Saturday, August 31, 2013

Interview with RS Jill Ivy and MB Jacque Allen

I want to let everyone who makes their way over here this weekend know that on Monday (Labor Day), I'll meet up with the 'Jacks in Monroe, LA as SFA takes on the ULM Warkawks in a non-conference showdown.  I'll have a chat window set up right here in the very space you are reading now and you can follow along and comment on the match as I Cover-it-Live.

We've done these live chat rooms for several seasons now at selected road games and I'm committed to offering fans the chance to interact during these selected matches.  So, if you can't cheer on the 'Jacks in person then you can experience the next best thing to being there.  Plus, even if you are at the match, you can join in on the chat using your smart phone.

In addition to the interview with Jill & Jacque below, this weekend will bring you a post concerning five questions I'm pondering about the 2013 SFA Volleyball squad.  Since this is Season V here at the blog, I've identified five key questions for fans to ponder as we get started with our season.  I think how these five issues play out over the year will to some degree determine the level of success the club achieves. After you read the five questions and my attempts at answering them, then you might have your own viewpoint you'd like to share in the comments.  Readers are always encouraged to submit their own opinions.  I'm always available by email ( as well if you'd like to sound off or just chat about the Ladyjacks and/or Southland Conference Volleyball.

Check out the interview at the link below.  Jill, Jacque and I discuss a variety of topics concerning blocking, both team and individual goals for the 2013 season and Jill tells us why the current teams is a step above the 22-win squad from last year. 

Plus, have you ever wondered who the team prankster is?  How about the best dancer?  Who's the biggest bookworm or neat freak on the club?  All those answers are contained in the interview that brings you closer to your 2013 Ladyjack Volleyball team.  That's always our goal... because we are SFA Volleyball's Strongest Presence on the 'Net.

Click Here to Listen to the Interview with Jill Ivy & Jacque Allen

Monday, August 26, 2013

Interview with Libero OJ Olson and DS Janet Hill

OK, as if I haven't said this enough:  My favorite part of volleyball is back row defense.  In fact, my favorite two "plays" in volleyball are:

  1. Stud OH on opposing team tries to thunder one down on us and one of our back row players is in the perfect position.  The ball gets crushed but our defender is standing in the exact path of the ball, sets her feet and platform and just perfectly digs the ball a few inches off the ground and the pass goes straight to the setter camped out in middle front.  When that happens it's like the defender just brushed a piece of lint off her jersey and said "Huh.. what was that? That all you got? Weak."           Love it.
  2. Both teams are going back and forth during a long rally - long enough where every time the ball crosses the net the crowd's energy builds one level more.  Then, a ball gets loose way outside the boundary of the court and one of our back row defenders dives to floor and keeps the ball up by a fraction of an inch and we go on to win the point.  That happened one time during a match last year with Libero Maddie Hanlan and I got so excited I accidentally kicked the media table and we thought it was going to fall apart and pieces roll out on the court during play.  It's the one play that as a PA announcer sometimes causes me to lose focus because it is just so darn awesome.
So that brings us to today's interview with back row players Janet Hill and OJ Olson.

The interview is full of discussion regarding back row positioning on defense and reading blocks and other great volleyball theory stuff that I could just sit and talk about all day.

Plus, we get into who is the shortest player on the team, why OJ roots for the Minnesota Vikings, the many schools of the Cy-Fair ISD where Janet is from and how each player has experience as a hitter, despite their uhhh.. diminutive stature.  Also, we get to hear about the origin of the nickname "OJ" and how Hill once starred in the "Janet Show".

Check it out in the link below.  Also, this will be my first chance to let the readers know that I will be in Monroe, LA (Happy, Happy, Happy!!) for our Labor Day match against ULM.  As always when I travel, we will have a live chat room set up right here on the blog so that parents, friends and general volleyball enthusiasts can follow the action along with me.  Regular tweets will also go out during the match so make sure you've followed us on Twitter if you haven't already.  We are @SFAVolleyBlog.  Make sure and follow @SFAVolleyball as well since that is the OFFICIAL Twitter account of 'Jacks Volleyball.

