Saturday, November 21, 2015

Complete List of 2015 SLC Tourney Interviews

Links to interviews done at the 2015 Southland Conference Tournament:

Sunday, November 22 (SLC Championship)

Interviews Done After Texas A&M Corpus Christi Defeats HBU 3-1 in the Tournament Final:

VIDEO:  Ivy Baresh
VIDEO:  Tony Graystone
AUDIO:  Morgan Carlson
AUDIO:  Kristyn Nicholson
AUDIO:  Kelsee Felux

Saturday, November 21

VIDEO: HBU:  Jessica Wooten
VIDEO: Texas A&M Corpus Christi: Madeleine Doud
AUDIO: McNeese: Amber Fryer and Bridget Justis
AUDIO: HBU: Trent Herman

Friday, November 20

VIDEO:  Texas A&M Corpus Christi:  Morgan Carlson
AUDIO:  Southeastern Louisiana:   Jim Smoot
AUDIO:  Texas A&M Corpus Christi:  Tony Graystone
AUDIO:  HBU:  Trent Herman, Allison Doerpinghaus & Blair Gillard
AUDIO:  Sam Houston: Brenda Gray, Jordan Vaughn & Brooke White

Thursday, November 19

VIDEO:  Texas A&M Corpus Christi:  Kristyn Nicholson & Kate Klepetka
AUDIO:  McNeese:  Ashleigh Fitzgerald, Malina Sanchez & Kelly Graham

SLC Tourney Day 2: Rapid Fire Reactions

As I did last night, I'll end my day by writing down a few thoughts about today's semifinal matches.  Again, this is rapid fire, so excuse the lack of creative adjectives and grammar along the way.

Match 1: Islanders/Cowgirls

I thought Texas A&M Corpus Christi showed their depth again. Madeleine Doud didn't have a ton of kills, but she had some outstanding blocks at key moments (See Video Link Above) and she and Carlson played with a ton of emotion. Kelsee Felux, who didn't even play yesterday, was one kill away from tying Baresh for the team lead. The Islanders were really loose before the match.  They bring their own boom-box out onto the floor for early warm ups and they all were singing and dancing while getting warmed up.

The most impressive thing about the Islanders has been their depth and the blocking.  I didn't expect this many blocks at all.  Gilpin had 10 yesterday, Doud had 6 today and Carlson 7. As great a blocking team as HBU is.. and they have 25 blocks in two games, the Islanders have 23, and of course, they've played one less set.

Really, until the final points of each set, I thought McNeese stayed with them well.  The service run by Baresh at the end of Set 1 was a killer, but the Cowgirls played a respectable match for sure.  Bridget Justis leads the tournament with 6.86 digs per set.  McNeese just never really had a huge offensive set.  They hit basically exactly .100 in all three sets.  Credit the Islanders defense.  Also, it seemed like every time the Cowgirls were about to tie or shrink the lead to 1, something strange would happen:  service error, ball off the tape and no reaction, call wouldn't go their way, miscommunication of some sort, etc.  To finish in the Top 4 in the standings and make the tournament Final Four legitimizes the progress McNeese has made.

Match 2: Huskies/Bearkats

Now that it's over I can write this:  I told our assistant coach LA Lanford late Friday night Sam Houston seems to always have a bad Day 2 at the tournament and that was the reason I would go with HBU.  I didn't know what else to think given all the upsets on Day 1.  Against UCA, all of Vaughn, Cunningham and White were scoring.  Really, Vaughn was the only offense for SHSU today.  White came back with a nice third set, but she was high error in the first two.  They had to go deep down the bench after playing only 7 girls on Friday and none of those moves sparked them.  That said, Gooch was solid off the pine getting a couple kills and three blocks, but it wasn't enough to get the Bearkats over the hump.

SHSU just had a ton of errors:  29 attack errors.. they hit .000, four return errors and six missed serves.  HBU didn't hit lights out, and they had more service errors than Sam Houston, but the big three:  Wooten, Doerpinghaus and Gillard were too much.  Wooten now has two straight double doubles and a total of 23 kills and 32 digs in seven sets (3.29 k/s and 4.57 d/s)

HBU would be the lowest seed in tournament history to win it if they are able to pull off the upset tomorrow.  The Huskies' back row - particularly Fuchs and Erickson are going to need to have stellar matches.  TAMUCC's back row has a HUGE edge over the Huskies.  On the front, it should be a great battle to see if Nicholson can keep Doerpinghaus and Gillard guessing and spread the ball around and try and create isolation looks.

I'll be on SFAVolleyBlog Radio rather than on SLCDN or ESPN3 tomorrow, so I can make a prediction on this one and it not seem out of place.  I'll say Klepetka has a monster match on the back row and Corpus wins in three.. two sets being really close and one not.

