Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Most Epic Music Video Ever

Ok, I don't normally re-post stuff.  Geez, I barely "retweet" anything on twitter.  But, this?  This has to be shared.  I gotta do my part to help this go viral, 'cause this.. well, this is just pure awesomeness.  Awesomeness isn't a word?  Well, it is after this video.

Forget all that actual volleyball tournament serious analysis junk I posted up here last night.  Just go watch this video.  The stars of the show are Keeley Kainer, Les Jackson, Amanda Rister & Paige Holland... along with the apparent ringleader of this escapade.. the incomparable Laiken Britt.

You will never.. and I mean NEVER, hear the song "I Believe In a Thing Called Love" by The Darkness and not have your memory seared forever by what you are about to witness.  I've warned you... this is pure incredibleness.  Not a word?  Pssssst.  Haven't we covered that grammar is out the window once you watch this?

Just... just.. just... hit the link:

I Believe in a Thing Called Love.. SFA VB Style

Monday, October 29, 2012

#3 Through #6: Really No Difference

First things first: I know that posts have been a little more scarce during October, so let me address some things that a few of you have asked about. First, and unfortunately, as some of you know, my wife and children were in a car accident last week on the way home from school. Each of us can probably remember a time or two where our world stopped on a dime and getting the call from my son that they had been in a wreck certainly put me in “drop everything” mode. After a few x-rays to make sure no bones were broken, my wife and oldest son are bruised, but recovering. Rather divinely, my two youngest children barely had a scratch on them – which if you saw the condition that the family van is in post-accident, would make you a believer in angels if you weren’t already. Of course, I’ve believed for quite some time now.

Secondly, more of you probably know that at one point this month it looked like I was headed for shoulder surgery. Many days of throwing a little white sphere known as a baseball, both in my youth and during my adulthood while working with my kids, combined with this years’ weightlifting hobby sent my shoulder into a big knot. Expecting a torn rotator cuff, I had an MRI which again thankfully came back negative, but I have been in rather intense physical therapy for the last three weeks. I may get full range of motion back or I may not. That’s left to be seen, but I am learning how to stretch and contort my arm in all sorts of ways as the physical therapist basically says I have a “frozen” right shoulder (capsulitis for you med-heads out there).

Now all of the above isn’t out there for a pity party, I just felt like I owed the readership a small explanation. During the middle of the season, I am usually writing twice a week, but that’s been cut down this month due to life’s unforeseen little surprises. We all have them and my family and I choose to maintain perspective and seek out what God is asking us to learn during small trials. I have become aware of so many other people around me that are truly suffering in comparison to our bruises, dings and aches. I’m genuinely trying to be less selfish and focus more on others and how I might be able to help them. There is something therapeutic about reaching out to people who are truly hurting. Perspective is everything and I clearly see that I am blessed. Blessed to have a loving family, a fantastic and flexible job and wonderful extended family amongst my hobbies – such as volleyball.

This post is the summary of a conclusion I have come to while tracking SFA and a few other SLC teams that are hovering around them in the standings. My premise is: there is little difference this year in what appear to be the middle seeded teams in the conference tournament. Now, I know that we still have two weeks left to sort these seeds out and that wacky things could and maybe will actually happen, but my guess is that one of the #3 through #6 seeds is going to get hot come tournament time and put a real scare into Central Arkansas and Sam Houston State.

For the hometowners, let’s admit something: There was a time when it looked like SFA could win the conference. That time is gone. We are a middle seed. We had our shot and we blew it. It’s that simple. We shot ourselves in the foot. We lost two matches to Southeastern Louisiana - the first of which was done in ultra-embarrassing fashion on the day to honor Coach Humphreys and we really haven’t played consistently well for an entire month now.

Central Arkansas and Sam Houston are the two best teams in the conference. I told you that a long time ago. I predicted they would meet in the conference tourney championship before the season began. You can check that prognostication here.

Now, despite those teams more than likely headed for a one-two finish.. let’s look at the teams that are likely to finish from third to sixth. I see little difference in these teams and any one of them could get hot at just the right moment and steal a championship berth from either the Sugar Bears or Bearkats. I am not saying that Nicholls State or Southeastern Louisiana couldn’t pull an upset. I just think it is far more likely that they are one and done when we all get over to Conway for the tourney. So, without further delay, here is a list of the teams in the middle of the conference and my reasons why they can… and can’t… be taken seriously:

Northwestern State (10-4 SLC)
Current Seed: 3
Remaining SLC Games: SFA, SHSU, @UCA, @ORU
Predicted Finish and Seed: 11-7, 4th Seed

Why They Can Make It To the Final: They are red hot – winning six straight conference matches and during that time only dropping five sets. They have a legitimate 1-2 punch on the outside with DiFrancesco and the surging Caiti O’Connell. Their back row is stable with Keelie Arneson, the best libero that no one knows about and they have an opportunity for that elusive “signature win” right here down the stretch. If they knock off either Sam Houston at home or UCA on the road, then no matter what happens in the other matches, they will know they can hang with the teams at the top. Stop and think how far they have come in two years. This is truly one of the programs on the rise in the Southland.

