Sunday, November 16, 2014

6th Annual SFA All Conference Teams


REMINDER:  SFA VolleyBlog Radio will broadcast the entire 2014 Southland Conference Tournament starting Friday at 11 AM.  Just click on the radio button above and you're all set!!

Well, for the 6th time, here we go.  This is my list for All-Conference performances in 2014. In case you are reading this after 11/20/14,  please note that this list was released well before the official conference announcement which will come on Wednesday, November 19.

Like in previous years, 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.  For now, I will repeat a few phrases from years gone by about my selection process:

Recall,  I actually pick "teams". The conference does not do this. Typically, the conference puts 12 girls on the first team, six girls on the 2nd team and has 6 to 9 girls listed as honorable mention for a total of 24 to 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 lists and "just missed".

As I have said each of the last five 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."

2014 SFA All-Southland Conference Teams and Awards:

First Team:

OH Devaney Wells-Gibson, Sam Houston
OH Heather Schnars, Central Arkansas
RS  Jill Ivy, Stephen F. Austin
MB Jacque Allen, Stephen F. Austin
MB Chelsea Grant, Lamar
S Kayla Armer, Houston Baptist
L OJ Olson, Stephen F. Austin

Second Team:

OH Jessica Wooten, Houston Baptist
RS Briana Brink, Texas A&M Corpus Christi
OH Kaci Eaton, Nicholls
MB Glynna Johnson, Northwestern State
MB Justice Walker, Stephen F. Austin
S Michelle Griffith, Sam Houston State
L Kalynn Egea, Nicholls

Third Team:

OH Evie Singleton, Central Arkansas
RS Mackenzie Neely, Northwestern State
UTIL Ivy Baresh, Texas A&M Corpus Christi
MB Cortney Moore, Lamar
MB Allison Doerpinghaus, Houston Baptist
S Paige Holland, Stephen F. Austin
L Morgan Todd, Southeastern Louisiana

Just Missed (in order of position played):  OH Jennifer Loerch, ACU, OH Ashley Phelps, TAMUCC, OH Angelique Vidaurri, UIW, L Bailey Martin, Northwestern State, S Kristyn Nicholson, TAMUCC, MB Lexi Mercier, ACU, MB Rachel Cagnina, McNeese, MB Brittany Gilpin, TAMUCC, UTIL Stacey DiFrancesco, NSU.

(FWIW, the two that were toughest to leave off were Loerch and Martin)

Player of the Year:  Devaney Wells-Gibson, Sam Houston
Setter of the Year:  Kayla Armer, Houston Baptist
Libero of the Year:  OJ Olson, Stephen F. Austin
Newcomer of the Year: Kaci Eaton, Nicholls
Freshman of the Year:  Kristyn Nicholson, TAMUCC
Coach of the Year:  Debbie Humphreys, Stephen F. Austin

Player of the Year Discussion:
I think there are three strong candidates for this award:  Wells-Gibson, Schnars and Ivy.  Don't get me wrong, I would love for Jill Ivy to win for obvious reasons.  However, I think all things considered, Wells-Gibson should get it.  If Ivy wins it, then I will be elated.  If Schnars wins it, then that is a great choice - no problem with that at all.  She's a beast.  To be perfectly honest, knowing how voters have typically voted, I would be willing to bet that Schnars actually wins it because of the high attack percentage numbers.  Schnars hit .300, Ivy hit .263 and Wells-Gibson hit .203.  Let me ask you something?  Shouldn't serve errors count, too?  If you are willing to indulge-

Here is my assessment of the three:

1) Statistical Argument:
Wells-Gibson had 520 kills, 41 aces, 9 block solos, 25 block assists for 582.5 points
She had 233 attack errors, 39 service errors, 22 return errors, 1 block error and 3 ball handling errors for 298 points against.  That's a net positive 284.5 across 108 sets for a 2.63 NET avg.

Schnars had 425 kills, 36 aces, 13 block solos, 19 block assists for 483.5 points
She had 121 attack errors, 85 service errors, 29 return errors, and 1 ball handling error for 236 points against.  That's a net positive 247.5 across 101 sets for a 2.45 NET avg.

Ivy had 386 kills, 30 aces, 6 block solos, 70 block assists for 439 points
She had 126 errors, 18 service errors, 10 return errors and four blocking errors for 158 points against.  That's a net positive of 281 points across 104 sets for a 2.70 NET avg.

But, we haven't factored in digs.  Which is important since all three of these girls play all the way around.  Wells-Gibson had 2.85 digs per set compared to 2.09 digs per set for Schnars and 2.06 for Ivy.  To me, statistically, this pushes Wells-Gibson back out front.  Finally, in terms of serve return, Sam Houston seems perfectly comfortable with Wells-Gibson in return.  Central Arkansas appears not to mind Schnars in return, but would prefer Berringer/Hunt, I'd think.  Go look at the the total return numbers.  Wells-Gibson received almost as many serves as the SHSU libero and over 200 more than Schnars.  SFA is OK with Ivy in return, but since this is Ivy's first and only complete six-rotation year, they'd prefer Olson/Martin to take serves.

So, I am not trying to argue against our own player - and not really against Schnars either, but I just think when you consider all the statistics that you have available for 2014, Wells-Gibson wins out.

2) Eye Ball Test Argument
Statisticians don't like these type of touchy-feely ways of arguing, but I think many people vote more from instinct than stats, so here goes:  If you were drafting a Southland Conference Fantasy Volleyball team and you had first pick, who would you take?  My eyes tell me Wells-Gibson.  She's the better athlete, more smooth, can score from anywhere and is the one person I'd want to swing with the game on the line.  Again, this takes NOTHING away from Schnars and Ivy.  Schnars can also score at will from all over the court.  Ivy hits the ball as hard as anyone in the conference, but Wells-Gibson has the all-around game and athleticism edge ever so slightly.