SLC Tourney: First Day Rapid Fire Reactions

Several people today asked me if I was going to do a write up of Day 1 of the 2015 SLC Tournament.  I hadn't intended to, but before I call it a night (it's technically already Saturday) I decided I'd pen some thoughts that have kept coming back to my mind.  I'll try to be brief.  This is rapid fire. No grammar rules here, so be on guard!

Match 1:  Islanders/Lions
So, I don't pick Giplin on my SLC lists, primarily b/c she was 17th among all starting MB's in the SLC in blocks and blocks per set & what happens?  She gets 10 blocks.  That was ridiculous. And how about Morgan Carlson?  (See Video link in other post).  Are you kidding me?  Hitting.500 and now you have her and Baresh to worry about?  Plus, Gilpin is usually more offense than defense.  If Corpus spreads the net on offense like that the rest of the tourney, then I don't see anyone beating them.  Go look at the stats on the year.  Baresh literally averages 10 k/10 dig per match and what does she get?  10/10 exactly.

Hey voters... Landry Bullock?  Reward good players on low seeded teams?  Have we heard this call here, oh, I don't know.. 1000 times. Bullock was lights out (18 kills) and she made my point of my All-SLC Tourney picks perfectly.  Glad she's only a JR so we get to see that again.  Just realized Monica Ramon had 20 digs in three sets.  Nice.

Match 2: Cowgirls/Privateers
Holy moly Amber Fryer?  What in the world was that?  14-1-23 (.565).  I did NOT see that one coming at all.  And, my pick for Newcomer of the Year, Bridget Justis got the most digs of anyone on Day 1 with 29.  Seriously, how can  you not like this McNeese team.  They are so loose, so funny and clearly they are downright scary.  That said, this match truly could have gone either way when you look back on the first three sets.  If UNO gets one of those first two, then this would have gone 5 and then.. who knows.  Good showing by the Privateers.  They did not roll over - they represented themselves well and were in positions to win each of the first three sets.  Dunn had a double double and we'll get to enjoy her and the other young UNO players for several years. They look like a tournament team again in the near future.

Match 3: 'Jacks/Huskies
Set 3 was a killer.  What if we had pulled that set out?  We had such problems in first sets this year that after we stormed back in Set 2, I wasn't worried a bit.  In fact, until the very last points of Set 3, it seemed like matches I've seen all year long that we won in 4 or 5.  That said, it was odd to see Walker and Allen so low in the stat counts.  Justice finished with 6 blocks, but many of her 7 kills were in latter sets.  To get 23 kills between Hanna and Coleman was nice, but our offensive formula was out of whack.  It's unfortunate that Jacque was never really in sync, but I was glad to see OJ and Tori have good final matches of their career.  It's always a hollow feeling after a tournament loss.  Preparing to broadcast UCA/SHSU I kept looking over at our players just sitting in the stands stone-faced.  I hate that.  I know they hate losing more than me, but still.. I hate losing.  Just empty feeling inside and you feel like you should "do something", but there is nothing to do.  It's done and we lost.  Stinks.  I anticipate winning so much that it's an emotional letdown when we don't.. you know what I's the fan in me/you.

Honestly, I was concerned about us playing at a high-level three straight times, but I would have given you three-to-one odds we were going to win.  I didn't expect us to lose in the first round at all.  And as goofy as this might sound now (hindsight is 20/20), I told LA Lanford late Friday night that the low seed I expected to have the greatest chance of an upset was actually Southeastern La.  Still, we had a good season.  20 more wins.  We'll have Abby, HannaMac and (Fathead) Coleman on the outside next year.  Plus, Walker might be the VERY early odds on favorite for Player of the Year, who knows?  As always, I was proud to be part of another winning season.  We'll be up near the top again with a few tweaks, changes and additions.  Not too worried about our future -we'll cause trouble and be in the mix.

Meanwhile, Blair Gillard for President.  I said it when I interviewed Armer and Wooten earlier in the year, I said it when I was breaking down the All-SLC picks, I said it to everyone that would listen to my incessant volleyball exuberance today, Blair Gillard is for realz.  I'm going to be shocked out of my goard if she's not an All-SLC player the next two years.  You could bottle that energy and sell it on Wall Street and I'd invest some of my retirement money in it.  Just so fun.  And, while we're at it.. another quiet day at the office for Jessica Wooten: 12 kills, 19 digs and five blocks in four sets.  No big deal.  Not flashy... just GOOD.

Match 4: Bearkats/Sugar Bears
Woah.  Talk about hushing the home crowd.  I'll be honest:  All week I have been studying for the broadcasts and I have done my very best to put personal thoughts aside as I prepared and delivered content.  These teams deserve the best coverage I can provide and I know I am still learning.  Now, as a fan, I was hoping UCA would lose... just selfishly since we were on their side of the bracket. But, man, after that match, it was painful for me to watch Schnars and South get emotional.  I didn't realize I would feel the way I did after that match.  I was really hit by how honest their emotions were.  I don't want to say I felt "sorry" for them.  I mean, they don't need my pity.. they are great athletes.  But, just to see the disappointment and such honest emotions was difficult for me to take in.. I had made up my mind I was going to try once again to talk with Schnars during this tournament after not being able to last year.  But, after that..I had/have no place.  I'll just write again how much I admire her play and how much this conference will miss her level of talent.

