Tuesday, November 16, 2021

2021 WAC Tournament Travel Diary

 Follow along with the Ladyjacks as we travel, practice and compete at the 2021 WAC Volleyball Tournament in Las Cruces, NM.  This year is our first year in the WAC and our first appearance in the WAC Volleyball Tournament.  Keep us with us here in this space as the 'Jacks look to earn an automatic bid to the 2021 NCAA Volleyball Tournament!  Remember that all the SFA matches will be carried live here in this space on SFA VolleyBlog Radio! Just click the radio button right above the post at match time!

Most Recent Entries At The Top.  Scroll Down for Previous Days.

Sunday, November 21

2:45 PM CT  We have arrived back in Nacogdoches.  The first WAC Tournament trip for SFA Volleyball is in the books.  Everyone was very ready to be back home.  Is our season done?  Maybe.  We'll have to wait a week to see if the NIVC comes calling.  I've thought all along that we were on the bubble, but in.  However, we'll have to see how our 1-1 showing in the tournament affects things, if at all.  Sam Houston gets the automatic bid from our conference.  Whether there will be enough RPI spots to trickle down to us waits to be seen.  If we are done, 18-9 represents a good season.  Fairly and plainly spoken - probably not a GREAT season, but it had some strong moments.  If we are not done, then we have chance to add some wins to the slate in December.  Either way, I think this team is just a piece here and there and some growth away from another great season.  The standards are high here, winning 2/3 of your matches is a fine accomplishment, but I think we all feel like we fell just a little short of where we'd like the bar to be.  But again, there were some strong moments and big steps forward by a lot of our young players and great leadership from our veterans.  Let's enjoy Thanksgiving week.. there's lots to be thankful for!

10:56 AM CT  On the bus!  Plane down and luggage pick up was easy.  Everyone glad to see our bus with the SFA logo on it.  Loaded up and ready to head back to Nac.

6:39 AM MT  After a 5:00 AM hotel depart we’ve made it through security at El Paso Airport and are gathering at the gate.  The crew that loves their Starbucks has found one and is loading up on morning caffeine.  The van cranked and it’s been dropped off so that transportation debacle has been finally rid our hands. The beginning of the end of a long, but memorable trip is upon us.

Saturday, November 20

9:48 PM MT  After an incredible dinner at one of Las Cruces' highest rated Mexican restaurants (which has some seriously hot salsa), we made our way over to the Pan Am Center to watch the championship match.  Utah Valley made quick work of Grand Canyon in three sets.  Val Rosado made the All-Tournament team, so we were all glad to be there to see that and congratulate her.  After the match, we hopped back in the rental vans and cars and made our way over to a roadside custard place that had an old school 60's order-at-a-counter vibe.  Everyone got their favorite treat and now we've made it back to the hotel.  We are leaving at 5 AM MT for the airport in El Paso.  Hoping the van will start one last time.  If not, we'll jump it early in the AM and let it fly.  It was good to have a busy day after last night's loss.  I don't know about the rest of the crew, but I'm anxious to get back to my family.  We've had some ups and downs on this trip, but made a lot of memories and hopefully the memory of watching the team that beat us rush the floor knowing they are going to the NCAA's will drive us forward in 2022.  I remember 2018 and 2019 when that was us.  But none of the players save Ariana Pagan know that feeling... yet.  Something tells me that we'll be back in that position soon - hopefully, one year from now.  Off to bed.. gotta a VERY early start to flight and bus day home.

4:58 PM MT  Trip to White Sands was a hit!  Everyone loved it.  Drove an hour to White Sands National Park, but first stopped a gift shot just outside the park and got some sleds.  They are like plastic saucers and come with wax to make the bottom of the sled slide quickly along the white sand.  Then, we drove several miles into the park, found a parking spot and took the sleds to the dunes.  I wandered off a bit and found a steep hill and began to sled by myself.  The gals were - of course - much more adventurous - going down tandem, backward, face first, etc.  After a while I walked back over to the the group and told them about the steeper slope than they were sledding on.  Several of them followed me back and they had great fun doing all sorts of tricks and tandem slides.  It was a great trip and now we are all back at the hotel for a quick clean up before heading to dinner and ultimately over to the gym to watch the championship.  Oh, the van did fine.  The battery was able to charge on the hour drive and it started right up when time to leave.  We only have to get that crazy thing to the airport in the morning and then we're done with it.

11:50 Van has battery issue. Got it jumped. We bought jumper cables and we’re gonna try and milk it through the day and tomorrow until we can get it back to airport!  Here we go! Let it roll!  Still gonna try for White Sands

11:18  Team trying to get to White Sands for a day trip but our big rental van has been having problems starting and now AAA is at the hotel trying to remedy the problem. Club looking forward to hiking the dunes and sledding.   I want to find a rocket (inside joke)

Friday, November 19

11:33 PM MT After grabbing dinner and eating it at the hotel lobby and just a little bit of commiserating about the loss, everyone has made their way upstairs.  While investigation into costs of returning to Texas early were done, it just isn’t financially feasible. So, we’ll return on Sunday morning as originally planned.  Things are shaping up for a team short trip tomorrow afternoon.

8:36 PM MT  Things don't go our way in a quick three set loss to Utah Valley.  'Jacks are eliminated in the Semifinals in their first appearance in their inaugural appearance in the WAC Tournament.  Grand Canyon and Utah Valley will play in tomorrow's final.  SFA will await to see if they earn an invitation to the NIVC.  That will have to wait nine days until the NCAA Selection show concludes on Sunday, August 28.

5:28 PM MT Grand Canyon destroys Sam Houston in the first semifinal.  Now, to take care of our business and get our rematch with the Lopes.

4:49 PM MT  Lunch at Genghis Grill complete.  Very tasty.  The club has made its way back inside Pan Am Center to let lunch settle and watch a little of the Sam Houston/ Grand Canyon match.

2:52 PM MT Leaving the gym to head to lunch.  Then, right back to the Pan Am Center 

2:05 PM MT  On the floor at the Pan Am Center for pass & serve.  Club is loose and ready to roll.  Tons of positive energy building for tonight

12:48 PM MT  Team beginning to gather downstairs in order to go to the gym for pass and serve.  From there, lunch.

10:56 AM MT  Film session on Utah Valley done.  We don't leave the hotel for lunch until 1:00 PM, so everyone back in rooms, doing homework or getting in a power nap.  It's going to be a long evening and then preparation for the championship tomorrow, so everyone is using these next two hours for down time and relaxation.

8:15 AM MT  Stayed up late past midnight to prepare a bit for Utah Valley broadcast after a long day of watching four matches.  My roomie and early riser, Assistant Coach Evan Amstutz stayed up a little longer than normal but then crashed.  However, I have NO IDEA when he got up this morning to begin his day. The guy is a notorious EARLY riser and I have no doubt he is hours and hours into work as I am just getting started here at a little past 8:00.  Breakfast with the team is late today - 9:30.  Coaches meet at 8:30 and the gals are in evidently in rooms 'cause I don't see any of them in the lobby.  I'll head back up to prepare some more and then come back downstairs to eat in about an hour.  We don't play until 7:00 PM tonight, but we are going over to the gym in the afternoon for pass and serve. Film breakdown on Utah Valley during the mid-morning.

Thursday, November 18

11:23 PM MT  Well, I went dark there for a few hours, but only because the volleyball was SO good and I was in the gym ALL day!  As you know by know, SFA won a thrilling five set match against Chicago State that saw Ariana Pagan drop 8 aces and Val Rosado put up a season high 18 kills.  Then, in the night match - ANOTHER five-setter as Utah Valley gets by host New Mexico State.  The 'Jacks will face off with the Wolverines tomorrow night.  I'll try to provide more updates tomorrow than I did today, but WOW.. watching all the volleyball in the gym just took over!

3:06 PM MT  Grand Canyon holds on, but gets pushed by RGV, and wins 3-1.  The 'Lopes and Bearkats will meet tomorrow and one of those clubs will have a spot in the final.  It's go time for the 'Jacks!  I'm gonna switch sides and set up the radio!

2:47 PM MT  Our club has made their way into the Pan Am Center and is catching the end of this RGV / Grand Canyon match.  After a blow out second set that made it look like Grand Canyon might run away with the match, UTRGV has fought back to take the third set and has the lead mid-way through set 4 at 14-11.  Are we headed to five?  I thought RGV was buried.. but credit the Vaqueros for making this a good match!

1:22 PM MT  There are reports that the team went to Cracker Barrel for lunch and Assistant Coach Evan Amstutz left only one peg in the "remove-a-tee' game at the table.  This was previously thought to be impossible.  He has sent be visual evidence and at this point I'll have to take his word for it, unless I learn that the evidence was faked. :)  

11:36 AM MT Sam defeats ACU 3-0 in a match where neither team was really in sync.  Great match by Catherine Krieger for Sam Houston, though.  On a day where Lewis/Chausse were off-and-on, Krieger really was the glue on offense.  Also, Sam completely controlled the service game.  ACU didn't serve tough in my opinion.  Sam got eight aces and ACU not a single one.  Sam Houston advances to take on winner of RGV/GCU next at 1:00 PM.

9:15 AM MT At the gym and getting ready to watch ACU take on Sam Houston in the #8/#1 battle.  Can the Wildcats do it again?

8:24 AM MT  Folks starting to stir and everyone glad match day has finally arrived.  Team beginning to gather for breakfast and then a team activity is planned.  Senior Women’s Administrator Loree McCary got in last night and in her search for quality Las Cruces coffee she’s going to swing me by the Pan Am Center so that I can catch the early matches of the day. The club plans to be there a little before 2:00.

