Thursday, November 30, 2023

If Two Outta Three Ain't Bad, Then How Often Do We See Four Outta Six?

 Stephen F. Austin Volleyball will play Friday in the program’s ninth NCAA Volleyball Championship Tournament. With the historic at-large bid earned this season, SFA has now appeared in four of the last six Big Dances.  This year’s entry officially solidifies the most fruitful run of performances in the history of the program.  Other than the current 2018-2023 span, there has been no other six year period in which the ‘Jacks have played in the tournament four times.

The first wave of consistent appearances came in the mid to late 1990’s when SFA had three clubs earn NCAA bids.  The first ever NCAA tournament that the ‘Jacks made it to was in 1994.  That was followed up by repeat appearances shortly thereafter in 1997 and 1999.  I came to SFA as a faculty member in 1997 and this run is what grabbed my attention and first got me into the gym as a fan well before I began working for the team.

That run of three tournaments stood as the most prolific era until now. That’s because aside from the very historic 2006 team, which included some players from 2004 – another NCAA Tournament year, all of the other ‘Jacks NCAA Tourney appearances have come lately.

Twelve years after the 2006 team advanced to the second round with the win over Alabama, SFA returned to the NCAA Tournament to take on Texas in Gregory Gym in 2018.  Coincidentally, I began working for the team in that ’06 season.  I didn’t travel to that 2006 NCAA tournament, but after I had logged several years on public address and eventually began writing in this space, I began consistently traveling to Southland Conference tournaments.  I had long made up my mind – before we began doing radio and TV and I got hired for those gigs -- that I’d go to the NCAA Tournament whenever we made it again. Many years went by.

But then, the 2014 season was as close to a “sure thing” as I had ever felt.  Sweeping through the Southland regular season unblemished, I was confident that ’14 would “be the year” as we made our way across the Louisiana border to Natchitoches for another SLC Tournament.  In the semifinals, we lost to host Northwestern State in one of the two most painful losses I’ve ever witnessed and easily the most painful loss in a match I’ve ever called.  The audio of that match still exists in my repository, but I’ve never once played it back and I never intend to. 

The quartet of setter Paige Holland, right side Jill Ivy, defensive specialist Janet Hill and injured outside hitter Katzy Randall were all seniors in 2014.  I remember after the loss the tears in a group hug that after spotting me they allowed me to join.  It’s one of two times I was so moved by emotion that I boo-hoo’d a bit on the floor.  That was a special team, full of special athletes, all of whom I still loosely correspond with and/or keep up with a decade later.  The other time with tears? The same arena – Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches, LA – precisely four years later when SFA beat Central Arkansas in the Southland Championship match to begin this now unprecedented run of appearances to the NCAA Tournament.

Now, THAT radio call I’ve relived a couple of times.  I signed off rather quickly because I wanted to see the coaches and players have their emotional moments of celebration.  As a walked from one side of the court where I was calling the match to the other side where the benches were, the fray really ensued and fans spilled onto the floor and the celebration began.  It was so surreal to be in the EXACT SAME place and experience that thrill and a small happy cry after the sadness from four years prior.  It was one of those “circle of life” experiences like the one I wrote about this time last year when we were playing in the NCAA Tournament at Baylor.

Since that time, the team won the Southland Conference Tournament in their final year of membership in 2019 and then won the WAC Tournament Championship last year and received their first ever at-large bid this season.  So, that’s four appearances (’18, ’19, ’22 and ’23) in six calendar years.

How does that stack up with other mid-major programs?  Heck, how does that stack up with ANY Division I program? A few days back, I made a list of all the teams appearing in the last six NCAA Volleyball Tournaments.  It is important to remember that the 2020 COVID season saw a reduced field in the tournament and some conferences did not complete in interleague play.  So, some programs that historically have earned consistent appearances in the tournament did not participate in that year.  Here is how the list shakes out:

For the purpose of “Power 5” affiliation or not, we’ll keep it simple and use a school’s current status.