Sam Houston - The word I kept coming back to:  RESULTS.  They just got it done.  Michelle Griffith didn't get any post-season honors.  Ok.  Again, she's a polarizing player for people to analyze.  I've always liked her as a setter.  Some folks I talk to want to talk about her negatives before her positives and I get it.  But hey, RESULTS. 2nd to Nicholson in assists per set overall and in conference play and tonight she spread it around beautifully... 14 kills for Vaughn, 13 for White and 12 for Cunningham.  I also thought Kilpatrick played well.. better than at other times I've watched her.  To me, UCA's defense actually looked confused.  Plus, there were tons of shots SHSU took where I thought:  That scored????  UCA's front line was kept guessing and a lot of balls that I thought were going to be dug were not.

I have no idea what to think about HBU vs. SHSU tomorrow.  None.  Can either one of these teams really put together three matches in a row?  I guess we'll find out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

2015 SLC Tournament: Complete Broadcast Schedule

Broadcast Schedule for 2015 Southland Conference Volleyball Tournament:
Friday, November 20
Match 1:  #1 TAMUCC  vs. #8 SLU (11 AM, SLDN, Greg Miller)
Match 2:  #4 McNeese vs. #5 UNO (1:30 PM, SLDN, Greg Miller)
Match 3:  #3  SFA vs. #6 HBU (4:00 PM, SLDN, Chris Mycoskie)
                   (Match 3 Internet Radio: Here at SFAVolleyBlog)

Match 4:  #2 UCAvs. #7 Sam Houston (6:30 PM, Greg Miller)

Saturday, November 21

Match 5:   Match 1 Winner vs. Match 2 Winner (Noon, Greg Miller)*
Match 6:   Match 3 Winner vs. Match 4 Winner (2:30, Chris Mycoskie)*#
                  (Match 6 Internet Radio:  Here at SFAVolleyBlog)

*Games could be jointly called by Chris Mycoskie and Greg Miller.  Decision: TBA

# If SFA is not involved in Match 6, Greg Miller would call & no Internet radio broadcast would be done.

Sunday, November 22

Match 7  Southland Conference Tournament Championship (ESPN3, Lincoln Rose and Brooke Bentley)
(Internet Radio for Championship Here at SFAVolleyBlog)

I am pleased to have been asked to work for the Southland Conference Digital Network this weekend and provide streaming coverage of many of the matches on Friday and Saturday.  Chris Mycoskie, Assistant Commissioner of the Southland Conference and lead contact for Southland Television and Electronic Media will also call some matches as he has done in years past.

Chris has many talents and responsibilities and so he approached me last week about helping out delivering content so that he could aid in other duties while in Conway.  We hope this partnership will strengthen the overall "team" effort of providing the very best coverage of this weekends event.

I am honored - on the heels of my first season in charge of being the ESPN3 commentator for SFA Volleyball - to be asked to take on such an important and visible role.  This will be my 7th Southland Conference Tournament to cover, but first to involve television/Internet streaming.

Chris wisely felt it best if in this first year of partnership, that he call the matches which involve SFA.  I will run radio through my blog for those that would like to listen to the Ladyjacks in that format.  Of course, I have and would always try and provide the best coverage for ANY match I was assigned.  However, this arrangement allows viewers to dispel any worries concerning my SFA loyalties.

In the truest sense, for these broadcasts, I do not work for ESPN or SFA, but instead work for the Southland Conference.  I take that very seriously.  My pledge is to provide the highest quality description and experience that I possibly can.  I am quite familiar with each team in the conference and confident that I can provide the viewer with an experience that is complementary to the real showcase:  the athletes and coaches attempting to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Special thanks to my readers, SFA Volleyball, Athletic Director Robert Hill at SFA, all the players, coaches, administrators and fans that have supported - and critiqued - me for these last seven years.

SFAVolleyBlog's official partnership with the Southland Conference marks a major step forward for this blog and for it's mission of bringing you courtside with Ladyjack and Southland Conference Volleyball.

For seven years,we have been SFA Volleyball's Strongest Presence on the 'Net. I am ALWAYS receptive to meeting new people and talking "shop".  Please, introduce yourself.  If you are a fan of one of these eight teams, we already have a common bond.

Monday, November 16, 2015

7th Annual SFA All Conference Teams


Well, for the 7th time, here we go.  This is my list for All-Conference performances in 2015. In case you are reading this after 11/19/15,  please note that this list was released well before the official conference announcement which will come on Wednesday, November 18.

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 six 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."

