Thursday, November 15, 2018

Links to Interviews: 2018 Southland Conference Tournament

This page will house all the links to all of the audio and video interviews done during the 2018 Southland Conference Tournament.  Each day there will be conversations with coaches and players as they prepare for and react to the matches of the day.  Keep up by following on Twitter as announcements are regularly made there about upcoming interviews and features.

Click the names below to go to our YouTube Channel for VIDEO interviews or SoundCloud site for AUDIO recordings.

Sunday, November 18

AUDIO: Anyia Williams [All-Tournament], SFA
AUDIO: Makenzee Hanna [All-Tournament], SFA
AUDIO: Danae Daron [MVP], SFA
AUDIO: Debbie Humphreys, SFA

Saturday, November 17

VIDEO:  Samantha Anderson, UCA 
VIDEO:  Makenzee Hanna, SFA 
AUDIO:  Haley Tippett, UCA 
AUDIO:  Debbie Humphreys, SFA 

Friday, November 16

VIDEO:  Danae Daron, SFA 
VIDEO:  Kellen Dunn, UCA 
AUDIO:  Ashley Lewis, SHSU 
AUDIO:  Megan Patillo, HBU
AUDIO: Angela Mooney, ACU
AUDIO:  Debbie Humphreys, SFA

Thursday, November 15

VIDEO:  Taylor Cunningham, Sam Houston 
AUDIO:  Mikayla Vivens & Trent Herman, HBU 
AUDIO:  Hannah Brister & Sean Kiracofe, NSU
AUDIO:  Keegan Nelms & Ashleigh Fitzgerald, McNeese

Monday, November 12, 2018

10th Annual All-Conference Teams


I finally got the "preface" to this post exactly as I wanted it in 2017, so I am repeating it now in 2018:

If you scroll to the picks, argue with me and don't read the following paragraphs and bullets then don't expect me to listen to you for very long.

·        This list was published before the official All-Southland Conference teams.  This was published on Monday, November 12.  The conference released the official lists on Wednesday, November 14.

·        I don't do this the way the conference does.  I have claimed for years - staunchly - that coaches have WAY too much control over the official lists.  Get a coach or SID to explain to you how they vote, then go read the tiebreaker rules for conference tournament seeding, then ask me for a syllabus to an advanced calculus class and you decide for yourself which procedures are most unduly complex.

·        I view these as individual awards, not team awards.  I outright reject the reasoning that the order of the standings should dictate how many picks should show up on these lists or that the Player of the Year, Setter of the Year, Coach of the Year, etc. HAVE TO or SHOULD come from the best teams.  If you want to see what a team award looks like, click here or here.  We are honoring INDIVIDUALS here.

·        I am a numbers person.  I teach statistics for a living.  I take notes, talk to coaches, SID's, use my impressions when SFA plays opponents, but in the end we here at the blog live my one mantra:  In God We Trust.  All Others Bring Data.  Numbers matter.. a lot. If you don't like statistical analysis in sports, then your picks won't look anything like mine. I'm happy to defend my reasoning.  Just know you are going to get numbers, if you ask.

And now for the stuff that  I have written for 9 straight years but still need you to know if you are reading this:

Like in previous years, I suspect I will periodically comment on this article over the next week.  People love to debate this stuff and I'm fine with that.  After all, trying to decide who to honor is a noble pursuit and I can appreciate the passion that other fans have for their picks and reasons.  I will indicate updates at the bottom of the post with boldface time stamps.  

Recall,  I actually pick "teams". The conference does not do this. Typically, the conference puts 12 athletes on the first team, six on the 2nd team and has 6 to 9 ladies listed as honorable mention for a total of 24 to 27 folks 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 nine years: There are seven starters each night for any particular team, so we will pick seven athletes per team. Each team below is required to have a setter, libero, two middle blockers, two hitters and the seventh player can be a 'wild card' that can either be an MB, OH or RS.