Why They Won’t: It’s all too soon too fast. Despite making the tourney last year, they don’t have anywhere near the experience that Sam Houston or UCA has in tournament play. This might be the year that the Demons get past the first round, but rebuilding tends to come in steps – not leaps. Despite a quickly maturing group, the team is still young. Plus, the recent six game winning streak doesn’t exactly include many strong teams. In fact, it has probably come against the league’s worst. Finally, that “signature win”? I doubt it comes to pass. Like SFA, their schedule is tough and they are more likely to enter the tournament on a downslide than on an uptick.

Stephen F. Austin (9-5 SLC)
Current Seed: 4
Remaining SLC Games: @NWLA, TAMUCC, @ORU, @UCA
Predicted Finish and Seed: 10-8, 6th Seed

Why They Can Make It to the Final: No matter what happens during the last two weeks, SFA will be able to say this: We had four match points against UCA, two for a sweep and we’ve already beaten Sam Houston and Northwestern State once. So, why should we be afraid of matching up against anyone? When the ‘Jacks are clicking on all cylinders, they are truly a force. Burns in the middle, Ivy on the right can lead the way on offense and all that is required is for Bates to keep ‘em honest on the left. Randall is back and playing particularly well on defense and Hanlan is capable of digging up everything in the garden as evidenced by the 47 scoops last week in one match. They have the talent. They’ve proven they can hang. They shouldn’t be scared of anyone.

Why They Won’t: They aren’t consistent enough to even put together back to back solid matches right now. One night they pass well, the next, they’d shank underhanded serves. One night they block 16 balls, the next night, they are slow to slide over from the middle to block and the pin blockers can barely get off the ground. One night, they hit .230, the next night, they hit .030. Need I go on? If they’d have won against UCA and not keeled over against Southeastern Louisiana – TWICE – then they would be tied for first place! Problem is – they can’t maintain things. The likelihood of getting hot is low because of the tough competition waiting during the last two weeks of the regular season. This team CAN play well, but I’ve seen this before. Don’t color me surprised if we only manage a win or two down the stretch, go into Conway with basically no momentum and then lose a five-setter in the opening match. All the SFA faithful know that I hope that doesn’t happen, but we are running out of time to regain our early season form.

Texas A&M- Corpus Christi (8-5 SLC)
Current Seed: 5
Remaining SLC Games: NICH, SELA, @SFA, Lamar, McNeese
Predicted Finish and Seed: 13-5, 3rd Seed

Why They Can Make It to the Final: They have the easiest schedule of all the mid-seeds left and they should enter the tournament on a super high. Despite not having success against Sam Houston, they have beaten Central Arkansas once this year. At one point in the middle of the season, they won seven straight matches and they have likely SLC Coach of the Year Tony Graystone at the helm. This is THE surprise team of the year and everyone would LOVE for them to play Cinderella and waltz to the tournament final. What do they have to lose? They weren’t even in the tourney last year. Talk about playing with reckless abandon - this group should be loose and confident by the time they get to Conway. Playing a team with nothing to lose is dangerous, and with a first round win, the Islanders could become the darlings of the tournament.

Why They Won’t: Reality set in the last few weeks. Sure they have an easy schedule, but they got ripped by Sam Houston – TWICE. Each match featured a 25-12 or 25-11 beat down set. To me that shows they really aren’t elite. They don’t have an impressive road win having lost at all of Central Arkansas, Sam Houston, Oral Roberts and Northwestern State. If the tournament was in Corpus – as it will be the next two years – then fine, they might could be counted on. As it sits, I see an average road team at best and one that will brought back to reality once again once the tournament starts. In fact, I think the weak schedule could work against them. Watch SFA or Oral Roberts get them in the first round. In fact, if the 3/6 matchup is TAMUCC/ORU, I’d be really confident in going with the Golden Eagles.

Oral Roberts (8-6 SLC)
Current Seed: 6
Remaining SLC Games: @McNeese, @Lamar, SFA, NWLA
Predicted Finish: 11-7, 5th Seed

Why They Can Make It to the Final: Anyone noticed that this club has started to get their act together lately? Written off early on, it looks like ORU might be the dark horse going into the final two weeks of the season. They beat Central Arkansas, lost a five set match to Sam Houston that went all the way to 21-19 in the 5th set and then swept Corpus Christi – all of that within FOUR DAYS! The other reason why they can make it to the final: Defense. This team can seriously block balls at the net and those that get past the front row players like Pancratz and Fernandes are likely to be dug up by Silva on the back row. Don’t look at me funny if we all get to Conway and people start saying: ‘I didn’t think ORU was this good’. I think the sleeping giant may have just been awakened. This team looks scary to me. I wouldn’t want to play them in the first round. Plus, they have experience going deep in conference tournaments – having advanced to their conferences’ final last year with basically the same club that is on the floor now.