2015 SFA All-Southland Conference Teams and Awards:

First Team:

OH Heather Schnars, Central Arkansas
OH Ivy Baresh, Texas A&M Corpus Christi
MB Chelsea Grant, Lamar
MB Justice Walker, SFA
MB Jacque Allen, SFA
S Kristyn Nicholson, Texas A&M Corpus Christi
L Kate Klepetka, Texas A&M Corpus Christi

Second Team:

OH Malina Sanchez, McNeese
OH Jessica Wooten, HBU
MB Megan Nash, Central Arkansas
MB Allison Doerpinghaus, HBU
OH Jennifer Loerch, ACU
S Michelle Griffith, Sam Houston State
L OJ Olson, SFA

Third Team:

OH Autumn Lockley, Incarnate Word
OH Landry Bullock, Southeastern Louisiana
MB Glynna Johnson, Northwestern State
MB Cortney Moore, Lamar
OH Jordan Vaughn, Sam Houston State
S Kayla Armer, HBU
L Madison Hoover, ACU

Just Missed (in order of position played):  OH Brooke White (SHSU), OH Kaci Eaton (Nicholls), OH Anna Niederhauser (Nicholls), RS Morgan Carlson (TAMUCC), MB Blair Gillard (HBU), MB Brittany Gilpin (TAMUCC), S Sarah Siemens (ACU), S Amy South (UCA), L Bridget Justis (McNeese)

Player of the Year:  Heather Schnars, Central Arkansas
Setter of the Year:  Kristyn Nicholson, Texas A&M Corpus Christi
Libero of the Year:  Kate Klepetka, Texas A&M Corpus Christi
Newcomer of the Year: Bridget Justis, McNeese
Freshman of the Year:  Autumn Lockley, Incarnate Word
Coach of the Year:  Tony Graystone, Texas A&M Corpus Christi

Tuesday, November 17 9:00 PM:  Thought Processes

I wanted to come back and edit this post before the official lists are released tomorrow and add a few lines about some of my thought processes and difficulties in making these lists.

1) On one hand, it seems like UCA, being the 2nd seed, should possibly have more representation than just two girls on my three teams.  But, who?  Should South be moved up?  I personally, just can't justify that.  Samantha Anderson?  Who?  Nobody else's individual performances stand out to me.  Now, the way this goes is that coaches submit ranked sets of names.  So, knowing how the conference does it, I'll bet South is higher on the actual list than mine.  That's just a guess.

2) New Orleans?  Nobody on my list.  That seems odd, right?  I mean, they did have a season that to this point has FAR exceeded other folks expectations.  But again, who stands out here?  Maybe this is actually symbolic of the fact that UNO - as a TEAM - has collectively achieved at a higher level than what was originally predicted.  I looked over things many times looking for a UNO representative.  Blessing Dunn and Kaitlyn Grice got onto my radar - meaning they made the "spreadsheet" of massive statistical analysis.  But, even when I talked to others about their thoughts of UNO, I got different names every time.  So, I am really curious if any of their girls show up on the official lists.  I am anxious to see their freshman play Friday, but can you take one over Lockley for this list?  I just can't do that.

3) Newcomer of the Year.  I didn't see an obvious pick.  Maybe someone can help me here, but I thought this one was tough because no one really seems to jump out.  I went with Justis for two reasons:  a) she stabilized the Cowgirl back line and that allowed some of the new players and Sanchez to contribute more on the front, which I think was a key to their "getting out of the pit" and b) I like back row players as a default.  So, that one was rather unscientific.

4) As I've said in past years, I think the official lists tend to under represent strong performances by athletes on low-seed or out-of-tournament teams.  I have had very respectable people (read:  coaches/administrators) tell me that the top teams should have a FIXED number of first teamers, second teamers, etc... and/or that if a team doesn't make the tournament then they don't deserve players to make All-SLC.  My response to that:  Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? So, no dissing the Lockley/Bullock/Niederhauser placing. Bullock was 6th among all pin-oriented players in total kills AND attack percentage.  That's doesn't deserve at least 3rd team?  Chelsea Grant:  First teamer.  Any other conclusion is team bias.

Other quick hits on some things:

