SFA VolleyBlog Radio

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.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

From the Sideline: SFA 3, ACU 1 [Match Summary]

 Abilene -- For the second time in the last week, an SFA Volleyball match took on a strange set of emotions as the Ladyjacks won a four set contest that ebbed and flowed among lopsided stanzas in the Teague Center on the ACU campus.  Truly only the first set of the 3-1 win (25-21, 25-10, 18-25, 25-17) was competitive in what amounted to a bit of of let down in expectations between two teams battling for the rights to first place in Southland Conference play.  ACU came into the match 4-1 in league play looking to move into the top spot if they could defeat the 5-0 Ladyjacks.  In the end, SFA created a two game separation between themselves and the Wildcats by capturing the road win that upped their record away from Shelton Gym to 8-3 across the 2020-2021 season and 18-4 overall.

The first set lived up to what many expected to be a tight match.  With SFA establishing an early lead,  ACU played catch up all set long after falling behind 6-1.  The Wildcats struggled to pass in the first few rallies of the day, allowing SFA to build a cushion that they would never relinquish.  A kill by Wildcat outside hitter Katelyn Mueller and a pretty dump on second contact by setter Sarah Nading got ACU to within three with the score 10-7.  But, ACU's passing inconsistencies continued and SFA got kills from Ashley Procious, Payton Cerny and two by freshman Leah Powell to stretch the lead back out to 19-13 during the middle portion of the set.  The Wildcats had one last push to even things up by rattling off three straight points, which included a service error by the 'Jacks, an attack error by Ariana Pagan and then a kill by ACU middle blocker Brianna Box to once again get within three at 19-16.  The Ladyjacks would trade points with the Wildcats down the stretch, get two kills and a block from Procious and a kill by senior middle blocker Taya Mitchell to close out the first set action with a 25-21 win.  Procious was dominant all day putting together her best overall match of the year by connecting on a season-high 10 kills and assisting on five blocks.

ACU started off the second set with a plethora of attack errors that created a tone for one of the most lopsided sets of the Ladyjacks season.  SFA raced out to an 8-2 lead as Wildcat right-side hitter Lindsey Toney, outside hitter Kate Blasingame and Mueller combined to make five errors early on and set their club way behind without SFA having to do much damage on their own.  Procious and Powell then continued the onslaught they began in set 1 and Pagan dropped in an ace to make the score 15-5 mid way through the second frame.  Mueller made a total of six attack errors in the second set and just about nothing went right for ACU the entire frame.  After the Wildcats managed three straight points, two of which were on 'Jacks attack errors, SFA finished out the set on a 10-2 run featuring a rain of kills from Cerny, Mitchell, freshman right-side Ielan Bradley and Powell.  In a metaphoric twist, 'Jacks libero Maddie Miller was credited with a set ending kill after playing a ball at her waist which flew over the set softly and landed between several Wildcat front row defenders.  ACU hit a woeful -.208 for the set against SFA's .360.

At the half it appeared as though SFA was on its way to a fifth straight Southland match sweep.  But, the Wildcats turned the tables in Set 3 as ACU head coach Angela Mooney sat Blasingame in favor of freshman outside hitter Emily Van Dyke.  Van Dyke responded with three kills and ACU built as much as a nine point lead after going on a massive 10-1 run during the middle of the set.  Mueller flipped the switch and racked up three kills and an ace during the eleven rally span.  SFA dropped to hitting just .093 for the set and ACU committed only three attack errors in the set in a stunning reversal of Set 2.  The Wildcat crowd of just under 200 got energized as ACU never let off the gas and despite the 'Jacks going on a 5-1 spurt near the end of the set, the Wildcats maintained control throughout and cut the set lead in half going into Set 4.

But, as they did in sets 1 and 2, the Ladyjacks grabbed an early lead in the fourth tilt.  Kills by Procious, Mitchell and Cerny helped SFA grab a 4-0 start that expanded to 12-5 after a Wildcat service error and an attack error by Van Dyke.  The crowd lost its energy and SFA put the poor third set behind them and throttled the Wildcats from the service line.  At one point, 'Jacks libero Miller dropped in three straight service aces which were half of her total of six on the afternoon.  Those three straight without a return proved to be the final dagger for ACU as SFA stood with a 16-7 lead.  ACU made one final attempt at a comeback to get within four at 20-16, but SFA countered with four straight as the combination of Procious, Powell and Wildcat attack errors struck again. SFA closed out the final set on a 5-1 run.

Cerny consistently found the floor during each of the four sets to tally 12 overall to lead SFA.  Mueller led all with 13 kills on 54 swings.  The much more balanced offense of Stephen F. Austin saw four players post double-figure kills with Mitchell, Powell and Procious all finishing with 10 a piece. Freshman setter Maddy Bourque was impressive, posting a double-double with 30 assists and 10 digs.  Along with the six aces, Miller scooped 16 balls to get within just six of 1800 for her collegiate career.  Cerny tied a career high with six blocks.  She assisted on all but one of SFA's team stuffs, often teaming up with Procious to force Mueller into a total of 10 attack errors.  Mueller came into the match averaging 4.17 kills per set, but could manage hitting only .056 against the tough SFA front line.  On a afternoon that saw Pagan struggle to score, she contributed well on defense by posting 12 digs.

After an off-week upcoming, SFA is back out on the road against Nicholls on Thursday, March 4 and Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday, March 6.  The 'Jacks will be shooting for their 24th 20-win season under head coach Debbie Humphreys, who is closing in on 750 career victories.  Both matches in Louisiana will be carried live here at the blog on SFAVolleyBlog Radio.  The 'Jacks next return to Nacogdoches on March 18 when they take on Central Arkansas.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

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

 Nacogdoches -- In a match that held a strange vibe all evening long, Stephen F. Austin earned another straight set victory- their fourth in a row - over the Privateers of the University of New Orleans.  In all, SFA has now won seven straight matches as their conference record improves to 5-0 and overall 2020-2021 tally is now 17-4.  As a club, the Ladyjacks only committed eight attack errors in 100 swings posting a .320 attack percentage for the match.  SFA has now hit over .300 in five of the 11 matches they have played during the 2021 portion of the extended year schedule.

Of the three sets of action, the first was easily the most competitive. SFA built an early 8-3 lead in large part due to two kills from senior middle blocker Taya Mitchell and an ace by junior setter Allie Hamsher.  The 'Jacks came into the match leading the nation in total aces with Hamsher posting the 12th highest individual total in all of NCAA Division 1 volleyball.  Hamsher went on to add two more aces in the match to run her team-leading total to 27.  After the 'Jacks had the early lead, New Orleans scored five of the next seven points to get with two at 10-8 still early in Set 1.  During the UNO mini-run, they got the benefit of two SFA ball-handling errors along with kills from middle blocker Diamond Holly and right-side hitter Alexis Parrish. During the middle of the set SFA would push out to a 17-12 lead behind a pair of kills from each of Leah Powell and Payton Cerny.  Both Powell and Cerny stayed hot all evening as Powell wound up with a team high 13 kills against only two attack errors to post a .355 attack percentage.  Meanwhile, Cerny sprayed shots all during the match from her signature line smashing kills to sharp angle winners that saw her tally eight overall kills hitting a cool .389.  Late in the set, a kill by UNO's Trinity Jackson coupled with an SFA attack error - one of only three in the set - drew the Privateers to within three at 21-18.  

However, two rallies later, UNO setter Lucie Pokorna jumped to swing on second touch and then landed on the top of the foot of teammate and libero Hannah Volpi.  Replays indicated the play ended with Pokorna injuring her left foot.  Pokorna stood several times, but then had to sit on each attempt at stabilizing herself and eventually had to be replaced by Kolbi Reed, a freshman who is listed on the UNO roster as an outside hitter.  Reed functioned as the setter for the remaining portion of Set 1 and all of Set 2.  Pokorna never returned and while UNO has a second setter listed on their roster, she was not in jersey at the match.  Therefore, Privateer head coach Millicent Van Norden was forced to mix and match at quarterback the rest of the way.  The injury occurred with the score 23-18 in favor of SFA and the 'Jacks would close out the set on a 4-0 run to finish things off 25-18.  SFA hit .389 in the set.

With UNO struggling to find consistency without their setter, SFA built a huge lead at the beginning of Set 2.  SFA raced out to an 11-1 lead, effectively dooming any chance of a Privateer comeback.  While UNO would occasionally regather on offense, they would never get closer than seven points and SFA went on several long runs - eventually stretching the second set lead all the way out to 23-9.  Privateer freshman outsider hitter Kai Williams tried to energize her club by knocking down three kills late in the set to create a more respectable, but still lopsided, final score of 25-14 in the second frame.

