Bringing You Courtside With Ladyjack and Southland Conference Volleyball

SFA VolleyBlog Radio

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Live Chat During 2013 SLC Tourney Championship: UCA vs. NSU

 

Friday, November 22, 2013

List of Interviews for 2013 SLC Volleyball Tournament

You want coverage of the Southland Conference's Volleyball Athletes and Coaches?  SFA's Strongest Presence on the 'Net.... Never..... Rests....

Day 3 Interviews:  Tony Graystone (TAMUCC), Evie Grace Singleton (UCA), Heather Schnars (UCA), Marissa Collins (UCA), David McFatrich (UCA)

Day 2 Interviews: Keelie Arneson (NSU), Jessica Nagy & Shelbee Berringer (UCA), Stacey DiFrancesco (NSU), Scout Brooks (UCA), David McFatrich (UCA)

Day 1 Interviews: Ashley Elrod & Hugh Hernesman (NSU), Malina Sanchez (McNeese), Trent Herman (HBU), Stephanie Hernesman (NSU), Jill Ivy & OJ Olson (SFA), Heather Schnars & David McFatrich (UCA), Caiti Wenger (HBU), Tony Graystone (TAMUCC), Brianna Brink (TAMUCC)

Click Here to Be Taken to the Directory of Interviews Done During the 2013 SLC Volleyball Tournament

SLC Tournament: Day 2 Continuous Coverage

 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

SLC Tournament: Day 1 Continuous Coverage

Tournament officials and the Southland Conference office request that no live audio/video transmissions coincide with existing coverage provided by the Southland Digital Network and/or ESPN3.  Information about these live events can be found here: Southland Website Describing Their Coverage  I have agreed to comply with these requests and anticipate launching SFA VolleyBlog Radio during the 2014 season.

Coverage of the tournament on my site will consist of periodic interviews and commentary in a continuously open chat window.  This chat window will remain open all during the first day of the tournament and then a new window will open on Days 2 and 3.

Feel free to submit questions and comments even when I am "off-line". Once back courtside, I will post your comments and questions and do my best to address the issues you bring up.  All comments/posts/questions during matches will automatically print in the window.  I'll do my best to satisfy any interview requests from players/coaches you might have subject to their availability during the weekend.

Finally, thanks so much for the email and social media support!  Regular tweets during the Tourney will appear at @SFAVolleyBlog.


 

2013 Southland Conference Tournament Interviews

Links to Interviews conducted during the 2013 Southland Conference Tournament will appear below.  Once at the SoundCloud home page for SFA VolleyBlog, you will be able to access any interview done during the tournament or previous interview done this season.

Check back here often for updates:

SUNDAY INTERVIEWS:

Tony Graystone of TAMUCC Breaks Down the Championship Match Between UCA/NSU


Post-Match Comments by Evie Grace Singleton of UCA

Post-Match Comments by Heather Schnars of UCA

Post-Match Comments by Tourney MVP Marissa Collins of UCA

Post-Match Comments by Head Coach David McFatrich of UCA

SATURDAY INTERVIEWS:

Pre-Match Interview with Libero Keelie Arneson of NSU

Interview with UCA MB Jessica Nagy and L Shelbee Berringer

Post-Match Interview with NSU OH Stacey DiFrancesco

On Court Post-Match Comments By UCA OH Scout Brooks

On Court Post-Match Comments By UCA Head Coach David McFatrich


FRIDAY INTERVIEWS:

Interview with Freshman of the Year Ashley Elrod of NSU

Interview with McNeese State OH Malina Sanchez

Interview with HBU Head Coach Trent Herman

Post-Match Comments by NSU Coach Stephanie Hernesman

Pre-Match Interview with SFA's Jill Ivy and OJ Olson

Pre-Match Interview with UCA's Heather Schnars and Head Coach David McFatrich

Post-Match Comments By HBU MB Caiti Wenger and Head Coach Trent Herman

Post-Match Comments By TAMUCC Head Coach Tony Graystone

Post-Match Comments By TAMUCC OH Brianna Brink


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reaction to Official All-SLC Teams

Congratulations to all the athletes honored today by the Southland Conference.  To be recognized by coaches and sports information directors is truly an honor that every one of those players will surely cherish.  It is tangible recognition for the hours and hours of dedication to our sport.  I love the fact that the lists are announced right before the tournament because it helps build intrigue and excitement.  It gives fans the chance to brag on their athletes and it gives people names to zero in on concerning their opponents.  It's really a highlight day of the year for me.  I love pouring over the list, visiting all the websites for all the teams to read what their schools said about them. It's wonderful... a great celebration of the sport.

Of the 18 names that appears on the official conference lists, all but two of them were part of the teams that I comprised and released last Monday.  So, as would be expected by people working diligently to process a ton of information, there was considerable overlap.  Many of the players who were ranked 7th thru 12th on the official lists were ranked slightly lower on mine.  I think virtually all of those choices are reasonable so to try and present arguments why a player like Wenger should be a little lower isn't profitable.  I can buy it.  The gap between the conference's mode of thinking and mine really aren't far apart in cases like that.