  • In one version of this, I had Malina Sanchez on first team.
  • I have to refrain from being a hypocrite concerning my incessant dogging of the conference for leaving off Kayln Egea at Nicholls last year after she was Top 5 in digs/set in DI NCAA.  Thus, I can't hometown it concerning Olson and Klepetka.  Klepetka's stats are just too much to look away from.  They BOTH should be on the official first team or I'm going to go bananas.
  • Wooten could also be higher.  Automatic official list first teamer.
  • Schnars and Nicholson are complete runaways.  It's a joke of amazing proportions if they don't win POTY/SOTY, respectively.  Same, with Graystone... it's a lock.
  • Cortney Moore might finish higher in the actual lists, but I prefer to weigh defense high for MB's.  Moore was 14th among all MB's in blocks per set.
  • I might take some heat for Gilpin.  But, in my view, just because you lead the conference in attack percentage doesn't mean that you deserve All-Conference.  I know some people will disagree. Among all blockers, she was 17th in total blocks and blocks per set.  Players with more blocks:  Emily Weimer (NICH), Kaitlyn Grice (UNO), Monica Hudgins (McNeese), Sarea Alexander (UIW), Samantha Anderson (UCA), Lauren Walker (ACU)... and her teammate Madeline Doud.  That's my point.  We know that MB's are going to be at the top of the attack % leaderboards. Don't give extra points for what is normal.  That said, Gilpin's .377, Johnson's .376 and Grant's .369 are REALLY high for this conferences' typical attack percentage leaders.  The leader is usually around .330-.335.
  • I see such a separation between Allen, Walker, Grant and the next tier of MB's that I bumped a hitter (Wooten/Sanchez) off my first team to accommodate all three.
  • Kayla Armer might make the list next year even after she has graduated.  I'm joking of course, but we all have just our personal favorites as fans. Like Jessica Pancratz of ORU a few years ago and Egea at Nicholls last year, you just have your players that in your eyes can do no wrong.  Good thing I've already got Blair Gillard - also of HBU - picked out for fan club status in 2016.
  • Fun times! Page view counts up 500% over last two days!  Glad you are reading.

Reaction to Official All-Southland Teams Announced Wednesday, November 18

Honestly, I think this is the most pleased I've been with the Southland voters in the last four of five years.  I breathed a sigh of relief that we didn't have any true absurdity.  There have been years in the past where I have truly felt the deliberation in some choices was not up to par.  This year, I think the list is really well done and I take this as a step forward in the necessity of using both traditional scouting techniques and analytics to reach a group of great picks.

Of the 12 players on the SLC First Team, 10 of them appear on my Top 12 (Teams 1 and 2).  If you notice Autumn Lockley is the first name on my 3rd team, then the similarity improves to including 11 of the conference's top 13 picks.  So, at the top of the heap, the voters and I disagree rarely.

There is one player - a very good player - that appears on the official SLC First Team that I have already addressed in my "Thought Processes" section from last night.  You can read that logic above.  I address this situation again below coupled with my main point that is coming.

There is also one name that is on my Top 12 (Teams 1 and 2), that appears nowhere on the official lists.  Regarding that situation... I have wised up through the years.  I think I know what is going on there.  My personal opinion is that IF.. and that's a big IF... I am right, then what is happening is shameful.  But, since I can't prove I am right, I will just go back to stating that if there is only a difference of two players of 13, then clearly there is little disagreement.

Now, to my only real main point of this reaction:  The one thing that we need as a group to get better at is to realize that these are NOT TEAM AWARDS.  I write this every year and I am going to keep flying this flag and making this point until I am blue in the face.  Team awards are what we are playing for this weekend.  They are trophies, championships, regular season titles, and NCAA bids.  All-Conference lists are INDIVIDUAL awards.  Surely, great teams will be comprised of great individual performances to some reasonable degree.  My point is, we've taken it too far.

SLC voters, please:  STOP biasing these lists against players from teams with low-seeds or that didn't make the tournament.  It is entirely reasonable for an outstanding player on a last place team to make the top of one of the All-Conference lists.  STOP giving extra points to players that have average to above average overall seasons so that we falsely claim they are among the very best in the conference.  This trend is incredibly disingenuous to players who have outstanding seasons, but whose teams are sub-par. Their teams have already suffered the fate of not making the tournament or having to play from a low seed.  Don't turn around and deny them individually so that what you are really doing is discarding their great season just because the rest of their team couldn't match their output.  It's just wrong.

When you figure out why Player A is a 1st Team Pick, Player B is Honorable Mention and Player C got nothing.. then you let me know.  Player A is a good player.  I'm arguing more FOR a harder look at Player B and C than I am arguing AGAINST Player A.  They all three play middle blocker and to be completely fair, I tend to weigh defense at that position more than others.  So, if you are someone that believes that offense at middle blocker should weigh more than defense, then you probably won't agree with my overall conclusion.  And of course, you are not obliged to agree with me ever.

Player A: 240 kills, 2.45 k/s, .363 %, 74 blocks, .74 bl/s
Player B: 204 kills, 1.92 k/s, .377 %, 101 blocks, .95 bl/s
Player C: 318 kills, 2.84 k/s, .336 %, 93 blocks, .83 b/s

You know what the difference is between hitting .363 and .336?  Do the math, it's pretty simple subtraction and division.  If Player A got one less KILL A WEEK each week, then she would have hit exactly .336.  So, since Player C's stats are better in EVERY way except hitting percentage, then are you willing to say that one extra kill a week is the difference between 1st Team Honors and Nothing?  And that's assuming that you think it's a tie before comparing hitting percentages... and clearly, it's not.

