Thursday, August 30, 2012

Southland Arithmetic: Subtraction

With SFA in North Dakota and about to begin the second weekend of tournament play for the 2012 season, we take our first look around the Southland Conference. In two weeks, the ‘Jacks will open SLC play against the Demons of Northwestern State in Shelton Gym. So, this is a good time to begin scanning rosters and sizing up our eventual competition. By the way, new speakers were hung in Shelton Gym today and we are hoping to do a little initial testing on the new sound system on Friday.

This post is actually going to have two parts because we’ll look at freshman making an impact early on in the conference in about two weeks. That will complete the pre-conference play puzzle in terms of analyzing rosters because for now we will look at losses rather than gains. For each SLC team, let’s take a look at what was lost during the off-season and the potential impact of those losses heading into the 2012 slate.

Central Arkansas
Key Losses
: Cristin Curl
Impact of Losses: Minimal. Curl was an outstanding player – truly one of the best liberos in the conference the last several years. But, she is really the only impact loss UCA suffers and Shelbee Berringer should step right in.
Key Returners: (6) S Marissa Collins, DS Shelbee Berringer, MB Jessica Nagy, MB Taylor Hammonds, RS Jessica Hays (returns from injury), MB/OH Alicia Dettrich.
New: Five freshman which includes one redshirt.
Outlook: Strong. This is the team to beat in the Southland. They are as good a bet as any to be playing for the Southland Conference Tournament championship on their own floor in November.

Key Losses: Megan McStravick (transfer to HBU), Angel Colyar
Impact of Losses: Minimal. McStravick was a key contributor on offense, but Lamar has enough attackers to cover for her loss. Colyar and additional loss Bailey Smith leave a small hole, but again.. not overly substantial.
Key Returners: (5) MB Christina Hobbs, MB Wendy Krell, OH Cynthia McCollum, S Alex Morford, OH Sierra Whittaker
New: Eight freshman including one redshirt.
Outlook: Potential Noisemakers. Not as strong as UCA on paper in my opinion, but one of the "top half" teams in the conference and capable of upsetting some in the very top tier. A four seed seems about right come November. I don’t think they have enough to string together a top seed and a tourney final appearance, but they might get one of those two.

Key Losses: Nicole Bowden, Katie Kennedy, Taylor Bustamento, Becky Bekelja
Impact of Losses: Major. Bowden and Kennedy graduate and leave two holes on the front row. Setter Bekelja somehow gets a transfer release to play at Southeastern La. & I have no idea what happened to Bustamento, who was more than decent on the right side.
Key Returners: (2) L Whitney Ellisor, OH Rachel Cagnina
New: Six freshman and two transfers.
Outlook: Bleak. Veteran MB Shaundrea Boulden and OH Maegan Carelton will need to step up or this team is going to be playing essentially all new girls. Now, that might not be bad, but the team is very young and will be in danger of being one of the two teams left at home at the end of the year. Several players have left this program curiously (Massengale, Bekelja, Bustamento), so it is clear the club is trying to start anew and create a new regime and identity. This is the year I get off the McNeese bandwagon.

Nicholls State
Key Losses: Rachel Yezak, Jordan Karst
Impact of Losses: Minimal to Moderate. Nicholls always seems to be stacked with a lot of good, but not great players. File Yezak in that camp. This team never seems to go very far forward, but doesn’t take many steps back either. They have enough returning to hang around the middle of the conference and possibly play the role of spoiler at some point.
Key Returners: (5) OH Kathryn Stock, MB Jessica Addicks, DS Jennifer Dunn, MB Sarah Terry, OH Jennifer Brandt.
New: Two freshmen and two transfers.
Outlook: Hopeful. With a new head coach in place and a lot of returners the team can hope that it takes to new leadership and hovers around .500 in league play. They’ve got enough to get to Conway, but it’s hard to see a big step forward coming this year. Look for a seven or eight seed, here. Possibly higher if the newcomers make an impact.

Northwestern State
Key Losses: None
Impact of Losses: None
Key Returners: (7) OH Stacy DiFrancesco (’11 Freshman of Year), MB/RS MacKenzie Neely, OH Kelly Jimenez, OH Nicole Hajka, L Keelie Arneson, S Emily Sweet, MB Vanessa Coleman
New: Four freshman which includes one redshirt.
Outlook: Oh no, I ain’t making the same mistake twice. Last year written off – this year, I’m on the train. Things are turning up in Natchitoches. The question is: How fast will they progress? Like Nicholls, I’d pick them around 7th, but if they gel faster than what I project then they might upset some people and finish higher. There is something to be said for walking into Fall camp knowing you can throw the exact same lineup on the floor as the previous year. Except now.. the team has had a small taste of what it takes to succeed.

Oral Roberts
Key Losses: Elizabeth McVicker
Impact of Losses: Minimal. McVicker was a very strong player for ORU, but the club has decent depth and returns the entire cast that was around her, so there is just one hole to plug going into 2012.
Key Returners: (6) OH Olivia Ophus, MH/OH Joana Gruber, MB Jessica Pancratz, L Bruna Silva, MB Sheina Fernandes, S Laura Taylor.
New: Three freshmen.
Outlook: Strong. A clear top tier team in the SLC as they begin play with us. Get familiar with Silva: you’ll see and hear her name a lot during the year. The international composition of this team is different than what you see on most league rosters. I think they cause their share of fits. I’ll take either ORU or Sam Houston to face UCA in the tournament final.