Up two sets to none, SFA again quickly built a big early lead in the third set.  Van Norden mixed and matched again swapping out Volpi for new libero Sheilah Purcell, who had held down a DS role in the first two sets.  Volpi then became the second half of a 6-2 offense featuring her and Reed attempting to run the offense.  At one point near the end of the third set, UNO shifted one final time back to the 5-1 setup with just Volpi setting.  Out of position, neither Reed nor Volpi could consistently get the Privateer offense going as the back row for UNO struggled to create consistent first contact down the stretch.  Pokorna racked up 12 assists before exiting at the end of Set 1, but Reed and Volpi could only manage 13 between the two of them during the final two sets of the match.  SFA's offense ripped through the third set posting a hitting percentage just a shade under .400 as the 'Jacks cruised to a 25-13 set win to seal the match.

Other than Powell's 13 and Cerny's eight kills, SFA got five from Ielan Bradley and four a piece from each middle blocker - Taya Mitchell and Ashley Procious.   Maddie Miller dominated on floor defense picking up seven digs in set one, eight in set 2 and seven more in the final frame to end with a whopping 22 digs in just three sets.  That effort got her season rate all the way up to 4.72 digs per set as she begins to close in on 1800 digs for her collegiate career.  Ariana Pagan, who was able to rest periodically in sets 2 and 3 in favor of Kennedy Wright, was still able to garner nine digs in limited time.  Wright picked up three errorless kills.  Each club posted only three team blocks, with Bradley and Mitchell assisting on two each.  Each Ladyjack setter - Hamsher and freshman Maddy Bourque dished out 15 assists.

UNO was led by freshman Kai Williams who racked up nine kills.  Holly was next with six, and Shelby Pullins and Parrish each had five.  Pullins was in on two blocks and the floor defense was led by Volpi who collected 12 digs and Purcell who scooped up 11 balls.  UNO fell to 2-3 in conference play and 2-5 overall.  UNO was never able to side out at better than a 48% clip as the 'Jacks stayed in control on offense the vast majority of the night.

SFA travels to Abilene to take on the Wildcats of ACU on Saturday.  First serve will be at 1:00.  The match will be carried on ESPN+ with the Wildcats providing the broadcast and SFAVolleyBlog Radio will be back in action from West Texas as I'll have that call for you here in this space.  After the match in Abilene, SFA is off again for all of next week from competition.  The following week is the university's Spring Break - at the end of which the club will travel to Nicholls and Southeastern Louisiana.  Both of those matches will also be on radio here at the blog.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

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

 Nacogdoches - It took only 73 minutes for the Ladyjacks of SFA Volleyball to completely lasso the Cowgirls of McNeese as SFA completed its second sweep of the week with a 25-19, 25-15, 25-13 victory.  SFA improves to 4-0 in Southland Conference play and 16-4 overall on the 2020-2021 campaign.  After a competitive first set, SFA cruised in the final two frames and were never pushed by the Cowgirls down the stretch.

SFA went back to freshman Ielan Bradley to hit from the right during the rotations where sophomore Payton Cerny was off the floor.  Last Thursday, the 'Jacks mixed and matched in that spot.  Bradley responded with six kills while hitting .556.  Early in the match, SFA Head Coach Debbie Humphreys tabbed sophomore transfer Kennedy Wright to play in freshman OH Leah Powell's back row spots, but then later in the match freshman DS Bryli Contreras returned to her DS role in that spot.  Contreras was not used against Lamar.

Powell was the bright spot on offense for SFA as she racked up 14 kills on 28 swings hitting a stellar .357 for the match.  Taya Mitchell, efficient as always, knocked down seven kills on 11 swings while hitting .545.  With that effort, Mitchell is now hitting just shy of .400 for the entire season.  McNeese struggled mightily on offense during sets 2 and 3 committing more errors than kills amassed and finishing the match overall at an even .000 attack percentage.  The struggles in large part were due to adjustments needed for having their two primary outside hitters out on COVID protocols.  Neither Regan Stiawalt nor Alexis Lambert travelled on the Abilene-Nacogdoches trip.  To compensate, McNeese shifted setter Baylee Laskoskie to the L1 spot while still running a 6-2 offense using freshman Ceci Harness setting opposite senior setter Caitlin Sharrock.  Things clicked in the first set for McNeese as they hit  .241 and found scoring opportunities in the middle with both Lauren Burt and Jaiden Kennedy as well as three kills in set 1 from 6'4" right side hitter Kendall Glueck.

But after surviving the first set with a late push, SFA wouldn't allow the Cowgirls to get close in the final two frames.  SFA raced out to a 10-5 lead in set 2, held Glueck to just two kills in the last two sets and coupled with poorer passing by the Cowgirls, the 'Jacks were able to cruise to big set wins and complete the sweep.

One bright spot for McNeese was net defense as Kennedy got five blocks and the Cowgirls out blocked SFA 10-8 for the match.  Despite that advantage, the offensive numbers were incredibly lopsided in favor of SFA.  The 'Jacks killed 41 balls compared to only 19 for McNeese.  The Cowgirls got only four and five kills, respectively in the last two sets.  Overall, McNeese has no one with more than five kills for the match (Laskoskie and Glueck).

SFA libero Maddie Miller was well positioned all night and had a lot of easy reads for digs as her 16 scoops led all.  Complementing Powell, Mitchell and Bradley on offense, sophomore Ariana Pagan had six kills and Cerny had five.  Powell's 14 kills were two shy of her season and career high. Pagan also contributed 13 digs in just three sets of work.  Setter Sharrock led the Cowgirls in digs with nine.

SFA has next week off from competition as the next scheduled match for the 'Jacks falls on Thursday, February 25 as they host the Privateers from UNO.  That match will be carried live on ESPN+.  The next day, SFA will travel to Abilene and take on the Wildcats of ACU on Saturday, February 27.  The match against Abilene Christian will be carried here on SFAVolleyBlog Radio.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

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

 Nacogdoches -  The final score didn't do the Lamar Cardinals effort justice as SFA slid by in the first two sets before hitting a higher gear in Set 3 to claim a straight set win (25-22, 25-23, 25-18) on Thursday night in Shelton Gym.  The Cardinals had chances to claim the beginning sets, but SFA found a way to stay in front down the stretch as a feisty Lamar club flexed its offensive muscle in the early going.  The Ladyjacks came into the match only allowing opponents to hit at a .179 clip, but Lamar posted marks of .273 and .286 in sets 1 and 2.

Cardinals outsider hitter Kayla Neumann struggled with consistency, but wound up leading the match with 12 kills while falling one dig shy of a double-double.  Neumann also committed nine attack errors and hit an inefficient .097.  On the flip side, Ladyjack senior middle blocker Taya Mitchell has now only posted one error across her last three matches.  Mitchell led SFA with 8 kills on just 11 swings to hit a robust .727 for the match.  Overall, SFA hit .303 and Lamar attacked at a rate of .163 - in large part due a third set that saw Lamar's offensive efficiency go in the tank at they tallied more attack errors than kills.

The first set showcased different rotational alignments for each club compared to what they had used in previous weeks.  For SFA, sophomore Kennedy Wright drew the start opposite OH Ariana Pagan, in the spot where freshman Leah Powell had been previously stationed. Wright and Pagan each settled into six rotation assignments for the match with Powell subbing in for front row duties when RS Payton Cerny rotated back.  This left freshmen RS Ielan Bradley and DS Bryli Contreras on the bench to begin the match.  For Lamar, freshman setter Hannah Waters started out on the front row, rather than in the typical left back serving position.  The entire night featured each club mixing and matching personnel looking to get the right combinations of attackers and defenders on the floor.

In set 1, the right side attack of the Cardinals abused SFA time and time again with Malaysia Murdock and Neumann each getting several strikes on the right side with surgical precision.  Murdock was especially hot early on as she was hitting .1000 through both sets 1 and 2.  Neither team created much separation during the first set with Lamar playing surprisingly well on offense and giving SFA continual fits while the Ladyjacks never really looked in sync.  Pagan was a bright spot with four kills in the opening frame and SFA held on to claim a 25-22 set win.

Set 2 saw Lamar race out to an 8-4 lead again with strong attacking all across the front row.  But SFA went on a 9-1 run during which the Cardinals made several unforced errors. After the run, SFA had a 13-9 lead and the teams played a side out battle the rest of the way with Lamar closing to within one late in the set.  Starting RS Cerny sat down as Head Coach Debbie Humphreys began searching for more offense. Junior setter Allie Hamsher began running the 6-2 instead of the set starting with freshman Maddy Bourque on the floor.  This turning of the dial was also complemented by Humphreys inserting Coco Gillett on the right for Cerny trying to get that offensive spark.  Gillett only played in Set 2, but wasn't able to find the floor on her four attempts.  Nonetheless, SFA only made two attack errors in the set and held on by the minimum two points to go up 2-0 at the half.