2018 SFA All-Southland Conference Teams and Awards:

First Team:

OH Haley Coleman, SFA
RS Samantha Anderson, UCA
MB Taylor Cunningham, SHSU
MB Danae Daron, SFA
MB Kaitlyn Grice, UNO
S Ann Hollas, SFA
L Channing Burleson, NSU

Second Team:

OH Mikayla Vivens, HBU
RS Makenzee Hanna, SFA
OH Haley Tippett, UCA
MB Savannah Allen, UCA
MB Anyia Williams, SFA
S Kendall Bosse, ACU
L Madison Wallace, SHSU

Third Team:

OH Bethany Clapp, UIW
RS Hannah Brister, NSU
MB Paige Havel, McNeese
MB Kennedy Shelstead, ACU
MB Kayla Davenport, HBU
S Madison O'Brien, HBU
L Lillian Drever, ACU

Just Missed (in order of position played):  OH Katelyn Mueller (ACU), Peyton Redmond (SFA), Keegan Nelms (McNeese), Tomar Thomas (Lamar),  RS Breanne Chausse (SHSU), RS Marybeth Sandercox (ACU), S Madison Greene (AMCC), L Madelynn Miller (UIW)

Player of the Year:  Taylor Cunningham, SHSU
Setter of the Year: Ann Hollas, SFA
Libero of the Year:  Channing Burleson, NSU
Newcomer of the Year: Kennedy Shelstead, ACU
Freshman of the Year:  Bethany Clapp, UIW
Coach of the Year:  Debbie Humphreys, SFA


Reaction to Official SLC All-Tournament Lists and Other Comments:
6:30 PM, Tuesday, November 14

What a great thing today to see all of the lists released from the conference office and then see each club get a chance to send out announcements about their honorees!  Then, of course, all the announcements about signings for 2019 were exciting as well.  But, there is a LOT more of 2018 left and a good fraction of it happens in just a few days.

I thought the official "1st Team All Conference" list as voted on by the coaches and SID's was really good.  There are just one or two picks on that list of 12 athletes that I see differently and it is obvious which ones they are by reading my original post above.

I've learned through the years that it's best not to specifically say who I believe should be "lower" (people can infer) on official lists, but instead try and champion the players that I think should be "higher".  Toward that end, the name that stands out to me is Kaitlyn Grice.  I thought this was a strong year for middle blockers and a down year for six-rotation outsides in the Southland.  It just amazes me that someone can be 8th in the nation in total blocks and not make 1st Team All-Conference.  This sort of thing has happened before and I think it's embarrassing.  Nicholls had a libero several years ago named Kaylnn Egea that finished top five in the nation in digs and didn't even make honorable mention.  Things like that should not happen in my opinion.  Kaitlyn Grice is a first team talent without question.  You missed that one, folks.

I don't like playing the "home team" card at every turn, but the other selection that is too low is SFA's Makenzee Hanna.  Condering Hannah Brister as primarily a RS this season, Hanna was tops among all right sides in blocks per set and Samantha Anderson was 6th and Brister was 7th.  Hanna was second only to Anderson in attack percentage among all right sides.  Hanna's block rate would have been 8th among middle blockers which is amazing when you think of it.

This is a case of the process denying strong teams multiple high picks.  When coaches rank nominated players (nominations = dumb and ranking them = dumber), then voters are more inclined to choose a first or second ranked player from a second or third place team rather than a third or fourth ranked player from the top team.  I think Hanna easily makes second team if the system were different, but I've spent 10 years lamenting a system that forces coaches to think "What's my best chance at getting award X or honor Y" rather than just making the pool of possible players to vote for the entire rosters.

Hanna barely missed 2nd team, but it didn't deserve to be close.  By the way, if you think carefully about what I just wrote in the above paragraph, then I believe you'll be able to figure out why the libero voting fell the way it did.  I mean, who else does Sam Houston have to nominate other than Cunningham and Wallace?  Chausse is a fine honorable mention, but I think voters are thinking "SHSU finished third in the standings, we've GOT to rank more than one of their players really high".  That sentiment coupled with NSU fighting to make the tournament easily explains why Wallace was 8th in the voting and Burleson was 11th.  I could be wrong, but I'm betting the folks at SHSU listed Wallace second in their nominations. So, Wallace is the go-to for voters looking to recognize the teams' third-place standing with more than voting Cunningham first and then letting their other players sift down to 2nd team.