Wednesday, November 17

9:58 PM MT Everyone has been settled in the hotel for hours.  Good call to get an early dinner as its allowed everyone to get to their rooms early and rest.  We'll be ready to go tomorrow.  I've arranged for transportation early in the morning so that I can see all of the matches.  So, diary updates in the morning will be from the Pan Am Center rather than with the team.  The team has breakfast scheduled at 8:30 AM, a team activity at the hotel in the morning, then study time before lunch at Noon and they are going to arrive at the Pan Am Center at 2:00 PM.  I will get to the gym at 9:15 AM and watch ACU/Sam Houston at 10:00 and UTRGV/Grand Canyon at 1:00 before they arrive.  Then. we'll be on the air at 4:00 here with the radio.. that's 5:00 Central Time.

6:18 PM MT Early dinner done and already back at hotel.  Everyone seemed fine with getting back to base earlier tonight since last night was such a weird and late evening getting into town.  Everyone will just kick back at the hotel and then go to battle tomorrow 

4:17 PM MT Headed to an early dinner at Texas Roadhouse 

3:52 PM MT Practice done. Got 75 minutes on the floor.  I got in a good chat with Adam Young, who will handle the play by play on ESPN+ tomorrow.  He’s very prepared and a real pro.   It was great to pick his brain about a few broadcasting tidbits and talk about our club with him.

2:26 PM MT We’ve taken the floor at the Pan Am Center for practice 

1:54 PM MT Arrived at the Pan Am Center.  Gals getting ready to take the floor for practice at 2:30

1:13 PM MT  Brief shopping trip to Target before heading to the gym.  Lunch at Corner Bakery was delicious!  Had a chicken pasta dish that was amazing.  I think everyone is ready to hit the court and roll the ball out there and play!  Large van / SUV / extra rental car is working fine to get us around town

11:44 AM MT Arrived at Corner Bakery for lunch 

11:02 AM MT Film sessions done.  Going to eat lunch at 11:30.  All Conference teams announced at the conference website with Taya, Leah and Val being honored.

9:26 AM MT  Most players and coaches have made their way through the breakfast nook here at the hotel. Rumor is another rental vehicle has been found in town and so transportation issues should be resolved. Some players and coaches reviewing film on laptops in advance of a team meeting at some point this morning.

8:14 AM MT  Breakfast scheduled for 8:30 originally but Coach Debbie asked when they stopped serving last night before we went up to rooms   They said 10:00.  So, we may linger a bit given the long night of having to remedy our lost van reservation.

Tuesday, November 16

11:49 MT  To bed. The journey to which began over 11 hours ago.  What will tomorrow bring?

11:20 MT  All arrive at the hotel. Made it!

10:25 MT Team and coaches in a pair of vehicles.  Jada, Jenna, Alex, Julia and myself in an UberXL to Las Cruces.  Should all be to hotel in about an hour. Wow. I wrote earlier that the bus ride over was adventure-less.  Well, we’ve made up for it!

10:11 MT  So we only have one van. Plan now is for some is us to Uber to Las Cruces and then the rest cram in the one van. Likelihood of success? Stay tuned!

10:03 MT  Guest entry Hailey Hunt: Hour 10. I’m hungry. Its cold. It smells kinda funny. I have no clue where we are. If I don’t make it, tell my family I love them.

10:01 MT  Current Status: Stuck in Airport

9:37 MT  All bags safely made it to El Paso.  Now to figure out a few details of our ground transportation to Las Cruces since we are late.  

9:15 MT  On the ground in El Paso

8:27  We’ve boarded our flight after what looks like will be about a full hour delay!  Wheels up!

8:00 PM  Still sitting in airport.  Not boarding yet.  Plane is here, though!  Gonna be a long evening!

7:12 PM  After an adventure-less bus trip to Love Field, the flight to El Paso is delayed by 35 minutes and we are now hoping to board and get in the air just after 8:00 Central Time.  Still gotta bus up to Las Cruces after we make our way to El Paso here in a bit!

Monday, November 1, 2021

Game Day Internet Radio INSTRUCTIONS

To listen to the Internet Radio Broadcast on Game Day, do the following

Using Your Cell Phone:

1) If your cell phone shows only "posts", but not the SFAVolleyBlog Radio banner at the top of the screen, scroll down to the bottom of the loaded page and click on the link "View Web Version".  This link is right above my picture.

2) Once the web version of the blog appears on your screen, click on the banner that says

SFAVOLLEBLOG.NET
MIXLR LIVE AUDIO

You are now connected to the live broadcast and will begin hearing the stream.

Note:  If you click on this banner while it reads "Off Air" nothing will happen.  I am not broadcasting at that time.  You should only click the banner when it reads "Live, On Air".


Using Your Laptop or Other Computer:

Just click directly on the banner which reads 

SFAVOLLEBLOG.NET
MIXLR LIVE AUDIO

and you are connected to the stream.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Everyone Gets Interviewed Archive

For the Phoenix Pod Daily Diary scroll down to the next post.  Here you'll find the complete list of the links to all of the interviews in the "Everyone Gets Interviewed" series while SFA Volleyball travels to Arizona to compete in the WAC Phoenix Pod


Interview #1:  Payton Cerny

Interview #2:  Kennedy Wright

Interview #3: Julia Whitehead (Graduate Assistant)

Interview #4: Lauren Friis

Interview #5:  Ielan Bradley 

Interview #6: Maddy Bourque

Interview #7:  Taya Mitchell

Interview #8: Jenna Robichaux (Manager)

Interview #9: Alyssa Ortega

Interview #10: Bryli Contreras 

Interview #11 Kodi Garcia

Interview #12 Kelsey Harrington

Interview #13 Kayla Grant

Interview #14 Val Rosado

Interview #15 Hailey Hunt

Interview #16: Trinity Funderburk

Interview #17: Alisa Blair (Assistant Coach)

Interview #18: Alex Howard (Athletic Trainer)

Interview #19: Loree McCary (Associate AD & SWA)

Interview #20: Debbie Humphreys (Postmatch after SFA Defeats Utah Valley 3-1)

Interview #21 Ariana Pagan (Postmatch after UVU - Adi w/ a career high 23 digs)

Interview #22 Jada White (Manager)

Interview #23 Leah Powell (GCU post match)

Interview #24 Ashley Procious 

Interview #25 Evan Amstutz (Assistant Coach)

Interview #26: Greg Miller (TV/Radio, with guest interviewers Leighann & Brett Miller)

Phoenix Pod Travel Diary

The following diary style entries will chronicle SFA Volleyball's first journey "West" to take on our new WAC adversaries.  From October 19 through October 23, the 'Jacks will travel to Phoenix to participate in the "Phoenix Pod" of matches that will see us battle with New Mexico State, Utah Valley University and Grand Canyon University.  

You can follow along with our daily travels and experiences below with the most recent entries at the top of this post:

Add two hours for "Texas" times...

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 23

2:20 AM The bus has arrived at the Commuter Lot. Home Sweet Home. The Phoenix Pod trip officially comes to an end.

1:36 AM Texas Time, Sunday:   Getting closer.  Bus rolls through Henderson and all is quiet. After the gals got their Buccees fix, the sleep set in. Just a little bit longer and we’ll be home.

11:52 PM Texas Time.  Bus makes a pit stop at Buccees Terrell,  I got popcorn (of course,,,my go-to) and a Dr. Pepper Icee.

9:45 Texas Time.. On the ground at Love

5:24 We are boarding the plane and uhhh.. couldn’t find Evan.  Everyone texting him and calling.. no answer. Then, at the last minute he makes it on the plane.  He fell asleep at Starbucks.  Now THAT is a story for the ages.

3:33 PM Team making it through security at Sky Harbor Airport and all the gals scattering for food . Flight departs at 5:25 local time (7:25 Texas Time).  So, we’ve got some time to kill.

2:10 PM  Club making their way out to the bus - it’s the Party Bus again.  Team has no reason to hang heads as it was a strong effort against GCU, but unfortunately the bus won’t be quite as live as if we had squeezed out the win

1:22 PM  Tight match goes GCU’s way.  Every set tight.  Great competition and a very fun match to call and watch in places.  Just came up a little short

10:03  Well, you can hear them singing in the locker room from a hallway away, so they’re ready.  About to make their way onto the floor for the last battle in the Phoenix Pod

9:13 AM Light breakfast brought in to the gym.  It’s kicked  back time again as we still have 45 minutes until warmups.  This trip has been action packed except for the 90 minute time frame after pass and serve and before warmups.  

7:59 AM  The club breaks into a hilarious rock paper scissors battle to race around the court with each "team" trying to send one gal all the way around the perimeter of the floor and being intercepted by a teammate running the opposite direction.  To continue, a rock paper scissors win has to occur.  I'm sure there is a name for these shenanigans, but no matter.. it was a fun moment to watch before pass and serve.

7:19 AM  Team arrives at GCU Arena.  Pass and Serve starts at 8:00 AM

6:48 AM  Team loading up on bus and about ready to roll to gym.   We have to bring everything we’ve got into the locker rooms with us since we are gonna have a different bus going to airport after we’re done at the gym.   Ready to get after it.

4:46 AM  Everyone has to be up early as the bus pulls out of the hotel at 6:50 AM this morning.  I'm up, packed, showered and pretty much ready to go.  I have a few more notes to make and then I'll see if I can round up a few cans of orange juice from the lobby breakfast.  For some reason, I'm grooving on that stuff.  Gotta go plus Vitamin C on a long day like this.  Hoping and expecting a repeat of yesterday where the gals played so well.  100% confident they can do it.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 22

9:23 PM  After an hour more of making out notes and reading on Grand Canyon University for tomorrow, I think I'll leave the last few things for in the morning.  It's gonna be an EARLY start, but we've got one more day and another "W" that we have to chase.