Kaitlyn Gil had the best overall performance on the pins for Lamar as she consistently terminated balls during both sets 2 and 3.  Overall, the errorless Gil had 8 winners on 14 attacks to post an impressive .571 attack percentage.  The SFA offense finally got in high gear during Set 3 when Humphreys tabbed Bradley to enter on the right.  She responded with 4 kills in 5 swings and provided the spark that SFA needed to race out to a big lead that they would never relinquish.

SFA kept the ball away from the Cardinals' new libero Sam Swayze as she only posted four digs in her three sets on the floor.  DS Giselle Santini was better in defense and she more consistently dug to target and led her club with 11 overall scoops.  Maddie Miller led the match for SFA and overall with 13 digs.  Pagan finished with 7 kills and 10 digs, putting up numbers similar to what SFA has been become accustomed to which are just a handful of stat marks shy of double-doubles.

SFA out blocked Lamar 8-1 and was led at the net by Mitchell who posted five blocks.  Ashley Procious assisted on three blocks.  For the match, SFA committed only eight attack errors, remarkable given that the flow of the match never really saw the Ladyjacks offense dominate until the final frame when the 'Jacks hit .357.  Instead, Lamar pushed SFA all night long and created a fair amount of trouble up front with the trifecta of Murdock, Gil and Neumann.  Those three accounted for 27 of Lamar's 37 kills overall.  Each team was a bit sloppy at the service line committing 10 service errors a piece.

The win raised SFA's season record to 15-4 and the 'Jacks are now a perfect 3-0 in Southland play.  SFA is 8-1 on the extended 2020-2021 season in Shelton Gym.  Lamar falls to 0-7 overall and 0-2 in league play.  The 'Jacks continue the homestand on Saturday with first serve scheduled for 1:00 PM against the Cowgirls of McNeese.  The match will be broadcast live on ESPN+.  Earlier in the day, McNeese lost to Abilene Christian in four sets.  McNeese will travel Friday to Nacogdoches with all eyes on the weather as a severe cold snap looks to settle into East Texas during the weekend.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Shining Purple Lights On: Bryli Contreras

 For the full audio of the conversation with Bryli Contreras, click here.

You know the type.  That casual sports fan that doesn’t understand why the wide receiver can’t catch a throw from the quarterback.  Or, why a batter would swing at a curveball that bounces a few inches in front of the plate.  What about the guy or gal that laments why a player on their favorite team can’t keep the opposing point guard from driving right past them to the basket?  We’ve all been “that fan”. We love to criticize from the safety of our recliners in our living rooms and talk about sports performance as though it’s easy peasy.  The fact is:  It’s harder than it looks.

Catching a pass with a defensive back bearing down on you is harder than it looks.  Hitting a round ball with a round bat is harder than it looks.  Guarding someone lightning quick in basketball is harder than it looks.  Well, passing a volleyball in serve receive and digging a ball to target during a rally is harder than it looks.  Much, much, much harder than it looks.

When you watch a volleyball match from the stands or on your screen while sitting perpendicular to the net, you aren’t doing most serves justice.  This is especially true of serves that are categorized as floats.  To really appreciate the difficulty of receive, you should relocate to behind the receiving team and watch the serve approach you.  Knuckling.  Weaving.  Dropping.  Curving.  Zig-Zagging.  The words will all come rushing to your head.

As far as digging balls to target: Go stand twenty feet away from someone and let them throw a ball at you as hard as they can and see if you can a) even truly get your hands on it – and then if you can – b) can you pop the ball up to a prescribed height roughly half way between you and the person who chucked it at you.  It’s harder than it looks.

My favorite position in volleyball is the defensive specialist (DS).  Well, if I am being honest, it’s the libero AND the defensive specialists.  That’s because my favorite component of volleyball is floor defense.  I love in-rally “digs”.  It’s the part of the game that gets me the most enthused when I see it done well or a spectacular play made.  Sure, everyone loves the big kill or monster block or ace.  But, the sprawling dig to target that resets the offense or that perfect platformed dig in which the DS is anchored down on the floor after that huge attacker just shot a bazooka down the line?  THOSE are my favorite plays.  Anyone listening to the match on radio down at Corpus Christi knows that I about lost it when Coco Gillett went flying to the floor for a ridiculous pancake dig in the middle of a key rally.

Today’s feature is on Bryli Contreras.  At present, Bryli is our main DS.  Recently, she has been coming on the floor when fellow freshman OH Leah Powell rotates back row (Rotation 5, serving first).  Contreras comes into serve (generally,  our 5th server if we served first) – which she’s ultra-good at, and then take a stroll along the back row for three turns (rotations 5, 6 and 1) before giving way to Powell.

One of the things you’ll notice about Contreras is that she is under control as a back row player at a higher rate than most other young defensive specialists.  Some DS’s are flashy (but not really that good) and others are steady.  Contreras is steady.  That’s not to say that she can’t make those plays where the right side gets robbed on the huge attack or those quick twitch plays to keep balls alive that begin to ping-pong around on our side of the floor.  She can do that.  But her demeanor and court presence are steady.  It’s workmanlike and right now, she a great reflection of libero Maddie Miller in that way.

It’s too early to tell whether Contreras is the heir to the jersey once Miller bids the court adieu in the fall.  But, unless you want to convert an outside hitter and lose some offense, I really don’t see anyone currently on the roster that would be a better choice.  Of course, at the rate at which we are recruiting now, there could be another high school libero as talented as Contreras was last year waiting in the wings.  Still, her usage patterns of late indicate she has gained the trust of the coaching staff.  It would seem that she projects for a role at least equal to what she has now going forward – if not more.

In this space this year I’ve mentioned a couple of times that broadcasters and people who write and speak about sports would do good to observe (and usually, observe quietly).  This is something I really try and do.  Just watch.  Soak things in and think (rather than talk).  After all, I have to talk in order to call games, but when I watch volleyball at a practice or on television, I usually try and do so without talking.  That way, my brain can work.  One super obvious observation about Contreras is that she is polite.  It’s unmistakable.  I call gals like her “raised right” athletes.  You can tell she was “raised right”.  I write that with no implication that her teammates weren’t as well.  I just mean that Contreras is respectful, conscientious, and attentive.  These are positive qualities in an athlete and frankly, in just a downright good person.

If you pay attention, you can also firmly see Contreras is rooted in her faith and family.  People that are rooted in things don’t have to try to convince you of their priorities.  Instead, they just naturally show up in their actions, speech and decision making.  I can see, even in limited interaction, that Contreras has a solid priority list in life.

In the interview linked to above, you’ll hear her talk about what makes a good passer.  Notice, she doesn’t speak to the physical side of the task as much as she reminds us of the mental side of sports.  I also asked her about what makes a good floor defender.   We also talk about the role of being a DS after having been a libero at lower levels for so long and what adjustments that requires.  We discuss the correlation between working on serving and serve receive and then the difficult task of being a freshman student athlete.

I’ve always thought DS’s were overlooked and didn’t get enough “glory”.  That’s the word I use in the interview:  glory.  For instance, here is a stat for you.  After all, you didn’t think you were getting out of this article without any stats from the statistics prof, right?  A crude (accent on crude) way to normalize digs/set to role is to factor in rotations played.  For instance, with the exception of waiting for one side out to return to the floor, a libero will play in six rotations.  Maddie Miller as of this writing is averaging 4.60 digs per set, which equates to 0.77 digs per ROTATION per set.  Six rotation outside hitter Ariana Pagan is second on the club in overall digs per set, and her rate equates to 0.43 digs per rotation per set.  Contreras’ dig rate is equivalent to 0.56 digs per rotation per set.  Of course, Pagan has a more diverse role.  However, the point is (crudely) made:  Contreras’ rotation value is substantial, while as expected, not equal to the liberos.  Interestingly enough, Allie Hamsher’s dig equivalency per rotation is 0.63.  That has some pros and cons to being that high, but I digress.

Back to the glory idea… DS’s deserve more glory.  It’s harder than it looks.  But, when I brought this up to Contreras in the interview, she deflected.  You’ll hear her say that her teammates let her know that her role is valued and properly acknowledged.  So, there you go “armchair quarterbacks”.  Those of us that just watch sports and mouth off about them should learn from Bryli Contreras.  The players that don’t have Contreras’ role know how challenging it is.