43 schools have appeared in the NCAA Tournament in at least four of the last six years.  What may be surprising to you is that the distribution of those 43 is not really lopsided in favor of Power 5 programs.  That’s because some of the automatic qualifiers have been amazingly consistent in some of the smaller conferences.  Twenty-four Power 5 programs have made the NCAA Tournament in at least four of the last six years, with these 13 powerhouses appearing each time:

Baylor, BYU, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Texas, Washington State and Wisconsin.

The remaining 11 Power 5 schools that have appeared either four or five times in the last six seasons are Florida State (5) , Oregon (5) , Stanford (5) , UCF (5), Washington (5), Georgia Tech (4), Iowa State (4), Missouri (4), Tennessee (4), USC (4) and Utah (4).

That leaves 19 non-Power 5 institutions and the only one that has appeared in the NCAA Tournament each of the last six years is Creighton.  So, that’s an interesting piece of trivia.  For all intents and purposes, the Big East’s Blue Jays have a legitimate claim as the nation’s top non-Power 5 program.

So, we’re down to 18 schools and seven additional mid-majors have appeared in more tournaments than the ‘Jacks over our time span of interest. The seven mid-majors earning a bid in five of the last six calendar years are Dayton, Hawaii, Marquette, Pepperdine, Rice, San Diego and Western Kentucky.  Honestly, that’s a good list of schools that SFA is aspiring to join in terms of national reputation.  Those schools tend to hold one rung higher a level of repute than us in the world of non-P5 Division 1 volleyball.  Their tendencies, scheduling, roster construction, etc. are a blueprint in part for what Stephen F. Austin’s “next steps” could and should be.

The remaining 11 mid-majors that have been in the NCAA Tournament exactly four of the last six years are Florida Gulf Coast, High Point, Illinois State, Northern Iowa, Samford, Stephen F. Austin, South Dakota, Texas State, Towson, UMBC, and Wright State.  I think among this particular list, SFA’s reputation is quite favorable, if not near the top.

So, all in all, there are only eight non-Power 5 programs that have been in the NCAA tournament with more frequency than SFA over the last six years.  This will all change next year, of course, and the span of six years is certainly artificial given we defined it by SFA’s first return to the tourney in '18 after a long absence.  Still, it’s an interesting exercise to  look at which other programs have been producing at or above our clip in regard to ultimately landing in the NCAA Championships.

While all of this is rather academic and just of interest “for the record”, I’ll conclude with a list of things that quickly come to mind as I contemplate SFA’s ability to maintain this level of performance or even take a step up to the very top tier of mid-major collegiate volleyball.

  • Recruit a different level of athlete than five or ten years ago (I think we are doing this and need specifically to continue to do this with regards to bigger players that are also great athletes)
  • Schedule progressively tougher.  This is not as easy as it seems, but it would be a nice goal to look for even greater opportunities to play teams listed in this post.  Continue to avoid playing many, if any, low ranking RPI clubs.  After all, a big part of what got SFA to the tournament this year was “no bad losses”. 
  • The counterpart of “no bad losses” is “get better and better wins”.  While ALL of SFA’s losses were to NCAA Tournament teams this year, it would go a long way for the program if the ‘Jacks could secure wins against teams that wind up with RPI/KPI rankings close to where our own fell this year.
  • Finally, play well when given the opportunity on a national stage.  In 2018 and 2022 we played really stellar host teams that would have swept many other opponents (Texas in 2018 and Baylor last year).  However, in 2019, playing in Waco against non-host USC, SFA had a chance to really step out and make more first round noise.  The team didn’t play well and again, USC swept us out.

It is indeed an honor to play in the NCAA Tournament.  There is no doubt about that and this year’s historic at-large bid was a recognition that was unprecedented in our team’s history.  However, when forever looking to take steps forward, winning when given opportunities like this will need to eventually come.

Let's see how it goes against Arkansas here in 2023!


