Sunday, August 19, 2012

Veteran Previews: Paige Holland & Jill Ivy

This years' veteran previews begins with the sophomore class and we'll break this up into two installments. Later in the week I will share with you interviews with OH Katzy Randall and DS Janet Hill, but our focus in this post will be sophomore setter Paige Holland along with favorite target on the right side Jill Ivy.

As mentioned in the first post to start off this season a few weeks ago, I am committed to doing more interviews this year, both with our club and coaches/players from around the Southland Conference. So, unlike in years past where these previews were exclusively online interview transcripts, we'll add an audio component to the previews as well. Hopefully, posts like this will connect you more to the girls on our club and provide a more "real" experience as you actually get to listen to athletes as well as read their answers to questions I've posed to them.

Probably the player that had the longest leash last year on our club was freshman Paige Holland. Not that she needed it. Nonetheless, it was obvious that she was going to be tabbed the starter from early on in practices and that the year of Allison Gideon at the helm was one-and-done. Right from the get go, for better or for worse, Holland was going to be the setter without looking back.. or at least, that was the impression I got from the coaching staff before we even stepped on the court for our first match of 2011. All things considered, Holland didn't disappoint. She didn't finish in the top half of the conference in assists per set, but she didn't cause the offense to lag either. Remember, setters need good passes and their numbers are often correlated to how well back row players can dish to area SFA struggled with at times during '11.

Holland did enough to instill confidence going forward and there was no reason to go looking for a replacement coming into 2012. We are probably better with Rister as a backup going into this year than we have been in that role for the last two years, but Holland will be the primary and all indications are that a step forward is coming. I'd look for the assists per set to slide above 10.00 this year and for her soon to be considered one of the top four or five setters in the Southland.

Jill Ivy didn't start off 2011 carrying nearly the load that she began carrying mid-way through the season. About a month into last year, she settled in on the right side and wound up being second to senior MC Bottles in total kills and kills per set. This tells me two things: one that I've thought for a long time and one that Ivy proved during her freshman year - first, SFA needs more production off the left pin. I have long argued this and I believe it firmly. The return to the top of the conference will correspond with a dominating left side attack. While running a lot more through middles than other teams in the conference, to have your leading two attackers be the M1 and the RS points to an area that needs improvement. Secondly, though, Ivy proved she can play and handle a large load. Health permitting, she's as good as a sure thing that SFA has on the front row and the conference agrees tabbing her a pre-season All-SLC pick.

What follows is a transcript of a Facebook chat the three of us had and then at the bottom of the post you'll find the audio component that was taped after the intrasquad scrimmage last Saturday. For what it's worth, I thought both girls were impressive in the scrimmage. Holland was on the mark for most of the afternoon and Ivy is clearly contacting the ball at a higher point that she was during 2011.

SFAVB: Jill, what is the #1 thing that you are most looking forward to this year? Are there any personal goals that you are particularly hopeful that you can achieve as you begin your sophomore season?

JI: The #1 thing I'm looking forward to the most is conference play. Last year, I don't think I had a good sense of the rivalries between SFA and other universities because I was only a freshman. Now, I can remember the wins and losses of last year and use them to create new personal rivalries. I have set a few personal goals for myself, like an all-conference pick, but the number one goal for me is winning conference tournament and getting a bid to the NCAA tournament. I believe that with the talent and heart we all bring to the court this year, winning conference and conference tournament is not only achievable but inevitable.

SFAVB: Paige, what about you, is there one component of your game are you most looking to improve upon during your sophomore season?

PH: This season I am really hoping to improve upon my front row game and also in the consistency of my play. If I am more aggressive as a front row setter and have the attention of the blockers on the other side of the net, our hitters will have more openings and be more successful. Also, if my sets are more consistent every game the hitters will be able to accurately time their approaches and find more openings in the block.

SFAVB: Following up on that, while on front row, what indicators or behaviors do you look for in opposing players to know where weak spots in defenses exist? What things are you watching for as a setter on the opponents’ side of the net?