Why They Can’t: They aren’t good enough to pull two upsets in a row. They are the alter ego of SFA, but with likely the same fate. Whereas, SFA peaked early and faded late, ORU was flat early and has played well in recent weeks. But in the final analysis, there just isn’t as much on the floor as what is run out there by UCA and SHSU. I think of Oral Roberts like I do SFA.. they are capable of dominating in one match.. but one match only. I think they’ll struggle to find consistency in the final three weeks of the season. I’ve picked them to win three or four remaining, but watch out for that match in Beaumont. Lamar might pull the upset.

In the end, I just don’t see that much difference between having the 3rd seed and having the 6th seed. I believe one of the above four teams will surprise some people and make a serious run. The safe bet is UCA vs. SHSU in the final – which is what I have thought will come to pass from the beginning of conference play. But, I think what may be just as likely as a 1 vs. 2 match up in the final is that one of the above four teams above begins to fire on all cylinders at just the right time and we get to see an exciting conference final that includes one of UCA/SHSU taking on a team with an unbelievable story:

NWLA: From first round defeat to competing for a right to go to the NCAA’s

SFA: A return to glory, completing their “Return to Relevance” season in style.

TAMUCC: Cinderella becomes fan favorite as Islanders go from out of the tourney to championship in just one year.

ORU: Dismissed by the league early on, but then storming their way to the final when it matters.

Which headline will it be?

Actually, what I think would be particularly fun is to see both UCA AND SHSU go down and the final feature two of these teams. Of course, I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’ll find that early season magic and have ourselves one heck of a party just north of Little Rock.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Twelve for '12

Earlier in the year, we took a look at what each Southland team lost in terms of personnel coming into 2012.  At that time, I alluded to a follow up piece coming and so here we are – today, we’ll examine some freshmen that are making an impact during their first year on the court in the Southland Conference.  I’ve picked 12 players that have been instrumental during the first two-thirds of the season on their respective teams.  Not all SLC teams have a player represented on my list and the list isn’t meant to be exhaustive.  SFA fans will recognize that players like OJ Olson and Jacque Allen have provided the ‘Jacks help in various ways, but they don’t appear in the list below.  Fans from other schools will certainly be able to identify a player or two that could have shown up in a post like this. 

 Nevertheless, here are the 12 players just beginning their college careers that I believe are making the biggest splash around the conference. To avoid any unintentional bias, they’ll be discussed in alphabetical order.  I’ve seen all but the girls from Corpus Christi actually play, so despite this being a stat heavy post (imagine that?), a personal observation or memory is included in all but the Islanders’ cases.

 Ivy Baresh (OH, TAMUCC) – Talk about creating a buzz.  Baresh is the one player I haven’t seen play that I am most looking forward to watching.  Several coaches have raved about both her offense and defensive abilities.  I’ve heard the phrase “I wish she had come here” a few times when asking about her to other coaches I’ve spoken with during the season.  Despite being only 5’9”, Baresh is second among all SLC freshmen in kills per set with 2.41.  However, she is far and away the freshman leader in digs per set at 3.07.  One of the few six rotation starting freshmen in the conference, Baresh is clearly one of the main reasons the Islanders have seen a surge in the their play during 2012.  From the same high school as our own Maddie Hanlan (Arlington Martin), Tony Graystone did an outstanding job in getting Baresh down to the coast.

 Tori Bates (OH, SFA) – Another first year player that has seen six rotation responsibilities during the year at times.  Bates has a heavy arm swing and is currently third among all freshmen in the conference in total kills with 207.  Her 2.33 kills per set ranks her 4th among her first year peers and while tallying a full 80 digs less than Baresh, Bates has to be considered one of the best incoming six rotation prospects in the league.  She’s already got a variety of shots – once she settles into consistent play on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, then SFA will be looking at someone to lean on heavily during upcoming seasons.

 Amber Fryer (OH, McNeese) – Fryer has put up solid numbers for Terry Gamble’s very young squad.  She’s tallied 191 kills while hitting a respectable .173 and also should come near 100 blocks on the year as she’s already at 67 (0.83 per set).  Watching Fryer against SFA, you could tell that she is loaded with potential.  At times, I thought she was off with her footwork on approaches, but once her and fellow freshman Kelly Graham began to connect, Fryer’s athleticism really took over and produced some positive results.  Strong and 6-foot tall, Fryer is probably the one first year player among many at McNeese that projects to have the best overall career.