I’m just glad she’s getting valuable court time while so young.  Who knows what might become of it?  Opportunity begets opportunity.  It will be fun to watch what Contreras blossoms into during her time with us.  For now, let’s shine the purple light on Bryli Contreras and remember… give the DS’s their due glory!

Next Week:  Julia Whitehead !!

Saturday, February 6, 2021

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

 San Antonio - After playing a full five sets last Thursday night in Corpus Christi while earning their first conference win of 2021, the Ladyjack Volleyball squad made quicker work of their Saturday opponent.  The 'Jacks defeated Incarnate Word in straight sets (25-14, 25-21, 26-24) to up their conference mark to 2-0 and season record to 14-4.  "I thought we did a lot of good things tonight.  Especially considering we have been on the road.  Overall, I was pleased with what we did", said Head Coach Debbie Humphreys.

The first set at the McDermott Center saw the Ladyjacks play at a near flawless level on offense.  SFA hit .412 in the first frame while only committing two attack errors.  The Ladyjacks raced out to a 5-1 lead behind kills from sophomores Ariana Pagan and Peyton Cerny coupled with a pair of Cardinal errors.  From there, they never looked back. The lead ballooned to 14-6 and UIW never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.  The 'Jacks wouldn't allow UIW to make much of a run at any point in the set, siding out at a 75% clip for the set.  SFA put up 16 total kills for set 1 while UIW could muster only seven while hitting a paltry .029.

Incarnate Word, which had run a two-setter offense in Set 1, switched to the 5-1 setup, trusting junior Pilar Gonzaba with the task of running the offense herself from that point on in the match.  UIW outside hitter Bethany Clapp, who carries a heavy load for the Cardinal offense was held to just two kills in set one, but began to heat up in the second.  Clapp killed seven early balls in the set, but still found her club trailing to the Ladyjacks 17-13.  At that point in Set 2, the Cardinals got error prone.  A service error, then two straight attack errors followed by a ball handling error on Gonzaba coupled with a Cerny kill combined to create a 5-1 run and push the score to 22-14 in favor of the purple. However, the 'Jacks struggled to quickly close out the set at that point allowing a late 7-1 Cardinal run that creeped UIW to  to within two points at 23-21. "With a young squad, you are going to have your ups and downs.  Those things are going to happen", Humphreys said about the UIW run.  "One thing we will definitely work on in practice this coming week is not allowing our opponent to go on runs like that', she added.  SFA was able to close out Set 2 behind consecutive kills from Taya Mitchell and Pagan.  The 'Jacks hit at a .195 clip compared to .175 for UIW in the second set carrying a 2-0 lead into the half.

While staying with one setter, UIW made additional changes to begin Set 3.  The Cardinals switched liberos going to senior Alyssa Carlin after having started with freshman Britney Ong in the off-colored jersey.  Ong paired with fellow freshman DS Audrey Patton to try and achor the back row.  Patton played well - digging several balls to target and passing crisp in the later sets. Early on, it appeared the changes sparked the Cardinals as they raced out to a 4-1 lead.  SFA clawed back and took their first lead of the set after 'Jacks freshman Bryli Contreras dropped in an ace in front of Ong to make the score 7-6.  The set stayed close to the midpoint with SFA clinging to a one point lead at 12-11, but then SFA went on a mini-run behind kills from freshman Leah Powell and Cerny to stretch the score out to 16-12.  Incarnate Word fought right back and the 'Jacks errored in two straight rallies and then suffered an ace by the hands of Gonzaba.  UIW continued the run with kills from senior Chase Jackson and Clapp that left the score tied at 18.  After an Ashley Procious kill for SFA and a Clapp error, SFA had a two point lead and was first to 20.  But, UIW again went on a run, this time scoring five of the six next points to take the lead 23-21 and put themselves in a position to force a fourth set.

After a 'Jacks timeout, the tables were turned as SFA scored five of six for themselves to close out the set and the match.  The final run in the third set featured three straight kills down the stretch for Cerny, the last of which tied the score at 24.  From there, a Cardinal attack error and a final 'Jacks kill from Leah Powell completed the 3-0 sweep.

SFA hit .304 for the match and allowed the Cardinals only a .129 attack percentage.  Ariana Pagan paced SFA with 11 kills and Cerny chipped in 10.  Junior setter Allie Hamsher had three aces and 13 assists while her setting counterpart Maddy Bourque dished out 18. SFA out blocked UIW 7-5, with Procious and Cerny assisting on four each.  Maddie Miller had 12 digs to pace her club.  Like she has all four matches she has played in during 2021, UIW's Bethany Clapp had a double-double.  Clapp knocked down 13 kills to go along with her 12 digs. Gonzaba had 27 assists for the Cardinals. 

The 'Jacks head back home to Shelton Gym for two matches next week before having a scheduled week off from competition.  SFA will take on Lamar on Thursday evening and then tangle with the Cowgirls from McNeese on Saturday.  Both matches are slated to be broadcast live on ESPN+.  Brittany Castledine and I will have the calls - with first serve against Lamar set to begin at 6:30 PM Thursday.

Friday, February 5, 2021

From Red to Purple: Maddie Miller

 San Antonio - Ladyjack libero Maddie Miller has spent each of two years in two places.  Now, as the Southland Conference slate fires up for the final time for Miller - she will come full circle.  The current Ladyack libero began her career in UIW Cardinal red and now returns on Saturday to the McDermott Center that she used to call home.  It's not her first time back, but it will be her last time in San Antonio to wear her collegiate jersey.  

No matter the color of that jersey, one thing has been always true:  Miller is a back row anchor.  She was during her first two seasons at UIW, and is currently for SFA.  Miller came to San Antonio during the year that turned out to be former head coach Jennifer Montoya's last season at the helm of the UIW program.  "Honestly, I loved going to school here as a freshman", Miller said at breakfast early Friday morning  - the team still in Corpus Christi after a long two hour plus battle with the Islanders the night before.  "I loved all the girls that I got to meet and play with when I first came to UIW", she added.  We talked and traded names of players that she played alongside of and that I remembered from having called matches between SFA and UIW - including two that Miller herself suited up for in UIW colors.  "A lot of us left for various reasons, but I still keep up with many of my former teammates, coaches and assistant coaches", Miller said.  She specifically referred to current Cardinal setter Pilar Gonzaba as we chatted about the differences between her first and last two seasons.

Miller will step onto the floor Saturday with exactly 1700 career digs at the D1 level.  Two 400+ dig seasons as the libero for the Cardinals her first two years were followed up by a monster 2019 in Ladyjack purple which saw her scoop just five balls shy of six hundred.  That tally constituted the seventh highest dig season in recorded SFA Volleyball history,   That's pretty impressive considering that six of the top season marks belong to Stephanie Figgers and OJ Olson, two of the best liberos in program history.  At her current pace, Miller projects for somewhere safely above 1900 career digs, with an outside shot at the nice round number of 2000 if SFA can both play deep in the Southland Conference tournament and make a third consecutive NCAA tourney appearance.  

For some perspective, while Miller won't crack the career digs leaderboards at SFA having only played two seasons in Nacogdoches, only three liberos have ever tallied 2000 digs as a Ladjack:  the previously mentioned Figgers and Olson along with Maddie Hanlan.  Miller's career mark - if it were to have all been at SFA - would have currently ranked fourth all-time only behind those three ladies.  During 2019, Miller averaged 5.31 digs per set, a mark only bettered by Figgers - albeit three times.

In terms of demeanor, however, Miller couldn't be more far apart when compared to Figgers and Olson.  Miller is unassuming and not a loud person by nature.  She's plenty vocal on the floor to exhibit her queenship over the back row, but generally, Miller is more reserved and plenty humble - always allowing teammates the limelight.  Figgers and Olson both were folks you heard the minute you walked by any room they were in - cackling and howling most everywhere they went.

Since the institution of the libero position in women's collegiate volleyball, SFA has truly had some amazing athletes at the position:  Figgers, Olson, Hanlan, and add in Lexus Cain, who ranks fifth all-time in digs as a Ladyjack.  All things considered, it's amazing that despite only two years as our starting libero, Miller is right there in that conversation. Personally, I think because she played at another Southland school and we were all familiar with her before arriving in Nacogdoches, it gets easier to keep her in the conversation of all-time greats.  You see, Debbie Humphreys and current assistant coach Alisa Blair have a long history with Miller and her family.  There is a deep familiarity which actually makes it seem like Miller has been with us longer  than just two full seasons - even though this last one is being stretched across the fall and spring.

In fact, I wrote about Miller briefly while she was still in San Antonio,  After talking with coaches and watching her play a handful of times in 2017-2018, I wrote that I thought she'd be a candidate for Libero of the Year honors at some point in her upperclassman years.  Little did I know that it would be playing for SFA.  "A Diamond in the Rough" is what I referred to her as in my post picking my 1st Annual All-Sophomore Team" in 2018.  You can read the post at this link.  That same year, she was a "just missed" pick for my All-Conference Blog picks.