PH: The main thing I look for on the other side of the net is a weakness in the block. If there is a short outside or a front row setter on the other side of the net, we usually attack that weakness as much as possible.

SFAVB: Jill, you played all over the front row in high school & club, but settled in on the right side last year. For people who don’t stop to think about it, describe what is more challenging about attacking from the right side as opposed to the left.

JI: To me, the most difficult thing about being a right side is having to wait until the ball passes over your left arm (guide arm) to swing. On the outside [left] your right hand is closest to the ball so it is less difficult to contact smoothly. Also, being a right handed right side you sometimes have to deal with awkward angles especially when being set an out of system ball.

SFAVB: Of course, blocking as a right side is a big responsibility so describe what you see out of our starting middles that you will close blocks alongside: Sabrina is a senior and Jacque is just beginning.. describe what you see as the strength of each one of these teammates.

JI: First of all I just want to say that they are both amazing players! They both bring an incredible amount of hard work and heart to court. Sabrina's strength is closing the block. She does a great job at making sure she lines up properly with the pin hitter which eliminates the split, helping the defense get in their correct spots. Jacque's strength is her speed. She's incredibly fast which helps her get to the pins fast enough to get herself set and balanced.

SFAVB: Concerning teammates, Paige, give us a quick one sentence impression that you have about each of the new front row attackers that will be on the team this year.

PH: Tori [Bates]: Tori is so intimidating! She is such a powerful hitter, yet also knows how to place the ball with a roll shot or tip in order to get a kill. I am so thankful that she is on my team and not my opponent.

Keeley [Kainer]: Keeley is already such a talented hitter, and I know as the season goes on she is going to become an integral part of our success. I can't wait to set her this year!

Cara [Leslie]: Cara has so much force behind her arm swing and gets a kill almost every time she gets a set. She improves every single practice and it is awesome to watch her play!

[Sydney] Zoiber: Zo is awesome to have on the court! The energy and hustle that she brings to her side of the net is contagious and makes everyone raise their level of competition.

SFAVB: Jill, I’ve heard a lot of positive things about your work (and work ethic) in the weight room. Describe the effect that the strength and conditioning staff as well as the training staff has had on you while you’ve been at SFA.

JI: The strength and conditioning staff has definitely had a positive effect. It's obvious that they want us to all be the best we can be physically and mentally on, as well as off, the court. Working with Brittany [Castledine] has been great because since she is a former SFA Volleyball player, she knows how to get us in the shape we need to be in so we can be as strong in the fifth set as we were in the first. The training staff has also been extremely important because they help keep all of us healthy all year. They do a great job at checking out everything and anything that could be wrong and making sure we can get back on the court as soon as possible.

SFAVB: Paige, one thing that fans will notice this year is that you've changed uniform numbers from #11 to #1. Is there a story there?

PH: The switch of numbers is actually a really simple story. All of my life I have looked up to my sister in every way, and because of that I ended up copying basically her every move. So when she started playing volleyball in junior high, I immediately wanted to play also. From the very beginning she was #1 and I have always chosen that number ever since because of her. So as soon as MC graduated I asked Coach Humphreys for her jersey, and I am so excited to be #1 this year!

SFAVB, Finally, Jill, describe one of the most fun moments you can remember last year while the club was on a road trip. Is there a funny story or particularly strong memory you have about something that happened on the road at some time last year?

JI: The funniest moment I can remember is in the locker room before the game against McNeese. We were all waiting for Coach to come in and give us our pregame talk. After she said a few words she made us all get up and stand in front of a mirror. All of sudden she started to yell a quote from the movie "Cool Runnings". She told us to repeat it, and so we all started to yell, " I see pride.. etc.". It was so random but after that we played, I think, one of the best matches of the season which gave us our spot in the conference tournament. The quote brought us luck so we ended up making a t shirt for conference tournament out of it.

SFAVB: Many thanks to both Paige and Jill for the time they sacrificed, not only to return questions via Facebook, but also to sit down and have the chat that you can listen to below: