This is the time of year where new college freshman abound all over campuses everywhere. All that “new blood”. All that energy. There are 70 new freshmen listed on Southland Conference volleyball rosters in 2015. Couple that with thirteen transfers, numerous new assistant coaches and two new head coaches and you’ve got a whole lot of fresh faces to see during the season. Freshmen are unpredictable. But while it will take several weekends – at least, to see which of them look ready to make an impact on their club, there is another set of folks that we know something certain about – those that are gone.
The Southland Conference no doubt gained some impact players among the 83 that are new to teams this year, but a lot of talent also went out the door over the summer. Who lost the most? Which teams have the most talent to replace? Who gets to work with basically the same squad as they had in 2014? That’s the subject of this weeks' posts.
This time of year we will see preseason polls paraded around as if they mean something more important than what they do. Those at the top will cite that they got the respect they deserved. Those at the bottom will feel underrepresented and use the low ranking as motivation to show coaches and SID’s they were wrong. For everyone, “2015 is our year” can be the temporary mantra. That is, until some teams begin to win and others begin to lose.
Let’s take a look at the impact of players lost to teams coming into 2015.
For today: The top six teams in the standings from last year. We’ll cover the other seven clubs on Friday.
We’ll start with our own Ladyjacks – the reigning Southland Conference regular season champions.
Stephen F. Austin (2014: 24-8, 16-0 SLC)
Key Losses: SR RS Jill Ivy, SR S Paige Holland and JR DS Madison Martin (did not return)
Other Losses: Two seniors and two freshmen not returning
New: 8 Freshmen
Impact on 2015: An offensive force like Ivy won’t be replaced with one arm. Instead, SFA will look to get a “little bit more” from several contributors. Holland will be replaced by JR Shannon Connell, who already has a decent amount of on-court experience in her first two years. Martin’s back row passing and defense will be missed, but there are plenty of candidates to fill a passing role whether that being SO Lexus Cain or contributions from freshmen.
Overall Assessment of Losses: Sizeable, but not extreme
Blog’s Prediction: SFA will finish first in the SLC standings again, but with a few conference losses this time around.
Central Arkansas (2014: 20-12, 13-3 SLC)
Key Losses: JR OH Evie Singleton (transferred), SR L Shelbee Berringer, SR MB Alicia Dittrich, Coach David McFatrich (to Mississippi State)
Other Losses: Two freshmen not returning
New: Coach Jeni Jones, 6 Freshmen, 1 Sophomore, 1 Transfer
Impact on 2015: At first blush, it might appear that UCA lost a good portion of their core, but I’d argue they lost less in total impact than people think. Singleton, while a strong attacker, wilted in the conference tournament and will follow McFatrich to Mississippi State. Berringer was generally overrated during her time in purple. Dittrich was an offense only MB as UCA didn’t rely much on her defense. That said, she did tend to always hit for a high percentage. There is a lot lost here, and the loss of head coach David McFatrich alone is impactful, but new coach Jones will still have plenty left behind to work with.
Overall Assessment of Losses: The loss of McFatrich and three starters is pretty severe. UCA is a at a critical point in terms of sustaining success.
Blog’s Prediction: This team is still good enough to finish near the top. They have the incomparable Heather Schnars. Petties and Nash will improve and you’ll need to get familiar with the name Rachel Sharp. Just remember, I told you so. I’ll pick them 2nd.
Sam Houston State (2014: 18-12, 11-5 SLC)
Key Losses: SR OH Deveney Wells-Gibson and JR MB Carling Urben (did not return)
Other Losses: One senior and one junior
New: 7 Freshmen
Impact on 2015: For the first time in recent memory, Sam Houston doesn’t appear to have a gigantic offensive force. So much of the Bearkat offense was run through Wells-Gibson that her loss is magnified here more so that it would be at other programs. That said, Sam Houston is everyone’s favorite school to hate on because of their helter-skelter schemes, yet they always seen to get things done pretty well in the end. Five of the last six years, they have finished in the top 3 in the regular season standings. Unless they have big contributions offensively from new players, this team might struggle a bit to get the ball to the floor.