8:24 After a brief break to chat with my family, I'm back preparing for broadcast - making out GCU team sheets based on the stats and info from film.  Had to check in with my 14-year old daughter who is having a girls sleep over at my house tonight.  See how that works?  Girl sleep over with 14-year olds giggling all evening or quiet hotel with king size bed and assortment of snacks to keep me going for a few more hours.  I love all my crew, but I'll let them have the sleep over TONIGHT while Mom's in charge and then quiet house late Saturday and Sunday after I get home.  #QualityParentingMove

7:48 Team film session for GCU concludes and the team is dismissed for the night.  We've got a very full day tomorrow with a very early start.  As usual, I'll stay up a while, but many have surely headed to bed with a busy day and key match on tap tomorrow against host Grand Canyon University.

6:15  Hot bus makes it to Whole Foods Market for dinner shopping.  Trainer Alex Howard and I ditch that idea and go across the street to grab In N Out Burger.   That’s a win.   We’re headed back to the hotel for film on GCU after everyone gets food

5:36  Everyone getting on the bus and the bus is HOT!  A/C not working well.  Yikes!

5:18 PM MUCH BETTER!  SFA Takes Care of Utah Valley in 4.  Nice balanced offense, great serving, better blocking and passing.  All around a better effort and positive outcome!

1:53 PM  Countdown until taking the floor at 2 PM.  #WeReady

1:06 PM  Team done with pass and serve and had Jason’s Deli delivered to the gym for lunch.  Pretty much everyone just kicked back now waiting for 2:00 to hit and warm ups to begin.

11:21 AM  Arrived at the gym and some of us are getting a chance to watch the GCU Men’s Volleyball team practice.  Pretty cool!

8:55 AM  Team has just finished up breakfast and now getting a little study time in before a 10:45 departure to the gym.  I got up at 6:00 again and walked a little bit & planned and reviewed a few notes before going down to breakfast early.  Several players were down in the breakfast room studying already or reviewing film.  Listening to conversations at breakfast gives me a good feeling about today.  I feel like the entire club is really well prepared for Utah Valley and I'm excited to see if we can execute on the floor today.  The rest of the way, our schedule today is pretty much the same as yesterday.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 21

10:04 PM   I’ll call it a day now.  Unfortunately, we’ve got a few noisy guys out in the hall of the hotel.  Hopefully our gals are all asleep and not being kept up by it all.  Tomorrow is a new day and a new chance to compete at a high level - a level I know we are capable of.

8:44 PM Team dismissed for the evening after Assistant Coach Evan Amstutz took the team through film and personnel discussions regarding Utah Valley.  The club will be on the same "clock" in terms of schedules for key events tomorrow as we were today.  Players all returned to their rooms for the evening.  I'll stay up a bit.  I usually do.  One more interview to process and I'll review Utah Valley stats a time or two.

8:05  Team starting to gather again in meeting room for last activity of the day which is final film and discussion about Utah Valley - tomorrow’s opponent.  Coaches have been strategizing and I finished watching Grand Canyon sweep Sam Houston.   Not the best of days for the Southwest Division on the court today.

7:15  Grand Canyon takes a two set lead on Sam Houston so the gals are dismissed to go shower and briefly rest before film later this evening 

6:52  Team grabbed dinner on the way back to hotel and gathering in the meeting room to watch a little bit of Sam Houston and Grand Canyon 

4:55 Not the outcome we wanted.  But we came here to play three so we’ve got to focus on getting 2 W’s.  Club in locker room and will bus back to hotel to watch Sam Houston and Grand Canyon 

2:03 PM  After what seems like an eternity, all the other clubs have taken serve and pass (except Sam Houston, they didn't want to I guess).. and now, the 'Jacks are about to take the floor for our first match from the "Phoenix Pod"

12:34 PM  Pass and Serve done and Panera has arrived   So the gals will cool down a bit and then we’ll all have pre-match meal.

11:58  ‘Jacks on the floor for a little early pass and serve, but lunch should be here and it’s not.   There’s gonna be some hungry folks at 12:30 if the Panera Bread delivery doesn’t show soon!  Haha!

11:14 AM  SFA Volleyball arrives at GCU Arena   Serve and Pass at Noon and then a light lunch

6:26 AM  Alarm has gone off and I'm showered and ready for the day (I'm one of these people that has to shower IMMEDIATELY when he wakes up).  My final preparations for New Mexico St. concerning the broadcast have begun and the crew will meet up in another hour and a half for breakfast.


WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 20

8:48 PM  The halls of the hotel are quiet and everyone is tired from a full day of travels and practice and great food.  While, "technically" it is not even 9 PM, on Texas time it is almost 11:00 - which is when I usually go to bed.  So, that's a wrap for "travel day".  I'll get up early to finish my radio preparations for New Mexico State and then have breakfast with the team.  Make sure you listen to the match live right here at the blog on SFA VolleyBlog Radio.

7:55 PM  Back at the hotel for the night   It feels like it is the middle of the night to me.   Very active day.   It’s awesome to see these gals interact with each other because you can tell they genuinely like each other   The Party Bus was a huge hit and everyone looked sharp at practice.. Tomorrow we need to show this side of the WAC what SFA Volleyball is all about!

6:53  After taking a VERY long time to actually get the Party Bus out of the campus and A LOT of singing by the players on the way, we finally made our way to The Beach House for some tacos and burritos 

4:32 PM On the floor   Jacks starting practice from the GCU Arena.  We’re scheduled for a 90 minute practice 

3:08 PM  Checked into hotel after several hours at the mall.   Just putting things in rooms and then quickly turning around in a few minutes to bus to practice 

12:25 PM  After eating lunch at Modern Market in Scottsdale, the 'Jacks just took a short jaunt across the street to a large Scottsdale Mall for a shopping break.  After walking off lunch and killing time here, we'll bus, oh.. excuse me... party bus.. over to Grand Canyon University Arena for afternoon practice.

10:36  PARTY BUS   ‘Nuff said  

10:17 AM  The club has all its bags.  all baggage arrived safely and we now await our transportation to eat and hotel. WE ARE HERE

9:35 local time AM:   On the ground in Phoenix!!  AxeEm!!

7:35  Made it through check in and security and everyone making their way to the gate.   Several folks hustled and got control of the kiosks and expedited all of us checking in   And, of course.. our gate… Gate 19 was the farthest from the security gate   So, after the walk everyone is grabbing some breakfast from a local eatery along the concourse   

5:25 AM.  Up and at 'em.  Would it surprise you that my roomie, Assistant Coach Evan Amstutz has already been up for a while continuing to prepare for matches, getting his coffee fix and starting his day?  Not if you know him even in the least!  Dude is super prepared!  Alarm went off a little while ago for me and it's time to wake up with a nice hot shower and get this long and adventurous day started.  Gotta get to the airport in the next hour or so.


TUESDAY, OCTOBER 19

11:15 PM.  At the hotel in Dallas.  Pulled in and everyone got their room keys efficiently and is ready for sleep.  We won't see much of this hotel with our eyes open.  We bus to the airport at 6:30 AM tomorrow morning.

8:18 PM Bus glitch resolved and we're off.  Payton Cerny and Kennedy Wright chat done on the bus as we left Nacogdoches.  Gonna be a quick "to-bed" and "wake-up" turn around to be ready for flight tomorrow.

7:44 PM  Departure pushed back   All waiting in parking lot for bus…. But… no bus  

6:25 PM  Departure pushed back to 7:30.  That gives me a chance to breathe coming out of class a bit  

4:16 PM  COVID testing done   Now to do my real job here before we head out   Yes, I teach a class that meets at 5:00 on Tuesday!  After that, a change back into more relaxed attire, grab some grub and let’s get this jaunt out West started  

10:14 AM:  Ok, I think I am all packed up.  Guys travel light on trips like this.  I've got my team issued Under Armor athletic bag and it's got all my clothes in it and then there's the backpack and computer bag I always take to the gym.  That's it.  I'll be interested to see how many bags the gals bring on this trip.  I'm a pretty light packer as it is & I don't like lugging a massive amount of stuff through airports, so I'm staying with the normal "three-piece" that I typically take on these trips.  Next step:  Gotta COVID test this afternoon to be cleared for travel.  Been planning the "Everyone Gets Interviewed Series" in my head.. I think I'm gonna start with Payton Cerny this afternoon.

Monday, October 18, 2021

"Phoenix Pod" Coverage!!



This weekend from Phoenix I'll have a continuous blogging experience for you as the 'Jacks travel from Nacogdoches to Dallas to Phoenix and then go about our business of facing off with New Mexico State, Utah Valley and Grand Canyon University.

Everyone gets interviewed!  That's right.. we'll get 26 different short interviews about the Phoenix experience covering first and foremost all of the players, but we'll also chat with coaches, trainers and managers to give you the full experience of what it is like to be at the "Phoenix Pod".

Last but not least, SFA VolleyBlog Radio has you covered for live play-by-play of all three of our matches this weekend.  So, make sure you check this space often for updates and news concerning the 'Jacks trip West as we make our first visit to play our new WAC opponents!


 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Three Things to Look For in Week 3

 

With five matches and two weeks of the Fall 2021 season completed, what can we look for in Week 3 as the ‘Jacks travel to Tulsa?  Below, I’ll share three things that have stuck out to me during the early part of the season as places where I’d love to see consistency and improvement.  As I watch and call the matches this weekend against Tulsa, Oral Roberts and Arkansas, these are three specific areas to evaluate.  Of course, we are still very early in the schedule and the matches of highest importance still await us.  But every week the objective is to improve so that the very best SFA Volleyball is being played in November. 

