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....