 Kelly Graham (S, McNeese) – The aforementioned Graham is the only freshman setter getting regular playing time in the conference.  SFA fans know what that is like having watched our own Paige Holland begin her time on the court last year.  Graham didn’t blow me away while watching her play against the ‘Jacks, but with so much youth on the Cowgirl squad, we can’t expect miracles overnight.  Recruited all the way from Colorado, Graham looks poised to grow up alongside of a long list of young McNeese players.  After that crop gets a year or two under their belt, Graham may emerge as a team leader.  Few girls get the opportunity to start at setter for four consecutive seasons.  We’ll have to see if Graham fits the bill.

 Tyger Holt (MB, TAMUCC) – Now here’s a curious case.  Holt’s standing among conference lists is a bit misleading as she barely qualifies for the conference leaderboards in several categories.  She is hitting a whopping .358, which indeed is impressive, but that percentage only translates to 81 kills despite technically ranking her 3rd in the entire conference.  She got a decent amount of playing time early on, but it has waned a bit of late.  Coming to Corpus Christi all the way from Canada, Holt has also blocked 56 balls which is good for a 0.96 block per set rate and she is 6th in the SLC in that category.  In case the name throws you a bit… the Islanders’ website lets us know that her birth given name is actually Cassandra Marie Tyger Holt.  Gotta love trivia.

 Glynna Johnson (MB, NWLA) – Impressive.  This was a fantastic add for the Hernesman’s in Natchitoches.  Pairing Johnson with fellow redshirt freshman Caiti O’Connell, right side hitter Mackenzie Neely and wonderkid Stacey DiFrancesco has got front line stability for years to come written all over it.  Johnson is 6th in the conference in attack percentage at .321, which is second only to Holt among freshman.  She’s actually upped her rankings during conference play where she places third in attack percentage.  Mixing in blocks at a cool rate of 0.83 per set make her a more than solid addition to the improving Demons.  She’s a potential first or second team All-SLC pick down the road in years to come.

 Cara Leslie (MB, SFA) – Keeping the theme of freshman middles going, we get to our own recruit from down the road in Livingston.  Already with two Player of the Week honors to her credit, where I find Leslie particularly impressive is at the net where she has already tallied 77 blocks.  She is 5th in the conference in blocks per set and 3rd in that category during conference play.  In case you are wondering, yes – those 77 total blocks are tops among ALL freshman in the conference.  As freshman tend to be, she’s been up and down from time to time, but anyone who witnessed the 12 block bonanza in the incredible match against UCA knows that we’ve got ourselves the real deal.

 Courtney Moore (MB, Lamar) – Why not, let’s add another freshman middle to the mix – there are LOTS of good ones in the conference this year.  What impresses me about Moore is her raw athleticism.  She leads the Cardinals in blocks and blocks per set and one has to wonder where Lamar would be without her given that they have been overrun with injuries.  Moore didn’t really light it up against us in Beaumont, but I wouldn’t go to sleep on her tomorrow her in Nacogdoches.  She’s had some very impressive performances.  During September she had a string of two weeks where she went for 14 or more kills in three out of four matches. Her .273 attack percentage is 9th best in the conference.

 Caiti O’Connell (OH, NWLA) – She is the reason why when you play Northwestern State that you just can’t key on DiFrancesco.  Want proof?  Fine, how about last night?  DiFrancesco has a par night killing 11 balls while hitting .154.  O’Connell meanwhile paces the offense with a match high 17 kills on 30 swings for a lofty .367 attack percentage.  Oh, and it just hasn’t been isolated matches:  O’Connell leads all freshman in the conference in kills (217) and kills per set (2.86).  To think that Northwestern State brought in all those freshman last year and redshirted this one knowing what they had in the bank.  I haven’t brought this up yet, but if you are scoring at home for 2012 SLC Freshman of the Year, wouldn’t it be something if the Demons won it twice in a row?  She’s got to be in the talk.  O’Connell is 9th in the conference in kills per set overall and 7th in that stat during conference matches.  Plus, at 6’1”, she’s got good size for an outside hitter – especially in this conference.  She is one of many interesting young pieces to the puzzle at Northwestern State.

 Malina Sanchez (OH, McNeese) – Literally flying under the radar a bit, Sanchez kind of woke me out of a slumber on her against SFA last night.  She is small – only 5’9” – but, man, can she elevate.  Like Baresh and Bates, she plays defense too, having tallied 194 digs which is second among freshman in the conference.  She might be the most underrated player on this entire list. I had heard absolutely nothing about her leading into last night’s game versus the ‘Jacks.  I left the gym impressed given she led the match in kills.  Her size may keep her from putting up big attack percentages – she is hitting only .098 – and SFA blocked the dazes out of everyone in Cowgirl blue last night, but overall Sanchez is an exciting player to watch because of her ability to leap.

