Monday, November 18, 2019

11th Annual All-Southland Conference Teams and Awards

I finally got the "preface" to this post exactly as I wanted it in 2017, so I am repeating it now for a third time in 2019:

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 18.  The conference released the official lists after this date.

·        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 from doing radio/tv 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 10 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 ten 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.

2019 SFA All-Southland Conference Teams and Awards:

First Team:

OH Hannah Brister, NSU
OH Corin Evans, SFA
MB Jodi Edo, Southeastern La.
MB Danae Daron, SFA
S Ann Hollas, SFA
L Maddie Miller, SFA
MB Taya Mitchell, SFA

Second Team:

OH Ashley Lewis, SHSU
OH Mikayla Vivens, HBU
RS Ehize Omoghibo, UNO
MB Ebonie Ballesteros, HBU
MB Lorin McNeil, ACU
S Madison Green, AMCC
L Addison Miller, SHSU

Third Team:

OH Emily Gauthreaux, Nicholls
OH Alexis Warren, NSU
OH Abbie Harry, UCA
MB Kennedy Shelstead, ACU
MB Amari Mitchell, UCA
S Morgan Dewyer, HBU
L Carissa Barnes, AMCC

Just Missed (in order of position played):  OH Bethany Clapp (UIW), OH Alexis Lambert (McNeese), MB Sh'Diamond Holly (UNO), MB Kaira Hunnicutt (SHSU), RS Marybeth Sandercox (ACU), RS Xariah Williams (SFA), RS Breanne Chausse (SHSU), S Lucie Pokorna (UNO), L Emily Doss (UCA), L Megan Lohmiller (NSU).

Player of the Year:  Hannah Brister, NSU
Setter of the Year: Ann Hollas, SFA
Libero of the Year:  Maddie Miller, SFA
Newcomer of the Year: Taya Mitchell, SFA
Freshman of the Year:  Carissa Barnes, AMCC
Coach of the Year:  Debbie Humphreys, SFA

Quick Initial Posting Thoughts:

  • The first team is flooded with SFA athletes, which I think is more than legitimate given that the team has had a historic season to date including being on the edge of the AVCA Top 25 and consistently posting an RPI that is Top 50.  It stands at 34 as of this writing.  SFA is the most complete club in the conference by quite a large margin.

  • That said, I originally was going to pick Ann Hollas as Player of the Year.  My heart really hopes an SFA player wins the "actual" award.  Ann is an incredible leader and is really the key piece to the entire SFA machine.  I will feel odd if Ann or Corin wins POY and I didn't pick them, but I need to stay true to what I have said over and over in this space.  I do not believe POY is a team-award and I do not believe the POY has to be from the first place team.  I know some people really feel strongly about those things, but I do not.  It's just my point of view.  Brister is 13th in the nation in kills/set, 11th in the nation in total kills, 16th in the nation in points per set, was third in the Southland in attack percentage among OH's (behind Lambert and Samantha Rodgers of SHSU) despite nearly 1300 attacks.  She was player of the week five times and in addition to all that offense was 5th among all OH's in the conference in blocks per set and tied for 7th among all OH's in the conference in digs per set. I ranked 25 OH's and she was one of only three to finish in the Top 10 in all of kills, kills per set, attack %, digs/set and blocks/set (Evans and Lewis were the other two).  It's just too much.  The gap between her kill per set mark (4.69) and the next highest (Harry, 3.76) is very, very wide.  The numbers are just overwhelming and they just can't be pushed aside for Hollas's amazing leadership and high volleyball IQ.  I want Ann to win in my heart, but the most impressive player I've seen this year is Hannah Brister.  The most impressive team I've seen this year is led by Ann Hollas.  There's a difference.

  • I doubt Edo, the ACU middles and Gauthreaux rank as high on the official lists.  Voters don't like to honor low seeds and teams that don't make the tournament.  To which, I say:  Keep being you, ya'll.. keep being you.  Whatever.  That makes no sense to me.

  • I'm really in love with my first two teams, but I had a hard time with my "3rd Team".  If you prefer some of the "Just Missed" athletes higher, I don't know that I'd put up a terrible fight.

  • We have some great liberos in our conference this year.  Five Southland liberos rank among either or both of the Top 50 in the nation in digs per set or total digs.  Another one was SLC POW four times.  That said, I am confident that I'd take the three I chose (Maddie Miller, Addison Miller and Barnes) over the others.  In fact, here's proof that I called Maddie Miller as 2019 Libero of the Year before she even transferred to SFA (scroll to the bottom).  I mean this as no disrespect to Lohmiller, who won player of the week four times, nor Doss, who I called "smooth as silk" in the article linked above.  The group is crowded and the way I pick the teams doesn't leave room for five or six liberos.

  • Picks I most enjoyed making per team:  
    • First Team:  Mitchell (unbelievably dominant at the net, 6th in the nation in blocks and blocks/set)
    • Second Team:  Omoghibo (probably had more coaches bring her name up in casual conversations than anyone else)
    • Third Team:  Gauthreaux (I always find a "stealth sophomore" and this is my pick)  I'll be doing an All-Sophomore Team tomorrow like I did last year and Gauthreaux is on it.  I'm a major fan.  I understand she didn't put up great defensive numbers, but outsides need to score while also being efficient, right?  Here's a list of the OH's that finished in the Top 8 within their position in BOTH kills/set and attack percentage:  The almighty trio of Brister, Evans and Lewis.. and then... Emily Gauthreaux and Alexis Lambert.