Saturday, November 25, 2023

Common Sense Crowdsourcing Says SFA Should Be In the NCAA Tournament

 In case you want this to be a one minute read, I'll cut to the chase so you can get back about your business.  If you put any weight at all on volleyball analysts predicting the NCAA Tournament bracket, then every one of them, if not hypocritical, should still be supporting SFA as an entrant as an at large bid.  Here's why:

The pervasive thought before the WAC Championship match was that SFA was a mid-seed in their prospective first round match-up in the NCAA Tournament.  That is, virtually every bracket prediction I saw leading up the WAC Championship match had SFA NOT playing the host team in the first round.  A team does not go from being predicted to be in a non-host first round match to out of the tournament all-together on the basis of two sets.

Now, the above thought is especially true considering that Stephen F. Austin was riding an 18 game winning streak and has consistently held an RPI in the high 30's / low 40's all during when these predicted brackets were released.  If you felt as though SFA deserved to play a host team in the first round had they gone 30-3 and won the WAC Tournament, then fine, my argument doesn't apply to you.  But, I don't know where those people are?  Again, that wasn't the crowdsourced thought at all.  Instead, it was widely believed that had SFA won the WAC Tournament that they would have the same fate as in 2019 - a first round match against a team that was not hosting.

(That's the end of the post if you only have one minute to think on this)

Now, provided you're willing to read on, let's do what the readers here would expect me to do given my background and that's put a little more numerics to the situation.

First off, if you've wandered over here because you're a volleyball junkie and love debating this kind of stuff then you need to know - yes, I am aware of RPI, Futures RPI, Figstats, KPI, Pablo, Massey, the Volley Talk Boards, Volleydork, Rich Kern, etc, etc.  I lurk on all of those sites, some for years, know how they work and anyone who has heard me call WAC matches knows that things from these places rather routinely make it into broadcasts. So, don't come at me with all that.  I'm not making a hometown argument based on hometown "feels" here.  Again, regular listeners on ESPN+/radio and readers here know that's not my style.

The NCAA selection committee in part, uses things such as head-to-head results, substantial wins/losses, common opponent matchups as well as rankings like RPI to make at-large bid decisions.  Even within the last few days it has been acknowledged that the committee is aware and considering the KPI ranks.

So, before we get into these things, let's be fair:  Stephen F. Austin, by virtue of losing in the WAC Championship is a bubble team for this years' NCAA Tournament.  To those of you that think it is OBVIOUS that SFA deserves an at-large bid - I'm sorry, that just isn't the way this goes.  It is NOT obvious that SFA deserves an at-large bid.  History very much places us on the bubble and there isn't much previous evidence in selections to rest on the thought that SFA is a lock.

However, SFA should not be dismissed out of hand here as well.  There are people - and they know who they are - that are doing this.  They are categorically dismissing SFA's candidacy over conference affiliation and circular reasoning.  You just simply CANNOT state RPI shouldn't hold much weight and then start spouting off records against the Top 25/50/75/100 as your primary reason for keeping SFA out.  I mean, first of all, those values (25/50/75) are arbitrary and they are based on RPI.  So, don't say things like "RPI shouldn't carry much weight, plus, SFA is 0-3 against Top 50 teams (by RPI)."  That's circular reasoning.  Do I think it is a fact that SFA is 0-3 against top tier teams?  Maybe. We lost to Arizona State and Baylor, who have stronger cases than us and outrank us. South Alabama?  That's debatable, and not so obvious.  That match was on the first day of the season on their home floor and we HAD ALREADY PLAYED A MATCH THAT DAY.  South Alabama had not.  That fact gets overlooked I believe.  So, I really don't think the loss to South Alabama should have anything to do with our candidacy.

One objective of things like RPI and KPI rankings is to do EXACTLY what we are trying to do here.  Compare Power 5 programs that by virtue of their conference alone will play tougher schedules to mid-major programs that by virtue of their conference will not.  I feel like a lot of the people that are down on SFA's at-large candidacy are double penalizing the Ladyjacks for their WAC affiliation and strength of schedule.  I mean, hey, either that is baked into the KPI or RPI or it's not, right?  At some point, you have to just stand on those ranks and say "that's been factored in already, so deal with it".