Nothing is "just missed" about Miller at this point.  Completely entrenched in the libero role, whomever wears the jersey in Fall 2021 will have big shoes to fill.. figuratively, of course, since Miller is 5'3"... maybe!  At least that's what we list on the team roster.  But, height is the only thing truly diminutive about Maddie Miller.  

Character, leadership, poise, intellect.. digging volleyballs to target?  No.. for all those things and more, Senior libero Maddie Miller stands very, very tall.

Photo Credits:  Tracy Gillett

Thursday, February 4, 2021

From the Sideline: SFA 3, Texas A&M - Corpus Christi 2 [Match Summary]

 Corpus Christi - Ladyjack Volleyball got a wild win on the Island tonight knocking off Southland Conference foe Texas A&M - Corpus Christi in five sets (25-19, 14-25, 32-34, 25-18, 15-9).  The win puts SFA at 13-4 overall on the extended 2020-2021 season while the Islanders drop to 2-1.  The match was the conference opener for each team.  The 'Jacks fought off a vicious offensive attack by Texas A&M - Corpus Christi as the home blues saw three players chip in 50 kills out of the 71 total that found the floor.  SFA had a tough time containing middle blocker Rachel Young, who throughout her tenure on the Island has been known for her efficiency.  Young killed 17 balls on just 30 swings to post a .367 attack percentage with  many of her winners off the slide on the right pin.  Senior outside hitter Chloe Simon wasn't to be outdone by Young as she tallied a match-high 19 kills while hitting an impressive .375.

SFA's offense was more balanced being led by freshman outside hitter Leah Powell with 14 kills.  Taya Mitchell had an around top-shelf performance as she posted 11 kills, 4 blocks and 4 aces.  Two of the aces came at very critical points in the match.  SFA rounded out their offense with Ariana Pagan falling one kill shy of double-double (9 kills, 11 digs, two aces),  Ielan Bradley chipped in 8 terminations and fellow freshman Ashley Procious had 6 as did sophomore right side hitter Payton Cerny.  All-in-all, the 'Jacks were out killed by the Islanders 71-59, but SFA was slightly more efficient holding the attack percentage advantage .279 to .242.

SFA returned to having a quality defensive match on the net after briefly struggling in that department last weekend.  SFA posted 12 team blocks compared to only three for Texas A&M - Corpus Christi.  Procious racked up 7 total blocks, with three of them being of the solo variety.  Cerny had a season high five block assists.  The battle of what might be the top liberos in the conference, Maddie Miller posted 19 digs and her counterpart  Carissa Barnes scooped up 24. 

In the first set, the 'Jacks fell behind 4-1, but then quickly righted the ship by going on a7-2 to run to gain the lead. The Islanders would tie it at 8 all, but then four straight points by SFA featuring kills from Pagan, Bradley and Procious and one of the aforementioned aces by Mitchell put the Ladyjacks up for good.  SFA stretched the lead to six and held on to win the first set by that margin at 25-19.

Set 2 saw the 'Jacks offense that had hit .273 in the prior frame struggle to run efficiently as strong serving by the Islanders and poor passing by the SFA back row allowed Texas A&M - Corpus Christi to make quick work of the set by a score of 25-14.  SFA came out flat in the set with the Islanders scoring the first six points to force an SFA timeout.  The break temporarily worked as SFA then scored four straight to draw close, but in the middle of the set Islander libero completely took over at the service stripe.  With her club up 9-7, Barnes proceeded to serve eight times and ace the Ladyjacks three times in a monstrous run that saw the Islanders push their lead all the way out to 17-7.  The aces picked on three separate SFA players which were credited with return errors:  Pagan, Miller and sophomore Kennedy Wright who made a brief appearance during the onslaught.  From there, Texas A&M - Corpus Christi continued to roll - leading by as many as a dozen at 22-10 late in the set.

Set 3 was one for the ages.  Easily the most competitive set, neither team could gain much of an advantage, but the Islanders held slim leads for the majority of the early phases.  A Kaylee Payne service error got SFA tied at 15 and from there the teams began slugging out points back and forth.  The set was tied consecutively at 19, then 20, then 21 before finally SFA gained the lead at 23-21.  After a Young kill, Islander setter Faith Panhans was called for double contact giving SFA their first set point.  From there on, the set got completely wild.  A Simon kill and another Barnes ace knotted the match at 24.  The see-saw battle went on and on with the score tied at 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 and 32.  At one point in the chaos, freshman outside hitter Coco Gillett made a sprawling pancake dig that sent the SFA bench and the 'Jacks COVID-limited fan base into full furry. Another Simon winner and then a block by Islanders middle blocker Sam Dumity coupled with Panhans assisting ended the rambunctious set 34-32 in favor of the home team.  SFA had six set points thwarted by the Islanders during the energetic set.

Down two sets to one at that point, the young Ladyjacks then turned the tables on the Islanders and ran out to a huge early lead in Set 4.  As uncompetitive as Set 2 was in favor of Texas A&M - Corpus Christi, the same was true in Set 4 concerning the SFA dominance.  The Ladyjacks raced out to a 12-3 start featuring a long service hold by Taya Mitchell which included two consecutive aces.  The Islanders went on a mini 4-1 run near the end of the set to close to 20-13 forcing a Debbie Humphreys timeout.  From there, the teams traded points with SFA closing it out 25-18 - SFA getting their last three points of the set off of Islander service errors.

In the decisive fifth, SFA jumped out to a 6-3 behind three quick kills from Powell and two more from Mitchell.  Freshman defensive specialist Bryli Contreras then served five times to stretch the 'Jacks lead out to a whopping mark of 10-3.  Simon tried to bring her club back by tallying four kills in five rallies to close the Islanders to within four at 11-7.  A kill by Pagan, a service ace by 'Jacks freshman Maddy Bourque and two Islanders errors sealed the set 15-9 for SFA and completed the 2 hour and 15 minute marathon.

SFA travels to San Antonio on Friday for practice and then will face off with the Cardinals of Incarnate Word on Saturday with first serve scheduled for 1:30 PM.  The match will be carried live here at SFA VolleyBlog Radio.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Shining Purple Lights On: Allie Hamsher

 For audio of the entire interview with Allie Hamsher click here.

 There are times during a program's history where a player and a position become synonymous for a long stretch of years.  To wit, Lauren Railey at outside hitter during the middle '00's.  Then, there is the greatest libero to ever wear purple - Stephanie Figgers - during that same basic era.  The record book is full of the name Aubrey Duncan as a defensive force during the early 1990's. Two setters that quickly come to mind are JJ Jones during the same time frame as Railey and Figgers and the recently graduated Ann Hollas.  I've been fortunate to see some of the great SFA setters play their entire careers.  I didn't see Wendy Walling (1990-1993) or Bianca Aranda (1995-1998), but I saw all of the Jones and Hollas years along with the time Marissa Dorcheus (1998-2001) ran the club.  I personally called virtually all of the matches Paige Holland (2011-2014) was a part of during her Ladyjack tenure.  Dorcheus, now Marissa Avery, and I still occasionally intersect on social media and she was the SFA setter during the time that I first began attending Ladyjack Volleyball matches.

So, why the archival lesson? Because SFA is always looking around the corner hoping to discover "our next great setter".  At present, my thought process is that we have a trifecta of setters that collectively achieve greatness.  This isn't meant as a slight to any of the individual players that make up the 2021 setting roster, but instead I see the combination of our setters as merging in a unique way since they each bring different qualities to the table to achieve their effectiveness.

When Hollas graduated, that automatically meant that we were going to have a "new" setter in 2020-2021.  This because Margaret Dean also committed as a graduate transfer to Mississippi State back in April of last year.  Dean is currently playing out her last year of eligibility in Starkville.  

So, rather than put all the eggs in one basket, the coaching staff brought in transfers Allie Hamsher, a decorated JUCO two-year athlete from North Central Texas College (NCTC) and Malgorzata "G" Andersohn who had spent her first year at Arkansas State.  The wisdom in those signings was the experience factor.  Hamsher already had success at a lower level and was ready for a step up and Andersohn had gained experience by appearing in all 30 matches for the Red Wolves, who play in a conference comparable to our own.  Those two join freshman Maddy Bourque to give the 2021 version of SFA Volleyball a veritable three-headed setting machine that can interchange parts fluidly and efficiently.

