A famous Biblical story from Exodus tells of the Israelites wandering around in the desert with little to eat while they hoped to the find the Promised Land. At one point, God provides them manna to eat and Moses has them gather it for days to provide them nourishment.
The ‘Jacks most definitely are searching for the volleyball Promised Land of a berth in the NCAA tournament and after a brief wandering in the desert, Makenzee Manna.. I mean, Makenzee Hanna… has been provided to us once again. Opponents hoping to feast on SFA’s defense have been sent wandering by a showering of blocks from the 6-foot sophomore from DeSoto.
During the early tournament phase of the 2016 schedule, Hanna was a regular presence. At that time, SFA was running a 6-2 offense and Mak was stationed primarily on the right side along with Abby McIntyre. There were bright spots: 8 kills and four blocks in a win over Kennesaw State, the opening match of the year against Eastern Illinois (six blocks), but overall it was clear that the offense wasn’t quite running at high octane. After the team hit .039 against Texas Tech and .073 against UTRGV, you could feel the changes coming. I thought about them driving All. The. Long. Way. Home. From. Lubbock.
The team came home to begin its conference slate against Incarnate Word and host its own tournament in Shelton Gym. This last set of concentrated games huddled together on consecutive days gave the club one last chance to see if changes would be profitable before the regularity of Southland play. Setters were changed. Offensive schemes were changed. Ann Hollas made the first start of her career in her first Southland Conference match and we’ve been in a 5-1 ever since.
Hanna got lost in the shuffle. Going from 6 hitters to 5 on offense meant a diminished role and during the better part of September, Hanna found herself on the bench while SFA began its first few phases of looking for the second left-side hitter. At this point, fellow sophomore Haley Coleman had been re-assigned to the back row, KK Payne started a handful of matches and played in a handful more and Peyton Redmond became the six-rotation outside hitter. It worked. Other than a home loss to Baylor, the team won a ton of September games and it appeared as though the offense was set to roll.
Ever the one to fix it when it breaks, Debbie Humphreys called on Hanna during all five sets vs. ACU having seen the sophomore be productive against Nicholls the week prior. During the end of September, Hanna had sat for six straight matches. A brief time in the desert. But after the Nicholls match and playing all five sets in the team wake-up call match against ACU, Hanna had been provided to us again.
But how? Sitting on the couch at home (Ok, pacing the living room floor watching the stupid StatTracker), I was frantically trying to answer one big question with no video to provide me the answer:
How are we using Makenzee Hanna?
You see, to this point, Hanna had worked basically exclusively on the right side. So, while the thought crossed my mind that she might be on the left - and the substitution patterns popping up on the screen suggested it - I couldn’t let my mind accept it without seeing it. Like the Israelites, I didn’t have the necessary faith to recognize all the signs that were before me.
Oh, I had thought about what else we might do on the left-side. Geez, I’ve been pining for left-side quality for years in this blog space. “Redmond is doing great on defense and passing, but hitting at .100”, my mind would say. What are we going to do about that? “Coleman struggled on offense at the beginning of the year, is she essentially back row only now?” “ Would Debbie start Xariah Williams there? She’s been telling me she’s doing great things in practice”. “Can KK hold down the load for a full year as a freshman? She’s done some good things”.
All these questions and not one time did I think our answer would be to rotate Makenzee Hanna to the left-side. And this is why I’m the blogger, the commentator, still learning, and not a coach (not that I want to be, trust me). It seems like such a great idea to me NOW.
Sure enough, when my eyes could finally take over for the coldness that is StatTracker, Makenzee Hanna was playing on the left against Central Arkansas. You know the rest. In the last two weeks, SFA hasn’t lost a set and that includes some ridiculous net defense in the last week against Lamar and HBU.
That’s why Hanna’s resurgence in the lineup makes such sense. She makes what is already a great blocking team even better. In fact, in her last five matches she has blocked at least four balls. Her 50 blocks in 57 sets equates to a 0.88 block per set number that is better than over half of the starting middle blockers in the conference. Take our next opponent, Sam Houston as an example. No Bearkat has the block per set numbers that Hanna has.
With an offense that is led by McIntyre and senior Justice Walker, Hanna is a perfect complementary piece. In Southland Conference matches, she’s killed over two balls per set which equals the production of our second middle, Danae Daron. Have you noticed in most of SFA’s recent wins that we have tons of players around 6 to 10 kills? Check out the distributions of the top four kill-getters in the last six conference wins, which roughly parallels when Hanna became a fixture again:
Nicholls: 15, 9, 8, 8
UIW: 17, 8, 7 , 6
UCA: 8, 7, 5, 5
NSU: 8, 7, 6, 6
Lamar: 12, 8, 7, 6
HBU: 9, 8, 8, 5
Keep in mind each of the above wins was in three or four sets. So, consistently we are getting four players that AVERAGE at or over multiple kills per set. Again, this is a far cry from some of our competitors that get most of their offense from just one or two players: Lamar (Chelsea Grant), Sam Houston (Jordyn Vaughn and Brooke White), Incarnate Word (Autumn Lockley), even leaders Corpus Christi (Brittany Gilpin, Morgan Carlson and sometimes Madison Fitzsimmons). This balance is, in part, why you’ll find us in second place, but with nobody in the Top 10 in kills per set in the Southland.
Spare yourself the research of how many of those players on that list are NOT middle blockers. You know where I am going with this. What Hanna has been able to do on defense from her position is unrivaled right now in the conference.