There are LOTS of official second team and honorable mention selections that are total head-scratchers to me, but I'll just leave all that alone because any time we get down to the 20th to 30th picks there are going to be reasonable differences of opinion.

Let's talk about outside hitters for a moment.  I think if you consider both the players' statistics and team impact, there are only four six-rotation outside hitters that truly merit high consideration.  In order of my preference these four are Haley Coleman (SFA), Haley Tippett (UCA), Mikayla Vivens (HBU) and Bethany Clapp (UIW).  After those four, I see a pretty steep drop off at the OH position.  So, I was really, really pleased that all four of these ladies were first team.  I would have been perfectly happy if these were the only four on the ENTIRE lists to separate them from the second pack. Again, whomever you would place in that second tier is substantively down the ladder in terms of their 2018 performances in my book.  That isn't to say they aren't good players - they are.  But my second tier of OH's included Mueller, Nelms, Thomas, Redmond, Smith and Rogers - all really nice players.  I mean, you can read what I think about Mueller in my "sophomores" post below.  But, none of those players seems to have had the impact that the first four have had, so I would have preferred a wider gap in the official lists to separate the top tier.

By the way, 3-rotation outsides don't tend to merit much consideration for all-conference lists and I agree with that.  All of the aforementioned OH's were primarily used in six-rotations during the year.  But if you were picking a "best" three-rotation OH, then the numbers support only Katelyn Elliott of McNeese.  I'll bet you didn't know that among ALL outside hitters, Elliot was top-10 in kills per set, hitting percentage and blocks per set.  Her .218 attack percentage was second only to Clapp among outsides.  I came VERY close to putting her on a list. She had an under-the-radar good year.

The official Newcomer of the Year pick, Ehize Omoghbo of UNO is a good choice.  I went back-and-forth between her and Shelstead for a couple days. As far as the other individual awards, it is clear that I would have preferred Burleson for Libero, but no one can deny the impact that moving Wallace to libero and playing Cunningham six-rotations had for Sam Houston.  I pin that honor more on the decision making of Brenda Gray, however.  That was a fantastic utilization of their talent.  Without those two individuals in those two roles, the Bearkats aren't a top seed in the tournament.

Finally, I am thrilled that the voters see Hollas and Bosse as the top two setters this year.  To me, that was obvious. I already had half an article written if one of the two of those didn't win setter of the year. Good thing I could just hit "delete" and spare you the massive rant and statistical onslaught that you would have been dealt!

This now marks many years in a row that I have had an overall positive thought about the official lists.  I know that I personally am doing more digging, reading and talking about players than ever before.  It is encouraging to know that the official voters take seriously their role of making these selections.  Generally, the league is doing a great job with honoring these athletes.  Good work, voters!!

1st Annual All-Sophomore Team

Five years ago when I began doing Internet radio for SFA, I realized that I was going to need to really jump up my study of the opposing teams.  I had always known the league personnel "pretty well", but I needed to make sure that I was familiar with ALL of the 13 clubs in a deeper way so that calling a fast sport on radio could be more fluid.

When I call games on radio, I have notes in front of me but they are not to remind me of who is who.  They are notes about statistics and stories that I'd like to tell.  I have to be able to call the athletes' names based entirely on recognition and familiarity with no delay.  Even the slightest delay on calling names and the radio play-by-play loses personality in my opinion.

One byproduct of this study is that each year I could focus on sophomore players that were stepping up into larger roles.  These athletes are the potential team leaders in their junior/senior years and are often the "diamonds in the rough" among the conference.

In past seasons, I've found myself seeking out a handful of sophomores to really keep tabs on for subsequent years. In doing this, by the time these ladies were seniors I had a really good grip on their careers, what they had accomplished and felt like I had a good sense of their trajectory in terms of team leadership and growth.