I do want to address (politely) a few differences between the lists and try and bring out a few talking points.  Before I start, I want to be quite clear and necessarily humble about one thing:  Coaches know best.  I consider it an honor to have access to most of them.  I look forward to continuing to earn some measure of respect and friendship, if those things can be made possible.  I respect each and every one of them.  They're people I need to continue to try and learn from.  They have a wiser insight that I can't have by virtue of what they do and see.

Secondly, I categorically reject the notion that All-Southland Conference teams are meant to honor those teams that finished high in the standings by default and design.  To do this is unquestionably biased and duplicative. As a scientist, I just can't do things that are by their very design biased and duplicative.  If accidental bias creeps in, then I will ask for forgiveness and seek to forgive it in others.  But to honor individual effort exclusively on reputation or standings is not an objective I can buy into.  Standings and championships honor teams.  All-SLC lists honor athletes who excelled in their current season.  The lists have a date attached to them and they should be constructed independently from year to year, regardless of reputations and statistics put up in past years.

This is, of course, a transition to a discussion about the two of 18 players on the official lists that did not make mine.  Both are from Northwestern State and I have a split belief about these two situations.

First, Ashley Elrod.  This is a wonderful choice for Freshman of the Year.  I was super impressed by her when I saw her play this year.  NSU just keeps cranking out these amazing freshman.  Remember, last year, I picked Caiti O'Connell as my Freshman of the Year and Courtney Moore from Lamar won it.  I didn't get any criticism.  Elrod is definitely someone I considered as my pick.  In the end, I just felt like the young blockers were the two that tipped the scale for me.  It was a tough call.  There were several other freshman that caught my attention and I listed them in my "just missed" section.  Elrod is a fine choice, but I don't think it was a slam dunk. I liked the blockers I listed along with the two Kayla's at Nicholls and the freshman setter at HBU just a tad more, but I won't waste any more ink on the issue.  Elrod is a nice choice.

But then.. we had a pick on reputation.  Stacey DiFrancesco is on the Honor Roll of Volleyball athletes published by the SLC in celebration of its 50th anniversary.  I did not overlook her.  I have sought her out to be one of the first interviews I ever did with a visiting player.  She is by all accounts a true team leader.  She is a credit to NSU and our conference.  When healthy and playing at her ability level, she is unquestionably one of the players you want to watch.  I picked her as my Freshman of the Year in 2011 and put her on my 2nd team last year.  She finished 7th in the official balloting last year which is virtually identical to where I ranked her.  No one can accuse me of having anything "against" DiFrancesco.  Quite the opposite.  She is one of my favorite players in the conference.  I made notes about her when I saw her in a high school All-Star tournament for crying out loud.

I'll say it and move on:  She made the first team this year on her reputation and reputation alone.  If you'll step back, look at it objectively, you'll have to acknowledge it.  Maybe begrudgingly, but you'll have to see it was a reputation vote that was misplaced.  The list has the year "2013" at the top of it.  2011 and 2012 don't count.  She got that credit, and it was very, very much deserved.  She will likely deserve it in 2014.

It appears as though my feel about middle blockers in 2013 that I expressed in the "Tuesday Update" section of my list is supported by the official lists.  It was a down year for MB's in the SLC.  Only two MB's ranked in the Top 18 of the official lists. I'd ask people to keep that in mind when reviewing my own list of teams.  Since I pick teams, I was locked in to picking 6 MB's among the top 21.  In a year like this, that makes my lists over accent middle blockers.  I think overall that picking actual teams is a better way to do this whole thing, but I have to acknowledge that for this year it caused me a problem.  It inflated the rankings of players like Mercier and Grant.

Either I have a totally different outlook on Sam Houston's Haley Neisler than about everyone else, or we have another situation where a player wasn't nominated.  I'll stay away from all that this year, because we don't need to have a "middle blocker sequence of posts for a week" like we did last year.  Let's just call it the Pancratz Effect and move on.  I'll probably learn more about the whole Neisler thing in a few days, so I should learn my lesson and shut up.

Finally, I do want to acknowledge one player that in retrospect I think I undervalued:  Jessica Nagy of UCA.  I think if I had it over to do again that I would move her up.  Maybe exchanging her with Whittaker of Lamar would have been a better choice.

Like I started in 2012, I keep a spreadsheet of statistics and notes and I use a weighting formula to help me rank players.  It's a very statistical approach. Of course, I do make adjustments based on conversations with coaches and my own observations.  It's not without feel or emotion.  But, I just didn't execute on my knowledge base with Nagy.  I won't change the lists, because I need to keep the process honest.  But, looking back on all my data analysis and notes and mental back-and-forth, I think I undervalued her.  I wish now I'd make different final decision on her spot.

I'm particularly happy for Marissa Collins and Keelie Arneson.  Both have waited.. and now both have their prestige.

