If you follow SFA Volleyball even a little then you know the last week around here has seen some bold, new changes. The first thing that Debbie Humphreys said to me after the 'Jacks swept UIW last Thursday evening was "How's that for a gutsy move?" What she meant was her decision to let freshman Ann Hollas start her first collegiate match by running a 5-1 in an conference opener.
Two days later and the payoff was obvious. SFA swept all nine sets they played against the Cardinals from San Antonio, UNT and Little Rock. Ann Hollas was awarded the MVP of the Holiday Inn Express Tournament. Abby McIntyre won Southland Conference Player of the Week. Danae Daron re-wrote SFA record books by hitting .800 in a match. KK Payne cracked the Top 10 in attack percentage for all Southland players - by hitting from the left pin of all places. Pinch me and tell me that the last sentence I wrote is actually true. SFA... yes S-F-A has an outsider hitter hitting .228.
Then, of course, there is Lexus Cain doing her thing in the libero jersey no matter what offense is being run. Charlie Hurley, our Volleyball Sports Information Director, pulled out a gem of a stat for the Baylor game notes: Cain has more digs than an ENTIRE TEAM. North Carolina Central University has 258 digs. The University of Lexus Cain at Nacogdoches has 271 digs. Unreal. Cain is second in the nation in digs per set with an otherworldly average of 5.77 digs per set.
All of the above is fairly well chronicled and has been observed by many a Ladyjack Volleyball fan over the last three matches. However, this article isn't about Cain or McIntyre or Hollas or Payne or even middle blocker extraordinaire Justice Walker. All of those players have overtly excelled in our return to the 5-1. No, the love in this article goes to Haley Coleman and Corin Evans.
On the surface, Coleman and Evans don't appear to be racking up numbers worthy of high praise. I mean, Coleman is still hitting negative for the season and Evans only has 44 attacks. But, hear me out: They provide what I think is a rather unusual additional advantage to our one setter offense. As you might have come to expect, I have the numbers to back up this claim.
See, essentially, Coleman and Evans are playing DS. Now, both are listed as outside hitters and have plenty of experience there in high school and club ball. Don't forget Coleman played six-rotation outside for us during part of 2015 and a little earlier this year. But right now, they are both essentially defensive specialists despite what your roster card says. Evans is playing the back row slots in Payne's spot and Coleman is in there when McIntyre's spot goes to the back. Since Payne and McIntyre are separated in the rotations by a few clicks, one of Coleman and Evans has been virtually always on the back row.
Check out the numbers that Coleman and Evans have put up in the three matches since we've returned to the 5-1:
- Both had 9 digs vs. UNT which tied for 2nd best on the team that night.
- Coleman had 4 aces over the weekend
- Evans was 2nd on the team in digs vs. UIW
- Combined the two have hit .235 from the back row and collectively put up just shy of 5 digs per set (2.33 for Coleman and 2.44 for Evans over the three matches)
It's the last bullet that I want to focus on. That's the subtle part of our new back row that spreads the offense in a small, but meaningful way. See, a DS can't do that. A defensive specialist isn't going to attack at all, much less get you over a kill per set while hitting .235. They just aren't going to get set (on purpose, that is). True defensive specialists only attack when something went horribly wrong on offense. Even at that, they are virtually 100% "just get the ball over" attacks.
When Coleman and/or Evans are on the back row the team has an extra potential hitter that is really in the match for either serving, serve receive and/or defense. That's a really subtle use of those spots. So often, when a hitter goes back row, she is subbed out for a "true DS". You know, the 5-5 gal that can dig everything up and pass. Well, we have a few of those on our team and they are good players. We haven't seen the last of contributors like Sam Rodriguez. I mean, EVERY TEAM, has the little DS types that just buzz around and dig/pass. If they weren't valuable, then why would so many 5-2 girls be playing college volleyball? Go to any NCAA roster you want and you'll find them.
But, for now... having Coleman and Evans be a sort of hybrid hitter/DS type has paid subtle dividends on offense as well as defense.
Ok, I know what you are thinking: "Whoa, Greg, you are way ahead of yourself. Coleman and Evans only put up 10 kills combined in three matches. That's not a huge deal." Well, I don't mind saying this: If that's what you think, then you'd be wrong.
Those kills plus aces ARE a big deal and let me tell you why: Since going back to the 5-1, SFA has averaged 13.89 kills per set. That number extrapolated out to the entire season would be good enough for 45th in the nation. Now, if you take away Coleman and Evans offensive contributions from playing on the back row, we would have 12.78 kills per set over that same time. So, there we see the difference is 1.11 kill per set. Not a big deal, right?
The 12.78 k/s figure over the whole season would be good for only 137th in the nation. So, put another way, with Coleman and Evans scoring a little from the back row, SFA hit last weekend like a Top 50 club. Without them, we regress to a middle-of-the-pack 137th. That one kill per set is the difference between 45th ranked production and 137th ranked production. If a "true DS" was playing in both those spots, we probably would have 0 kills from the back row. Combine that with the unlikely chance that the true DS's could amass more than 5 digs per set and you come to the conclusion that is subtly advantageous to use two outside hitters as surrogate defensive specialists!!
The only reason that this works is because Coleman and Evans are both capable of six-rotation duties. It's just that we don't need them to do that right now thanks to Peyton Redmond. Now, Redmond was hitting under .100, which made me think that if the trend continued we might see Coleman or Evans in her spot. But, Redmond passes so well and has had a couple of good offensive performances of late to push her up to .114. She needs to get things up above .150, but still.. the trend is in the right direction and her passing is so good that her role is safe for the near future.