All I am doing in this post - which will now become an annual thing - is to formalize the process to recognize these outstanding athletes that have finished the "first half" of their careers. This will allow us to anticipate the "second half".  My objective is always to showcase the sport and so I see no issue with recognizing and highlighting more and more names and teams in different way.  So, I hope you enjoy this new "blog feature".

The 2018 1st Annual All-Sophomore Team:

OH   Mikayla Vivens, HBU
OH   Katelyn Mueller, ACU
RS    Hannah Brister, NSU
MB   Anyia Williams, SFA
MB   Megan Patillo, HBU
S       Bailey Waddington, UCA
L      Madelynn Miller, UIW

Brief thoughts on each:

Vivens didn't get a chance to play much as a freshman because she was blocked by Bailey Banks and Jessica Wooten - two athletes appearing all over the record books for HBU.  Little did we know that the Huskies had a six rotation all-star waiting in the wings.  Vivens looks primed to be a Top 5 OH in the SLC for the next two years.

Mueller ranked 8th among all OH's in kills/set this year and third in digs/set. She was literally the "22nd player" on my All-Conference Teams.  By virtue of being the "first one off the lists" I was glad to get a chance to highlight her here. The word on the street is that she has a first rate personality and disposition and with the Wildcats being senior heavy, Mueller is a prime go-to for leadership in 2019 and 2020.  Prediction:  1st or 2nd team official All-Conference each of her last two years.

Brister we know about.  The reigning Freshman of the Year has not disappointed in Year Two.  She has been especially good down the stretch in 2018 and with both Anderson (UCA) and Hanna (SFA) done after this year, Brister immediately bears the title of best returning right-side.  Once she gets five kills on Friday, she and Anderson will be the only right-sides in the conference with 300+ kills and over 3.00 k/s.  Now, read that last sentence before this one again. See, this is why you need to know stats.  To be able to rattle off good stuff like that. (Edit:  I should mention that for the last six to seven matches of the regular season, Brister hit from the left.  Not knowing how permanent, if at all, the NSU lineup changes were/are, I opted to keep Brister grouped with the right-sides in my compilation of stats, etc.)

It is scary to think how good Anyia Williams can be.  She's probably the best overall athlete on this list and along with Vivens is the most dynamic.  The conference is shuddering realizing that BOTH of SFA's middles return for 2019. The Daron/Williams show in 2019 is going to be other-worldly.  You can't stop it.  You just can't.  You can just hope to contain it.

It's just my destiny:  I always love HBU middle blockers.  What is up with THAT??  The Huskies always find these MB's that are so legit.  Patillo plays with a fiery disposition and I think that's cool.  She led all sophomore middle blockers in kills per set, total kills and total blocks.  Like teammate Vivens, she was blocked by the "dominant-force-that-will-always-be-my-fave" Blair Gillard last year.  I'm calling it here first.... when people ask you where Patillo came from during her senior year.. tell 'em I made the call on her when she was a sophomore.  I like this player and am really looking forward to more progress and hopefully continued health (she's already used a redshirt) for 2019.

Waddingon split setting duties during the season at UCA with Elizabeth Armstrong, so we still haven't seen a full season of what she can do.  Several coaches I talked to this year really liked what they saw out of Waddington when they had to tangle with the Sugar Bears.  The Waddington/Armstrong usage patterns next year should be interesting to watch.  Waddington is one of the players I am most excited to see live for the first time when I call UCA's match on Friday.  She wasn't playing when UCA came to Nacogdoches for the first SLC match of the year.

Miller was one of my three finalists last year for my pick for Freshman of the Year.  I picked Lorin McNeil of ACU - who got hurt this year - just in front of Brister, who actually won the award.  Miller is another one of those players that gets high praise from multiple coaches in multiple conversations.  The liberos that I think deserve mention for highest honors this year are Burleson, Wallace, Drever and Miller.  The first three are all seniors, so Miller is your odds-on favorite for 2019 Libero of the Year.  See what I mean by finding diamonds in the rough?