Time to pack for Corpus Christi....

Monday, November 18, 2013

5th Annual SFA VolleyBlog.net All-Conference Teams

There will be an article that goes along with these selections, but to make absolutely sure that my lists are released before the official All-SLC Teams are announced by the conference, I am posting these late Monday night.

Check back here late Tuesday or early Wednesday for some discussion and my reasoning in a few cases. Like last year, I suspect I will periodically comment on this article over the next week.  I will indicate updates at the bottom of the post with boldface time stamps.  If the conference waits to release the official lists until Wednesday, then I will certainly comment at the bottom of this post on Tuesday night with some defense.  For now, I will only repeat a few phrases from years gone by about my selection process:

Recall,  I actually pick "teams". The conference does not do this. Often, the conference puts 12 girls on the first team, six girls on the 2nd team and has 9 girls listed as honorable mention for a total of 27 girls recognized. I will have three teams of seven for 21 girls honored and then a list of the players I considered for the list and "just missed".

As I have said each of the last four years: "There are seven starters each night for any particular team, so we will pick seven girls per team. Each team is required to have a a setter, libero, two middle blockers, two hitters and a seventh player that can either be MB or OH."

2013 SFA VolleyBlog.net All-Southland Conference Teams and Awards:

First Team:

OH Devaney Wells-Gibson, Sam Houston
OH Sara Pope, Oral Roberts
OH Heather Schnars, Central Arkansas
MB Jessica Pancratz, Oral Roberts
MB Haley Neisler, Sam Houston State
S Marissa Collins, Central Arkansas
L Keelie Arneson, Northwestern State

Second Team:

OH Malina Sanchez, McNeese
OH Briana Brink, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
OH Sierra Whittaker, Lamar
MB Lexi Mercier, Abilene Christian
MB Chelsea Grant, Lamar
S Tayler Gray, Sam Houston State
L OJ Olson, Stephen F. Austin

Third Team:

RS Jill Ivy, Stephen F. Austin
RS Jessica Nagy, Central Arkansas
OH Ivy Baresh, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
MB Jacque Allen, Stephen F. Austin
MB Caiti Wenger, Houston Baptist
S Logan Borque, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
L Bruna Silva, Oral Roberts

Just Missed:  RS Ashley Phelps, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, OH Kayla Burling, Nicholls, MB Justice Walker, SFA, MB Jovanna Poljasevic, Oral Roberts, S Laura Taylor, Oral Roberts, S Kayla Armer, HBU, L Shelbee Berringer, UCA

Player of the Year:  Marissa Collins, Central Arkansas
Setter of the Year:  Marissa Collins, Central Arkansas
Libero of the Year:  Keelie Arneson, Northwestern State
Newcomer of the Year: Sara Pope, Oral Roberts
Freshman of the Year:  Chelsea Grant, Lamar
Coach of the Year:  David McFatrich, Central Arkansas

EDIT:  Tuesday, 8:00 PM

A few tidbits on Tuesday night as we await the official lists from the conference which should be released tomorrow.  First, my Google Stats tell me that there were 185 independent views of this page within the first day of it being printed, so thanks very much for coming over here to check things out.

On Collins at UCA:  What more can we say?  She's the main reason why UCA looks like it may steam roll through the tournament and back into the NCAA's.  I thought she should have been Player of the Year last year, and I think she now has shown she actually deserved it two years in a row.  This year, I am more confident that she will actually win it when the official lists are published.  UCA lost Hammonds and Hays, and what they got was nice production from Petties and Gantar to pair up with Dittrich who returned and then Schnars made another leap forward offensively.  Couple all that with offensive mastermind McFatrich, a fast tempo, and voila.. they go undefeated and look poised to repeat as tournament champs.  The engine to it all, though.. is definitively Collins.  Schnars is quickly becoming one of my favorite hitters in the conference, though.  She and Pope are beasts.

On Arneson at NSU:  Dominating.  Just dominating.  Are you kidding, me?  Six time defensive player of the week and four of the last five?  Probably the most shocking think that could happen in the SLC voting is that Arneson not get Libero of the Year.  I've talked with enough people to be pretty certain she'll get it.

On Middle Blockers:  Is it just me or is this a slightly "weak" year for middle blockers in the Southland?  Everyone knows I think Pancratz walks on the moon, and Neisler deserves to be honored as well, but overall, I'm not sure the TOTAL level of play in the middle this year across the entire conferernce was as high as in some years past.  Talk to me about this in Corpus if you have a different opinion.  It just "feels" like a slightly down year at that position.  By the way, to be fair to Lexi Mercier at ACU - given that I wrote entire articles last year about Pancratz:  You can check that Mercier is listed on the NCAA's stat website as in the "reclassifying" schools section (bottom of rank page) and her numbers would currently place her at 11th in the NATION in blocks per set.  Grant and Mercier will be exciting to watch the next three years, but in the end, I gave the nod to the seniors.