Update:  Wednesday, November 20 at 9:00 PM

Reaction to Official All-Conference Teams and Awards

Well, I'm a little torn.  On one hand, I am encouraged that the conference embraced change.  For the first time that I can remember, the Southland Conference went to a "three team" format for the All-Conference Teams.  Only problem is, the voters about shot themselves in the foot with the composition of the third team and they wound up honoring LESS athletes than in the past.  For instance, in 2018, under the old format with two teams and an honorable mention list there were a total of 26 ladies honored.  Under the new, and more appropriate, three teams of seven players, we only get 21 names mentioned.  So, that's one thumbs up and one thumbs down.  Suggestion:  Keep the three team format.  Bring back "Honorable Mention".  The honorable mention list can be short, but it might get us up to 25, 26, 27 names again and give us an idea of who "just missed".

Now, to the main curiosity.  Do we not value defense?  Especially from middle blockers?  I mean, the title of the position implies the concept of blocking, does it not?  There are a couple players that made the lists that I take strong objection to their inclusion.  But, it's best not to name names in posts.  After all, the point is to honor players and that attempt should be lauded even when there are curiosities.  If you chase my points below, you can easily determine the biggest head-scratchers for me.  Let me just point out a few things:

  • We repeatedly leave national statistical leaders off our top teams.  This has been done consistently for years. In 2014, Nicholls had a libero named Kalynn Egea that finished 4th in the nation in digs per set and she didn't even make honorable mention.  In 2012, Oral Roberts had a middle blocker named Jessica Pancratz that blocked 164 balls.  Her coach didn't nominate her and she didn't even make honorable mention.  These are just two examples that I remember off the top of my head, but if you give me an hour, I can come up with a least a half dozen more from the archives.  It's ridiculous and it makes us all look bad.  To this end, Taya Mitchell is currently 6th in the nation in blocks per set and total blocks and she skates in on the 3rd team?  We don't value blocking when voting for these awards.

  • Take the time to rank all the middle blockers in blocks per set and then look at the lists.  You'll be shocked.  We value attack percentage to a nonsensical degree.  This is 2019.  Have we not learned?  Baseball has moved beyond batting average.  It's a useful stat, but not as useful as you think.  Let's make the same strides with attack percentage, ok?  For instance, suppose a middle blocker hits .340 for the season in 100 sets played, 450 swings and 30 matches.  If this player makes one more error per match, the corresponding attack percentage drops to .278.  One error PER MATCH.  The average attack percentage for all starting MB's in the conference this year was .264.  An attack percentage of .340 would have ranked 2nd.  An attack percentage of .278 looks far more average for the position.  One error PER MATCH.  Let's make middle blockers block balls to make all-conference.  We don't value blocking when voting for these awards.

  • Half of the top 10 players in blocks/set per set for the entire season and the #2, #3 and #4 blocks per set leaders in conference play did not get mentioned on the lists at all.  We don't value blocking when voting for these awards.

  • I had really hoped that Ann Hollas or Corin Evans would be the winner of Player of the Year.  But, Hannah Brister's case for Player of the Year is incredibly strong.  Like I mentioned yesterday, once I got deep in the numbers, her case convinced me.  Plus, despite seeing Ann lead for four years in such an amazing way, it's hard to deny Madison Green and her performance at Corpus.  Green's attacking numbers compare favorably with Hollas' and then you have almost two more assists per set and those six triple-doubles.  It's entirely possible that if I watched Green play every day like I have Hollas for four years, that I would see similar leadership... so, while I wanted Ann to repeat as Setter of the Year, and still believe she's the best overall choice, I can't quibble with honoring Green.  Madison Green is a special volleyball player.

  • I know I might be accused of hometowning it a little with this comment, but in all honestly, the only players on the OFFICIAL conference lists that I think should be higher up are SFA players.  That said, there are at least a half dozen that I think should be lower.

  • On this same theme, I'm genuinely surprised that Maddie Miller didn't win Libero of the Year.  I said in the original post that we had a lot of good statistical performances by liberos in the Southland this year, so I know making this pick could be seen as tough.  I also realize that Addison Miller played OUT OF HER MIND against us in Nacogdoches.  I do have to admit, Addison Miller was DOMINANT that night vs. SFA.  But, let me feed you just one number here.  Maddie Miller has currently put up 5.26 digs per set (the value on the team/conference website is not correct).  That would rank as the 5th best season in SFA history.  If she ups it to 5.28 or higher, then the only libero at SFA to have posted better season dig rates is Stephanie Figgers, who is/was/and shall always be the best libero to ever play in the Southland Conference.  The voters missed this one.  Maddie Miller was the best choice here.

  • I really liked the official lists in 2017 and 2018.  I think the 2019 lists took one step forward with changing formats, but also, I think they took one step back with a little less accuracy in terms of honoring the conferences best players.  That's just my two cents.  Someone who puts out their own lists is always going to prefer his/her own methods and choices.  Maybe it's just me, but if we're evaluating the whole contributions of a volleyball player, I'd prefer to factor in defense to some extent. I think it a reasonable part of the criteria especially if the position you play has the word "Blocker" in it. But again, might just be me.