 Heather Schnars (OH, UCA) – A great complementary player to an already strong veteran team.  Put Schnars on a few other teams in the conference and her numbers would be way up.  Now that the Sugar Bears have settled on Scout Brooks to complement the almighty Jessica Hays, Schnars is no longer a regular starter.  UCA can afford to bring her along slowly and her current role probably suits her best because she doesn’t have to carry much of a load and still be useful.  With 2.21 kills per set and hitting almost .200 as an outside hitter, what’s not to like?  Don’t be surprised if you hear her name a lot next year once JHays leaves the limelight.

 Veronica Turk (MB, Southeastern La.) – Like Sanchez, I sat watching SLU upset the ‘Jacks and kept announcing “Kill by Turk”.  Finally, I was like.. “Who is this chick?”  Quick.. who are the top three freshmen in kills per set in the Southland?  If you’ve been reading carefully you know that the top two are O’Connell and Baresh discussed above.  Number 3 on the list?  Yep, Veronica Turk at 2.39 k/s.  When you think of SLU, most folks know about media guide cover girl Courtney Donald, but the Lions have got themselves another middle blocker with skills.  Just so you know – she holds the school record in the high jump at her high school.  Couple that with 6’2” and you’ve got a winner at the net.

 Ok, now for the fun part.  So, if I am voting now (uh, I don’t actually have a vote, but don’t spoil my fun)… who gets 2012 SLC Freshman of the Year?  Of course, we have a whole month left before this question is truly relevant, but again.. let’s try and reason this out.

 There are a variety of freshman DS types that always infiltrate the conference, but none tend to be in contention for league honors.  Kimberlyn Patterson (recent freshman starting libero at McNeese) didn’t make this list and Kelly Graham (setter) who did make the list aren’t going to win the award.  So, it’s going to be an MB or a hitter. Maybe that was all just a wasted paragraph stating the obvious.

 Moving on, I actually devised an ad hoc statistical ranking formula (nerd alert!) to compare the middle blockers on this list.  It basically spat out that Johnson, Holt and Leslie were within a shadow of each other, with a possible slight edge to Leslie.  You can cite SFA bias on that if you want… I don’t care.  

 Looking at the outside hitters, I think your top four are Baresh, O’Connell, Bates and Fryer..probably in that order.  I am giving the nod to Baresh over O’Connell on the basis of defensive contributions.  Offensively, you have to go with O’Connell over Baresh due to more kills and a better kills per set.  Remember, O’Connell is first among all freshman in kills and kills per set.  But Baresh is 2nd in kills per set while also being first in digs per set.  That pushes her over in my mind. 

 In fact, I like the hitters a tad better on this list than the many talented young MB’s, so despite not having seen her play yet, I am going to go with Ivy Baresh as my early choice and I am not going to argue with you if you think O’Connell deserves it based on offense alone.

 Finally, if you are going to give Baresh credit for defense, then the same applies to Bates.  Partnering that argument along with my little nerdy formula that tells me that Leslie is arguably the top freshman MB, and my conclusion is this:  An SFA player COULD win this award with a strong team showing during the rest of October and November.

 I’ll tell you what:  This was a fun article to research, but let’s just focus on that last sentence – a strong showing by the ‘Jacks the rest of the way.  The team always comes before the individual.  Any girl on this list would trade 2012 Freshman of the Year honors for the chance to hoist a conference tournament trophy over their heads on November 18.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I Believe It's Different

At various times during the last two years, SFA Volleyball would hit a skid and I’d half way believe we could pull ourselves out of it. But, the other half of me knew that there was a genuine problem. Maybe the problem was that we just didn’t have the cumulative talent when compared to our opponents. Then again, maybe the problem was just inexperience or lack of moxie. Moxie isn’t something we’ve had a ton of the last few years.

I know we’ve lost the last three matches, but I am addressing here in this post only the last two. The UCA match was a well-played, hard fought loss that certainly could have gone our way. I’ll even buy the argument that the UCA match should have gone our way. Now, I witnessed the match in Huntsville, but everything I know about what happened in Corpus Christi is second hand-knowledge. Here’s my take on what I actually saw with my own eyes against Sam Houston: The way we played against Sam wasn’t anywhere close to what we really are. I believe the same is true about our effort against the Islanders two days later.

The serve receive and passing in Huntsville was atrocious. The worst I have witnessed all year. I can’t remember a match in 2012 that I’ve seen where I felt like every player that had back row responsibilities played below the level they are capable of. We would have beaten very few – if any – Southland Conference teams that night with that effort. In a word, it was – embarrassing.