Pin Blocking Especially on Right Side Attacks

At times against all of North Carolina, SMU and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, SFA looked vulnerable to right side attacks.  Six rotation outside hitters Ariana Pagan and Leah Powell team up with their respective middle to block on this side of the floor.  Consistently setting blocks well when they are front as well as funneling balls to the desired part of the floor look like areas ripe for improvement as we progress through September.  Too many right side attacks have gone untouched at the net and found the right back corner.  This weekend in Tulsa, look to see if right side attackers are held in check. Positioning among the back row players also plays a role in this, making sure that the center back defender is not too back and the right back defender is not too forward so as to take away an angle.

 Among the 18 sets played, SFA has allowed an opponent attack percentage of .270 overall.  That’s too high.  The ‘Jacks opponents have hit over .250 in 72% of sets played, while being held to less than .200 in just three sets – two against Pacific and the last set against the Islanders last Saturday.  Both of these numbers need to change.  In years past, we’ve become accustomed to SFA defenses allowing attack percentages consistently around .160-.170.  Now to be fair, quality of opposition plays a significant role here, but the fact still remains:  We can’t continue to allow such a large percentage of sets where our opponents hit .300+.  Stabilizing the pin block – especially on opponent right side attacks – will go a long way towards seeing those opponent numbers sink.

 Consistent Setter-Attacker Connections

There is little question that the Ladyjacks employ three quality setters.  That’s not what’s up for discussion in this section.  Instead, the early part of the season is that time to solidify the setter-attacker combinations within a 6-2 offense and become more efficient, crisp and consistent in the connections between setter and scorer.  The key here is consistently having the ball delivered into the hitting zone throughout the match.  Kodi Garcia garnered all-tournament honors for her performance in the SFA Invitational last week and she should certainly improve as the experience grows in game action.  Don’t forget that Garcia didn’t travel to Dallas.  Regarding Maddy Bourque:  we know what she is capable of, and the time will come where the offense under her direction will feature more strong connections between her and her attackers.  During each of the first two weekends, there have been times where those connections have been strong and others where consistency is needed.  So, this is an area to watch.  Bourque is literally one of the most technically proficient young setters I have ever seen in years of watching SFA Volleyball.  Her hands are just incredible.  Watching her in practice and warm-ups is like watching a clinic on technical setting technique.  But just how many good first touch balls turn into sets that lead to strong attacks?  That’s the match day number that needs an uptick and in time I expect it will.  Speaking of strong attacks, this leads me to the third and final inspection area for Week 3…

 A Higher Percentage of Strong Attacks in Transition

This point and the previous one are related.  But I want to focus on transition offense here.  At times, well into rallies, we’ve lost points due to either the setter-attacker connection issue mentioned above or a dig not to target that should have been made.  To be clear, we’ve had matches where we have passed exceptional and others where the passing efficiency is in the “needs improvement” range of the scale.  But, after the rally has begun in particular, I feel we’ve suffered from having in-transition offensive opportunities that we should be capitalizing on and are not.

 When a rally is extended and the opposition sends us a ball that we should turn into a strong shot and don’t, then almost always the point is lost on the next opponent attack.  This has happened at too high a clip and so I’ll be specifically watching to see if SFA takes advantage of opportunities such as free balls, down balls and other general weak attacks by the opposition.  We have given the opposition too many “second and third” chances in transition instead of ending the rally with a strong attack when it shouldn’t be difficult to produce one.

 Let’s end by saying that the overwhelming number of positives and the three game match winning streak point toward a confident club strolling into Oklahoma.  Follow along on SFAVolleyBlog Radio this weekend and cheer your Ladyjacks on to more “W’s” !!

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Positives From Week 1 in Dallas

The first weekend of Fall 2021 action saw the 'Jacks take on some formidable opponents and come away with just one lone win amongst their efforts.  While two out of three would have been nice and a weekend sweep even better, there were still plenty of positive takeaways from the first three official matches of the season.  Let's recap the weekend and prep for Week 2 by accenting some of the noteworthy accomplishments of the trip to Dallas:

Ielan Bradley on Offense & Taya Mitchell on Defense:  Not Skipping a Beat

Bradley was the offensive star at the SMU Tournament with a team leading 31 kills across 10 sets while hitting .222.  Coming off a freshman season that saw her finish fifth on the club in total kills and hit .266, Bradley looks ready to take significant steps forward in Year 2.  Multiple times during the weekend she showed a variety of shots both sharp and soft as it is clear her court vision has progressed.  She's got an intelligent approach on the right side and her versatility in moving to the middle when SFA shifted to the 5-1 against Pacific is just another plus.  Last year, Ielan drifted through phases of starting and then not, playing in roughly 3/4 of the teams sets.  For now, it looks like she's cemented as an everyday starter and one of the 'Jacks biggest threats.  Taya Mitchell came into the Fall of 2021 with 243 total blocks to her credit during her two years in purple.  Over the weekend, she added 13 more to that tally including six total against North Carolina and three solo in the win over Pacific.  Despite not being as efficient on offense as we've become accustomed to, Mitchell is too talented to be completely denied making her impact.  Her defense was on point and she appears poised to have another monster year at the net.  The 'Jacks only listed graduate student with experience at SFA, her leadership this year will be key.  With Mitchell and the younger Bradley anchoring down two of the front row spots, SFA has a strong core to count on going forward.

Offensive Combinations Galore

Expect these next three weekends to continue to feature a lot of "plug and play" combinations on offense for the 'Jacks.  We've already mentioned Bradley shifting from RS to MB depending upon the offensive scheme.  We also saw sophomore Leah Powell shift from pin to pin during the weekend.  With Ariana Pagan in a six-rotation role, SFA can stack Powell opposite her in the other left-side hole and then pair her up with a DS like Bryli Contreras when her spot goes to serve.  On the other hand, Powell can hit from the right with one of the setters and Bradley paired with the other.  Averaging almost two and a half kills per set last year and playing in virtually all of the team's sets, Powell is another offensive threat to be counted on all Fall.  She's only going to get better with the main question coming in how best to use her talents.  Don't be surprised if she continues to float from pin to pin as the offense searches for the right combinations prior to WAC-play.  Then, there's freshman Valeria Rosado, whom the club is REALLY high on.  So much so that she drew the start against North Carolina right out of the gate in Match #1 of her freshman season.   It's clear head coach Debbie Humphreys is keen on her offensive potential because we even saw Rosado play on the right-side a little down the stretch against Pacific.  As she gets more floor time, she'll get more aggressive and the results will eventually come.  SFA can afford to be patient with her over the next month due to all other weapons.  Let's also remember that Kennedy Wright has the skill set to score on the outside, so I look for the second outside hitter spot to remain very fluid opposite Pagan during the next three week.  Keep an eye on Wright - something tells me the numbers for her will be there once it's all said and done.  The few times I've checked in on practice, she's been dominant.  

Concerning the middle, the 'Jacks await the healing of sophomore Ashley Procious and in the meantime can explore with now healthy Kelsey Harrington. Also expect freshmen Kayla Grant and Temi Areola to get looks on the front row from time to time.  Peyton Cerny, the club's leading scorer from last year, is clearly another offensive strength.  With Bradley and Powell playing on the right, her playing time was reduced - as it is when SFA shifted to the 5-1.  But, if the offense functions best with Powell opposite Pagan, then Cerny and Bradley become the two primary right sides - this was a formula we saw work a lot in the spring and it may be where we are eventually headed.  But for now, Powell and Bradley can play two positions and that's why you see them out there in one form or another.  Cerny's role ultimately is dictated by others and where the best fit is - that is, unless the sophomore just begins to take over on offense, which isn't out of the question.

The tournament part of the season here in the early going is a fantastic time to experiment with offensive combinations and don't be surprised if there are a ton of mixes and matches over the next three weeks.  This is a positive overall for the club because it's clear that multiple players are training in multiple roles for maximum versatility.  By the end of the WAC slate, we are going to need it.

"Debuts" for Harrington and Funderburk

Sophomore Kelsey Harrington has had a long road back to the floor and while this past weekend wasn't technically her Ladyjack debut, it had been almost two calendar years since she had seen match action.  I have to admit, I was particularly glad to see Kelsey play.  She's such as easy player to root for and her three aces against North Carolina provided a spark as did the four blocks posted across her six sets of action during the tournament.  When Procious gets healthy, we'll have to see what role she settles into, but it was a great, great sign to see Harrington out there contributing.  Many other players just wouldn't have the fight and determination she's shown over the last two years and all Ladyjack fans should be incredibly proud of Kelsey and her dedication and perseverance.  We need her and she came through.  Despite SFA winning sets while in a one setter offense, I came away from the weekend impressed with freshman setter Trinity Funderburk.  With graduate transfer Kodi Garcia out ill, Funderburk drew starts on short notice and performed admirably.  One of the things I was struck with is her court demeanor - I LOVED Funderburk's presence and demeanor after she settled into her opening sets.  She just "looks" like a floor leader and while Bourque and Garcia may be penciled in to get the majority of the quarterback reps, you just HAVE to have a third setter that you can trust.  For Funderburk to gain valuable experience in the first tournament of the year was a plus.  For her to experience some success connecting with hitters was even better.  The pedigree is there... and it's better for her to have the feel for court time early because as the season evolves you never know when she might be pressed into action at a very key moment.  Better for her to have had some experience in true match settings than just practice reps.  This past weekend may pay dividends for Funderburk and the club as a whole at some point down the line in the Fall.

