Monday, September 3, 2018

Castledine Joins ESPN Broadcasts as Analyst

This has been in the works for well over a year now, but I am incredibly pleased to announce that Ladyjack legend and former Southland Conference Player of the Year Brittany Castledine will join me on the ESPN broadcasts of SFA Volleyball this year.

The next step in our ESPN evolution was clearly to bring in a second voice to serve as color analyst and our team of decision makers has truly hit a home run with being able to secure Castledine's viewpoints and experience.  Personally, I don't know that there is a single thing we could have done heading into the 2018 season more important than bring in someone of Brittany's talent and knowledge.  This is a huge, huge addition to our "team" and one that instantly increases the legitimacy of the broadcast and will aid the listener in a plethora of ways.

SFA Athletics' Director of Video Productions Korbin Pate along with head coach Debbie Humphreys had each conversed with me in the past about Castledine's credentials.  In those meetings, all three of us have discussed the possibility of forming a two-headed broadcast team going into this season.  From the minute this was proposed, I've been all in.  Brittany and I actually talked about it last year before the opportunity became a reality in 2018.

First things first: If you are not familiar with Castledine all you have to do is take a look at the SFA Volleyball record books.  Playing under her maiden name of Burton, Brittany ranks in the Top 10 in SFA history in no less than seven statistical categories.  She wore #12 for four years, 2001-2004, and in her senior season was named the SLC Player of the Year.  She ranks third all-time in program history with 463 total blocks and 400 block assists.  She is regarded as one of the best middle blockers in program and SLC history and if you've ever looked carefully, you'll find her picture is painted on the wall in Shelton Gym.  Who better to bring on board as an analyst than someone who is so revered in program lore that their image adorns the walls of the gym?

Castledine ranks 7th all time at SFA in total kills and 7th in program history in blocks per set.  Brittany once blocked 12 balls in a single match (the SFA all-time record is 14).  She was honored as first-team All-Southland Conference as a junior and a senior and in both of those years she was also named to the SLC All-Tournament Team at the end of the season.

Currently, Brittany serves as an administrator and assistant principal in Central Heights ISD.  Prior to that, she held the post as head volleyball coach at Central Heights High School where she coached former Ladyjack Regan Humphreys, daughter of Head Coach Debbie Humphreys.  Castledine was known as an intelligent and technically proficient player during her college days and clearly these skills have continued to develop over the last decade as she's been actively engaged in the volleyball culture here in East Texas.

What makes this addition particularly positive is that Brittany and I have loosely known each other since her playing days.  The familiarity side of having a broadcast partner is already there as we are each comfortable talking to each other about the game and a mutual respect has been in place for a long, long time.  So often, when you listen to a play-by-play commentator together with an analyst, the conversations seemed forced.  I doubt this will be how we portray ourselves on the air, because Brittany has always been someone easy for me to engage in conversation.

I began attending SFA Volleyball matches in 1999.  By the time Brittany came to SFA as a freshman in 2001, I was already beginning to associate with the club.  My first year to work for the club doing public address announcing was in 2006, so I experienced all of Brittany's playing years as a fan and not as an employee.  It's really cool to flashback to those days where I was learning the game from the stands and computer screens and she was playing on the court.  Now, roughly 15 years later, a fan turned blogger, broadcaster and even bigger fan gets to share the airwaves with one of the players that meant so much to our program.  Honestly, this process has been a bit surreal for me.

Castledine's addition instantly allows a player perspective to take over on the analysis that you will hear.  This is a great thing.  Despite studying the game for years, head knowledge is absolutely no substitute for the experience of playing at a high level.  Players see and pick up things that stat-heads like me miss.  Having had coaching experience, Brittany will be able to apply her skills of developing in-game strategy to what she sees unfold in the matches we call.  This will relegate me to what I am best at:  calling plays, telling stories about players, coaches and programs and communicating statistical information.

While I've developed more as an analyst over the ESPN years (after all, I'll still be solo on road radio broadcasts), Brittany immediately steps in to add a whole different level to the unfolding strategy of the game.  We've already talked about our desire to talk to the audience in a mature manner.  Folks who tune in for volleyball broadcasts on ESPN don't want to be told mundane things like "the 5th set is played to 15", "you have to win a set by two points" and "the player in the off-colored jersey is called the libero".

I think what you will get from us is a mature and respectful look at the game night in and night out.  We intend to talk in a strategic, informative manner to our audience instead of talking down to them.  Again, if someone is going to spend time watching volleyball on television, then chances are they are already engaged in an intelligent way with the game.  Analysis should be insightful and provoke thought and that's what Brittany can do.  I pride myself on knowing the Southland Conference personnel as well as anyone and I make an intense effort to learn from and talk to the coaches and players around the league.  I don't think I would have been invited to call SLC Tournament games if the stories and connections that I've built hadn't translated into good in-match information.

Combining Brittany's intellect and volleyball IQ with my preparation and statistical slant is going to create a much better experience for our viewers than ever before.  Selfishly, having Brittany on the broadcasts will continue to grow my understanding of the game at a faster rate than if I continued to work alone.  I think you can tell that I am completely stoked at this addition! So, join me in welcoming a former Ladyjack back home.

Welcome to ESPN, Brittany Castledine!