Monday, November 18, 2019

2nd Annual All-Sophomore Team

I like to look at sports from more than one vantage point.  My late father told me when I was a young child that in order to learn about football I needed to watch what was going on away from the ball.  Once I got to college and developed a deep, deep love for baseball, I realized the same was true for that sport.  I learned to watch infielders move, outfielders take routes and players run the bases.

I enjoy this same perspective about volleyball. Doing play-by-play, I have to watch the ball, of course.  My job is to tell the story and articulate the action.  So, following the ball is a necessity.  But, when I watch volleyball in a gym and I'm not "working", I often find myself watching just one player continuously.  I'll just watch the setter.. or watch how the middles transition in a long rally, or my favorite... just watch a back row player like a libero or defensive specialist.

Often juniors and seniors wind up on leadership teams and can disproportionately appear on award lists.  This is natural.  They are more experienced and adjusted.  So, in this post we'll take a different vantage point.

The sophomore class can be full of players about to "break out" and have two huge upperclassman years.  Sometimes these sophomores don't reach the projected potential they show half way through their collegiate career.  But, at other times they provide us with diamonds-in-the-rough or candidates for greater accolades in the two years following.

To celebrate just the sophomore class in the Southland Conference, last year I began picking an "All-Sophomore" team.  This is the second annual installment of this concept.  After a few more years of this, we'll be able to see which of these athletes truly do blossom into upperclassman leaders and award winners.  To see last year's "All-Sophomore Team", click here.

From last year, I'd say Brister, Vivens and Miller have continued the career arc upward.  Mueller got hurt in 2019.  Williams transferred out of the conference and Patillo and Waddington still played important roles for their schools.  We'll see how that crew does as Seniors, but for now.. last year's all-sophomore team still looks pretty darn good.

Here's the list for 2019:

The 2019 2nd Annual All-Sophomore Team:

OH Bethany Clapp, UIW
OH Emily Gauthreaux, Nicholls
MB Ebonie Ballesteros, HBU
MB Kaira Hunnicutt, SHSU
RS Breanne Chausse, SHSU
S  Skylar Besch, NSU
L  Vacant

There were no sophomores that regularly wore a libero jersey in the Southland Conference this year.  If you allow that spot to flex to include DS's then the two two sophomore defensive specialists that I'd mention (they led all other sophomore DS's in digs per set) are Kylie Lockhart of Nicholls and Kaylee Payne of Texas A&M - Corpus Christi.  With the Islanders back row anchored by freshman libero Carissa Barnes, Payne may not project to be a libero in the near future.  However, the libero position will be open at Nicholls since trickster and libero Emily Venable is a senior.  So, theoretically, Lockhart could be in the conversation to be the Colonels next libero.  So, if we have to fill that "vacant" libero slot, Lockhart might be the best choice.

Everyone around the conference knows Bethany Clapp should continue to produce.  She was the 2018 Freshman of the Year, made my third team last year and was also my pick for Freshman honors.  Gauthreaux I have already written about in the post above.  Clapp and Gauthreaux actually posted very similar numbers in 2019, but I saw Gauthreax's efficiency as the difference maker for my third team vs. "Just Missed".    They actually ranked as the 7th (Gauthreaux) and 9th (Clapp) OH's in my rankings spreadsheet that I create for my all-conference picks.

Ballesteros and Hunnicutt were two of only four middles to post over 100 blocks in the regular season.  The other two are Edo (SLU) and Mitchell (SFA), both of which I believe easily belong on the first team for all-conference honors.

Chausse was second to Ehize Omoghibo (UNO) in kills per set among all right-side attackers.  The sophomore setters in the conference were Besch, Pilar Gonzaba (UIW, 6-2), Kendall Kilchrist (McNeese, 6-2) and Madison Rohre (ACU, 5-1).  I gave the nod to Besch for her agressiveness.  First of all, she put down some monster kills against SFA that stuck in my mind.  Plus, she finished 5th among all setters in total attacks while also hitting .204 to lead the sophomores in that category.  That was enough to warrant the selection with only a handful to choose from.  My favorite setter profile is 6' or taller, lanky and highly aggressive on 2nd touch.  Besch is only 5'9", but she fit the aggressive mold enough by way of her stats to stay on my radar.

Hope you like the picks and maybe now you've got a sophomore or two to follow into their upperclassmen years.  Who knows?  Maybe there's a future Player of the Year or Tournament MVP in this group.  It's fun to watch.. and fun to give out accolades to players half way through their tenure.