Setter/Freshman Discussion:
Oh man, did I debate this.  I even took my lament to Facebook a few days ago:

Setters. Why is it so hard to rank setters? Armer? Griffith? Holland? Where is Marissa Collins when you need her?

Actually, Collins is in Sweden playing professionally, but that's not the point.  I probably had these three setters in every possible order on my "ballot" at some point in the last week.  Just recently, I wrote a post that said Holland has every right to win this award.  Armer didn't play all that well against us so I still had a little negative vibe there.  In the end, I leaned a little more toward my own style of setter with the pick.  I won't rehash all that in this space, but you can read previous articles where I had stated my preference for setters that are in Armer's mold.  It could go a number of ways, but Kayla Armer is really good and I've believed that for two years now.  She just got overshadowed by all the senior studs last year.

Ashley Ellis of Lamar put up some good numbers, but I'll decline to comment in writing about why I didn't put her on the list.  Nicholson at TAMUCC was close too, and of course, you see I took her at Freshman of the Year.  Which by the way, I think the Freshman has to be Nicholson or Gilpin of TAMUCC.  I went with Nicholson over Gilpin purely because of her position and how much responsibility it was to coordinate an offense with senior players like Brink and Phelps and also have to mesh new players like Gilpin and Felux.

I always get both praise and criticism for these lists and that is perfectly fine.  I've been told that my lists make more sense than any other and I've been told I am on "crack".   I can take it, it comes with the territory of player evaluation.

Comment away below if you'd like.  And AS ALWAYS, if you see me at the conference tournament - which if you are there - you will, because I will be all over the place doing radio and interviews and posting stuff like crazy, then please, strike up a conversation.  I love to talk volleyball and will certainly respect good counterpoints.

Can't wait for the official lists on Wednesday!  I also can hardly wait to get to Natchitoches on Friday!

Update:  Wednesday, 11/19 9 PM
The official all-conference teams got announced this afternoon and overall I think the lists are a very good representation of the players that deserve accolades.  If you factor in my decision to place three hitters, two blockers, a setter and a libero on each team, then my list and the official one show a large amount of agreement.  For instance, Singleton of UCA officially made the first team, but since she was the 7th hitter on the list, using my system she comes in at 3rd team - which is exactly where I placed her.  Of the 18 girls officially on the first and second teams, 17 of them appear on my teams.

These are my main observations of the official lists:

  • As said earlier, although Holland, Armer and Griffith play for teams with different styles and have different styles themselves,  I didn't see a huge gap between the three.  At least one rough draft of my lists had Holland first and Armer third.  I'm beyond thrilled that Paige got Setter of the Year.  I think there are several deserving setters and clearly I like Armer just a bit more than the official voters.
  • Texas A&M Corpus-Christi is under represented.
  • There is still too much "team bias".  For some reason, official voters repeatedly ignore strong performances by players on teams that finish in the middle or lower end of the standings. This is terribly unfortunate.  Team awards are called standings, trophies, championships and seeds.  It is an absolute crime that a player can finish third in the nation in a major statistical category and then finish fourth in the league voting at her position.  When stuff like that happens, it makes the conference look silly.
  • Schnars is an excellent choice for POY.  She would have had my #2 vote if submitting a list of 18 as the voters do.  Doerpinghaus was my #2 choice at Newcomer, so both of those awards are nice picks.  I am a huge Heather Schnars fan, so that honor is pleasant to see although I would have loved to have seen Jill Ivy win.  See the Wells-Gibson, Schnars, Ivy breakdown in the original post for my reasoning.
  • I am so happy for SFA Volleyball.  It is so awesome to see all those names.  Ivy, Allen, Walker, Holland, Olson, Humphreys all obtaining recognition is great visibility for our program.

  • The Southland Conference has four liberos that finished in the Top 50 in the nation in digs per set.  None of these girls won Libero of the Year.  You MIGHT could explain away one or two of those performances based on intangibles, non-statistical arguments, the eye-ball test, etc, etc.  But you will NOT convince me that ALL FOUR of those girls can be passed over for those reasons.  You will not convince me that a player that had more than 100 less digs than the conference leader and finished 7th in conference play in digs per set has strong enough non-statistical evidence in her favor to leapfrog FOUR PLAYERS for the highest honor at the position. 
But I don't blame the voters for this misstep. I blame the system.  When coaches submit their own rankings of five players it stacks the deck for others to play with.  I have said, many, many times that if we are to truly take lists like this seriously, then the population to choose from for all awards should be the entire rosters of every team.  Coaches SHOULD NOT prioritize their players for league use.  We should not try to make All-Conference voting easier for the voters. The impact a player has made on the league or their program in past years should have NO BEARING on voting in the present year.  The list clearly has the label "2014" at the top of it.

I'm pleased Nicholson won the Freshman of the Year, but the current rules prevent TAMUCC from submitting multiple names of freshmen.  This creates bias against teams that have multiple freshmen that are under consideration.  Let the league decide by an open vote.  Don't give a program the power to filter the list of candidates.

Finally, I actually chuckled out loud when I noticed that the 2nd "TEAM" All-Conference list is made up of three blockers, two liberos and a hitter. If you want to honor the league's choice of the top 18 players, then just call the list "2014 All Conference Selections".  But to call three blockers, two liberos and one outside hitter a "team" isn't just small differences in preferred semantics - it's goofy.

#FreeEgea  #FreeOlson