On Malina Sanchez:  Legit.  This was the hardest "1st Team" decision I had to make.  I think she'll easily make the Top 12 list that the conference puts out and be an official first-team All-SLC pick.  To stay true to my system of picking "teams", I had only three spots for hitters.  If you are a McNeese fan and you want to swap out a player for Sanchez on my list, then I really can't fault you.  What an improvement in reducing attack errors she has made.  It is astonishing how much improvement from last year to this year she's made.

On Northwestern State:  They suffer on lists like this because of the fact they have a ton of players that are "above average".  Actually, I think their absence from the lists points to just how balanced and complete the OVERALL team is.  But, the point of All-SLC voting is NOT (or should NOT be) to reward teams.  We have more important things called trophy cases and standings for that.  No, the point of these type lists is to reward individuals who have performed at the highest level THIS YEAR as players.  NSU doesn't have a single pin hitter that ranks in the Top 9 among all pin hitters in the conference in total kills, kills per set or attack percentage .  Not a single one.  Glynna Johnson, NSU's best middle, ranks 7th in blocks per set among MB and 19th and 13th, respectively among MB's in kills per set and attack percentage.  NSU doesn't set their middles a ton. So, statistically, overall, mixing Johnson or Vanessa Coleman's ranks around in some proportion doesn't land them in the Top 9 at their positions in purely a statistical sense either.  Johnson was the first player that just missed my "just missed" list if that gives you some perspective.  Even if you bump them up a spot or two for intangibles or team effect, they wouldn't get in the top 6 at their position.  Think of NSU individually just on the cusp of basically every list at every position...

But, when you put Elrod, DiFrancesco, O'Connell, Neely, Johnson, Coleman all together, you get a very, very formidable set of players and a front row to be reckoned with.  This across the board "above average", but nowhere stellar list of players (at least in terms of 2013 numbers) creates a depth that is basically unrivaled.  This is actually the highest complement I can give the Demons.  They have no obvious weakness. All six of their attackers are good. Where NSU deserves praise is as a collective, and not really in terms of individual accolades.  Isn't that the praise that is most important?  Of course, NSU coaches, parents, and fans would probably enjoy more limelight on their players.  Truth be told, they'll all trade it for hoisting a trophy.. it's the only thing that really counts anyway.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Interview with NSU Libero Keelie Arnesman & Co-Head Coach Hugh Hernesman

The several hundred people who got a chance to witness yesterday's SFA/Northwestern State match really got a treat.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I wish SFA had been able to extend the level of play shown in the first set and a half throughout the entire match and pull out a big win on the final day of the regular season.  In the end, the balance of NSU that I have talked with so many people about shone through and the Demons were able to secure a 3-1 victory.

Many times I've commented to other fans, coaches, our players and anyone else that will listen that I enjoy back row defense as  much as any other part of the game.  Well, yesterday might very well have been one of the best combined efforts by two back rows I have ever seen.  The 5th Annual SFAVolleyBlog.net all-SLC teams are still in construction.  They will (as always) be released here before the conference makes official All-SLC announcements later this week.  I'll have say this, though.. liberos Keelie Arneson and OJ Olson put on an absolute clinic...just a lock down clinic... on digging up balls. You'd be hard pressed not to think we were watching the two best liberos in the conference. We're not talking about several dozen nice, right to target digs either... there were some balls absolutely blistered by hitters on both sides that the back rows dug up with perfection.

On the Northwestern State side, Arneson, Stacey DiFrancesco, Ashley Elrod and Emily Johnson all played wonderful defense.  For us, Olson and Janet Hill were absolute digging machines.  It was so awesome to see senior Amanda Rister put up huge dig numbers as well in her farewell match at Shelton Gym.

242.

242 digs total in four sets!  Olson set the SFA record for most digs EVER by a Ladyjack in a four set match.  Now, that is saying something considering that the All-American Stephanie Figgers lines our record book for most of the back row statistics.  Meanwhile, Arneson eclipsed her own record for the second time in becoming (again) NSU's all-time single season dig leader.  When it was all said and done, Olson had 43 digs and Arneson 42 digs in the four set defensive war.

On Friday, before NSU practiced in Shelton Gym, I got a chance to sit down and have quite an extensive talk with Arneson and Co-Head Coach Hugh Hernesman.  We cover a lot of ground in the interview you'll hear at the link below, so settle in and have a listen to both player and coach discuss the fantastic year that the Demons have had to this point.

Finally, I am working on a little surprise for my coverage of the Southland Conference tournament which starts this Friday.   You'll have to wait for an announcement later in the week.  As always, I am working on ways to cover SFA volleyball with more and more depth.  SFA will be looking to pull an upset against #1 seed Central Arkansas.  Northwestern State (#2) draws McNeese in their first round match up.

I'll be there all weekend covering every match and trying to talk with as many players and coaches as I can among all the excitement.  The Dugan Wellness Center in Corpus Christi is one of facilities in the Southland I haven't been to before, so I am anxious to get to the island and see how this weekend goes.

