I just got back from dinner and am now comfortably in a warm hotel room in Conway, Arkansas. Like a lot of people around here, I am pretty excited about tomorrow's full day of tournament action. When I got to the hotel just about a mile north of the UCA campus this afternoon, the attendant at the front desk saw the SFA logo on my shirt and asked if I was in town for "the tournament". Surprised that she knew about such tournament, I said yes and then she proceeded to tell me that a parent from Northwestern State had just checked in a few minutes before me.
A parent from Northwestern State. They are here. They came. Some of their girls' parents came. It's real. Northwestern State Demon Volleyball - those youngin's - they made the tournament and have a date with #1 seed Texas State tomorrow afternoon.
Folks - Sometimes, you just have to admit you are wrong. No excuses. No "Yeah, buts".. just say the words: I...was...wrong.
So there it is. Sometimes we write, say and think things that turn out to just be wrong. I have referred to this post many times this year. But, virtually all of those times it was to remind you that I had Sam Houston picked higher than most and that people should expect them to be a high seed in the tournament that we are now on the eve of.
But, I wrote something else in that post. I wrote something that turned out to be quite wrong. Seriously, go back and read it. You'll find all sorts of silly stuff about NSU. To wit:
"Look, you can't judge this team in 2011. You can't judge it in 2012. The next time Northwestern State Volleyball deserves a serious look in terms of the program making strides is 2013 or so. I'm sure that the Hernesman's have given plenty of rah-rah speeches to to rally the troops, but the truth is the team can't be expected to do much other than show up and play hard. After a few years of seeing what these new recruits have to offer, it's possible the Demons can start talking about moving up a notch in the conference."
Uhhh. Well? Hmmmm. Yeah. I wrote that.
And, it is wrong.
There are four other teams sitting at home right now watching re-runs of some boring sit-com while the coaches, players, staff, families and fans of the other 8 are chomping at the bit to get out there tomorrow and make it happen. And somewhere.. within probably a mile of where I am currently sitting are the Hernesman's, their assistants and staff, their players, parents and fans. Each one of them rightfully proud that flippant posts like mine on September 14 didn't mean a darn. Idiot. Wow. Time to eat some crow.
Two second year coaches, nine freshman, two sophomores and a junior. The group deserves some credit.
On September 14, I thought Northwestern State was second only to Southeastern Louisiana in terms of being at the bottom of the barrel in the Southland Conference. I would not have argued with you if you told me that you thought they would finish dead last and struggle to win ANY conference games. In this crazy year, where 6-10 and 7-9 teams are playing in the postseason, count NSU in rather than out.
What an accomplishment. Hey, when you lose 10 out of 16 conference games and play in the weaker East side of the conference, there is still a lot that didn't go right. But, for today, lets celebrate what did go right. Let's be honest and say "good job", because what happened here is pretty amazing.
This team plays basically seven players and six of them are freshman. The typical lineup for Northwestern State is OH DiFrancesco (2011 SLC Freshman of the Year), OH Jimenez, MB Coleman, RS Neely, OH Hajka, S Sweet and L Arneson. Of that group, all but Hajka are freshman. Well, they were. I say they've grown up rather quickly. After this weekend, we can call them sophomores, right?
It'd be easy to use youth as an excuse, wouldn't it? We're too young. We have no leaders. We have no experience. Why should we win? Let's just hope we don't get swept tonight? Let's just have fun. Just get used to the speed of the game. This is our practice year. No one expects us to win. The next time Northwestern State Volleyball deserves a serious look in terms of the program making strides is 2013 or so.
But, no. That is not what they said. It couldn't have been. Had they believed what I believed they'd be in Natchitoches right now.
Instead, they beat Louisiana-Lafayette, beat Nicholls State twice, beat host Central Arkansas here in the very city where I sit now, beat McNeese and got the two against lowly Southeastern to get their necessary six wins and earn the right to come back to Conway. Hey, look, I know this news isn't quite as impressive as UTSA going months before even losing a set in conference, but c'mon... this team was picked to finish 10th and only one vote in each poll from being picked next to last. So, if I was voting (oh, yeah, like THAT would have gone over well with the NSU faithful), then they would have been picked 11th. Southeastern Louisiana was universally seen as really struggling and headed for the cellar and then there was Northwestern State.
So, in open forum.. right here in the same place where I so carelessly dismissed the club, its time to eat crow. This was nice to see. Think about the experience all these girls will take home with them. They can legitimately build on this. This young team accomplished a goal that they can try and up next year.
I know we are all focused on questions like: Will it be UTSA and Texas State in the final? Will Sam Houston pull off more upsets? Will Lamar get another shot at Texas State at tournament time like in years past? Will UCA get their act together and take advantage of playing host? And of course, those of us from SFA are asking: Can we sequence it all together? Can we play like we are capable of playing and pull off an upset? Hey, these are all legitimate questions and that's the fun of this weekend.
But, when player of the year Amber Calhoun and 1st team all SLC and this blog's player of the year Amari Deardorff, and 1st team all SLC setter Caleigh McCorquodale and Coach of the Year Karen Chisum walk out on the floor tomorrow afternoon... guess who they'll be looking across the net towards?
Sophomores DiFrancesco, Jimenez, Coleman, Neely, Sweet & Arneson.. and don't forget Senior Hajka.
Yeah, go ahead and give 'em the new label.
They've earned it.
Freshmen no more.