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

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.

Monday, January 18, 2021

2021: A Reason For Hope

By now you have gone from wondering when COVID-19 would first appear in your community to either having experienced it first hand or knowing someone close to you who has been affected. You have gone from wondering how to make a homemade mask to adding a box of disposable ones to your Walmart shopping lists. You have learned to high-five, elbow bump and the little waves are getting less awkward in lieu of all the handshaking being omitted. If you didn’t already, you now have scores of little bottles of hand sanitizer in each room of your house or apartment along with every nook and cranny of your car. What a year 2020 was. 

On the surface, a virus – and most other things in life, actually – don’t care that its now “2021” as opposed to “2020”. But, with every new year comes renewal and hope. Such it is for the volleyball world and in terms of volleyball at Stephen F. Austin, we have a lot to be hopeful for as we move into a conference slate which for the first time in my memory will be played in the Spring. Of course, on the horizon is a return to (dare I say) a “normal” Fall slate as well. By now you know that will take place with SFA as a member of an entirely different athletics conference, but more on that in later posts. 

But first, how did this space go all of 2020 without a post? Well, you know the answer. It’s the answer to just about every issue that “didn’t happen as planned”: COVID. Darn COVID. 

Back during the first weekend of September 2020, our Director of Broadcasts and Technology had to quarantine and our ESPN coverage of opening weekend got nixed. So, instead of television, I spent the opening Friday calling four matches on public address as the only floor worker that wasn’t required to be in a mask. By the following Tuesday night the back aches and fever had set in and the next morning I tested positive for the virus and began an eight day period of various symptoms all of which were thankfully quite mild. My wife and two youngest kids also caught it and so all-in-all a 17 day quarantine took place at my house as everyone was working and schooling from home. That pretty much wiped out my September and by the time everyone was healthy, only two matches remained on our Fall schedule. 

My absence broke a long, long streak. For 20 years, I had never missed an official home contest. Twenty years. I began attending SFA Volleyball matches in 1999, and by 2000 I was completely hooked. In 2006, I had begun working for the club. So, when Lamar came to town – oddly enough on 9/11 of all dates – the streak ended. Lamar. If you know your SFA Volleyball history, Lamar also ended a way more important streak for Ladyjack volleyball in 2007. You should look it up. 

At least the match was quick. The Cardinals only managed 28 points across three sets and so my despondence of lying in bed while a fine substitute called the match on ESPN+ was short lived. 

But now.. hope. Hope for better health. Hope for the effect of a vaccine to settle into our communities. Hope for getting closer to herd immunity. Hope as a result of maybe knowing just a little bit more about how to handle things and navigate these pandemic waters. Hope built on the patience that has been forced upon all of us. Hope for more volleyball to be played. 

So, what can we hope for during this Spring 2021 season of Ladyjack Volleyball? The first thing that comes to mind is the development of all this youth. I don’t remember a squad this young. I mean, this club is YOUNG. Of the 19 athletes on the Spring 2021 roster, 16 of them are Freshmen or Sophomores. All three of the upperclassmen are transfers. Interestingly, this means that all of the incoming classes of 2017 and 2018 are no longer with the team. That’s a ton of change. For most clubs, that much roster overhaul would point to reloading amidst struggles. Of course, we know that’s not the issue here. As a reminder, SFA is 97-15 (.866) overall since the 2017 season with multiple conference championships and two NCAA tournament appearances. 

Competition for roster spots is increasing as the club’s recruiting has skyrocketed in terms of bringing in greater talent. During a recent meeting with Debbie Humphreys she used the phrase “out recruited” as a way of describing the year-to-year increase of incoming talent that at times pushes out other quality players. It’s the way a powerhouse is built and clearly SFA shows no signs of letting up. The league voters agree as the Ladyjacks were once again picked first in the 2021 Pre-Season Southland Conference poll. 

This Spring we’ll get to see Maddie Miller dig balls for the final season in Ladyjack purple. We’ll get to see the final evolution of Taya Mitchell. We’ll check on whether she can continue to block balls and provide a level of defense that saw her land among national leaders during 2019. What about Peyton Cerny? What a huge step she took during those 10 matches that we got in during 2020. For me personally, that was the most eye opening thing about the shortened campaign. The setter position has suddenly become incredibly deep with transfers Allie Hamsher and Gosia “G” Andersohn, Freshman Maddy Borque and returner Dara Kane all having capable hands. Ariana Pagan – always the steady passing wizard - has become more of an offensive threat and now blends with exciting freshman attackers Leah Powell and Coco Gillett. 

The middle also showcases blossoming freshman Ashley Procious, who led the team in blocks in the Fall, and fellow newcomer Ielan Bradley who earned more playing time as the matches last year came to a close. All of this doesn’t even factor in the ridiculously deep bench of other youngsters and new sophomore transfer attacker Kennedy Wright, who is already drawing praise from the brain trust. So, there is no shortage of on-the-court hope and promise. 

What about team coverage this Spring? Well, starting this week Brittany Castledine and myself will be back on ESPN3 and ESPN+. We’ll cover all of our home matches on TV/streaming in that way. This will be my 6th year as play-by-play on ESPN and Brittany will begin her 2nd tour as our color analyst. For the 7th straight season, I will have radio for road contests which you can listen to free of charge here at the blog. I will travel on every road trip this season and will broadcast all but one match. So, 17 of our scheduled 18 regular season contests will have radio/TV coverage during Spring 2021. 

In recent years, I have focused more on video interviews and that will have to be pulled back a little due to the pandemic and social distancing. I still expect to do a little bit of it, but expect more audio over on my SoundCloud site (see link in right hand margin). All of this points to more articles being posted here in 2021 in order to compensate for the decrease in one-on-one video interviews. So, the blog will return to its “early years” style of more writing and analysis. 

One new thing planned for 2021 is that I will write supplemental “game wrap” stories after every match and post them here and with links on Facebook and Twitter. If you haven’t already, you can follow me @SFAVolleyBlog. The game stories at use computer content automation software. It works as a skeleton summary, but I’ll try and include more detail, quotes and stats in a more traditional “newspaper” game recap sense. And of course, they will be 100% written by a human being that attended/called the match. 

The new year holds the hope of playing two schedules in two different conferences. So, maintain your spirit of hope and keep your fingers crossed that we get to see a lot of volleyball in 2021. We could all use it and I’m thrilled for it all starting up in just a few short days. See you in the gym!