Look for the next article to be my All-Conference picks post (late Monday or early Tuesday) and then a tournament preview article in the middle of the week.  I'll get to Corpus Christi quite late on Thursday night, but I'll be fired up and ready to go with coverage Friday morning.  SFA plays at 4:00 PM.

Click Here to listen to the interview with Keelie Arneson and Hugh Hernesman

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Interview with Oral Roberts MB Jessica Pancratz and OH Sara Pope

Well, I did it.  I went a year (basically) without bringing up the name Jessica Pancratz on this website.  Readers will remember that last year I was utterly shocked when the Oral Roberts middle blocker didn't show up on All-Conference lists.  It turns out there was more to that story that I originally knew and in all honesty more than is intended for me to know.  I get that.  We rarely know exactly why things like that happen.  Still, the absurdity of her being left off the lists became a theme for me last November.  In fact, I've written several times that I think the way the Southland Conference structures its balloting for postseason honors is flawed.  Pancratz's situation aside, I think the voters last year did an excellent job.  I don't have a problem with the voting in general - instead, I have a problem with the fact that the ballot is constrained artificially by the conference.

For anyone who cares to rehash the entire "Pancratz Fiasco of 2012", you can go back and read the string of posts here for my original picks, and then here for the original post defending Pancratz and finally here for sounding off about the Southland balloting protocol

We all have certain players that aren't on our "home" teams that we appreciate watching and Pancratz has been one of those players for me the past two years.  She was a natural person to try and interview because of the posts from 2012.  Several people have asked if I had ever talked with her directly...assuming that she was keenly aware of all my lobbying.  I can honestly say yesterday was the first time I have ever spoken to her and she was not aware of my writing last year.  Maybe that was a good thing.

Nevertheless, it is actually refreshing to hear her honesty in this interview as she reflects on the honor missed.  As much as I enjoyed finally getting a chance to talk to her, I'll have to admit the conversation caught me off guard a few times.  The honesty in her answers reflected just how much these type honors can mean to athletes.  It just reinforced to me that the voting system is flawed no matter how well the research is done.  The whole balloting structure...well... as Jessica puts it in this interview..."sucks".

The other great thing about this chat is that it also showcases Sara Pope.  This newcomer-of-the-year candidate was the America East Player of the Year at Albany (NY) last year.  From the greater Tulsa area, Sara transferred to ORU prior to this season and has instantly made her mark on both the ORU offense and the Southland Conference in general.  Before the match I was commenting to a few folks that ORU may be the only collegiate team that has TWO former MVP's of other conferences on their current squad.  Libero Bruna Silva was the Player of the Year (Defense) in the Summit League before ORU joined our conference.

While this is Pancratz' senior season, Pope has one more at ORU.  As good as she's been this year it is kind of scary to imagine her taking another step forward.  If that happens, then she may be a candidate for Player of the Year honors in our conference in 2014.

ORU looks locked in to the 4 vs. 5 matchup in the Southland Tournament next week.  If that happens, then if UCA knocks off the #8 seed, we might see a repeat of last years' final in the semifinals this year.

I anticipate expanding my coverage of the conference tournament this year over and above what I have been able to do in the past.  This is often a time of year where I post frequently, so check back often.   Once we get to Corpus Christi, I anticipate scheduling multiple (sit down) interviews per day as well as on-the-spot interviews after matches.

Definitely plan to use www.sfavolleyblog.net as one of your primary SLC Tournament resources along with the conference and tournament websites.

Click Here to Listen to the Interview with Jessica Pancratz and Sara Pope

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lucky 7 ?

With one week to go in the Southland Conference regular season, the time for SFA to create a sense of hope is right now.  The 2013 season has largely been one of ups and downs with very little momentum created during the last few months.  “All is well that ends well”, they say, so let’s hope SFA can convince themselves and convince their fans that they are capable of taking down some teams with better records on paper.  If so, then there is still the chance we can head to Corpus Christi  believing that we can be the “hot” team and make a run.

So, let’s take a look at what remains for SFA and other teams that figure to have low-end seeds in the 2013 Southland Conference Tourney.  My bet is that we are headed for the #7 seed, which, as I’ll argue below, may not be too bad a spot to be in.  Before we get started, I should make clear what I think many SFA fans realize.  We haven’t locked up a spot in the tournament yet.  However, going into Tuesday’s match with Oral Roberts, our magic number is one.  One SFA win or one loss by either Lamar or McNeese does the trick.

Let’s break this down:

McNeese (7-9)
Remaining: HBU (Home), Nicholls (Away)

McNeese owns the tiebreaker with Lamar by virtue of beating the Cardinals 3-1 both times they played.  So, McNeese controls their own destiny.  If they win out and Lamar wins both of their matches, then McNeese would have the tie break over Lamar.  Both McNeese and Lamar winning both games and SFA losing both games would knock SFA out of the tournament and give the Cowgirls the #7 seed.  There is a way that McNeese could win one game and still not get in.  If Lamar wins both of their games, then Lamar would be 9-9, McNeese would be 8-10 with a win and a loss, then they get bumped out by SFA who at worst would also be 8-10, but we own the tiebreak against them.  This is a scenario that wouldn’t be advantageous for SFA given it is one of the few scenarios that gets us the #8 seed.