Sam Houston State
Key Losses: Carli Kolbe, Kym Loving, Kelly Stewart
Impact of Losses: Substantial, but not as much as you might think. Look, losing Kolbe would be a massive hole to fill for any squad and the fiery Loving will be missed too. However, the coaches’ daughter takes over at setter and this team was deep last year which will allow it to fill holes admirably. I’m high on Kendall Cleveland, but the Bearkats have other weapons to help ease the pain of losing a dynamo like Kolbe.
Key Returners: (5) MB Haley Neisler, S Tayler Gray, MB Kim Black, OH Kendall Cleveland, UTIL Kaylee Hawkins
New: Five freshman which includes one redshirt plus one transfer
Outlook: Headed toward a top seed. “They lost Kolbe, so they won’t be as good”. Go ahead. Believe that. I won’t say I told you so when they finish third and wind up either in or barely missing the conference championship game. Like I said above, ORU will be tough. My reading and studying tells me to pick a UCA/ORU final, but my gut tells me it will be UCA/SHSU. So I can officially be on record for better or for worse, I am going to go with my gut.

Southeastern Louisiana
Key Losses: Paige Dollison, Kinsey Williams
Impact of Losses: Minimal. SLU is a work in progress and they return the majority of their key players from last year. It’s not like a lot can go out the door when there really wasn’t a lot in the gym to begin with.
Key Returners: (5) L Megan McMillan, DS Taylor Buckner, MB Courtney Donald, S Lindsey Young, OH Elizabeth Ramee. The addition of McNeese transfer setter Becky Bekelja is officially a return to the conference, but new to SLU.
New: Bekelja and six freshmen.
Outlook: A long way to go. That being said, with 8 of 10 teams going to Conway, this looks like a window of opportunity to sneak in the final slot and earn the right to be UCA’s first victim. I don’t think that will happen, but it’s a reasonable goal for a team on paper that looks like it should finish at or near the bottom. Regular readers may recall that I always thought more highly of former McNeese MB Nicole Bowden than others. Now that Bowden has finished playing, I’ll shift my underrated MB tag to Donald.

Texas A&M Corpus Christi
Key Losses: None, really.
Impact of Losses: Minimal. There are four players that were on the roster at this time last year that currently are not. They lose Senior Jessica Korda along with Jordan Flemmer. MB Tina Chivas is no longer an Islander and public address announcers everywhere favorite Isabella Arcidiacono (say it five times fast) is also gone. I thought Arcidiacono was going to be a star, but oh, well.
Key Returners: (6 plus?) L Micah Nolan (fairly underrated), OH Shannon Hullum, MB Brooke Alverson, OH Brianna Brink, S Logen Borque DS Renee Ramirez. TAMUCC also played OH Sarah Sanchez and DS Shelby Coppedge substantially last year and they also return.
New: Eight freshman including one redshirt and two transfers. Good gracious!
Outlook: I have no idea. Some folks I’ve talked to are actually kind of high on TAMUCC this year – believing that Graystone has been at the helm long enough now to see some big strides take place in 2012. I think I’ll hold off judgment on them. They are actually one of the teams I am watching carefully in the early going because I am just not sure what to make of the Islanders. I’ve seen Micah Nolan play some serious libero and as readers know.. back row defense is my favorite part of the game as a fan.

Stephen F. Austin
Key Losses: MC Bottles, Melissa Miksch
Impact of Losses: Minimal to Moderate. Bottles is clearly hard to replace since her offense from the MB position was so strong. Sabrina Burns is ready to take over leadership in the middle and the combination of redshirt freshman Jacque Allen and true freshman Cara Leslie will bridge some (but, not all) of the gap. I think Randall, if healthy, can cover the loss of Miksch as a six rotation L2. The ‘Jacks could certainly have used Taylor Gross (transfer to UTA), but hopefully Tori Bates exceeds her freshman offensive output from a year ago. Plus, Bates can play defense, too.
Key Returners: (5) MB Sabrina Burns, L Maddie Hanlan, S Paige Holland, RS Jill Ivy, OH Katzy Randall. SFA also returns Janet Hill who while wasn’t overly key in 2011, looks to be integral on the back row plans for 2012.
New: Seven freshmen including one redshirt plus one transfer.
Outlook: Mostly sunny with a chance of occasional showers. A leap to the top tier isn’t probable. One can hope – a true fan always does – but a team that is trying to reclaim its relevance must get to .500 first. We were close last year and we should be there or a tick above in 2012. A mid-level seed is attainable – could be higher if Lamar and Sam Houston disappoint. Could be lower if Northwestern State takes a big leap and teams like Nicholls and TAMUCC turn out to be more than tournament filler.

Next up for the weekend: Interview with UTPA Head Coach & former SFA Assistant Brian Yale.