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.