I’m thinking McNeese splits their last two and finishes 8-10.  However, if McNeese beats HBU on Tuesday, this could be bad news for SFA. It forces us to win in order to get the #7 seed if McNeese goes ahead and beats Nicholls too (which is likely).  Besides SFA winning, the best thing that could happen to us is HBU beating McNeese.

Lamar (7-9)
Remaining: TAMUCC (Away), HBU (Away)

Lamar is in a tough spot because they don’t own the tiebreak against either SFA or McNeese.  They are the only team that HAS to win in order to make the tournament. As of right now, they are on the outside looking in.  They need to pick up at least one win and then hope McNeese loses both games.  That would get them in the tournament as the #8 seed.  Even if SFA lost both games in this scenario, SFA would still get the #7 seed since SFA and Lamar would be 8-10 and McNeese would be 7-11.

Things really don’t look all that good for Lamar.  McNeese has a relatively comfortable match up with Nicholls on the last day of the season.  Lamar will be underdogs at TAMUCC, so there is a decent chance that both McNeese and Lamar are 7-10 going into their last game of the season.  If this is true, then SFA is automatically in no matter whether they beat ORU tomorrow or not and then Lamar would need to beat HBU and have Nicholls upset McNeese.  The Cowgirls recently swept Nicholls at home.

I’m thinking Lamar loses both and finishes 7-11 and doesn’t make the tournament.

SFA (8-8)
Remaining:  ORU (Home), Northwestern State (Home)

The ‘Jacks, believe it or not, are actually in a pretty good spot because of owning tiebreakers.  As mentioned earlier, SFA doesn’t even have to win a game in order to make it into the tournament.  If SFA finishes 8-10 and at both McNeese and Lamar also finish 8-10, then not only does SFA make it in the tournament, they avoid the #8 seed due to the tiebreak.  Of course, if SFA wins at least one game this week, then they are automatically in even if McNeese and Lamar win out.  So, we have a bit of an easy route to make it to the tournament by virtue of being one full game ahead of McNeese and Lamar in the standings AND owning the tie break against both.

I think SFA will finish in the 7-hole no matter what.  This might be a lucky spot.  It gets us out of a first round match up with UCA and gets us on the opposite side of the bracket from them.

HBU (8-7) has three games left: at McNeese and home for Sam Houston and Lamar.  To me that looks like two wins and a loss to finish at 10-8.  If that happens, then even if SFA wins out this week we would STILL fall to the #7 seed since HBU owns the tie break against us.  So, there are just a whole lot of scenarios that point to us falling into that seventh slot.

Now, if HBU only won one game and SFA won both.. we would leap frog them into the #6 slot.  We could also get the #6 seed if HBU lost all three and we won one game this week.

So, if it is most likely that SFA is the #7 seed, then who is our most likely first round opponent next week?

Northwestern State (14-2) plays UCA at home and then comes to Nacogdoches.  They own the tie break with Oral Roberts.

Sam Houston (13-3) is on the road against HBU and TAMUCC.  They own the tie break with the Demons.

Oral Roberts (11-4) plays us tomorrow, but then finishes with two relatively easy games at home against Southeastern Louisiana and New Orleans.  They own the tiebreak with SHSU.  So, ORU can’t finish in the #2 slot.  Even if they win out, they’d be 14-4 and Northwestern State at worst would be 14-4 and ORU would lose the slot on the tie break.

So, either the Demons or Bearkats will be the #2 seed. 

That SHSU/TAMUCC game on the last day of the season is very, very interesting.  Suppose UCA beats Northwestern State.  Then SHSU is in control of their fate at the #2 seed on the last day of the season if they beat HBU tomorrow.

If the ‘Jacks can prove that they can play with Top 4 seeds Oral Roberts and Northwestern State this week, then enough momentum could be gained to be in the same position as we were last year.  Remember, we beat the Demons in the first round in last year’s tourney.  I’ll be honest:  I would rather play Sam Houston in the first round than Northwestern State.  I just really don’t think we match up well with the Demons… too many offensive weapons.  If Wells-Gibson had an off day or we could keep her in check, then I don’t think Sam Houston is all that deep.  Don’t get me wrong.. both are great teams.  Remember, Sam Houston SWEPT us.  Still, if there is a team that is a little overrated going into the tourney, I think it is Sam Houston.  I don’t see them making the final, but we’ve all known that I have had to eat crow before.

