Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Setting Down with Alex Morford of Lamar

Setters are hard to evaluate. Being a statistician, my tendency is, of course, to uses a players’ numbers to argue for her relative value. But this is particularly dangerous in the case of analyzing setters. The only mainstream statistic for their position is assists, and that particular stat has its flaws. First off, setters numbers are undeniably confounded by the quality of a teams’ passing. Put the most talented setter you can think of on a team that can’t receive serve or pass during a rally and the setter isn’t going to put up huge assist numbers. Of course, the flip side of this is that a good passing team can mask a setters’ flaws: the more good passes, the more opportunities for an assist from even a marginally talented setter.

By comparison, three-rotation outside hitters are way more easier to evaluate with numbers. If a girl has little to no passing responsibility, but swings 500 times a year and hits Bing-0-Eighty Four for her attack percentage? Well, that club is more than likely better off distributing the ball to someone else. I’m not trying to oversimplify, I am just pointing out that not all numbers are created equal in evaluating sports performance – a fact I really hope you’ve considered by now and a fact that all us baseball junkies are used to.

Kym Loving graduated from Sam Houston State last year, but during her last two years as quarterback for the Bearkats, her father would tell me that he had spreadsheets that he kept at home that combined all sorts of statistics in an attempt to quantify the total contribution of a setter. I’ve dabbled with stuff like that too. There is some measure of value in it, but I’ve always ditched my attempts to date. See, ultimately, I think you could learn more about how to evaluate setters by listening to experienced players and coaches rather than ranking assists on a stat sheet.

One thing I have not taken enough advantage of during the years is the fact that Debbie Humphreys has had former setters as assistant coaches. I talked with Brian Yale.. but not really about how to evaluate setters. Same with LA. What I really need to do is to watch volleyball WITH someone like Lauren and then get her to break down the setters on each side for me.

I’m self taught and when you are self taught there are always things you miss that are critical to have learned that the athletes themselves learned early on. That’s how I feel about evaluation of setters. I’ve watched a lot of volleyball, but I still don’t think I am very good at watching setters and knowing what specifically to watch for.

That fault admitted, I do know this: When conversations with players and coaches around the league concerning setters come up… over the last few years Alex Morford at Lamar is often in the conversation. I won’t divulge all sources, but other than our own head coach, I’ve already had two other Southland coaches independently say to me how important they think Morford is to Lamar’s success and that they admire her style and quality of play.

Morford had tough shoes to fill. The setter at Lamar before her was Adrienne Meengs and there may have been setters as good as her come into the league over the last three years (Collins at UCA, possibly Morford herself?), but there hasn’t been ANYONE LIKE HER come into the league recently. Meengs was a dangerous, dangerous left handed (and frequent) attacker. She was a nightmare to try and account for while creating a defensive strategy. After the 2009 SLC tournament, I couldn’t help myself. I hadn’t had one word with Meengs during her four years at Lamar, but I couldn’t take it anymore: I just walked right up to her after a match and told her that I was impressed and that she was a joy to watch play. She was probably 21 and I was 40 at the time.. she had to think I was stupid and gushy, but I didn’t care. She played the position differently than her peers.

But now, when I watch Morford play, what I admire is the fire as well as the ability. I asked her about her countenance in the interview you can listen to below. We have some very different styles among our SLC setters right now and it’s interesting to watch effective play come from different dispositions. You can’t help but remember some players’ “look” or swagger while on the court. In years past, Morford has either grown her hair just long enough to wear two short ponytails or cut it short enough to just keep it back with a wide headband. Even those “looks” radiate a controlled version of sassy, which is a phase that I think fits her well.. and I mean it as a compliment.

So, all things considered, when she draws such raves from the experts in the league and plays with such energy, she was an easy pick to interview while in Beaumont. I had the pleasure once again of being welcomed “behind the scenes” at McDonald Gym. They have a wonderful complex with playing surface, coaches’ offices, very nice training room, lounge complete with TV, locker rooms and classrooms for team meetings all within a hallways’ distance of each other. Coach Justin Gibert has always been gracious with me – allowing me to access some of these areas and conduct these interviews.

I want to thank Coach Gibert and especially Alex for sacrificing her time to sit down and talk about setting, the outlook for Lamar, the transition from playing for her Mom in high school to Gibert in Beaumont along with other things. Check out the interview below and keep your eye on her when she returns to Nacogdoches in a few weeks. If you do, you might learn something.