Yes, I knew that Sam Houston would play better. I wrote a full post about that a few days prior to the match, but hey.. I am no soothsayer. Anyone who takes even a half-hearted interest in the league could have looked at what happened in Nacogdoches and predicted Kaylee Hawkins and Kim Black would play better. I mean, do you think the coaching staff and players didn’t know the two of them sucked donuts in Nacogdoches and wouldn’t pull that again? C’mon.. it was an obvious call.. they are talented players on a talented team. Sam Houston did what they were supposed to do. We played terrible and they dragged us through the mud. If you didn’t participate in or read the chat that I did at the match, then let me let you in on something: During one of the timeouts during Set 2, the girls for Sam Houston were encouraging each other not to let up on the massacre and made a goal to not let us get to 10 points in the set. Killer instinct. Good teams have it, average teams don’t understand it. Now, we got well beyond 10 in that set, but that’s not the point. They smelled blood and didn’t want to let up. They WANTED to embarrass us. That mission was accomplished.

But, we’ve already proven ourselves. Once you show you have a skill, then that skill is still there. From that point forward, it isn’t about skill acquisition, it is about execution. Night In, Night Out execution. The Southland Conference is a competitive volleyball league and when you take a night off, you are going to get ripped. That’s what happened.

SFA is clearly improved from 2011. Enough of 2012 has gone by to establish that this team is different from the ones we had in 2010 and 2011. Everything I wrote in my previous post last week is still true today. The middle blockers are playing as a group at or better than expected. We have as talented a right side hitter as any other team in the SLC. Our left side attack is underwhelming, but improving, especially given that Bates’ injury wasn’t long term. Our libero is respected and has a strong track record of success. Our two main DS players have been fairly stable and our coaches have made good decisions. It’s still all true and for that reason I don’t think the wheels are about to come off. I believe it’s different. I believe we’ve hit a patch of ice and are skidding, but we won’t wind up in the ditch like we have before. I think we are going to win a heavy fraction if not all of the six upcoming conference matches and still be in the thick of things come November.

Just pass the ball better, people.

We didn’t have a particular facet of the game that stood out as strong against Sam Houston, but the passing and especially the “first ball” passing on serve was out of character with what we’ve seen in matches gone by.

I’m not worried. I don’t see a spiral downward coming at all. I knew last week would be tough. I stated that I didn’t think we were the favorites at Sam Houston, so the fact that we lost isn’t overly surprising to me. The way we lost was a big issue though. We didn’t play well at all.

Is some credit due Corpus Christi for what they did last Saturday? Sure, I don’t want to make the same mistake with them during 2012 that I did with Northwestern State last year. I really don’t think the Islanders are all that great, but they do deserve some credit for their current conference standing and placing all the way up to 83rd in this weeks’ RPI poll. But, you know I’ll have a few additional numbers for you, so here we go.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi hit .362 for the match, which is insanely high. This figure was bolstered by the ridiculous 2nd set (what is it with Set 2 of late?) in which the Islanders hit .630. That’s not a typo. They killed 18 balls on 27 swings in that set. How is that even possible? The five matches prior to playing us, the Islanders had hit .137. Shoot, the three matches before ours they hit a collective .179 and won all three. Going one step further, .179 is their SEASON hitting percentage. We scored 10 points less than they did in three sets. You following me so far? Hitting .179 instead of .362 in 94 attacks is the equivalent of between 8 and 9 of their kills being turned to errors. So, the difference in .179 and .362 is eight or nine attack errors and we scored 10 fewer points.

What I am saying is… Corpus had a season high day in terms of attack percentage and if they had hit similar to what they had in recent conference matches, then the sets played would have been nearly even when adjusting for just that one facet of the game – and that doesn’t account for reportedly another poor passing day for SFA. So, just like it was easy to predict that Black and Hawkins would improve the 2nd time around for Sam Houston – it is just as likely that the Islanders will hit well below .362 the second time around. In fact, if asked to guess… I’d guess they’d hit around .179. Thus, capping my loose argument, give us 8 to 9 points back to adjust for an abnormal hitting day for them, allow us to pass a tad better and put the match in Shelton Gym next time? Then… sure, I like our chances when they come to town.

Now, is the above a bit contrived? Yes, it’s a statistical argument that has flaws. But, I think there is enough truth there to maintain a level of confidence against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in any subsequent meetings. I honestly believe that Central Arkansas is the strongest team in the Southland. I still believe Sam Houston will peak as the season progresses and be a #2 or #3 seed. That leaves teams like Corpus Christi in this big pot with other clubs like Northwestern State, SFA and maybe.. Oral Roberts to duke it out for the other top half seeds. Our next opponent.. Nicholls State sits on the bubble of that group. We need to not allow them to join the circle. I like what someone told me this week (their name will go unmentioned): “We need to make them cry. We need to destroy these next two teams and make them wish they never played volleyball.”