Still planning on having a post focused on the conference as a whole and another interview (Ivy and Allen?) go up later in the week.

Click Here for Interview with OJ Olson & Janet Hill

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Scrimmage Recap

I don’t normally write traditional game recaps for our volleyball matches.  In fact, I don’t usually write in a “traditional” sense about anything.  Recaps fall under the jurisdiction of the sports information wing of the athletics staff and those articles are always posted at  However, with last night’s action being of the scrimmage variety, a review here won’t duplicate any other story associated with SFA Volleyball.  In fact, it will probably be the only story printed that looks back on SFA Purple vs. SFA Black on Friday.  First things first, you read that right.. SFA Black.  The 2013 squad donned new jerseys highlighted by black tops coupled with a purple version in the same style.  The jerseys have sharp looking white lines below the neck and down the shoulders.  All in all, I think they are some of the best looking duds we’ve played in over the years, although I would have preferred a university identifier included in some prominent way.  The jerseys don’t actually have “SFA” or “Jacks” anywhere obvious on them and with other teams that use purple and black in our conference as base colors, I saw that aspect of the new uniforms as a slight negative.

Of course, what we care more about is the product on the court than the fashion statement, so let’s move the discussion that direction.  I’ll say this:  I was more impressed than I thought I would be.  Now, I say that in the most complimentary way that I can.  I don’t mean that I had low expectations.  I just didn’t expect to see so many bright spots this early on.

Of all the things imprinted on my memory, the collective play of middle blockers Allen, Walker and Jackson is clearly at the top of the list.  Before we get into details – if you weren’t there – this was basically an “A” team vs. “B” team format with the team in black being a rotation of players that would tentatively be labeled starters.  The “B”  (purple) team consisted almost entirely of backups.  Well, Les Jackson would have something to say about that because if you were giving away a game MVP trophy, it would be hers.  I spent a good ten or fifteen minutes debriefing with Debbie Humphreys after the match and she is most definitely intrigued by finding ways to integrate all three girls into official game action next weekend.

Jackson was stellar.  In three sets  (Black won 3-0, but barely in the third set), Jackson killed 14 balls against one error while swinging .464.  She was the main go to for the purple squad and was able to do her damage against what figures to be the other portion of our starting front line.  Jackson tallied four blocks which also posted as match high.  The purple team used sophomores Keely Kainer and transfer Madison Martin on the outside.  Both had bursts of production that could translate to nice support pieces for the team in 2013.  Kainer looked more relaxed – and at times even stronger in her attack posture – than what I recall from last year.  She had some legitimate strong swings despite only registering five knock downs.  Don’t forget, Kainer was the L1 in first tournament action this time last year as a freshman before giving way to others by the time the conference slate rolled around. 

Martin is probably going to struggle to score, but her ball control and passing will create opportunities for her to contribute – possibly in three rotation format as the season goes along.  I think Martin could be a nice dual piece for an OH that is more suited to front row responsibilities – like freshman Kaitlyn Granger.  Martin registered 13 digs in three sets.  Passing isn’t flashy like kills and blocks, but Martin caught my eye a few times with her accuracy and steady play in serve receive.  Amanda Rister held down the libero role for the purple and came away with 17 digs.  Laiken Britt played a DS role and I liked her  feisty play.  She’s aggressive and doesn’t hesitate to go after balls, so I can see some promise if Humphreys needed to turn to her in the case that Janet Hill or Rister struggled in back row support.

I didn’t come away with a definitive impression either way concerning freshman setter Shannon Connell and freshman MB Jamie Crowder.  There were a few kills Crowder put down that I made a mental checkmark by, but actually, I think I’ve seen both girls play stronger in practice than what they did last night.  Connell defensively chose to play a few balls I thought she should have let go – and a few of them were at key moments in sets.  I’m nitpicking so let me state positively that overall the freshman – Connell and Crowder certainly included – did not look out of place.  I was glad to see all of the freshman appear confident and well integrated into the match.  None of them appeared overwhelmed.  Patience is always required with first year players.  They have a ton to acclimate to and they all are certain to have their inconsistencies and otherwise just plain off-nights.  That being said, I think the 2013 freshman class is poised to contribute in a very strong way.