The interview linked to above is with Hamsher, who has emerged as the leader of the aforementioned crew primarily due to her experience and consistent productivity.  As of this writing, Hamsher leads the club in assists and assists per set and has appeared in more sets during 2020-2021 than either of the other two quarterbacks.  Hamsher has also proven to be a deadly server, racking up 17 so far on the season, four of which came last Saturday against Tulane.  Behind libero Maddie Miller and six-rotation outside Ariana Pagan, Hamsher also ranks third in digs for the Ladyjacks.

One of the portions of our chat that I absolutely loved was when I asked her to compare and contrast herself with Andersohn and Bourque.  Her answer was exquisite and framed exactly in the way that my mind had processed the three of them to this point in their time with us.  Pay particular attention to her phrasing in answering this question around the 8:00 mark in the interview.

Something that folks in my line of work always do is observe.  People who call matches are always watching. We take note of the smallest of things in order to constantly add to your familiarity of the athletes that you are going to discuss and showcase when on a broadcast.  One of things I've really noticed about Hamsher in matches, practices and even in brief off-the-court situations is that she is emotionally invested.  She brings a lot of energy and joy to the position.  Sometimes, on air, I refer to this personality as what I call a "warm setter".  By her own admission, she's not the cold and calculating technical setter, but instead delivers a quality ball while mixing in the right dose of fire and energy (warmth) for her offense.  

I think the time playing meaningful minutes for a club that had a lot of success at the JUCO level has really helped Hamsher slide over into her role this season at SFA.  She's steady and personally very likable.  That personality blends well with her attackers on the floor and with the entire club when they are not in competition.  She's vocal and authoritative and that's a positive quality in a setter if kept under control - which her poise allows her to do.  She instantly finds herself as one of the most experienced collegiate players on the roster being one of only three upperclassmen.  So, she needed to come right in and lead and garner faith from the rest of the younger, more inexperienced freshmen and sophomores.  It's clear that she has their trust.

Amazingly, you'll learn when you listen to the interview that she almost let volleyball go during her final year in high school.  Given the talent she possesses that surprised me a bit, but it points to maturity.  She was comfortable considering the possibility that her playing days might be running their course, but opportunistic enough to take advantage of an offer that would allow her to see if she could still produce at a high level.  I often tell students that "opportunity begets opportunity" and that's exactly what happened with Allie Hamsher.  The chain reaction of opportunity from high school to NCTC and then to SFA has carried her further than her high school self had the wherewithal to imagine three years ago.

I think you'll enjoy listening to the chat.  More importantly, I think you'll enjoy Allie Hamsher running a portion of our offense for the next two seasons.  It was a delight to sit and talk with her.

"Shining Purple Lights On:" is a new weekly interview series that will showcase an athlete, coach or team personnel member associated with SFA Volleyball.  It's your chance to learn a little more about a member of the current Ladyjack Volleyball family.

Photo Credits: Tracy Gillett

Next Week:  Bryli Contreras

Saturday, January 30, 2021

From the Sideline: SFA 3, Tulane 0 [Match 2, Game Summary]

 New Orleans - The Ladyjack Volleyball squad picked up in the late afternoon right where they left off in the morning by sweeping away the Green Wave of Tulane to pick up their second victory of the day.  The 'Jacks offense ran efficiently in the 3-0 win (25-16, 25-14, 25-21) as SFA hit .235 while holding Tulane to just .082 from the floor.  The win ran SFA's record to 12-4 and ends the non-conference portion of the spring 2021 slate.   The Ladyjacks begin conference play on Thursday against the Islanders of Texas A&M Corpus Christi and will then travel to San Antonio to take on Incarnate Word.

The match was characterized by long scoring streaks by the SFA offense.  Outside hitters Leah Powell and Ariana Pagan were particularly effective.  Powell struck for 9 kills that included a variety of shots both soft and hard, one time making a nifty push the line corner over two defenders.  Pagan's last kill of the match both sealed the victory for SFA and also was her 10th of the match.  That earned her a double-double for the evening to go along with her 12 digs.  

The offense was once again run by the setting duo of Maddy Bourque and Allie Hamsher.  They tallied 27 assists between them and guided an SFA offense that saw balanced production across the board. The 'Jacks went to Senior Middle Blocker Taya Mitchell often early in the match. Overall, she tallied five kills and hit an efficient .444.  After putting up 17 kills in the morning match, right-side hitter Payton Cerny wasn't left out of the evening party as she contributed nine kills against just one error to post an extremely efficient .571 attack percentage. Freshman Ielan Bradley hit from the right when Cerny's rotations were done and she contributed three winners, two of which were down the stretch in the most competitive Set 3.  Fellow freshman Ashley Procious contributed two errorless kills to round out the offense.

The floor defense was on point as well with libero Maddie Miller once again leading the way.  After posting a season high tally in digs during the morning match, Miller came back with 18 more in the nightcap.  Coupled with Pagan's 12, Hamsher's 8 and seven a piece from Bourque and freshman DS Bryli Contreras, the SFA defenders frustrated the Green Wave attack all evening long.  Deep into the second set, Tulane was still hitting at or below .000 overall for the match.  A stronger third set effort pulled the match mark to the aforementioned .082.

Tulane's best shot for a set win was late in the match.  After the 'Jacks opened the third set with a six point run, Tulane fought back and kept the set close throughout its middle portion.  The 'Jacks were able to hang on with kills from Bradley, Powell and the final dagger from Pagan down the stretch.  Bourque was excellent behind the service line with 4 aces as the overall service pressure on the day applied by the Ladyjacks far outweighed what was seen last Thursday night in Houston.

Tulane was led by Lexie Douglass with 12 kills.  She also posted a double-double by gathering 12 digs.  The Green Wave used a different libero in the evening match going to Sophia Ervanian rather than converted OH Makala Heidelberg.  Ervanian had 14 digs to pace the Wave.  Amanda Giardina led with 12 assists and second setter Taylor Henigsman had 9.  Middle Hitter Kayla Dinkins blocked four balls to lead Tulane in that category.

The 'Jacks matches next week will each be carried live here at the blog on SFA VolleyBlog Radio,

From The Sideline: SFA 3, Tulane 1 [Match 1, Game Summary]

New Orleans - The 'Jacks shook off a one set deficit to rally and grab three straight set wins to close out Tulane by a score of 3-1 (23-25, 26-24, 25-19, 25-19) at the Hertz Center on Saturday morning.  SFA got down by eight points in the middle of Set 1 and then put on a furious rally attempting to steal Set 1.  The back half of the set featured the 'Jacks making a 6-1 run to get within three at 19-16 and then the teams traded points down the stretch with each of Payton Cerny, Leah Powell and Ariana Pagan finding the floor to eventually bring SFA to within one at 24-23.  A kill by Tulane middle hitter Anna Davis ended the first set by the minimum two points and put SFA in the position of playing from behind.

However, the momentum from late first set run by the 'Jacks was propelled into the second where SFA turned the tables and made the Green Wave play from behind the majority of the set.  Late, Tulane made their own comeback and actually had a shot to go up 2-0 for the match late in Set 2 while holding a 22-20 lead.  But SFA wouldn't let the strong set go to waste with a big block by Cerny and Ielan Bradley along with a Cerny kill and a slew of Tulane errors pushed SFA to a 26-24 set win to tie things up at the half.

Tulane looked flat during the first half of Set 3 and SFA cruised to a 25-19 win to take a 2-1 advantage.  The Green Wave shook off their sluggishness and matched the 'Jacks energy in a very emotion-filled 4th set.  SFA set the tone by jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind several winners from Powell and a huge strike in the middle by senior Taya Mitchell.  The Ladyjacks got error prone in the middle of the set and allowed to Tulane to draw within one at 11-10.  From that point, the match emotion ramped up even more as the teams slugged out trading points and SFA found things all knotted up at 17.  However, the Ladyjacks kicked into one final high gear to go on an 8-2 run to win the set and the match in large part due to a late burst by Freshman Ashley Procious.  Procious downed two balls and was in on a key block down the stretch.  At many points during the match, her insertion into the middle allowed fellow freshman Bradley to slide over to the right side for the rotations where Cerny was out.

The match saw the return of Pagan who had sat out the two matches in Houston with a minor leg ailment.  Pagan showed no signs of wear contributing several key kills and finishing with 8 overall.  She fell two kills shy of a double-double as she also picked up 12 digs.  The offense was carried by the efficiency of Cerny who tallied 17 terminations (17-4-27, .481) and Mitchell, who hit .545 while finding the floor seven times.  Maddie Miller anchored the back row and collected 27 digs many of which came on perfect placements on line attempts by the Tulane right side attack.

