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!!