That brings us to Justice Walker.  Wow.  At this point, I’ve seen four afternoon  practices and a scrimmage.  During the first two practices what I saw from Walker was athleticism.  What I saw last night and at various times during the last couple of practices was a volleyball player.  If you go back and listen to Les Jackson talking about Walker during the interview posted below, you’ll hear her state that Walker has made some of the biggest strides during Fall camp.  Last night, it showed.  Big time.

I’m going to be perfectly honest  (as always)- and long time readers will recognize my tone here:  The freshman I focused on was Granger.  I always watch warm-ups – usually quite intently.  I watched Granger a lot during pre-game and told some of the media table staff that I was hoping to see a fair amount of offense out of Granger in the scrimmage.  I go from year-to-year with my fingers crossed that we’ll bring in a left side presence.  Some of the sharpest conversation I’ve had with Debbie Humphreys have been about whether or not SFA needs more offense from the left pin to consistently win.  Readers know that I have been in the camp that votes a definitive “yes” and Debbie has cautioned me there are plenty of other ways to achieve offensive success and balance.

So naturally, what do I do?  I focus on the left pin attack of the main “Black” squad.  Since I already know sophomore Tori Bates is a stud, that meant that Granger got more of my attention.  So here’s what happened:  With Granger playing three rotations (Janet Hill the other three on the back), Black wins set one fairly convincingly without Granger getting a single kill.  Bates got a few of course, but let’s just go ahead and state the obvious:  Head Coach 1, Blogger 0.  Let me not leave Granger before making my key point in the next paragraph.  She’s going to be fine.  No one is asking her to carry a heavy load.  I think she’ll get her share of balls knocked down and be someone people learn they have to defend soon enough.

But, last night was a fantastic example of why Humphreys was right and I was wrong (at least for now).  All-everything right side Jill Ivy got her share of kills (12), but didn’t dominate.  Her 11 attack errors were almost as many as the entire purple squad (13).  So, on a night where Ivy wasn’t off – but wasn’t dominant either – we still got so much offensive firepower from middle blockers Jacque Allen (9-3-14, .429) and Justice Walker (10-4-26, .231) that Granger’s contributions were rendered a moot point.

The starting squad’s attack distribution was more than enough to qualify as efficiently spread:  Bates and Granger combined for 17 kills on the left.  Almost all of that was Bates, but then again, she plays all the way around.  Allen and Walker combined for 19 kills and Ivy got 12.  That’s a nice distribution and one that contradicts my theory of needing big output from the person in Granger’s spot.  Now, just imagine if Humphreys had been able to blend in Jackson amidst the Black squad and Granger had been killing it?  Holy smokes.  Now, we’re talking.   You know who also deserves credit?  Holland.  Because provided adequate passing, the offensive attack distribution is the setter’s responsibility.  Paige has to be able to adapt during the match by realizing what distribution of balls will keep the defense honest.  On a night where Jill was hitting close to .000, Holland was able to do a good job by getting the middle blockers the ball often enough to pick up some of the slack.

All of the above in place, the person I got the most questions and comments about after the match was Walker.  It was so good to see her play that well.  It will be a blessing if it carries over into tournament action the next few weeks.  Finally, the back row play of libero OJ Olson and DS Janet Hill was spot on.  Humphreys raved about both of them after the match and I absolutely have to chime in.  Those two are going to be rocks back there. 

That makes for a great segue as I had an absolute blast taping an interview with both Olson and Hill before the scrimmage.  Originally, I thought that chat would be today’s post, but I wanted to get my scrimmage thoughts on paper before they waned. Readers from past seasons know that my favorite part of volleyball is back row defense, so I had a bunch of things I wanted OJ and Janet to talk about in the interview.  As it went on, I felt like the three of us were talking about “volleyball theory” in a sort of academic sense and I completely loved it.  I absolutely crave “shop talk” when it comes to this game. 