Now, are things like RPI and KPI perfect?  Of course not, and we should definitely strive for creating better metrics to evaluate our game.  Geez man, I've been advocating that in this space for literally 15 years! But, at the end of the day, if the accepted current metrics for comparing teams claim to factor in matches against opponents of various strengths, then we shouldn't be advocating for an RPI mid 50's team over a team that RPI's between 35-40.   That's just too much of a gap and too many teams to span to be logical to me.  The sampling error in those ranks isn't THAT big.  In large part, I think that's the key concept.  

Should we expect teams to cross the "cut points" and take at large spots away from teams that RPI/KPI higher?  Yes, sure, I see all the reason in the world to do that in some cases if the gap they span is just a few teams.  I would not ever advocate using straight RPI as the committee metric.  But a 15, even 10 team span?  That's pushing it.  Again, the error/variation, or whatever you want to call it in those metrics isn't THAT big.  Not a dozen teams big.

OK, so what are these ranking cut points and how does SFA shape up when evaluating them?  First, I'm writing this as of 3:30 PM on Saturday afternoon.  At Figstats, as of this time, SFA has a Futures RPI of 36 and only the Big West Championship game remains in terms of automatic bids.  The winner of that match will still RPI below SFA no matter the outcome.  So, there are 11 teams that have automatic bids that RPI higher than SFA.  If RPI were the straight dividing line on at-large bids, that means that that the last team in would be at 43.  Here are the eight teams above (at) / below RPI 43 as of this writing (again, depending on Figstats here).  I'm using "eight" slightly arbitrarily, but it creates a span of 16 teams - a full fourth of the potential field.  That seems like a reasonable window.

34. Missouri (SEC)

36. SFA (WAC)

37. Texas A&M (SEC)

38. UC Santa Barbara (Big West)

39. Texas State (Sun Belt)

40. TCU (Big 12)

42. Minnesota (Big Ten)

43. NC State (ACC)


45. Miami (FL) (ACC)

46. Georgia (SEC)

47 St. John's (Big East)

48. Loyola Marymount (WCC)

50. Drake (MVC)

52. UCLA (Pac 12)

54. Loyola Chicago (Atlantic 10)

55. Kansas State (Big 12)

Note that Hawaii is 56 of this writing and if they win the Big West Championship later today would leap into that bunch below the cut line.  The teams just above 34 are Houston, Baylor, South Alabama and USC.  I think they should all be "in".  I know the debate comes with South Alabama, but let's let RPI do its work.  A ranking of 32 seems too high to ignore.  Plus, South Alabama has a KPI of 34, so that seems to solidify their "ranking".  If there is a number you see missing from the above list it is because that team at that rank is an AQ.

We know that Power 5 clubs tend to have stronger schedules, so the candidacy of Mizzou, Texas A&M, TCU and Minnesota seem pretty strong.  While Minnesota ranks five spots lower than SFA on that list, their pedigree seems hard to deny.  They are a household Big 10 name and it seems unlikely they will be kept out.  

That leaves the non-power 5 teams above the cut line as SFA, UCSB and Texas State. There are those that will make the argument that SFA should be singled out and teams like Georgia, St. John's or Drake just straight up replacing them as an at-large bid.  To that, I say no.  No, that's double jeopardy.  You don't like RPI or KPI as a ranking, fine.  I know it's not perfect.  But, to span 10 or more spots in the ranking and single one school out and replace #36 with #50?  No, that's not okay.  The measure (RPI/KPI) isn't THAT inaccurate that we should NOT allow the final two or three at large bids to span 10-15 spots.  For what it's worth, KPI has SFA at 39 with Drake and St. Johns at 55 & 56 respectively.  Georgia does much better in KPI, however.

Point being:  If we are going to use these rankings at all, then there is enough "space" for SFA to fit in. Barely.

Overall, if you do the same sort of cut-point ideas with KPI, you'll shuffle some teams of course, but again, I see the space for SFA to get in.  Barely.

