Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Honoring Players is Always Good: A Look at 2022 WAC All-Conference Teams

I'm a big fan of the concept that what other people do well never takes away from your own strengths.  Giving other people recognition that they deserve never diminishes any contribution you might make.  Said another way, it's rarely - if ever - about you.

For 11 years in this space - and while Stephen F. Austin was in the Southland Conference - I created my own version of the Southland All-Conference Teams and released them before the official lists were published.  These posts were often my most read of the year and they almost always led to conversations among people both here at SFA and around the league.  My musings about HOW all-conference teams can, should, and might be constructed is well chronicled in the archives of this site.  You can click the "2019" link in the right sidebar and easily find the post to the 11th and final rendition of my Southland All-Conference picks.  I'll make you click instead of linking because the point is that those days are done and new days and new conferences are upon us.  But, the concept of conferences publishing "all-conference" lists remains.

In the WAC, coaches are asked for nominations. Then, those players that are nominated are voted upon by these same coaches and from the rankings submitted, the all-conference lists are formed.  I've long frowned on the "nomination" phase of this process, but I understand why it is done.  This years' WAC All-Conference teams were announced yesterday and in case you missed it, Stephen F. Austin was well represented.  Our own Haley Hoang won Libero of the Year and was listed as a second team all-conference selection along with Ariana Pagan.  Ielan Bradley was named to the first team and our young guns Izabella Ortiz and Jayden Flynn made the All-Freshman team.  All, of course, were excited and I've already posted reactions with Ielan and Haley earlier today.  See the sidebar for the list of recent interviews.

Honoring players is always good.  But, there's more than one way to do it and I'm not sure it can be proven that one way is superior to another.  Oh, I've tried to make that argument.  Again, search through the pages of the blog if you dare. I've tried to construct logic for how I always made all of those old Southland lists in this space.  My main observation has always been this: the lists are not teams - not teams in the truest sense of the word.  I'm not the only one that this bothers, but again, I understand the way that many conferences do this and I'm done trying to convince others that one way is better than another.  Instead, the spirit of this and all future posts like it is simply to champion the idea that honoring players is always good and that there is more than one way to do that.

Here's some tallies for you:  Of the 11 athletes recognized on the official WAC First Team All-Conference list there were five outside hitters, four right-side hitters and two setters.  Were they really good choices?  Yes, of course.  There are 11 great volleyball players on that list.  But, it isn't a "team".  There were no middle blockers and no liberos on the official first team.  To some (my phone actually semi-blew up to be honest) this seems to slight these other positions.  The second team fit the bill a little better: four outside hitters, one right side, three middle blockers, a setter and two liberos.

So, our grand tally among the 22 official honorees:  nine outside hitters, five right side hitters, three middle blockers, three setters and two liberos.

Of the 13 WAC Volleyball programs, eight predominantly ran a 6-2 offense and five used one setter in most matches.  So, the majority of our league used two setters and six hitters alongside a libero.  Suppose that we stick with 11 players honored as "First Team All Conference" and another 11 honored as "Second Team All-Conference", but required there to be two outside hitters, two right side hitters, two middle blockers, two setters and a libero on EACH team.  The final two slots on each team could be any position, because at that point you'd have the typical usage of a team running a 6-2 covered.  Get the idea? So, what I am trying to do here is to create an all-conference team that is actually a "team" - actually a team that could play in a collegiate volleyball match in their natural positions and run the offense most popular in our conference at present.

Now, the lists below are not simply a rearrangement of the official conference lists.  They are my personal choices for first and second team honors but under the restrictions mentioned in the paragraph above.  Last year, I didn't go through this exercise primarily because I didn't actually see each team in our new league live (because of divisional play).  This year, I called a match that involved each team in the WAC at least once - sometimes more than once.  

So, I guess this is my "1st Annual SFA VolleyBlog All-WAC Teams" the way that I did this for 11 years in the Southland.  Next year, maybe I'll title the post with "2nd Annual", but if I do it again, I'll definitely publish it before the official lists.  I had already done all the research for this post before the official lists were posted, but it just gives added reduction of bias to my picks if I publish them the day before the official lists appear.  Believe it or not, but in the Southland I got accused once or twice of actually influencing the voters because I would publish the lists before the coaches turned their rankings in.  I found that claim absurd, but started publishing the list the day before the league announced the real winners so that the voting would clearly be over.

You probably can tell from reading this:  I have a lot of thoughts on lists like this and one theory I squarely adhere to is that these are NOT team awards.  Just because a team does well does NOT imply it should have a certain number or even necessarily more representation than other schools.  Great players from teams with poor records should still be recognized if worthy.  This is one shortcoming I notice on basically every conference's lists - the teams down in the standings too often get completely shut out.  Now, there isn't room for every school usually, but again, I see no need to shut players out just because they play for a team down in the standings.

Here's my personal set of "teams" (2 OH, 2 RS, 2 MB, 2 S, one L required, plus 2 extra).  Below the lists are some honorable mentions, because again.. honoring players is always good.

Greg's First Team WAC All-Conference Actual TEAM

OH Sarah Cruz, UTRGV (My pick for Player of Year)
OH Brianna Ford, UTA
RS Ielan Bradley, SFA
RS Christine Graf, CBU
MB Izabella Ortiz, SFA
MB Allie Hair, Tarleton
S Luanna Emiliano, UTRGV (My pick for Setter of Year)
S Klaire Mitchell, GCU
L Haley Hoang (My pick for Libero of Year)
OH Molly Johnson, NM State
OH Tatum Parrott, GCU (My pick for Freshman of Year)

Greg's Second Team WAC All-Conference Actual TEAM

OH Kazna Tanuvasa, Utah Valley
OH Avery Shewell, Utah Valley
RS Tori Dorius, Utah Valley
RS Whittnee Nihipali, Utah Tech
MB Makayla Broadbent, Utah Valley
MB Lia Mosher, NM State
S Taela Laufiso, Utah Tech
S Macy Short, Southern Utah
L Hannah Baker, Sam Houston
MB Luisa Silva Dos Santos, UTRGV
OH Ariana Pagan, SFA

Others that get an "honorable" mention because "honoring" players is always good:

OH: Katie Birtcil (NM State), Grayson Schirpik (Tarleton), Arianna Bilby (Seattle), Makenzie Templeton (Southern Utah)

RS: Payton Cerny (SFA), Breanna McDonough (Tarleton), Melanie Brecka (GCU)

MB: Kate Hardy (Utah Tech), Margherita Giani (UTRGV), Madison Dyer (Sam Houston), Meredith Fisher (UTA)

Setters:  Many 6-2 Setters could be here.  I found them very tough to parse through.

Libero: Mykenna Nelson, Utah Tech