I probably could have asked Hill and Olson questions for an hour, because the roles they play are those that I have great interest in.  They both provided really insightful comments and the interview is one of best I think I’ve been a part of in recent years.  I can’t wait for you to hear it and it will come your way on Monday.

As a preview of things to come, I’ll be focusing more on the concept of “offensive balance” during this year, with some data from 2012 forming the nucleus of a few posts on attack distribution.  Also, I’ve begun surveying the landscape of the conference and I will weigh in next week on the preseason polls that were released by the conference.  SFA was picked tied for third in the coaches poll and tied for 5th by the Sports Information Directors.  Finally, interviews with players will continue.  I’ll aim to sit down with Allen and Ivy before the team heads to Mississippi.

Last night made a lot of people eager to see what the team looks like when it is all on one side of the net.  As far as SFA Volleyball’s STRONGEST presence on the net?  Well, you’re here.  That’s and you can count on me to keep SFA focused volleyball news spiked at you all the way along the road to Corpus Christi and beyond.

Axe’s Up!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Interview with Seniors: MB Les Jackson & DS Amanda Rister

Last Thursday at the conclusion of afternoon practice, I got a chance to chat with this years' Senior class.  Les Jackson and Amanda Rister have played all over the court during their college years but look poised to settle into more definitive roles their last year on campus. Jackson may very well see more court time in 2013 than in any of her previous years at SFA.  Currently, she projects as one of the main middle blockers for Debbie Humphreys squad.   Rister moves off the backup setter position to more of a defensive and serving specialist for 2013.

Hit the link below to hear our conversation which includes everything from Les' thoughts on being the last one standing from the 2010 recruiting class, Amanda's take on what makes a good serve, as well as a little behind the scenes info about life on the road which has at times included the making of team music video parodies.  Les also clues us in to the origin of the now semi-famous Soft Smile Saturdays.

I hope you enjoy listening to the conversation and much as I did talking with two athletes that always represent SFA Volleyball in such a positive light.  Next Up for this Thursday:  A sit down with back row standouts: Libero OJ Olson and DS Janet Hilll will be the focus of this week's interviews.

Click Here For Jackson & Rister Interview

Adding to Your Vocabulary

I’m not much into video games.  Even when I was younger, I didn’t play them much.  We’ve gone from the bookcase sized video games of my youth stacked shoulder to shoulder in arcades to being able to play games on our phones that have startling graphics and sounds. Largely, I’ve ignored them all but one recent fad that has caught my attention is Words With Friends.  You’ve probably heard of it.  I'm not an expert, but the concept is essentially electronic Scrabble in that you build words with letter tiles. 

When I was a kid my Mom would often suggest we play Scrabble during family game nights.  It usually got rejected by my brother and I as we preferred to play something that was a little more exciting than, well…. a word game.  Ah, the battle between the educational and the recreational:  I still see it every day here on this college campus.

However, word games must have stuck in my brain because now I have to admit something to you that is as nerdy as winning a spelling bee:  I study vocabulary words in my spare time.

I love those word-of-the-day calendars or email distribution lists that send you a word of the week.  I still believe in hard bound dictionaries sitting on shelves and I still believe in “looking it up” when you come across bits of language you just can’t seem to define.  Old school, I know.  But sometimes it is almost divine to mix the old with the new.  That brings us to the word in the banner above:  visage.  Can you define it? (Well, duh, you put the definition at the top of the right hand column!  Don't use love the first quizzes of the semester?)

Visage is a synonym for “face”.  But the usage of the word often is more in line with application of the words “countenance” or “look”. 