Big Numbers for Alyssa Ortega

Freshman libero Alyssa Ortega posted 53 digs in 10 sets.  No one is ever going to complain about more than five digs per set and Ortega certainly held her own in the jersey during last week's visit to Dallas.  With Maddie Miller gone, the one spot that had the biggest question mark over it going into the WAC inaugural season was the libero.  Ortega, so far, has done plenty to justify her wearing of the jersey.  Do I think there will be times where she struggles?  Yes.  That spot - like a setter - is a huge responsibility for a true freshman.  It's unrealistic to think that Ortega can libero for 25-30 matches without hitting some bumps in the road.  But, do I think I've seen enough already to lead me to believe that she could be something special?  Yes, again.  The question will be can she respond to the things that will require improvement and can she make adjustments on little things at the collegiate level that will be required to be great?  The quickness is there.  The instincts are there.  I've probably studied back row play more than any other facet to the game and I see things that tell me that she's got all the variables that need to be in the equation.  She's off to a great start.  We haven't seen her face adversity at a high level yet and how she responds and adjusts the first time it hits will go a long way to showing us how fast she can learn at the D1 level.  But, for now, what's not to like?  She's got the talent, moxie and aggressiveness that the position needs.   I love her "take charge" mentality on the back row.  You can tell she wants the ball and that's the attitude you need in your libero.  I like what I see.

The 'Jacks are set for three matches in three days this week as we host the first of two tournaments in Nacogdoches this fall.  We get started on Thursday at 6:30 PM as we get to see Lumberjacks vs. Lumberjacks with Northern Arizona in town.  Brittany Castledine and I will have the call for you on ESPN+.


Wednesday, March 31, 2021

2021 Southland Conference Tournament Preview

 Corpus Christi --  An automatic bid to the 2021 NCAA Volleyball Championship Tournament is on the line this weekend in Corpus Christi as the Southland Conference showcases the "double-bye" tournament structure for the first time.  Eight teams have earned the right to compete for the Southland Conference Tournament title and Stephen F. Austin enters as the #1 seed and will enjoy one of the double bye spots along with #2 team Sam Houston State.  Here, we'll preview each of the eight clubs battling it out in Corpus Christi and along the way I'll highlight what each of these teams might need to do in order to be hoisting the trophy overhead on Saturday evening.

[8 Seed] Incarnate Word -- (Note:  Despite not being able to play their first round match against HBU due to COVID protocols, the Cardinals are still highlighted here)  After not playing in the Fall, UIW finished 6-6 in regular season Southland Conference play and 6-8 overall.  Led by first team outside hitter Bethany Clapp, the Cardinals always have a a "go-to" and as a consequence always have the potential to cause the higher seeds trouble.  Clapp averaged over four kills per set and hit an amazing .266, a very high mark for an OH in this conference.  She was one of the "no-brainer" first team all-SLC choices as she is easily one of the more dynamic scorers in the league.  Newcomer of the Year Chase Jackson was the only other Cardinal among regular starters to clock in at over two kills per set.  The only issue with Clapp's dominance is that she also led the club in total digs as the team struggled at times during the season to settle in the libero spot.  When we played UIW in San Antonio, I was most impressed with Audrey Patton among the back row defenders and down the stretch she got the bulk of the playing time in the jersey.  The team has a lot of youth all across the board, but probably doesn't have enough firepower to have made much noise in the 2021 Southland Tourney.  The team should be congratulated for earning the last spot as its been a long time coming for UIW in trying to earn the honor.  Many years in the past, they had fallen a match or two shy of making it and during their probationary period had a team that would have qualified had they been eligible.  Overall, with a young squad, the direction arrow is starting to look up.  But overall, the teams higher seeded than them just have more overall talent and depth.  This was a long shot as is, and the likelihood of them getting past both HBU and then Corpus on their home floor wasn't a flat zero, but you could set the odds at 50:1 and I wouldn't blink.  All that said, it is unfortunate that they didn't get a chance to take the floor.

[7 Seed] Abilene Christian -- In one of the true feel good stories around the conference, outside hitter Katelyn Mueller returned from injury and earned a first-team nod on the All-SLC team.  The overall 7-7 mark and 6-6 posting in conference play has to rank as a slight disappointment overall, though.  This was a club that I honestly felt had the chance to finish a slot or two higher than where they actually slot in. Ending the regular season with three straight losses, including against their first round opponent Central Arkansas wasn't the greatest way to enter the postseason.  Similar to UIW's Clapp in responsibility, Mueller carries the lion's share of the offense for ACU as right-side Lindsey Toney is the only other Wildcat to score at a two kill per set rate.  Kate Blasingame didn't contribute as much as she probably is truly capable and while the middles are young and exciting, there just doesn't appear to be a consistent cast of offense to complement Mueller.  Box and Bossier warrant keeping and eye on as ACU moves with SFA into the WAC as each had plenty of flashes of strength throughout the season.  In fact, freshman Bossier comes into the tourney averaging a flush 1.00 block per set.  Both setters the Wildcats use are young as well and so the team appears positioned to be a solid addition to the WAC for years to come.  Overall, my impression of this club was that several players just cumulatively fell short of expectations as they season unfolded.  It's a solid, but not spectacular bunch that lacks the senior experience that the Wildcat team had when knocking off SFA several years ago in Corpus at the tournament.  Could ACU surprise and win several matches this weekend?  Sure, they could get some things together when it matters most.  I still favor UCA in their first round matchup, but since #3 seed Southeastern Louisiana has little to no experience in the postseason, this side of the bracket is ripe for a low seed to squeeze through.  After all, the last time they were in Corpus for the SLC Tourney they definitely brought the Moody Magic to the island.

[6 Seed] Central Arkansas --  This is your dark horse.  Honestly, it won't surprise me one bit if UCA winds up playing Sam Houston on Day 3.  There is plenty of motivation for this senior populated team.  All across the floor they have players facing down the end of careers:  Waddington at setter, Mitchell in the middle, Beaton on the outside and Doss in the jersey.  That's a lot of experience and a lot of prior SLC Tourney "feels" that John Newberry can roll out there this weekend.  They can mix and match to score, using Lexi Miller on the pins along with Beaton and Alexis Stumbaugh.  If they need Stumbaugh to stabilize the back, they can slide her there as they did when they played us in Nacogdoches.  Both middles (Mitchell and Ravin Rhodes) are athletic and while I feel like Mitchell had a down year based on her pedigree, she's more than capable of putting up big numbers on each side of the net.  Doss anchors the back row floor and each time I saw her play this year she was absolutely brilliant. Bowles on the right-side is solid and has to be checked on when trying to defend the UCA offense.  My ESPN sidekick, Brittany Castledine, really liked freshman Charlie Tidwell when UCA came to Nacogdoches.  There is a lot of positive here and a lot of experience.  Can they lay and egg?  For sure (UIW match, anyone?)  But, overall, this is a team that beat Sam Houston early in the conference season and took sets off of HBU and SFA in their losses.  To me, this team is very capable of playing deep in the tourney.  I'll take them over ACU in the first round and post them at even money against SLU on Day 2.  Watch out.

[5 Seed]  HBU --  Let's get right to it:  Is there enough left in the tank and can the back row hold up?  To me, that's it for the Huskies.  The team has been forced to play with a short roster and so you pretty much know what your gonna get when they roll their personnel out there.  The front row offers a ton:  Mikayla Vivens can post gaudy numbers at any point, Ebonie Ballesteros is a blocking machine, Jada Allen just had a much improved season and redshirt freshman Reagan Leinen is a great complementary piece to her more experienced teammates around her.  Don't sleep on right-side Anna Gadway's arm on offense either - I liked her swing in our last match against HBU.  But for me, does this team have enough left?  They haven't been able to sub out players.  In talking to head coach Trent Herman he's taken a smart and relaxed approach to the last few weeks knowing that the team has to dance with who brought them.  They get a blessing in not having to play in Round 1 due to the UIW COVID situation and honestly - I can't think of a team that would benefit more from having one less game to play than HBU.  My concern with them against Corpus is the floor defense and overall back row play.  Let's be honest - that's a place where over the last several years this club has tended to be a little weak.  Can the freshmen McKinney and Farris hold up back there against Chloe Simon, Rachel Young and crew?  Well, if Ballesteros, Allen and Gadway slow things down at the net, then the answer could be yes.  If Faith Panhans has a great match, and mixes things up, causing confusion for the HBU front line, then I don't know if the young back row can keep enough balls off the floor.  This is a good team, one in which if the front line dominates could find itself in a position to play for the championship.  If I was betting, I'd say that if HBU plays two games in this tournament they'll have one strong and one not so strong showing.  Playing three top-level matches in three straight days may be too tall an order.  After all, Corpus on their home floor and then facing the top seed the next day isn't exactly a cake walk.  This is an interesting club, but I'm not sure they would be favored in any match they have left to play in this tournament.

[4 Seed] Texas A&M Corpus Christi --  Dangerous.  Pure and simple.  Dangerous.  Their only losses at home this season were in five sets to SFA and SLU.  Both of those matches most definitely could have been won.  If they had, they would have a double bye on their home floor for all the marbles.  I think they have to be treated as such.  There is little doubt that Stephen F. Austin will have their hands full on Friday if the Islanders were to get past HBU.  In fact, what tips the scales a little bit here is the double bye.  If SFA is to face Corpus, it will be with the Islanders having played the day before.  It could very well be that having to play three days in a row to win it all is what dooms the host club.  That said, there is plenty to like here.  The back row is solid with Libero of the Year Carissa Barnes.  The offense is diverse with the efficient Rachel Young and the much, much improved Chloe Simon. Right Side Kylie Filipiak throws in two kills per set and setter Faith Panhans is the biggest attack threat at the position that the conference has.  To me there are two questions marks:  1) Panhans' running of the offense.  I saw this club live in Huntsville and the offense looked completely out of whack.  2) Will they ever block?  The teams they have to face early (HBU and then if victorious, SFA) have a ton of offense to throw at you.  The Islanders traditionally don't block all that well.  But, on their home floor, this is a tough, tough draw.  Like UCA, I won't be surprised one bit if this team is playing on the final day.  Don't look at this club as 9-3 in conference play.. rather easily, they could have been the #1 seed on their home court had they squeezed past SLU and SFA.  They've won four in a row and present HBU and SFA with serious trouble.