So, what gives?  Look, every year people tell me there are things that stats can't measure and they are absolutely correct.  No doubt, there are intangibles.  That is at least one - possibly the only one - reason why coaches submitting ranked lists is defensible of how the process begins.  More on that below. But, you've got A LOT of explaining to do if you think Player A and Player C are so separated on intangibles that one deserves a first team selection and the other deserves nothing.  

Maybe the coach of Player C left her completely off the ballot.  It wouldn't be the first time that's happened.  So, if that is true we have a whole other issue that is way more bewildering.  I've gone to this well too many times to count.  Read in years' past commentary.  Coaches have too much power when it comes to these lists.  They shouldn't submit lists.  The pool of players to pick from should be those that wear a jersey.  Period.

Even if Player C was left off the ballot, I'd still like my overall point to be thoughtfully considered.

Is it at least possible that why Player A and Player B and Player C got such different accolades is that there are people who make a policy of just refusing to vote for girls on poor teams?  

Kick the habit, guys and gals.  Teams get trophies.  Give players, regardless of their team, the recognition they deserve.

2015 Southland Senior Tribute: 10 Memories

There have been fewer posts this season than in the past.  That's not for lack of ideas, but rather a byproduct of attention being split while still covering the SLC and SFA in other ways.  This year, the attention at SFA has clearly been on ESPN broadcasts, of which I was incredibly honored and proud to deliver.  In terms of SLC coverage, I have focused on more videos of players.   Behind the scenes, professionally, I have begun a new consulting company this year which has been incredibly rewarding regarding my work as a statistician.

This post, however, is something that I intend to do every year going forward.  I have never formally turned this list into post until now, but with all of the SLC schools having completed their "Senior Days", this article began to gel and be written in my head.  It's a little more of a personal, rather than scientific nature - the latter of which is my typical writing style.

Below are 10 seniors that have made an impact on me as a volleyball fan over the past four years.  I track this conference hard.  There are many people with more smarts and talents around this conference, but few that know and study the rosters and statistics to the depth that I do.  Because of this, as a fan - there are certain players that you come to appreciate even if you only get to see them play two or three times a year.  People tell stories about them: stories about trying to defend them or strategize against them, stories about their character or interests.  Most of these stories come from coaches, other players and administrators.  My personal observations blend with these stories to create a true interest in their careers.

Below, in alphabetical order are the 10 senior stories with a personal touch and a link to a time - if applicable, where I got a chance to speak with them.  Thanks to each and every one of these players for their time and generosity.  A complete list of 2015 Southland Seniors rounds out the post.

Jacque Allen (SFA)
Could there be any happier player around a volleyball court than Jacque?  Every team needs someone to provide lighter moments whether after a crucial loss or in celebration on the bus home.  Jacque is that person.  Early in her career, I wondered if she would fully round into form at SFA and be a dominant player.  Boy, did she ever.  One of the most respected middle blockers in the conference, she has 438 career blocks (6th all time at SFA) including 86 solos (2nd all time).  If she gets five blocks in the tournament this week, she can move into fifth all time at SFA.  I'd say that's rounding into form.  She was always one of the first players to greet me in the gym - whether at home or when she spotted me on the road preparing for covering a match.  She was always friendly and always accommodating for interviews and conversations.

Ivy Baresh (TAMUCC)
One of the greatest six-rotation players this conference has seen in recent years.  I remember a former assistant coach at SFA telling me about her the on the day she signed her letter of intent.  He raved - I mean RAVED - at how good he thought she was going to be.  He was right.  Baresh is immensely talented.  A rock solid passer, the Islanders can trust her on the back row without hesitation.  To ease her back from injury, when she couldn't fully jump, the team trusted her defense so much that they used her at libero a bit in 2014.  Now, here in her final season, we have seen a full resurgence to Baresh Form.  She'll finish the year with over 300 kills and 300 digs which is pretty much insane.  But, given she is the only Islander in history with 1000+ kills and digs would you expect any less?  If drafting a Southland Conference Volleyball fantasy team, she's an automatic first rounder in any format.

Glynna Johnson (NSU)
Such an imposing figure when you watch her play, but such a gentle and humble spirit off the court.  Despite an incredible career that sees her among the Top 10 in the NCAA in active career blocks, you wouldn't know it talking to her.  But, man, do her teammates respect her.  The limelight shone on players like Stacey DiFrancesco, Mackenzie Neely and Keelie Arneson - and all for good reason, but each one of them repeatedly would credit Glynna with being an anchor.  I'll always remember these recent Demon squads.  The stories of my dismissing this group early in their careers are well chronicled.  Amazingly, the Northwestern State fans, parents, and players have been able to (at least half-heartedly) forgive me for all that. After all, I was the one that was wrong and wound up embarrassed and even retracting comments after NSU built such an impressive set of teams around players like Johnson.  I'm better for all of that.  I have many friends at NSU because of it.  I'm glad Glynna Johnson was a part of something great.  Players with her skill and humble demeanor deserve it.