Here is my pick for how things finish up:

#8 McNeese vs. #1 UCA
#5 Texas A&M Corpus-Christi vs. #4 Oral Roberts

#7 SFA vs. #2 Sam Houston
#6 HBU vs. #3 Northwestern State

The key game besides our own is HBU/McNeese  If McNeese wins tomorrow and SFA loses to ORU, then the chance we get the #8 seed goes up quite a bit. It really puts the heat on us to beat Northwestern State on the last day of the season.  That’s something I think we are capable of, but I like our chances better against ORU than against NWLA.

Honestly, if the bracket falls the way I predict, I am OK with that.  That’s not an easy road, but I think we’d be in the weak side of the bracket and thus would have the best chance at pulling some upsets.

As always, I’ll be covering the SLC Tourney in full force.. blogging all three days I am there.  There will be live chats for all SFA matches and live blogging updates for every game.  Also, as I’ve done the last two years, there will be constant interviews with as many teams and players as I can get access to.  It is an exciting time of the year, there is still a glimmer of hope that SFA will get a little steam built up behind them and then put a scare into Sam Houston or Northwestern State in the first round.


Axe’ Em ‘Jacks!   

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Road Kill

With two weeks left on the Southland Conference regular season schedule, it is safe to say that SFA’s 14-13 overall record, and especially the 6-8 mark in SLC play qualifies as a disappointment.  Sure, four straight victories over the next two weeks could get us into the tournament and avoid the #8 seed.  It would also qualify as an emotional boost and establish some confidence for the first round match up.  So, all is not lost as of yet because there is still meaningful volleyball to be played.  Yet, to this point, things haven’t gone according to script.

Then again, do we have a script?  Of the seasons in recent memory there are some in which we have taken a while to establish a regular set of starters and substitution patterns.  This season qualifies as different.  There were no regular starters or rotation patterns.  Even if we play the exact same group over the last two weeks, that will hardly count as a pattern given the season is in its third month.

It is hard to know what is more inconsistent:  the overall quality of play by this years’ squad or the lineups and offensive sets that we run out there against our opponents.  Of course, the two are correlated in some way.  Still, the combinations are dizzying.  One setter offense?  Two setter offense?  Six rotation player?  Three rotation player?  On the bench?  From week to week no one knows.   Need replaced during the match?  Will that player return or sit the remainder of today?  That’s up in the air.

Now, all of the above could be taken as a criticism as to how we’ve utilized our personnel.  It could be taken to be a criticism of coaching decisions.  Maybe there are others – possibly myself included – that would have made fewer concoctions out of the lineup than what our coaching staff has, but still, it is hard to pin this years’ lack of consistent performance entirely on role changes.  Coach Humphreys and crew can never be accused of being unwilling to try something new.  I mean, I have never seen so many attempts at trying to find the magic combination as I’ve witnessed this year.  To no avail.  It hasn’t happened.

I like roles.  I think players like roles.  I find it hard to believe that players can prepare and be at their best among constant change.  Then again, this is collegiate athletics.  Adaptation is key.  Be versatile or sit on the pine.  I can understand that.  Flexibility is required when things don’t naturally settle into a working pattern. Still, it is mind blowing just how many changes have been made. Playing time and roles are largely unstable.

I haven’t mentioned one factor yet that others might instantly have thrown into the ring:  injuries.  Sure, we’ve had injuries.  Injuries affect your lineup and they certainly require that roles be fluid.  However, maybe I am in the minority here:  I don’t think our injuries a) cost us more than maybe one win and b) aren’t really all that more than what other teams have experienced.  Maybe I am wrong.  I didn’t go through every roster and check the exact time that players have been out.  However, as I’ve studied the teams we are about to play I’ve commonly come across stories of injuries.  As I’ve talked to coaches before and after matches they all tell me stories of girls being sick, hurt, having to leave the team, etc.  It’s sports.  People get hurt.

No, I don’t think injuries are/were the most important factor in our underwhelming play so far in 2013.  I think they were a factor, but I think they were secondary, if not tertiary in terms of problems.  Culprit #1?  Net defense.  We allow way too many one-one-one attacks at the net.  We don’t consistently close blocks and far too often are caught out of position giving opposing setters the chance to pick attackers that create isolation attacks repeatedly on us at the net.  Simply put, we have statistical leaders in blocks, but overall… I don’t think we are a good blocking team.  And there IS a difference between statistically generating blocks and being a good blocking team.  In fact, a lot of being a good blocking team may very well never translate to actual blocks.  An attack that is slowed down – even barely touched at the net – is more likely to be dug (and dug to target) than forcing a back row player to slow down a full powered swing.  Secondly, and maybe more importantly, a closed block forces attackers to choose alternate lanes to swing into.  These alternate lanes are attackers secondary choices and they can be more easily read by back row defenders.  When only one lane is open, then that lane can be better anticipated by the back row player.

We don’t do those two things:  1) we don’t consistently touch balls at the net to help out the dig and 2) we don’t take away alleys for hitters so that balls can be funneled down one lane.

The result:  Our opponents score more easily than we would prefer.