Overall Assessment of Losses: Big enough to knock them out of the top tier. I think they can hold things together reasonably well, but on the other hand, they have a pretty low floor. All could unravel to an 8-8 finish.
Blog’s Prediction: Fourth. At least recently, they always seem to do better than expected in the regular season. Now, in the post-season? Nope, they tend to always fall flat.
A&M Corpus Christi (2014, 19-16, 11-5 SLC)
Key Losses: SR OH Ashley Phelps and SR RS Brianna Brink
Other Losses: One junior and two freshmen not returning
New: 5 Freshmen
Impact on 2015: I honestly think this team can absorb the loss of Brink and Phelps really well. It will be interesting to see how they use Ivy Baresh now that those two are gone. Possibly, they will need get more offense from middles like Glipin and Felux. Or, maybe Baresh will hit more. She’s versatile enough to be used in several ways. I think the team will look different on offense, but not necessarily be all that much more worse off. That said, Brink was a solid contributor for years and not an easy player to just write off as easily replaceable. Nicholson is a star in the making at setter. They have enough to contend.
Overall Assessment of Losses: Moderate. If their incoming class of freshman contributes greatly, they could be SFA’s biggest threat.
Blog’s Prediction: Third. I won’t be surprised if they beat both SFA and UCA during the year. They have a higher floor than a team like Sam Houston. I’d be shocked to see a big drop off, and wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a run at it all. For what it’s worth, I think the gap between SFA, UCA and TAMUCC and the next tier is of decent size.
Northwestern State (2014, 16-17, 10-6 SLC)
Key Losses: SR UTIL Stacey DiFrancesco, SR RS Mackenzie Neely, SR Keelie Arneson (transfer), Coaches Hugh and Stephanie Hernesman (to Clemson)
Other Losses: two seniors, one sophomore not returning and one freshman not returning.
New: Coach Sean Kiracofe, 6 Freshmen
Impact on 2015: The bubble burst. The Demons peaked early and sustained it for the last few years, but now they lose basically an entire starting lineup in one year. Plus, the “other losses” here are not run-of-the-mill. Setter Emily Johnson and MB Vanessa Coleman were multi-year starters. Ashley Elrod was freshman of the year two years ago and Aubrey Davis was a solid contributor as a freshman last year. They. Are. All. Gone. Plus, the loss of the wizards Hugh and Stephanie Hernesman is a big blow. Look, the Demons won the tournament on their home floor. They deserve credit for that. However, they finished just 10-6 during the regular season. A lot would have to go right to repeat that in 2015.
Overall Assessment of Losses: Extreme. No one in the conference lost more than Northwestern State. Coach Kiracofe comes with high praise from several sources I’ve talked with, but there are definitive challenges ahead. This looks like a 9-7 team to me.
Blog’s Prediction: Tied for Fifth With HBU.
Houston Baptist (2014, 15-17, 9-7 SLC)
Key Losses: SR OH Megan McStravick
Other Losses: two additional seniors, one sophomore not returning
New: 5 Freshmen and 1 Transfer
Impact on 2015: Losing McStravick and senior right side Bailey Keith shouldn’t pose much hardship on Trent Herman and staff. Both were good, not great players that don’t leave the dent that Ivy, Singleton, DiFrancesco, Brink, Wells-Gibson, et al. do. In fact, HBU could be sneaky good. I always go into the year with a few unheralded players that I like more than other folks do.. let me give you one name: Blair Gillard. In fact, HBU has a ton of players than I individually really like: Kayla Armer is my favorite non-SFA setter and how can you not be impressed with Jessica Wooten? If they have a few aces in the hole.. look out.. this could be a dark horse. Transfer OH Bailey Banks could be an interesting addition.
Overall Assessment of Losses: On the low end of moderate. Maybe minimal.
Blog’s Prediction: Tied for 5th With Northwestern State.