Monday, November 12, 2018

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.