I concur. It’s time for a beat down. Good teams don’t take losing lying down. I believe it ‘s different. I believe our true talent level will return to Shelton Gym over the next two weeks… and I believe that we’ll be just fine.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

LIVE CHAT: SFA @ Sam Houston

Monday, October 1, 2012

Looking Forward to Looking Back

Before we get started: Remember our next live chat is this Thursday against Sam Houston at 7 PM!!

It’s time for analysis. We’ve had interviews and depth charts and chats and all that good stuff, but put on your hard hats and don’t have a thin skin. It’s time to dish some opinions. I haven’t done THIS as much during the first half of the 2012 season, but all normal disclaimers apply. I don’t think what is contained here will be controversial, but you may or may not totally agree. So, think along with me and then sound off if you want (either in comments or in person).

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. SFA could very well be 6-0 in SLC play, two games up on EVERYBODY and beaten EVERY team in the conference picked ahead of them. If it weren’t for one point in one set on one day – that would be exactly where we stand. But credit Central Arkansas and their staving off four match points last Saturday en route to an impressive comeback. Now, does the fact we lost really change anything? Well, yes, it changes the standings and at the end of the day that is what matters. But, should the loss change what any of us believe this team is capable of? No, not a bit. It is clear this team is better than what was originally forecast. Yes, we are legitimate.

Early this year I said that I expected us to essentially reverse our 2011 record of 14-18 and finish somewhere around 18-14, just a few games over .500. At this point in the season, if that turns out to be true, we will all be soundly disappointed. Instead, 20+ wins looks like our destiny as does a shot at a high seed in the SLC Tournament.

However, and I am not trying to purposely build drama here, I claim that this week is one of those weeks we will look back on. I am looking forward to being able to look back on this upcoming week. I think we are at a bit of a juncture.

Let’s suppose that we travel to Huntsville and Corpus Christi and secure two wins. That’s the plan, right? Well, if we accomplish that then we will be 7-1 in conference play with the lightest portion of the conference slate directly in front of us. After this week, we get to play Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana at home followed by McNeese and Lamar. Those last two are also in Shelton Gym. There is a match with HBU on the road between those two sets of SLC matchups, but at this point it’s the conference record that matters and nothing more. When we finally do go back out on the road, it will be to play the rematch with Nicholls and SLU.

So, two wins this week and the confidence level will be sky high again and we’ll be staring six straight conference matches down that we all believe we should win. In other words, this time next week, we may be expecting this team to be 13-1 after 14 SLC matches. And if that happens? Well, even a small tumble at the end of conference play would likely still give us a top two or three seed in the tournament.

But, I honestly see challenges ahead this week. I DO NOT believe Sam Houston played very well against us the first time around. Let me just write it the way I really believe it… if the Bearkats get anything decent out of Kim Black or Kaylee Hawkins that night, then they win. Go back and review the match. Those two never got off the bus. Black was so out of sync on offense that they only got her six offensive touches and Hawkins hit so bad that in 27 swings, she only killed three balls. Who cares that she made a bunch of errors and hit negative 185 (that won’t happen again)… to get only three kills in 27 swings is terrible by any standard.

For the year, Black averages 15 swings per match, hitting right at .200 and Hawkins averages 13 kills in a five set match rather than the paltry three she got in Nacogdoches. Bottom line: Sam Houston will play better on Thursday night than they did in Nacogdoches and so I see the rematch as more than a sufficient challenge. I am sticking by my guns, here. Sam Houston is good and when it is all said and done, they will be a top three seed in the tournament. We can’t have any let down at all and expect the match to go to five sets. I’m not trying to be negative. I believe in our girls. I am simply stating that I still don’t think we are the favorite on Thursday even though we have already beat them once.

Then there is the issue of Texas A&M Corpus Christi. OK, look.. a lot of people really think this team is greatly improved. I know they beat UCA in their first conference match, but let’s take a more comprehensive look. Since that point, they swept Oral Roberts who we now know was overrated. They lost to Northwestern State 3-1 which I think is more representative of their talent level. They got destroyed by Sam Houston State on their home floor. And, yes “destroyed” is appropriate. Two of the set scores were 25-14 and 25-11. After that they beat Nicholls and SLU.

So, look, no disrespect intended, but TAMUCC is just an average SLC team. Are they improved? Sure, yeah.. they didn’t make the tournament last year, and they should finish in the Top 8 this year. They make for a curious matchup after Sam Houston, though. If we don’t play our best on Thursday, then we are ripe for the taking on Saturday. We’d need to quickly get over losing two straight and not let things snowball.

