the lineup and player usage WILL be different the next time out. I am fine with that while we are playing tournaments. I am not fine with that half way though conference play - which is where we will be this week.

What are you saying, Greg? Just let players not play well and keep throwing them out there? Yes and No. No, in the long term, but Yes, to a degree, in the short term.

I am saying that we have not had enough players step up and claim roles while also saying that I believe we are mixing and matching our rotations and players way too much.

As an example: the role of the three rotation DS? First of the year: Hill. Middle of the Year: Hall. Last two matches: Spicer. The problem with playing the "hot hand" is that those hands don't tend to stay hot. Figure out who the best person is for the role. Put them in there and let it ride a little longer than a week before shuffling the entire deck again. Ok, enough on that.

One big problem in 2010: Not enough offense. Has this really changed in 2011? Look, has it not been established yet that SFA needs a power left side hitter? I'm talking a high-jumping, aggressive, beat you down, I'm coming after you - you son of a gun - cannon armed, left side hitter. Hey, despite the loss at Louisiana-Monroe earlier in the season, I swear that anyone who watched that match or a tape of it would say that Katsy Randall fit that bill that night. I have had THREE coaches at other schools talk to me about her performance in that match.

But, the big question is: How much of Randall's inability to replicate that is her own health with her foot and how much of it is her youth and inexperience?

The bottom line is: For whatever reasons you want to point to - We still don't get enough from our left side hitting. Not even close. Say what you will about hitting percentage. We've chronicled that statistic's positives and negatives in this space before, but look.. what do you think we are hitting from the left pin? Go look at it. It's got to be less than .119, which is what Randall is hitting on the year. Bottles, Burns, Jackson, Holland, and Ivy have next to no attacks from the left pin. They are the only players hitting above .119 on the team averaging more than 4 attacks per match. So, that means if we could look at all the attacks from the left pin, we are probably hitting around .100 or .110. That doesn't need any additional comment.

So, what about the returning starters? I guess that represents Bottles, Burns, Hanlan and Miksch.

Bottles offense is pretty much in line with the last two years, but her blocking is down.

Burns' numbers are up all across the board. She deserves a ton of credit. She is clearly a better player now than at any time prior in her career.

Liberos are sometimes tough to evaluate statistically, but Hanlan's dig numbers are higher now than at any time prior in her career. I think she looks solid. Like Burns, I can't see her being the issue in terms of the teams' underachievement.

Miksch's numbers are down. I think she is the type of player that really suffers when her role isn't stable. But, if she is going to play back row rotations only, then her dig per set numbers can improve.

So, what do we take from all this? Shared responsibility.

As a whole, our Seniors could play a tad better and more consistently.
As a whole, our young players are getting valuable experience in their first year, but should never have been counted on to change a 12-19 (5-11) season that much.
As a whole, our decisions as to who has what role should be defined and some greater faith cast when things fall off the track for a match or two.

I know this post could be categorized as primarily negative. But, get serious. We are 3-4 in the SLC. Look at the remaining conference schedule:

Home: Texas State, UTA, Nicholls, TAMUCC, UTSA
Road: Texas State, UTA, McNeese, Lamar.

How many total conference wins to secure a tournament birth? Eight? Maybe, Seven? Do you see four or five games in that lot where we would be the favorite?

Well, actually, yes. Yes, I think I do, but barely.


Look, I hope we go 9-0 in conference play the rest of the way. Everyone knows that. Nothing less should be the goal. It would be unbelievably awesome to get our play going consistently and make some statements to teams like Texas State and UTSA.

But, when you look at that schedule, it could very well be that the matches against Nicholls and the last two on the road in Lake Charles and Beaumont are where it all lies as far as getting to go to Conway in late November.

There is still enough time to meet expectations. There are still enough matches remaining to improve upon all of what has been mentioned here and go into the off-season believing that 2010 was improved upon and 2012 will be better than both 2010 and 2011. There is still a chance to make statements and assert ourselves and safely enter the conference tournament with a chance to cause some trouble.

There is still enough time. Texas State will be tough, but two wins against UTA and Nicholls and strong, consistent play across the next two weeks is no longer optional - it is essential.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Live Chat: SFA vs. SHSU