[3 Seed] Southeastern Louisiana --  Without a doubt, the most interesting team in the Southland Conference this year.  The innocent bystanders and fans of clubs not leaving the conference this year have to be rooting for the green and gold.  Hey, this team deserves serious props.  All year long, people kept asking me:  Is it for real?  Are they really good?  Yes, and more yes.  They are.  What a fantastic job Jeremy White has done this season with SLU.  Now, having Freshman of the Year and big-time scorer Kailen Newsome doesn't hurt, huh?  So, how do they do it?  Well, get yourself a dynamic scorer (Newsome) and then put above average, but not stellar, pieces at all places all around her and what have you got?  A recipe for a team that on any given night could go out there and beat anyone in the tournament from 1 to 8.  Of course, they did beat the #1 seed handing SFA their only conference loss of the year when the Ladyjacks travelled to Hammond.  When I look at SLU, I see Newsome and then just slightly above average pieces in all other spots.  That's enough. Wilkerson on the right?  Gotta watch her - she's had some big matches lately.  Setter Hebert?  Solid, if not spectacular.  Middles?  Gomez has the experience and again, is probably a tick above par at the position for the conference.  Adams can get it done on both sides of the ball.  I like Lizzy Low as much or more than freshman libero Ansley Tullis, but I mean no disrespect - even if her earning the league's defensive player of the week during the days that our Maddie Miller posted 8 digs was goofy.  (You know I had to get that in!)  So, all in all, this is just a solid, well above average club and that's something that Southeastern Louisiana hasn't had in quite a while.  The last few times that SLU has made the tournament it has been as a very low seed.  Not now.  You really need to go out there and look at the the last 10 years worth of season records for the Lions and go research just how long its been since SLU has even been over .500, much less be in a position like they are now.  How they will do in this tournament is anyone's guess.  Will they just be happy to be here or will they do damage?  Like I said, without a doubt, this is the most interesting team in the Southland right now.

[2 Seed] Sam Houston --  Let me say right off the top that I think Ashley Lewis as Player of the Year is a great, great choice.  She is such a good scorer and the thing that impresses me about the Bearkat offense is how their setters - Janda and Miles - can get their back row attackers involved fluidly in the offense.  So many balls will be set to Lewis or Samantha Rodgers or Catherine Krieger in non-traditional spots on the floor.  You mix all that in with Breanne Chausse on the right and that's a good offensive equation.  I finally got sold on freshman middle blocker Mackenzie Morvant as the season went on and Hannah Baker got a defensive player of the week nod down the stretch as well.  You know Sam Houston wants redemption for the loss against SFA on their home floor as the regular season entered its final week.  But, they still have to get past a tough first match on Friday.  Still, there is something right about the clubs led by Brenda Gray and Debbie Humphreys holding the top two seeds in their final years as members of the Southland Conference.  The Sam/SFA rivalry will continue, of course, but these two clubs have been identified with Southland volleyball success for so long that I think it would be kind of cool to see a Bearkat/Ladyjack final.  There is a lot of talent here - and a lot of brains running this club so the respect level here is high.  I think this is a different looking club than when now Assistant Coach Taylor Cunningham was dominating the conference.  But still, it's a strong club very capable of winning the entire tournament.  They play with passion and aggression - something that Bearkat volleyball has patented.

[1 Seed] Stephen F. Austin --  The thing that is most impressive about SFA to me this year is the brilliant mixing and matching on offense over the seasons' final three weeks.  What it has communicated is just how deep this team really is.  The ability for freshman Leah Powell to move from the left to the right and the reemergence of freshman Coco Gillett have been two huge developments for the Ladyjacks in March.  Taya Mitchell has hovered just shy of hitting .400 all season long and freshman Ashley Procious has proven that she can be a defensive force.  The ability for the club to slide Ariana Pagan back and forth between six rotations and assignments that see her just play defense is another moving piece to the overall puzzle - and those changes and alterations have paid huge dividends.  Then, there is Maddie Miller.  As steady as we have in the Southland Conference, Miller is an anchor that always keeps opposing offenses frustrated.  So, what's the issue?  Well, maybe there isn't one, but it's worth mentioning that the club is young.  Very young.  How will all that youth handle the importance of a conference tournament?  That's the key question.  This team has Mitchell and Miller to provide experience - and of course, Humphreys' experience, but still.. the team is young.  Young teams occasionally go into funks.  Their draws are tough being on the Corpus side of the bracket.  The team has made its youthful adjustments all season long without hitting much of a lull.  They'll need to avoid falling victim to youthful swings on two consecutive days if they want to appear in a third straight NCAA Tournament.  There are yet a lot of obstacles to clear if that's going to be reality.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

From the Sideline: SFA 3, UCA 1 & SFA 3, Northwestern St. 0 [Weekly Recap]

 Nacogdoches --  After suffering their first conference loss of the season last week to Southeastern Louisiana, the SFA Ladyjack volleyball club bounced back with two strong showings to garner two wins going into the final week of the conference slate.  The week featured one of the more cerebral matches in recent memory as the 'Jacks took down Central Arkansas 3-1 (25-15, 13-25, 25-22, 25-19) and swept a short-handed Demons squad (25-13, 25-12, 25-14).   SFA now stands at 21-5 overall for the '20-'21 season and is 9-1 in Southland play.

The week at home was a total team effort as it showcased each of Coco Gillett, Kennedy Wright and Malgorzata Andersohn seeing a significant uptick in playing time.  Each responded in a major way as both wins were engineered by different offensive looks.  Coming into Thursday's match with the Sugar Bears it was all but certain that head coach Debbie Humphreys would orchestrate personnel changes to begin the match after watching the SFA offense sputter in the early sets in Hammond.  Humphreys tabbed freshman Gillett to start the match after falling just three kills shy of a double-double in limited action in the loss at Southeastern Louisiana.  Gillett's insertion into the starting lineup paid immediate dividends as her first seven shots found the floor and she continued her offensive onslaught all-match long to post 20 total kills in 38 swings hitting a lofty .438.  The kill tally shattered her previous season and career high kill mark of 10.  SFA steam rolled UCA in the first set behind Gillett's swings, but then the tables were turned as Lexi Miller of UCA caught fire and the Sugar Bears got out to a quick 11-2 lead on the Ladyjacks and never looked back in Set 2. 

The first two sets were as opposite as one could imagine as in Set 1 SFA hit .444 but then dropped all the way down to .061 in the second set loss.  Conversely, UCA hit .400 in the dominant second set, but then their offense stalled from that point forward.  Amanda Beaton, who came into the match as UCA's leading scorer had sat down for a set and outside hitter Alexis Stumbough shifted to a back row role sharing a spot with Lexi Miller all while UCA turned the dial on their offensive alignment.  Humphreys also made changes sending OH Ariana Pagan to a back-row only assignment while sharing a spot with Wright and moving freshman Leah Powell over to the right in place of fellow first-year player Ielan Bradley.

All match long, both coaches continued to mix and match lineups in a chess match of player usage.  The third set saw both offenses more tamed as the teams combined for 13 attack errors.  Pagan posted two straight aces to give the 'Jacks an 11-6 lead and SFA held it all through the middle portion of the set.  It appeared as though SFA might run away after a Gillett kill and a Maddie Miller ace pushed SFA's lead to 22-16.  But then, Stumbough went on a long service run for UCA which included three Ladyjack errors and kills by the Sugar Bears' Anna Williams and Beaton.  The Beaton winner cut the score to 22-21, but kills by Gillett and a final strike by Pagan sealed the third set win for SFA.

The early part of set 4 was tight, but then SFA pushed out to a 14-9 lead after a 4-1 mini-run was started by a Taya Mitchell kill and then three errors were posted by the Sugar Bears.  The five point margin held up as SFA went on another 5-1 run in the back part of the set led by kills from all of Gillett, Payton Cerny and Powell.  At that point, SFA had their biggest lead of the set at 19-12.  The match ended with SFA going on its third run of the match scoring four straight points behind a Cerny kill, Allie Hamsher ace and two errors by UCA to finish it out.

The dizzying array of lineup changes and rotation shifts during the match truly showcased both the depth of SFA's offense and the masterful players usage arranged by the SFA braintrust of Humphreys and assistant coaches Evan Amstutz and Alisa Blair.  Amazingly, libero Maddie Miller fell just one dig shy of a libero double-double (but, keep reading!) with 9 assists and 14 digs.  Gillett and Wright combined for 27 kills on the outside, and Taya Mitchell had a match-high six blocks.

Returning to the court on Saturday, the 'Jacks made quick work of an injured Northwestern State club that only had nine players in uniform.  However, OH Addie McDermott and MB Reagan Lee didn't play as they were each still nursing injuries and so the Demons played the entire match without making a single substitution.  They did this on Thursday night against Abilene Christian as well.  

At no point could NSU ever get their offense truly in gear as the Demons could muster only a .146 attack percentage in the match that officially only took 66 minutes to complete.  Meanwhile, Humphreys chose Andersohn to pair with Hamsher to run SFA's 6-2 offense.  Andersohn was brilliant all match long dishing gorgeous assist after assist to both both pins.  Hamsher finished with 16 assists and Andersohn 14 as the SFA offense only committed four errors on the afternoon and hit a season high .517.  The numbers posted by SFA's offense were otherworldly as Kennedy Wright had her best match as a Ladyjack hitting 11-0-17 (.647) to go along with Gillett's 11 kills on .435 hitting.  Taya Mitchell hit .625, Ashley Procious hit .750 and Payton Cerny hit .857 as the 'Jacks piled up video-game numbers on the Demons all match long.