Again, not to be Mr. Pessimistic, but if this week doesn’t go well, then we’d be at 5-3 in SLC play and could quickly go from the top to the middle of the conference. My point: This is the week for resolve and to play with no carry over effect from a match we most certainly could (should?) have won against UCA.

If we get on a roll during late October, we could look back to this week as the beginning of the long win streak that set us up for a top seed. If things turn south, we could look back to this week as the place in the schedule where the train came off the track just a bit and we started a small level of regression to what others thought was our mean.

But, it’s gone good so far! So, how did we get here? Lets’ break this down a bit:

Middle Blockers: Better than advertised. Burns is killing 2 ½ balls per set, serving great and blocking right at a ball per set. That will do. Then there is Cara Leslie. Hey, please.. nobody tell her that she is a freshman, OK. Don’t tell her that it is not supposed to be like this. Let her ride in the clouds continue, OK. Can you believe this? Two weeks out of three that she is named Defensive Player of the Week? Blocking 12 balls against UCA who is arguably the best attacking team in the conference? Hitting a team high .242? How could you ask for anything more out of her? She’s been ridiculously good.

Right Side: Jill Ivy is the best right side hitter in the conference. How about that for analysis. I don’t need to go on ‘cause you ain’t got no argument against it. I don’t care who you are. Notice has been served. You can’t stop her. Focus on somebody else, because she is going to get her 15 kills most every night.

Left Side: I’ve been over this before. This is a key spot for SFA’s offensive success. I hope Bates’ injury is short lived, because she was starting to turn a bit of an offensive corner I think. As of this writing, she is hitting 149-75-498 (.149). The average left side attack percentage is typically twenty or so points higher than that. However, check this out: Over her last six matches, she is hitting 52-22-162 and that is good for .185,which is slightly above league average for a left side attacker. I think this improvement is directly related to her sharing a rotation spot with a DS. This has allowed her offense to regulate. Nevertheless, overall for the entire season, the left side hitters for SFA are hitting a combined .124 and that’s just a tad too low to be considered effective in terms of offense.

Now, it is more than worth mentioning that Katzy Randall in particular is doing more than her share of stabilizing the defense by putting up some impressive dig numbers. Four of the last five matches she has had double digit digs and was only one kill shy of a double-double against UCA.

Back Row: Hanlan easily out dueled Silva against ORU and is laying her claim once again to being one of the top (if not THE top) libero in the conference. I know some other liberos have better numbers right now, but you are going to have a hard time convincing me that Hanlan won’t be a candidate for Libero of the Year if she keeps it up. Plus, Hill and Olson are a nice duo to have at DS. They have each made some fantastic digs in recent matches and as young as they are, it is reasonable to expect both to continue to improve. The great thing is that we have them both – meaning that whichever one takes over as Libero when Maddie leaves will still give us a good DS partner for Jill’s spot in the next two years.

Coaching: I think Debbie’s done a great job so far. OK, I am in no position of authority to judge this, but I have always been honest about things that I thought were odd. Debbie’s fond of saying that she and I don’t always see eye to eye on every little detail, but that’s just stating the obvious. She’s the expert and I’m….well….not.

One thing I think she has done particularly well with this year is getting players settled in to their role. In times past, I think the “tinkering” mentality has taken over too much, but this year I don’t think that’s ever been the case.

The way she is handling Leslie is particularly impressive. The week after Cara won her 1st Player of the Week honors, Debbie saw she was struggling against Lamar and sat her down. This conveyed two things: First, you have to bring it EVERY night to stay in the starting rotation and second – that she trusts Jacque Allen when called on. That was good for both players. They each realized that they have to be ready when called on.

The other smart move was already alluded to. I think the limiting of Bates to three rotations was right on. Olson has been great in the other three rotations for her and this will ease Bates into her role. As mentioned earlier, Bates offensive numbers have steadily gone up. Her talent is clearly enough to eventually warrant a role like Randall has now – six rotations. But why push it? Let her have some success in one dimension and then when appropriate you can ease her into more duties.

By the way, anyone keeping up with this: Debbie could get to 550 career victories this week.

Let’s keep things in perspective. I know the loss to UCA stings. But, go back six weeks ago. If someone offers you a deal where we are 14-4, win six matches in eight days, beat three teams picked to finish ahead of you – one on the road, have four match points with arguably the top team in the conference and be in first place after one-third of the conference slate is over…..then… you take that deal every time.

Let’s just not feel TOO good about ourselves. Many thought LAST week was a big test. I submit that THIS week is an even bigger one. I am looking forward to looking back. Looking back on this week as the week where we truly began the process of “reclaiming our relevance”.