Saturday, August 29, 2015

Anchor of the Back Row: OJ Olson

Click here to go to the YouTube video interview with OJ Olson

Let's get straight to it:  OJ Olson is the odds on favorite for 2015 Libero of the Year in the Southland Conference.  In the interview you'll watch (link above), she clearly states she wouldn't trade that honor for the championship she helped the 'Jacks earn in 2014 and I have no doubt that response is genuine.  Still, as someone who picks All-Conference teams each year here at this site, one has to wonder what Olson has left to prove.

Olson will cement herself as a digging legend when all is said and done in December.  There is Stephanie Figgers and then everyone else when it comes to 'Jacks back row defenders.  Figgers was the best libero this league has ever seen. Olson is on pace to finish near Maddie Hanlan in total digs as a 'Jack.  Health permitting, OJ will join Figgers and Hanlan as the only Ladyjacks to amass 2000+ digs in their time in purple.

Unlike some of the other other all-time leaderboards at SFA, I've seen all the top stat-gatherers at libero that SFA has put on the floor.  If you want to call Olson the 2nd best libero in SFA history, I probably won't argue with you.  I'm still sorting out her strengths versus Hanlan's in my mind.  By the end of the year, I may get off the fence.  One benefit of OJ's career is that she has been healthy her entire time here in Nacogdoches.  Hanlan, unfortunately, had to deal with several large scale injuries and recoveries during her playing career.

Honestly, this may be a down year for off-colored jersey in the Southland.  I made a list of all the projected liberos recently and the tally of truly strong players at that position can probably be counted on one hand.  There are many new liberos and inexperienced ones suiting up for our Southland competition in  2015.  That, coupled with OJ's sheer dominance and reputation should set her up for a strong run at hardware come voting time in November.

Actually, she was as good a choice as any for the award in 2014.  She was my pick as you can recount here.  Part of the trouble with individual awards in this conference is that the voters seem to forget that these aren't team awards.  Or at least, if they realize it, they don't apply their knowledge when they vote.  Two things repeatedly happen in SLC voting for all-conference:  1) Because the process is flawed, undeserving players get too many votes because of coach submitted pre-rankings and 2) standout players on poor teams don't get their due.

Coaches submit ranked lists of up to five players and then other coaches and SID's use these lists to pick their top players overall in the conference (by ranking them from 1 to 18).  The top 12 get first team (as if, 12 is a team?) and then the next six form the second team.  This sort of convoluted way of voting allows coaches to have too much power and creates crazy lists of "teams" sometimes containing 6 blockers, 3 setters and no liberos or something like that.  Case in point, last years' 2nd team All-SLC squad had three middles, two liberos and one outside hitter.  I've never seen that combination of girls form a "team" in my entire life.

I know the point is to obtain a list of the top 18 players in the conference, but wouldn't you think that if that were really the goal then coaches and SID's could just make their 18 picks without the lists of five submitted by each coach?  A few times, coaches have COMPLETELY left a player off the ballot that others thought were highly deserving (see Pancratz, Jessica, Oral Roberts University, 2012).  At other times - like SFA last year - the list serves to minimize the contributions of players on strong teams.  SFA had Jill Ivy, Paige Holland, Jacque Allen, Justice Walker and OJ Olson  all deserving of post-season honors. Shoot, maybe all five should have been on the first team.  But, Humphreys unfortunately is asked to rank those five players.  Now, whoever gets ranked 4th or 5th on that list is going to look less-valued to the rest of the voters when that simply isn't the case.

If instead, coaches and SID's are asked to submit a list of 18 or so players without the coaches pre-ranks, an SID or opposing coach can reasonably look at the season, the stats, and use their memory to assess that SFA has five players all deserving of being in the Top 12.  But, there is less chance of that happening while they are sitting there looking at a list that has a name like OJ Olson or Justice Walker listed 4th or 5th on the team ranks.  Now, I want to be clear.  I don't 100% KNOW that Olson was ranked 4th or 5th.  Humphreys' might have told me how she set them - sometimes I know that after the fact - and sometimes I don't.  I have NEVER asked her how she voted, yet we talk about players together a lot.

For instance, I know she had winner Heather Schnars at the top of her picks last year, whereas I would have chosen Devaney Wells-Gibson.  She read my post to learn my choice and the coaching staff and I talked about how they preferred Schnars while we were all sitting around between matches at the SLC Tourney last year.  I know people that voted like she did.  I know people that submitted actual votes like my blog ballot.  I don't have an actual vote in the All-SLC teams published by the conference, but do occasionally get a media vote for All-Tournament teams.  I print my lists here before the conference does and so I specifically do NOT want to know how coaches are setting their lists to avoid the bias I am arguing against here in this post.

Oh well, that's in the past.  The facts for the here-and-now are that OJ Olson is the best libero in the conference.  If she puts up stats and we get wins and she leads the way like she has for the last two years, you can bet I'll be clamoring all season long for the voters to get it right this time.  See - that's just the thing - Olson is so good that she probably can eventually overcome any balloting system.

She just shouldn't have to.

SFA has been blessed by having back-to-back standouts in Maddie Hanlan and OJ Olson anchoring the back row.

It sure is nice knowing we'll have the libero advantage all season long when we make our run at a repeat for conference champions!  #AxeEm