SFA hit over .450 in all three sets, only committed one error in the last two sets combined, and in the second set posted a ridiculous 92% side out percentage on the Demons.  Maddie Miller, who had fallen just one assist shy of the rare libero double-double completed the task against NSU by posting 11 assists and 13 digs in three sets.  Pagan had 8 digs as she again was assigned back-row only duties and SFA continued their strong serving with five aces.  The 'Jacks still lead the nation in total aces as their season total now stands at 154. Taya Mitchell, as she did against UCA, led SFA with three blocks.

Northwestern State was led by Breanna Burrell who scored on nine kills.  Sophomore transfer MB Jaylibeth Garcia-Rosa was a bright spot on offense as she posted eight errorless kills and hit an impressive .667.  Freshman setter Ragan Ward had 22 assists.

SFA now faces an all-important week as the 'Jacks travel to Huntsville for a Thursday date with Sam Houston.  The match will have major seeding implications in the upcoming Southland Conference Tournament in Corpus Christi.  Both squads will enter the match 9-1 in league play.  SFA finishes the regular season next Saturday against a tough HBU squad who is also looking to make noise in postseason play.  The 'Jacks will honor senior Maddie Miller immediately following the match with the Huskies.

The match against Sam Houston begins at 6:30 Thursday evening and will be carried on SFA VolleyBlog Radio right here in this space.  The final regular season match against HBU next Saturday is a 3:00 PM start and will be carried on ESPN+.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

From The Sideline: Southeastern Louisiana 3, SFA 1 [Match Summary]

 Hammond, La --  SFA saw its nine game winning streak come to an end as the Lions of Southeastern Louisiana were able to get by the Ladyjacks in four sets (23-25, 19-25, 25-19, 23-25) in a match that saw SFA's offense sputter.  The 'Jacks only managed to hit .155 for the match and had two sets of tallies under .100 in the attack percentage column.  Southeastern Louisiana hit .173.  SFA out blocked the Lions 10-5 including five rejections from Taya Mitchell and four each from freshmen Ielan Bradley and Ashley Procious.  Procious upped her Southland leading total to 68 total blocks for the season. 

Southeastern Louisiana improved to 8-3 overall and 6-2 in league play after the perfect week which saw them get three straight conference wins in a span of just five days.  The Lions were coming off an impressive win against ACU on Thursday night and were able to carry that momentum through the four-set victory over SFA.  The Ladyjacks record is now 19-5 on the season and 7-1 in Southland Conference play with four matches left on the regular season slate.  SFA will host Central Arkansas and Northwestern State next week at home.  Then, the final week of the regular season sees the 'Jacks travel to Sam Houston State before hosting HBU at home in the finale.  All three home matches will be on ESPN+ and the match in Huntsville will be covered here on SFA VolleyBlog Radio.

The first set in Hammond today was full of service errors, especially early on in the match by the Lions.  SFA was unable to capitalize as they played from behind for the vast majority of the set despite SLU leading scorer Kailin Newsome being held to just two kills.  Peyton Cerny started off hot for the Ladyjacks racking up three kills early, the last of which had the first set score tied at nine.  At that point the teams began trading points and at one point the Lions errored from the service line in three consecutive attempts allowing SFA to stay close without much effort from their offense.  All in all, SLU committed a whopping 16 service errors in the match.  SFA had eight service errors and only two aces to counter. Nearing the end of set 1, SLU was able to go on a pair of 3-0 mini-runs to gain an 18-15 advantage. SFA got within one after a block by Cerny and Mitchell on Newsome, but then down the stretch, SLU got kills from Crispin Adams, Jolie Hidalgo and a dump by setter Ariana Hebert to put themselves in position to win the set.   An attack error by the 'Jacks Ariana Pagan gave the Lions their first set point at 24-21.  SFA then tried to send it to extras by getting a big strike by Procious and then a kill by Pagan to bring it to within one at 24-23.  But then, Newsome got a back row kill out of an SLU timeout to seal the first set victory for Southeastern Louisiana.

SFA's offense was in low gear for the entire first set as they got only nine kills total while hitting .079.  To begin the second set, sophomore Kennedy Wright was inserted to try and add some spark to the struggling SFA attacks.  Wright got three kills, but SLU's Newsome caught fire and thundered down nine kills in the set to bring her total to 12 at the half.  The first portion of Set 2 had a similar script as that of set 1 with the teams trading points and neither able to create any separation.  Then, with the score 13-12 in favor of SLU, the Lions went on a 5-0 run begun with kills by Newsome and Adams and ended with three straight SFA errors.   From there, the closet SFA would get would be three points as Newsome continued her onslaught to give her club a 2-0 lead.  The two set deficit was the first time in Southland Conference play this year that SFA had been down two sets at the half,  In both sets 1 and 2, SFA was not able to maintain any long runs at the service line.  SLU posted side out percentages of 73% and 80%, consecutively to thwart any attempt at SFA going on its patented service line runs the club has become accustomed to while leading the nation in total aces for 2020-2021.

To begin the third set, 'Jacks head coach Debbie Humphreys tabbed Coco Gillett to play six rotations while also turning the dial starting off with setter Allie Hamsher and right-side Bradley on the floor first rather than Maddy Bourque and Cerny.  Gillett responded as down the stretch of the match she posted seven kills and 12 digs falling just three kills shy of a double-double despite only playing two sets.

It was the defense at the end of Set 3 that gave SFA a jolt of energy.  However, prior to that, Hamsher went on the 'Jacks first and only long service hold of the match.  With SLU leading 15-13, Hamsher served seven times to give SFA a nice cushion going into the final portion of the set.  Then, the block party got started for SFA as Procious and Bradley teamed up on an Addison Vedrine attack  for a tandem block and then Mitchell and Gillett stuffed Hidalgo on a right-side attack to give SFA set point.  SFA polished off set 3 with another block - this time by Powell and Bradley.  Cutting the SLU set lead to 2-1, SFA had a lot of momentum going into Set 4.

As with the first two frames, Set 4 was tightly played with the teams being tied a total of 14 times in the set.  The middle portion of the set was particularly see-saw with the clubs being tied at each of 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 points.  At 15-15, SLU got two straight on kills by Adams and a solo block by senior Ryan Maddera.  The teams traded points thereafter and SLU maintained their two point lead at 21-19.  Then, SFA caught fire and rattled off four straight points to briefly turn the tide and threaten to send the match to a decisive fifth set.  Taya Mitchell got a kill and then a block to tie the score and then SFA went ahead on a kill by Leah Powell followed by an attack error by Maddera.  At that point, SFA led 23-21.

But then the match took a final twist as SLU followed with four points of their own to close out the final frame 25-23. SLU's Sam Gomez got a one-on-one kill in the middle followed by a Maddera strike on the left side.  Powell then errored to set up match point.  The final rally went long and saw SFA have several chances to cut the lead back to one, but none of the 'Jacks swings were particularly solid and that gave Maddera a chance to rattle the final kill of the match off the block to complete the upset.

Overall, SLU was led by Newsome who put up a double-double with a match leading 17 kills to go along with 12 digs. Jolie Hidalgo also posted a double-double killing 11 balls and digging 10.  Adams chipped in 10 kills, Gomez had 7 and Maddera six.  Lions setter Ariana Hebert finished with 31 assists and SLU's second setter in the 6-2 offense Cali Collins contributed 14.  SLU got 25 digs from libero Ansley Tullis, many of which came in the final two sets of the match.  At the half, Lizzy Low led SLU in digs and she finished with 16.

No one in Ladyjack purple finished in double figures in kills with Cerny having the highest tally at nine.  Each of Taya Mitchell and Leah Powell had 8 terminations and each of Procious and Gillett threw down seven.  Mitchell was errorless and hit .381 to keep her overall league leading attack percentage for the year at .388.  Procious hit .333 and Cerny .250.  Maddie Miller finished the week with a 33 dig performance giving her 56 for the week in just seven sets (8.00 digs per set).  Gillett's 12 digs were followed by eight a piece from Bourque and freshman Bryli Contreras.  Bourque dished out 25 assists and Hamsher added 15.

SFA returns to action on Thursday, March 18 hosting Central Arkansas with first serve scheduled for 6:30.  I'll have the play-by-play and Brittany Castledine will be back alongside for the ESPN+ broadcast.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

From the Sideline: SFA 3, Nicholls 0 [Match Summary]

 Thibodaux, LA --  SFA's right-side attack was far too much for the Nicholls Colonels defense to handle Thursday night as the 'Jacks posted another straight set (25-19, 25-17, 25-14) Southland Conference victory.  The win improves the Ladyjacks to 19-4 overall in 2020-2021 and keeps their SLC record perfect at 7-0.  The right-side duo of Sophomore Payton Cerny and freshman Ielan Bradley combined to generated 19 total kills in just three sets of work.  Bradley hit .462 (7-1-13) and Cerny posted a .375 mark (12-3-24).  SFA enjoyed huge leads in both the second and third sets of action, both of which saw the Colonels struggle to post any consistent offense. 