Jennifer Loerch (ACU)
Underrated.  Look up the phrase "Just Get it Done" in your sports reference guide thingy and you'll probably see a picture of Jennie Loerch in the margin.  You are aware she will finish in the Top 10 in the Southland in kills per set for the THIRD straight year, right? Oh, you're not? That's right, no one pays enough attention to ACU.  Well, I do and let me tell you that Loerch is incredible.  It's one thing to be strong, intimidating and powerful like some of the hitters on this list.  Now, Loerch is no push-over, but she 's not exactly the size of even the typical NCAA DI team kill leader.  Doesn't matter, Loerch will eat you alive. Loerch had 24 kills on her senior day and then came back with 21 kills in her final match in a win at Northwestern State.  Just punctuation at home AND on the road to an amazing career.  A workhorse, always taking a ton of swings, she is someone who literally doesn't know her own stats because she is just interested in beating you down.  ACU will play in the SLC Tourney for the first time in 2017 and the groundwork for future Wildcat success was paved in large part by players like Jennie Loerch.

Cortney Moore (Lamar)
This is the second year in a row that Moore will hit over .330.  Last year, only the aforementioned Jacque Allen hit for a higher percentage that Moore.  The first thing out of anyone's mouth over the last two years when you talk about Lamar Volleyball is "those athletic middles".  I've heard it from all around the conference - players, coaches, parents, fans: "Those middles at Lamar". People KNOW Cortney Moore. Just one look at her and you realize that she is just pure athleticism.  Consistent and dominant.  Her career began as the Freshman of the Year in 2012 and will end leading her team in kills, kills per set, hitting percentage and finishing in the Top 5 in the conference in hitting % as well. In case you see all this offense and happen to forget:  She tallied 93 blocks this year and 77 the year before.  A true go-to player, I'd always shutter when the game was on the line with Lamar because I just knew they would set Moore.  And "Moore Often Than Not".. it was a kill.

Unfortunately, Lamar has been rather mum on returning requests for interviews over the past two years.  I regret that I've never had a chance to talk with Cortney Moore.

Caiti O' Connell (NSU)
The runner up to Moore in 2012 in the Freshman of the Year balloting, O'Connell was an absolute delight to watch play.  Quick:  Who had more kills per set among the Demon squad that won the 2014 SLC Tourney.. her or DiFrancesco?  You know why I ask.. because the answer is O'Connell. O'Connell never led the Demons in total kills or kills per set in her four years in Natchitoches, but she ALWAYS was in the top 3.  On many, many Southland teams over the last few years she would have been the go to hitter.  Her stable presence only proves how deep Northwestern State has been with talent over the last few years.  I happen to know that O'Connell is as smart as they come and I've first hand observed a high level of integrity and leadership.  She was part of that big recruiting class that came to NSU in 2011, but O'Connell took a redshirt her first year on campus.  She was the perfect compliment on so many well rounded teams in the last four years at NSU.  Had she gone somewhere else, she probably would have even more accolades.  But, two Southland pre-season team honors, two Louisiana Sports Writers honors, the 2012 Louisiana Sports Writers Freshman of the Year and one SLC Tourney Team honor should serve to remind you of her impact.  Oh yeah, and there's that thing about a ring, too.  Caiti O'Connell's built quite the resume.  She was always a delight to chat with as well.

OJ Olson (SFA)
I admit it.  OJ is just flat out one of my favorite players in the 10 years I've been working for SFA Volleyball.  She's a math major and I'm around her each week whether we are in season or in the Spring semester.  I've had OJ in one of my classes.  She's sat and talked with me in my office many times.  So, I easily know her better than anyone in this article.  Everyone who reads here knows I love back row defense.  We have been blessed with some fantastic liberos through the years, but OJ has as strong a claim on "next best to Figgers" as anyone.  Olson has 2114 career digs.  That's good for third all-time at SFA.  She needs just 7 digs this weekend to break her own season high of 645.  When she does, she will occupy both 2nd & 3rd place on the season dig leaders at SFA.  She and Figgers are the only two liberos in SFA history with multiple 600-dig seasons.   The fact that she wasn't a first-team SLC honoree last year was a complete joke.  The libero voting in 2014 was flat out horrible.  If by some act of pure madness, her and Kate Klepetka at TAMUCC aren't the top vote getters at libero this year, I might just blow a gasket.  Stop letting sentimental coaches' internal player rankings (*cough **UCA last year** cough*) swaying you!   C'mon people.. for her senior year.. get it right for once.