Now, I said injuries were an issue, but maybe issue #3.  So, what about Issue #2?  Well, if net defense is at the top of the “needs improvement” list, then next in line is the same darn thing I’ve written about for season after season:  It helps (tremendously) if you have one go-to-girl that can score from anywhere on the court and is on the court at all times.  Middle blockers don’t play all the way around.  Plus, middle blockers are supposed to “block”. At least, their title suggests so. To continue, if your blockers are having trouble slowing down opposing offenses, then splitting their attention by having them carry a heavy offensive responsibility is only further increasing the chance that they won’t consistently contribute on both sides of the ball.  No, the players that should be your go-to six rotation players are definitively outside hitters.

Earlier in the year, I argued for Kaitlyn Granger to be “left alone” and just put out there for six rotations.  Recently, this is exactly how she’s been used and I like that.  I just think she is the kind of player that will play her best if she is in the game consistently, not playing then sitting, then playing then sitting.  However, the suggestion that Granger play six-rotations was not with the thought that she would be the go-to on offense.  The go-to’s are clearly Ivy and Bates.  One of them, in my mind, should ALWAYS play six rotations.  Here is where the injuries put a snarl into the plan… maybe.

Ivy’s knee and Bates’ ankle at times this year have kept them out of the lineup and I understand that each needed to be gradually worked back into playing shape and build up stamina and confidence in their health.  But at some point, once they’ve proven that they can play, then you gotta have one of them out there at all times.  Otherwise, you don’t have that go-to on the floor to get you out of a funky rotation or really even to create a diversion for the opponent.

Its’ nice to have three solid offensive choices on the floor as much as often to force the defense to respect the entire net.   Typically, SFA has two players on the floor that I think the defense has to worry about and unfortunately, in some rotations, at some points in the year, we have had one decent offensive option on the floor in our weakest rotations.

Offense actually has become  MORE of a problem as the year has progressed.  SFA is hitting .199 as a team – which is actually 40 points higher than last year.  However, we have hit .174 in conference matches - meaning that we were having more attacking success earlier in the year as opposed to the last month or so. 

Look back over the last months’ games and identify the one where you think SFA had its best offensive showing.  If you don’t pick the home game against Lamar, then it has to be a candidate.  That match was against a decent opponent and we were in control for virtually the entire afternoon.  The net defense was better that day and in terms of actually blocks, we basically doubled the Cardinals up. 

The offense was sharp and how did we do it?  Bates (20 kills, .500) and Ivy (11 kills, .375) led the way and Granger did what I mentioned above.  She was a complimentary piece – limiting her errors, which she has to do – and came within one kill and one dig of a double double.  The offense was led by the outside/right side hitters and the middles blocked balls.  Plus, Madison Martin played out of her mind on the back row, digging up things left and right.  Aside:  The girl can play.. no doubt… I love me some Madison Martin, but someone hitting negative .046 isn’t an attacker.  Her role is as a back row defender and passer and she’s damn good at it.  However, giving her 20-25 swings a night just shouldn’t be in the game plan.

So, not enough net defense and no consistent six-rotation scorer than can bail you out of a tough run.  That’s my top two in terms of why we are sitting at .500 and on the bubble of the tournament.  Everyone knows we still have a shot.  I mean, c’mon, suppose we beat both SELA and UNO and even split at home between ORU and Northwestern St.  That’d be 9-9 in SLC play, maybe we’d tie with someone we had the breaker on and earn the #7 seed.  That’s not terrible, because then we would be opposite UCA in the bracket and play someone in the first and second round that we could have complete confidence against!  It can be done!

However, to finish this up and make what I think is my overall point… consider this “leaderboard”.  The statistic that I think encapsulates my point here is looking at the DIFFERENCE between attack percentage and opponent attack percentage.  You want this to be positive.  If it is negative then your opponents are swinging at a higher percentage than you.  Now, if this is negative AND your own attack percentage is below league average, then that’d be a double whammy… and that’s precisely SFA’s situation.

CONFERENCE ONLY (ATTACK % - OPPONENT ATTACK %)

1. UCA            .151
2. ORU            .094
T3. SHSU       .057
T3. NWLA       .057
5. TAMUCC    .039
6. Lamar          .016
7. McNeese    .009
8. HBU            -.007
9. UIW             -.032
T10. ACU        -.044
T10. SELA      -.044
12. SFA           -.047
13. NICH         -.072
14. UNO          -.201

The top five teams in the conference are also the five that top this list.  The teams we are fighting with for a tournament spot (Lamar, McNeese, HBU) are all at basically zero on that list.  Draw your own final conclusion.  I think I’ve made a sufficient case.

I’ve already written once this season about opposing hitters feasting on us.  If you are looking for a tell-tale sign as to whether we have anything left in the tank for the last three weeks, don’t talk about injuries. 

Instead, how about we ride our two prize horses named Ivy and Bates as much as we can and everyone else on the front row start slowing some opposing attacks down on a consistent basis?


Step Up.