Celebration is at the heart of volleyball.  I challenge you to think of another sport where after EVERY play there is a team celebration.  Surely you’ve noticed this.  From junior high club teams to college teams to Olympic teams, after every play in volleyball all six team members come together for a few short words, hand slaps, fist pumps and celebration before the next serve begins.  Watch these celebrations:  People are usually putting their hands in the air like they just don’t care after a big block or crushing kill.   These celebrations often showcase the face of victory.  Need a few examples?  Check these out:
Maddie Hanlan: Visage of Victory
Janet Hill:  Hands in the Air Like You Just Don't Care


Now, this is the fifth season SFAVolleyBlog has been in existence and like what is done for popular TV shows, I sometimes refer to the blog by “Season” rather than year.  For instance, I might say “Do you remember the article I wrote about all-conference middle blockers at the end of Season Four?  That was pretty controversial.”  Or, in reflecting on an early article, I might tell another coach “Yeah, in my first blog season I tried to do that, but it didn’t work out so well.”  It’s kind of stupid really – referring to the blog as if it were The Big Bang Theory or Game of Thrones.

But still, this is SFAVolleyBlog’s Season V.  That’s “V” as in five – the roman numeral.  Ah, but therein lies the duality:  V for five and also V as in the letter “v”.  And so, an equivoque (look it up) emerges.  Rather than use the phrase “face of victory”, we’ll stick with the letter v, add to your vocabulary, and spend some time talking about the “visage of victory” this year.  Of course, I don’t want to rule out the case that many readers already implement the word “visage” in their vocabulary.  If so, great.  Give yourself some fantasy SAT points and keep reading.

Could you imagine if Facebook were actually called Visagebook?  I mean, why not?  If it had been named that back in 2004 (Season One?), then you wouldn’t be arguing with it today.  I mean, you could be walking around right now saying “Did you see her post on Visagebook?  Can you believe she wrote that?”

I know, I know, part of what makes things work is what they are called.  It is probably true that Facebook stood a better chance of gaining popularity because it used a linguistic compound of two words that are both very well known.  But still, Visagebook sounds no more goofy than Instagram, right? 

C’mon, what was your very first reaction when you heard the name “Twitter”?  I mean, we talk about “tweets”, but the literal derivative of Twitter is twit.  So, isn’t that at least a bit goofy to name a social media site “Twitter”?  But, it doesn’t bother you, because you soon “got it”.  Remember that moment where you said “Oh, I get it.  Short messages sent out by lots of folks as if they were tweets from a bird.  And look.. the cute little bird logo!  Yeah, now I get it. Cool.  Let’s tweet!” 

A few years ago, that was you and you know it.  But now, it’s all accepted and routine.

Such it is with the Visage of Victory.  Season V.  V for Five.  “He wanted to focus on the face of victory.  He needs a V word to keep the theme and alliteration going.  Visage instead of Face.  I get it.  Cool.”

Next thing you know – you’ll be all like:  #Visage.

But remember, visage is more than about a face.  It’s about a countenance.  It’s about appearance, demeanor and features of the face.  Look back up at those photos.  That’s winning, isn’t it?  It’s the face of victory.

What we all want is for SFA Volleyball to put on the face of victory.  To have a determination, a drive, a countenance that says to our opponents “You don’t stand a chance”.  People’s faces tell a story.  Athlete’s faces tell a story.  Watch for it during the 2013 Season  Season V (see what I did there?)

The goal of this blog is the same as it always has been:  Promote SFA Volleyball.  Be one of the faces of Southland Conference Volleyball.  Write with a purpose and determination about the sport we all love.

So, volleyball season is upon us.  Are you ready?  Are you anxious to see what 2013 Ladyjack Volleyball is all about?

Put on your game face.

It’s time for the Visage of Victory.  #SeasonV    #Visage.

Now, don’t you feel smarter?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Season V: Coming August 17

The fifth season of kicks off on Saturday, August 17.  We'll call it Season V and build the 2013 blog banner around that theme.  Check back here on August 17 as coverage of Ladyjack and Southland Conference Volleyball swings into full action with regular articles and interviews leading up to the season opening tournament in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on August 30.

I've had a preliminary chat with head coach Debbie Humphreys and will be in two or three practices next week to get a look at the 2013 squad.  The girls report Friday, August 9 and practices formally begin the following day.

For four years, has been SFA Volleyball's Strongest Presence on the 'Net.  Season V will be no different.  If you haven't already, make sure you follow the blog on Twitter - find us at @SFAVolleyBlog