The first set was by far the most competitive of the night as the score was tied as late as 16-16.  Both teams were hitting over .250 at that point in the set, but then the 'Jacks went on a 5-0 run fueled by kills from Cerny and freshman Ashley Procious combined with two attack errors by the Colonels' Yani Johnson.  From there, the teams traded points and SFA was able to close out the first set 25-19.  All of the Nicholls errors that piled up in the very back part of the first frame dragged their overall attack percentage down to .125 for the set, the highest mark they would post all evening.  During the first set, 'Jacks libero Maddie Miller posted the 1800th dig of her collegiate career and sophomore OH Ariana Pagan also scooped her 200th ball of the season giving her two-straight 200-dig campaigns to begin her career.

Nicholls' scoring leader Emily Gauthreaux was removed for the beginning of Set 2 while Nicholls' head coach Kallie Noble instead went to sophomore Devon Bright at outside hitter.  To no avail, SFA raced out to a 6-1 early second set lead behind two kills from Leah Powell and another from Bradley.  Later, a dump by Allie Hamsher started a four point run that saw SFA stretch their set lead to 11-4.  The rest of the way, Nicholls would get no closer than five points as SFA cruised to a 2-0 lead at the half.  During the second set, Nicholls also made a change at one of the middle blocker spots tabbing freshman Jhayla Bolden in favor of senior Lydia Frederick.  The Colonels stuck with that change for set 3 and also returned Gauthreaux to the floor, albeit in only a front-row role.

The 'Jacks again began the set with a fury as the lead quickly got to 8-2 behind three straight kills to open the set by Cerny and then a slew of attack errors by the Colonels.  It appeared as though the third set would finish extremely lopsided when SFA had stretched its lead all the way to 15-5 as Bryli Contreras served up two aces during her emphatic six serve run. Nicholls then showed some life going on a 7-2 run of their own as Gauthreaux caught fire for just a moment and thundered down three kills forcing SFA into their only timeout of the night with the score 17-10.  The teams traded mini-runs out of the timeout and then one final five point surge by SFA was led by two kills from Leah Powell and strong short serving by Maddie Miller.  Miller put on an absolute clinic on the back row racking up 23 digs in just her three sets.  That tally leaves her at 399 for the year, just one dig shy of her fourth straight 400-dig season.

SFA hit .270 or above in every set and finished with an overall attack percentage of .298 while holding Nicholls to just .104.  SFA was led by Cerny's 12 kills and Powell had eight.  Ariana Pagan and Bradley each chipped in seven a piece.  Hamsher had 19 assists and Maddy Bourque tallied 17 as both setters were efficient all night long.  Pagan chipped in eight digs behind Miller's 23.  Ashley Procious added three more blocks to her conference leading total of 64 total blocks during 2020-2021.  SFA travels to Hammond, La on Friday for practice and then an early Saturday morning (10 AM) date with the Lions of Southeastern Louisiana.  That match will be broadcast live on SFA VolleyBlog Radio here in this space.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Shining Purple Lights On: Julia Whitehead

 For the full interview with Julia, you should click here to go to our SoundCloud audio site.

Honestly, I started this blog back in 2009 to showcase folks like Julia Whitehead.  I hardly imagine that anyone could think of the SFA Volleyball program over the last few years without also thinking of Julia.  At this point, she is THAT central to everything that goes on around the club.  You know her now.  You knew her as a player.  But, you might not know EXACTLY what her current role is called.  Officially, she labels herself as a Graduate Assistant, but that's just too tame.  It just sounds too boring for Julia.  How about something more like "The Incredible Do-Everything That Needs to Be Done and Other Stuff that No One Will Ever See All While Always Smiling and Helping Anyone That Has Anything to Do With SFA Volleyball Person".  Yeah, that's a better title.

Julia is infectious.  Not in the yucky COVID way, but in the positive, inclusive and humorous way.  Literally.. it is impossible NOT to like this gal.  She's just THAT good at what she does and THAT important to everything volleyball related at Stephen F. Austin.  Now, the overall script probably hasn't turned out the way she would have diagrammed it in her dreams.  After all, every athlete shoots for a big playing role on the team with lots of "camera" time, but that wasn't in the cards.  In fact, during her playing days at SFA, she saw the court very, very little.  I can't count the number of players that I have seen in her position just literally pack it up and fade into college life developing other interests and allowing athletics to do a slow burn.  Oh sure, most of those former athletes are out there doing great things in life, but in terms of volleyball, they are easily forgotten among the shuffle of players constantly coming in to the university.

This is especially true of young defensive specialists.  They were pretty much all stud liberos in high school and their club days, but have you ever noticed how many "freshman DS" players are listed on college rosters?  Start looking it up.  Lots of teams carry two, three, four of them.  Then, after a year in the college ranks, these folks are the most likely NOT to return the following year.  After all, they are "specialists" and if they aren't in line for the libero jersey during the middle of their careers, it makes it easy for them to walk away and say goodbye to the volleyball portion of their college lives.

All of that sounds really harsh, I know.  But, it truly is the reality of things.  Saying that, though, we should all step back and realize just how special it is to get the chance to wear a college jersey.  You have to be really, REALLY.... REALLY good at the high school level to ever put on a college volleyball jersey that says "SFA" on the front.  Every one of the athletes you see on our roster now or have ever seen on our roster was a truly special prep player.  Julia was no exception.  In preparation for doing this interview, I actually went back out on the web and looked up some of her recruiting videos on various websites.  Yeah, they are still out there.  I probably had seen them back in the summer before she arrived at SFA as I tend to do that sort of thing once we announce signings.  After all, it is my job to know our personnel well as they begin their careers here.

Videos aside, I really wish I had seen Julia play more live.  Yes, I was probably in attendance those few times she played in matches for SFA.  But, I mean that I wish I would have seen her live before she got here.  I love floor defense and it's easy to envision her as a true spark plug while in high school.  When it came time for her to come to Nacogdoches, she arrived on campus with Danae Daron, Ann Hollas, Corin Evans, Xariah Williams and several others.  All of those names just written saw the floor a ton during their days in purple, but sincerely, Julia will be remembered right alongside of those playing greats.

I think with Julia it's all about love of the program and true, true commitment.  You can either embrace your role or you can shun it.  Julia has embraced it and then some.  Oh, sure, sure.. you'll hear it in the interview:  Like any other athlete she worked for and desired more playing time.  She wanted to be the team's libero.  She wanted to put up stats, dig balls and earn accolades.  Any athlete that doesn't want those things shouldn't walk in the gym.  Julia very much wanted to play and contribute in a major way to the on-the-court product.  Of course, she did contribute, just in indirect ways that assisted others to be their best.  But, her junior year came and the libero position was in transition and wound up in the hands of freshman Sabrina Monaco.  Whitehead was the elder statesman of back row players and didn't wind up winning the role that she wanted most at the time.  As a accent point to my statement about freshman back row players.. guess what happened to Monaco after her freshman year?  Yep, she left.  See, it's a position ripe with attrition.  We transferred in Maddie Miller and that coupled with other things led Monaco to step away even after garnering lots of playing time.

By that time though, Julia had made her own personal decision to transition as well.  But, as she puts it in the interview, head coach Debbie Humphreys wouldn't let her walk completely away from the program.  I've seen Humphreys' wisdom in personnel decisions over and over and OVER through the years and Debbie was wise to keep Whitehead around.

Julia is unbelievably valuable.  A cheerleader.  A confidant.  A mom-like figure to the younger players.  An organizer.   A shoulder to cry or laugh on.  Take a look at the photo below.  There she is - right in the middle of things pre-game at UNT last year. Shoot, Julia has even been the one that saves me a seat on the bus.  You see, I've started travelling with the club on road trips this year in order to help out with our budget.  This seat-saving thing is wonderful.  It keeps me up front with the coaches, trainers, managers and Julia where I belong!  I love being around all these players but they don't need/want me back there with them and I'll be honest and tell you it's mutual.  At dinner?  At social gatherings?  Around the court?  Oh sure, put me next to any one of these players - they really are all a delight.  We all get along and they make me feel very welcome in all those situations.  But, a six hour bus ride home late at night after a long weekend?  Yeah, front, please!  So, thanks for that, Julia!


Julia is trustworthy.  We need her to be.  She handles so, so many things behind the scenes that no one sees.  From keeping track of all of our meal orders on the road to consoling with players about the demands of coaches, Julia is always there.

I want everyone to think about how much time all this takes.  That's one of things that I've always wanted to accent here at the blog:  the TIME it takes to me a part of a collegiate athletics program.  The players and coaches sacrifice a tremendous amount of their personal time.  Actually, all of us do.  The time commitment for what a broadcaster does is, frankly, quite immense (that is, if you care about doing it even half way well), and what the athletes do trumps that by orders of magnitude.  Honestly, the casual fan has no real sense of how much time, dedication and discipline it takes to be a student athlete.  Julia is STILL making these sacrifices despite a) not playing much in her jersey days, b) being in graduate school and c) having tons of reasons to just let volleyball go.  Instead, she's focused on all the reasons to keep volleyball around.  She's created an incredible niche for herself.  She's exactly the kind of help and support and friend that every single program needs.


Julia never filled the stat sheet as a college player.  But she's filled each of us that have intersected with her full of something much more important:  Respect.

She has 100% of mine.  One. Hundred. Percent.  Listen to the interview linked to above and let's shine a huge, huge purple spotlight on an absolute gem.  Thanks so much for your dedication, Julia!  All of us around the club know how much of a 'rock star' status you really have. Your smile and loyalty is reflected in all those banners hanging in Shelton Gym.

Every one of us should always remember that there are people around this team that are every bit the 'champion' that the star athletes are:  the trainers, the managers, the support staff, the game day staff, the gym custodians, the "Incredible Do-Everything That Needs to Be Done and Other Stuff that No One Will Ever See All While Always Smiling and Helping Anyone That Has Anything to Do With SFA Volleyball Person".  Yep, it takes a family, and Julia is as key a member of the SFA Volleyball family as we have.