Tulane ran slides to freshman middle hitter Anna Davis repeatedly during the match. Davis was successful on 10 strikes.  SFA contained Tulane's other big-scoring middle hitter junior Kayla Dinkins.  Dinkins only handled 10 attempts and scored only three times.  The strong armed senior Lexie Douglass swung 39 times and hit .205 while racking up a team leading 15 kills.  Davis led on defense with 6 blocks and Makala Heidelberg - who was converted from outside hitter to libero earlier in the season - led Tulane with 18 digs.

Neither team was overly efficient in terms of attack percentage as the 'Jacks hit .184 which was down from the .247 clip they had posted to this point in the season.  Tulane hit only .136 and committed 12 service errors, many of which came early in the match.  The 'Jacks were out blocked by the Green Wave 8-5 while holding a slight overall advantage in total digs 62-58.  Tulane sliced out nine aces and SFA had six.

The teams meet again at 4 PM in what will be the 'Jacks final tune up before Southland Conference play.  SFA travels to Corpus Christi to take on the Islanders in their conference debut at 6:30 PM on Thursday, February 4 and then hops up to take on UIW in San Antonio on Saturday at 1:30 PM.  Both of those road matches next week will be carried live here at SFA VolleyBlog Radio.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

From The Sideline: Houston 3, SFA 1 & Houston 3, SFA 0 [Match Summary]

 Houston  - The 'Jacks struggled to maintain consistency in a lot of dimensions as they dropped both matches on Thursday (15-25, 25-19, 14-25, 21-25 and 16-25, 14-25, 14-25) at the Athletics/Alumni Center on the campus at the University of Houston.  In the early match, SFA dropped the first set before rallying back in their most complete set of the day to tie the match at one set a piece at the half.  SFA was led by freshman outside hitter Leah Powell who wound up finding the floor 11 times for the match.  

But after creating a best-of-three, the 'Jacks couldn't repeat what earned them Set 2 and wound up fighting for any level of consistency down the stretch of the match.  "The service pressure was the difference in Set 2", Head Coach Debbie Humphreys said.  "UH is a very athletic team and we needed to get them out of system in order to create opportunities for our offense.  I felt like we did that in the second set", Humphreys added.  "Overall, we struggled in pretty much every area", she finished while also lamenting the overall lack of energy and consistency.

The first match of the day featured the debut of Sophomore transfer Kennedy Wright.  Wright scooped up 12 balls to go along with five kills and two blocks in what was an impressive first match in purple despite the loss.  SFA allowed Houston to hit .613 in the third set while countering with only a .125 mark from the floor.  For the match, the Cougars hit .327, far and away higher than what SFA had allowed on average to this point during the 2020-2021 campaign.  

In addition to Powell's 11 and Wright's five, the 'Jacks picked up seven winners from freshman Ielan Bradley in the four set loss.  Taya Mitchell collected four blocks and Maddie Miller chipped in 10 digs. Maddy Bourque collected the bulk of the assists among the setters tallying 22 on the afternoon.  Houston had five players post double figure kills including Abbie Jackson's twenty. Jackson picked up a double-double by also posting 15 digs.  The loss dropped SFA to 10-3 on the season.

The second match saw SFA give up long runs to to the Cougars in each of the three sets.  Throughout, SFA was inconsistent on the first ball and consequently was not able to efficiently execute much of a sustained offensive threat.  After dropping the first set 25-16, SFA was within one in Set 2 at 11-12, before UH went on a 10-2 run to seal the second set as well.

During the late match, SFA mixed things up in terms of personnel looking for the right combinations to get some consistent production.  At one point in the second set, Bradley shifted over to hitting from the right as Humphreys called on freshman Ashley Procious to step into the middle.   Later in the third set, Sophomore Payson Kelley made her 2021 debut by entering on the right.  To no avail, SFA couldn't overcome the left-side attack onslaught of Jackson and fellow outside Kortlyn Henderson. The pair connected for 16 kills to pace the Houston offense.

Payton Cerny led the SFA offense in Match 2 by hitting .353 while finding the court on seven swings.  Freshman Coco Gillett also had seven kills and Bradley contributed five.  SFA struggled to block for points as they officially registered only one team block for the match.  Bourque had 15 assists and Miller had 11 digs to lead in those categories, respectively.

The service pressure that Humphreys commented on during Set 2 in Match 1 was non-existent in the night match.  Houston posted a whopping 78% side out percentage seriously limiting the 'Jacks ability go on any form of large run at the service line.  The second loss dropped SFA to 10-4 on the season.

SFA travels to New Orleans to dance with Tulane in another doubleheader on Saturday.  Match times are 10 AM and 4 PM and both will be broadcast live here on SFA VolleyBlog Radio.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Shining Purple Lights On: Payton Cerny

For audio of the entire interview with Payton Cerny click here.

If you were asked what the biggest difference is between the status of SFA Volleyball at the end of the 2019 season and now you'd be forced to answer "COVID".  Because, well, COVID is at the root of just about all societal changes between life as we used to know it in Fall 2019 and the present.  But the second biggest difference might very well be the emergence of sophomore right-side hitter Payton Cerny.

As of this interview, Cerny leads the 'Jacks in kills and kills per set across the entire 2020-2021 season.  Her dominant presence on the right side has been unrelenting with the coming out party happening back in the fall just a few days after I tested positive for the 'rona.  The weekend containing September 12, 2020 ended my 20-year streak of home match attendance.  I read the box score and did a double-take when I got to Cerny's line against HBU:  21 kills.  TWENTY-ONE.  My goodness. What had I missed?  Well, now I know.  We all do.  A new weapon in the SFA offensive arsenal had been revealed.  And what a cannon it is.

About a week ago, I strolled into an afternoon practice in which the club had both nets set up for positional drills.  The attackers were stationed at one end of the gym on large blocks and were being tossed balls in order to work on hitting mechanics. One by one each of the pin hitters and middles came to stand on the blocks and got about a dozen swings in before rotating off.  Assistant coaches Alisa Blair and Sarah Carthel would occasionally pause and give feedback among the tosses.  Some of the swings looked natural and others looked awkward given the athletes' feet were pretty much stationary.  The focus here wasn't on approach, but rather simulating the swing at the apex of the jump.  I watched a while and then my attention waned and I focused on the drills going on over on "court 2" for a bit.

But, then... BOOM.  BOOM.  BOOM.  Something had changed.  Cerny was up on the block for her turn to take some swings.  Laser beam shots to the floor over and over and over.  The force coming off her flat-footed swings was close to twice what I had witnessed from the mere mortals that had attempted the drill before her.  Payton Cerny is strong.  As she remarks at one point in the interview linked here... her hitting is considered her primary forte.  That's a good thing because I wouldn't want to try to stand in the way of those frozen ropes she was dolloping out from her left hand.

Flash forward to this week and after practice today, I sat down with Payton and we chatted about her formative years in volleyball as well as what she learned from her first year at SFA.  She talked about improvements and things that she feels are still works in progress.  We talked about her place among what is now a very young team.  Of course, chatting while each masked, we stated what we felt COVID had forced us to learn and realize.  She mentioned her biggest mentors coming into this year were Julia Whitehead and former Ladyjack Corin Evans.  That response was not a surprise as you could hardly ask for a better duo to learn from when it comes to passion, commitment, and just overall character.  Finally, Payton rattled off a set of influences:  parents, family, club and high school coaches, strength coaches and friends.  I mentioned that "great things are never done alone" and she nodded in agreement.

Good thing so many people invested in Payton Cerny.  Ladyjack volleyball fans... I think we've got us the next great thing.. and she wears "19".

"Shining Purple Lights On:" is a new weekly interview series that will showcase an athlete, coach or team personnel member associated with SFA Volleyball.  It's your chance to learn a little more about a member of the current Ladyjack Volleyball family.

Photo Credit:  Tracy Gillett

Saturday, January 23, 2021

From the Sideline: SFA 3, Louisiana Tech 0 [Game Summary]

 Nacogdoches - A balanced young offensive attack coupled with strong service pressure allowed Stephen F. Austin to make quick work of Louisiana Tech on Saturday afternoon as the 'Jacks won in straights sets 25-15, 25-18 and 25-17.  "I thought we executed at a higher level today than we did yesterday, but there a still some things we've identified that we can fix", 33-year veteran head coach Debbie Humphreys said after the match.  SFA got eight kills a piece from sophomore's Payton Cerny and Ariana Pagan as well as eight kills from freshmen outside hitters Leah Powell and Coco Gillett.