Malina Sanchez (McNeese)
I am so glad to see Sanchez getting back to her dominant ways this year.  If she has a big game on Friday and/or McNeese advances to Round 2, she has a great shot at going over 400 kills on the season.  She and Jessica Wooten (HBU) are the only two that have a chance to join Heather Schnars (424) at that plateau.  I still remember seeing Sanchez as a freshman in Shelton Gym when the Cowgirls came to play SFA in 2012.  She  probably made the most immediate impact on me of any freshman I've seen in the last four or five years.  I thought she was going to jump out of the gym.  Like Baresh, Sanchez is great on the back row.  McNeese's back row went in the tank several times last year and so Sanchez had to rotate back to help out at libero at times and play more of a defensive posture.  This year, McNeese is more stable in the off-colored jersey and Sanchez has gone back to what head coach Ashleigh Fitzgerald tends to call "poundtown".   Sanchez is one of the players this weekend that I most want to seek out and talk with again.  If for no other reason, just to tell her how much I enjoy watching her play. Just a delight.

Heather Schnars (UCA)
I can't say anything in this space that you don't already know.  My words can't add to the awesomeness that is Heather Schnars.  It is so ironic that this week I will drive back to UCA and cover matches in the Ferris Center.  You see, in 2012, the SLC Tourney was there as well.  When the tournament was over one player was on my mind in terms of breaking out for her sophomore year:  Schnars.  I was SO impressed - absolutely mesmerized.   I remember a conversation I had with then head coach David McFatrich at that tournament.  He looked me straight in the eye and said "I am SO  glad we decided to finally commit and pursue her coming here.  If we had let her go, it would have been one of my most horrible mistakes".  He had this sincere, grateful look in his eye and I remembered that all off-season before Schnars came back and began her complete assault on the league.  Yes, there have been times where I have questioned the aggressive serving.  Yes, I took Wells-Gibson over her for player of the year last year.  But let me leave this out here in the most unequivocal way I possibly can:  There is no better player currently in the Southland Conference than Heather Schnars.  If you have to have a kill, everyone in the gym knows it's going to her.  If you are on the other side, you might as well pack it in.. you're already dead.  You're NOT stopping her.

Angelique Vidaurri (UIW)

Like Loerch at ACU, Vidaurri has spent the last four years at Incarnate Word knowing that she wouldn't have an opportunity to play in the postseason.  Like Loerch, she's been out on the West side of the conference and relatively dismissed with exception only of those that really study the numbers.  Make no mistake, Vidaurri - like Loerch - is terribly underrated.  Vidaurri is pretty fierce.  I've watched her for several years against SFA and I'll tell you this:  She wants the ball and she is an amazing competitor.  Earlier I wrote that Baresh would be an automatic first rounder if we could create a Southland Conference Volleyball fantasy league.  Schnars, of course, would be the first pick.  But, if you've ever played fantasy sports, then you know there is that ONE player that you have circled that you think everyone else is going to pass on and you are going to snatch up a round or two early.  That's Angelique Vidaurri - the ultimate value pick.  2012: Led her team in kills as a freshman.  2013: Honorable Mention All-Southland.  2014:  Went over 400 kills.  This year, the emergence of freshman Autumn Lockley eased some of her load, but she is still second on the team in total kills.  Like Loerch, someone owes Vidaurri a "thank you for paving the road" when UIW steps on the court for the 2017 Southland Conference Tourney.

I spoke briefly with Vidaurri last week after UIW beat SFA in her final collegiate match.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to schedule an interview with her before the match due to preparations for our own Senior Day festivities.  Due to purely random scheduling conflicts, I never was able to travel to San Antonio with SFA while she was at UIW.  

Five other seniors that stick out to me as I think back over the years:

Amy South (UCA).. very gracious in granting a video interview last year

Allison Doerpinghaus (HBU)... towering.. I remember sidling up to her in 2014 before a match to see if she was legit 6'4" since I am that tall... the answer was yes.

Kelly Graham (McNeese).... smooth.. love the ball coming off her hands.   One of my fave setters.

Celeste Ramirez (UNO)... see Graham.. always loved that Ramirez was good at libero AND setter.

Tori Bates (SFA).... class.  I'll just leave it at that.  So, classy.

Congrats and thank you to all of the 15 seniors above as well as these that round out this year's class:

ACU:  Sarah Siemens and Madison Hoover
UCA:  Corri Hunt
UIW:  Kaitlyn Brooks, Taylor McClelland and Jordan Reifsteck
LU:  Jenna Jackson
McNeese:  Amber Fryer
UNO:  Sara Hammotene, Lauren Levy and Milica Zmiric
Nicholls:  Alyse Barclay
NSU: Amanda Kunz
SLU: Mikayla Shippy, Shelby Devlin, Tiffany Thomas, Veronica Turk and Brooke Balser
TAMUCC: Kelsee Felux, Hailey King and Shayla Maldonado
SFA:  Jordan McArdle
Sam Houston didn't have any seniors!

See you at the Tournament on Friday!!