Others to keep an eye on:  Julia Monday (RS, UIW), Allison Lippert (MB, McNeese), Brooke Wood (MB, NSU), Emily Doss (L, UCA).  Monday came on like wildfire at the end of the season, Lippert and Wood had a couple of seriously head turning matches with high block totals and Doss is smooth like silk.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Coming Soon: 10th Annual All-Conference Teams

By 11:59 PM on Monday, November 12, the 10th Annual All-Conference Teams will appear in this space

To review the selection process and take a look at my 2017 teams, you can click here.  This is always one of the most - if not the most viewed post of the year.

Keep checking back in this space Monday night and keep an eye on twitter for the announcement that the lists have been posted here.

I'll see everyone at the tournament this weekend.  As always, I'll have audio and video interviews going all weekend long with players and coaches.

My Southland Confererence Digital Network assignment for 2018 is to handle the non-SFA side of the bracket for the first two rounds.  So, I'll call Sam Houston State vs. McNeese at 4:00 on Friday and Central Arkansas vs. Northwestern State at 6:30 as well.  The winners of those two matches will play at 2:30 on Saturday and I'll have that assignment as well.

Tony Taglavore of Sweet Lou Media and broadcaster for Northwestern State University will have the side of the bracket that SFA is in.  Tony will call SFA vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at 11:00 and then ACU vs. HBU at 1:30.  Tony will also have the call for the semifinal match featuring the winners of those two matches which is Saturday at Noon.

Catch all the action in the first two rounds on the Southland Digital Network and the final on ESPN+.  You can also check out the Southland Conference Apps for your digital device.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

2018 SLC Interviews: Kaitlyn Grice of UNO

I filmed this interview with UNO middle blocker Kaitlyn Grice back when the Privateers came to Nacogdoches, but this was right at the time when SFA was really starting to stretch its winning streak out and other stories were beginning to develop for our club.  So, knowing that we were going to play UNO again, I've saved the interview for this week.  Here is the link where you can watch my 15-minute conversation with Kaitlyn Grice.

Grice is amazing to me.  She has consistently been among the attack percentage leaders and the block per set leaders in the conference over the past few years.  As of the filming of this interview she was 4th in the NCAA in total blocks.  Coming into action as of this writing, she is 7th with an astounding 147 total blocks.  There is little doubt in my mind that Grice is one of the most underrated players in the Southland.

Here is the question list for the interview, but make sure and hit the link above to watch the interview with one of the best blockers our conference has to offer.

1.  This is your senior year.  Have you embraced that it is the last year for college volleyball or tired to put that out of your mind?

2. Your mother played college volleyball.  What was it like to grow up in a house with such athletic talent?  When it became clear you were headed for college volleyball yourself, what advice did your Mom give you?

3. Describe the process of being recruited from Florida, where  you grew up, to play at the University of New Orleans?

4. What is the biggest difference being at UNO as compared to home?

5.  In 2015, your freshman year at UNO, the team had its best overall season in a long time and then suffered through a five win season a year later.  What changed and how did you deal with that mentally having such a team drop off?

6. Do you feel as though the last two years have rebuild to the point where UNO may be getting close to recovering the level of success during 2015?  Explain.

7. Many of your recent matches have been lost late in sets or in five sets.  UNO has had several leads it has not been able to hold.  Has this been focused on in practice and what has to improve in order to close out these tight sets and matches?

8. You have a difficult schedule at the end of conference play.  Has this been discussed in practices and how has the team reacted knowing that the schedule is back loaded?

9. What have you improved on the most as a blocker during your time at UNO?

10. What are the first skills that a young middle blocker needs to develop - say a young junior high girl first learning the position - in order to be successful?

11. Where in a middle blockers' development does the concept of being able to read setters and hitters begin to take hold?

12. What can you attribute your consistency to - especially in attack percentages, which have been particularly high.  What allows you to maintain such a high level of efficiency in attack?

13. What is your favorite shot/play to run?  Which shot/play have you had to work on the most during your time at UNO in order to improve?