Louisiana Tech never held the lead in the first set as Cerny got off to a fast start racking up half of her afternoon kill tally in the first frame alone.  SFA's middle attack was active early as Taya Mitchell found the floor three times and freshman Ielan Bradley picked up where she left off Friday night by contributing two early kills.  The 'Jacks hit .333 in the opening frame, a mark that would be equalled for the entire three-set match.  The Lady Techsters best opportunity for a set win came in Set 2 as they grabbed an early 10-7 lead, but kills from six separate attackers were squeezed around a pair of attack errors on the Louisiana Tech side.  That flipped the score to 14-12 in favor of the purple during a span of nine straight rallies in which the Lady Techsters failed to register a kill, their only only two points in the sequence coming from Ladyjack service errors.  From that point on in Set 2, SFA never lost the lead closing out the set on a 5-1 run that featured kills from Gillett, Bradley and then the final dagger from Powell banging one off the Tech block to give SFA a 2-0 lead at the half.

An early seven point run led by a long service hold by Senior libero Maddie Miller set the tone for a quick set 3 as SFA raced out to a 9-3 lead.  The set lead ballooned to as many as 13 points after Bradley and Pagan traded terminations late.  Louisiana Tech struggled to consistently pass throughout the set and despite a pair of three and four point runs, respectively, SFA held on to win Set 3 by an eight point spread.

"If we have a night where one attacker is off, we don't want defenses to just be able to key on that one person and shut our offense down", Humphreys said about the balanced attack philosophy.  "I thought the service pressure was key, but maybe we could have cut down on one or two of those [service] errors", she added.  Miller added to a fine performance on Friday night to chip in 15 more digs thwarting the Lady Techsters attack.  Miller finished the weekend with 36 digs in seven sets for a 5.14 dig/set clip.  Her first dig of the afternoon was the 1700th of her collegiate career.

Junior setter Allie Hamsher had the only double-double of the match by distributing 17 assists while also collecting 12 digs.  Pagan's eight kills were matched by nine scoops.  Gillett was particularly impressive offensively as the match wore on and she finished errorless in her 16 attempts (8-0-16, .500).  Bradley also hit .500 and fellow middle Taya Mitchell was four for five with no errors.  Cerny (.368) and Powell (.273) were also efficient as SFA never hit less than .267 for an entire set.

Pagan finished the tournament handling 47 serves without committing a return error.  Bradley was in on two of the four SFA team blocks on the afternoon.  The 'Jacks out blocked Louisiana Tech for the match 4-3.

Louisiana Tech dropped to 0-4 on the extended 2020-2021 season and SFA improved to 10-2.  The Lady Techsters kill leaders could muster only 5 a piece (Marie Verlinden and Emily Boylan).  Abigail Hildenbrand dished out 10 assists and fellow setter Mallory Meers lead Louisiana Tech with 11 digs.  The Lady Techsters only hit .124 for the match and never hit above .167 in any of the three sets.

SFA travels to H-town on Thursday to face off with the University of Houston Cougars for two Thursday matches.  Then the 'Jacks will tangle with Tulane for two matches next Saturday.  All but the early match in Houston will be carried live on Internet radio right here at sfavolleyblog.net.

Friday, January 22, 2021

From the Sideline: SFA 3, Tarleton 1 [Game Summary]

 Nacogdoches -- The Ladyjacks of Stephen F. Austin volleyball opened up the spring 2021 campaign with a four set win over Tarleton on Friday night.  The 'Jacks improve to 9-2 overall on the elongated 2020-2021 season which bridges back to an abbreviated fall slate.  Earlier in the day, Tarleton made program history with their first ever Division I win over Louisiana Tech in straight sets.  Last year, the Texans made the jump from Division II and began membership in the WAC, the conference SFA is slated to join later in the year.

Despite having drawn the early match of the day, Tarleton showed no signs of slowing down in Set 1 as the scrappy Texans got kills from all of Senior Amber Strange, Junior Lauren Kersey and freshman Shelby Draker.  A balanced SFA offense run by the duo of Junior Allie Hamsher and Freshman Maddy Borque slowly stretched the Ladyjack first set lead all the way out to nine at 24-15.  But SFA found themselves struggling to close out the set.  After a mini-run by the Texans forced 'Jacks Head Coach Debbie Humphreys into a late timeout, Sophomore Payton Cerny found the floor to give SFA a 25-18 win in Set 1.

Strange was too much for the SFA defense in Set 2 as the Texans hit a whopping .517 in the frame compared to just .028 for SFA.  Time and time again, Strange was able to get crossing shots from the left pin to rattle down while the 'Jacks offense that had hit .412 in the first set grinded to a halt.  Tarleton never let off the gas and cruised to a 25-15 Set 2 victory to tie the match at one set a piece at the half.

SFA made two huge adjustments going in to Set 3, the first of which defensively attempted to draw Strange into attacking down the line.  Additionally, the floor defense was altered in order to thwart the Texan attack and better position SFA to dig up the attack from the left pin.  The changes worked as Strange was held to two kills in the set after going off for seven in Set 2.  The second major adaptation was to establish a more concerted effort to run more offense through the middle.  Freshman Ielan Bradley was the benefit of the change as she terminated six balls in the set.  The rest of the 'Jacks offense dominated as well and SFA tallied nineteen errorless kills in Set 3 while easily winning 25-8 to regain the match lead.

Tarleton was never able to answer back after that point as Cerny, Bradley and fellow freshman Coco Gillett all chipped in on offense.  Sophomore Ariana Pagan had several key strikes in the set and SFA kept Tarleton backpedaling during the back half of Set 4.  SFA was able to close out the final frame 25-15 and seal the four set win.

The 'Jacks hit a robust .373 overall while allowing a .266 hitting percentage out the Texans.  The latter mark represented a higher tally than SFA had held opponents to during the Fall (.154) - an area that Humphreys emphasized needed improvement is post-match chats.  Cerny paced the offense with 14 kills while hitting a stellar .407.  Bradley was phenomenal on offense contributing 13 kills (13-2-23, .478).  Pagan hit .381 and Gillett found the floor nine times while hitting .333.  Senior middle blocker Taya Mitchell had six errorless kills on 14 attempts (.429) and Leah Powell hit .300 as all six SFA primary attackers achieved that hitting percentage or higher.

The 'Jacks struggled to block for points early in the match and got out blocked overall seven to four.  Bradley had three total blocks to pace SFA.  The back row was anchored by Senior Maddie Miller who scooped up 21 digs to lead the match. Pagan and Hamsher each fell one dig shy of double-doubles with Hamsher dishing 29 assists. The service game was one-sided as the 'Jacks tallied 8 aces (three a piece from Borque and Hamsher) compared to just one for Tarleton.  SFA passed well in serve receive as Pagan handled 29 receptions without a return error.

Strange had 16 kills, Kersey had 11 and Junior right side hitter Carmen Kinsey had 10.  Strange and Kersey each hit over .300. Setter Kayla Brannon had 30 assists for the Texans and Junior Libero Ana Costas led Tarleton with 14 digs. Texan Freshman middle blocker Brianna Rhodes led the match with four total blocks.

SFA is back in action on Saturday morning at 11 AM as the 'Jacks take on the Lady Techsters from Louisiana Tech.  The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ and will wrap up the SFA Invitational.  SFA heads to Houston and New Orleans next week as doubleheaders with each of the University of Houston and Tulane await.

Conversation with Tarleton Head Coach Mary Schindler

Today is Opening Day all around the country for women's collegiate volleyball. From program to program, optimism is running high as we begin the 2021 spring season.  For all of the schools that postponed their fall action completely, this has been a very long time coming.  One of those clubs is new WAC opponent Tarleton.  It is a very historic day for the Tarleton Texans for when they walk onto the floor at 1 PM to face off against Louisiana Tech it will be as a Division I program for the first time.  

Tarleton hasn't had a volleyball match in 414 days.  Yes, COVID-19 has taken a lot from us all in the world of sports - and in the world, period - but today is a triumph of sorts.  You'll have to forgive anyone associated with Tarleton State Athletics if there is just a little extra pride in wearing the colors given that they have waited for so long to see this jump to DI volleyball officially come to fruition.

Last night at the Tarleton team hotel, I caught up with longtime head coach Mary Schindler.  Each veiled in now commonly worn masks, we chatted for about 15 minutes about the WAC, the process of moving from DII to DI, the addition of four Southland Conference schools to the WAC and what's changed for Coach Schindler during her tenure in Stephenville.

I think you'll enjoy listening to this chat as it will give you a view toward a future opponent and another perspective from a veteran coach.  Many thanks to Coach Schindler for her graciousness with her time and it was a pleasure to begin building new relationships around our new league.

Everyone has a lot to celebrate in Week 1 of the spring 2021 season, but for Tarleton the emotions are riding just a notch higher!  You can listen to the entire conversation here at this link.

Bringing You Courtside With Ladyjack and Southland Conference Volleyball