Some of the teams that Stephen F. Austin is competing with for an at-large bid play more "Top 25" and "Top 50" (in quotes because of the RPI circular reasoning point before) teams simply because of conference affiliation.  Our ranking systems take strength of schedule into account, so let that point lie.  Don't double penalize mid-major teams because of this issue.

An honest reflection is really needed here.  The "Power 5's get all the love" card can't be OVERPLAYED by those of us that watch, support and work around mid-major conference volleyball.  At the same time, the "You didn't win any Top 50 games" card can't be overplayed by the Power 5 supporters either. 

Baylor (my alum, mind you) was 0-7 against the "Top 25" and 3-11 against the "Top 50". Missouri, by nature of being in the SEC was 0-7 against the "Top 25" and 5-8 against the "Top 50".  Look, if you know you are going to play 12-15 matches against the Top 50, then by virtue of your conference you have a strong schedule.  Had SFA won against South Alabama - on the opening day of the year AFTER having already played that day, they'd have one Top 50 win having only played three total such matches.  But 1 of 3 is the same ratio as 5 of 15?  The metrics ALREADY have schedule strength built in.  STOP overplaying that card.  Just cite it for what it is, not give it twice the weight in at-large bid arguments.  That's my point.

If we are being honest, SFA is either one of the last two or three teams in or one of the last two or three teams out.  I am clearly acknowledging that "bubble".  I just believe a Top 40 RPI and KPI is too strong to ignore, no matter the other criteria and no matter the faults of those ranking systems.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

2023 WAC Tournament Quarterfinal Match Live Updates

 Set by set recaps for:

(7) California Baptist vs. (2) Grand Canyon

(6) Tarleton vs. (3) UTRGV 

and (5) Utah Valley vs. (4) UT-Arlington

will appear in the space below as a running transcript during the day:

5) Utah Valley vs (4) UT-Arlington

Set 1:

Caleigh Vagana gets an early block on UTA's Puckett and UVU leads 3-1.  Vagana then gets a kill and another block, this time on Reagor and UVU has built an early 6-3 lead.  UVU with all the early momentum behind the home crowd.  Lead built to 10-4 after a double contact called on Brianna Ford.  Timeout UTA.

Ford gets blocked by Vagana, who has been dominant at the net in Set 1.  UVU leads 13-6.  UTA is making too many attack errors, many off of UVU blocks.  The Mavericks are hitting negative for the set.  Vagana gets another block on Ford after Ford tried to kill and overdig on her own attack.  UVU leads 17-9 and Vagana has three blocks.

Utah Valley on a 3-0 run on kills by Tori Ellis and Kendra Nock followed by a UTA miscommunication by setter Blank and Reagor in the middle.  UTA takes their 2nd timeout of the set and UVU leads 18-9.  Looking like a runaway first set for the Wolverines.  Not at all what the Mavericks wanted in front of this crowd.

Utah Valley hitting .474 compared to just .125 for the Mavericks.  Utah Valley way ahead now 20-11.

UTA just can't get any stops against the Wolverine's offense.  UVU scoring at will. UVU with 15 kills and hitting over .500 in the set now.  Set point UVU.  24-14.

Ellis gets the final dagger of Set 1 after UTA got two points near the end of the set.  But, no matter.  UVU runs away with Set 1 25-15.

Set 2:

UTA starts Set 2 better.  Ford gets two quick kills and the Mavericks grab an early 5-1 lead.   Reagor for UTA gets a kill after Cuff for UVU was denied a happy birthday kill.  But, then Cuff comes right back with three straight kills for the Wolverines and they erase the early Maverick lead and force a UTA timeout.  UVU 10, UTA 9 as UVU is on a four point run.

The Mavericks HAVE to find some way to slow this Wolverine offense down.  Hailey Cuff has seven kills, Ellis also has 7 and Nock has five errorless kills.  UVU literally scoring at will, hitting .423 for the match now.  They lead 16-12 in Set 2.

UT-Arlington aced twice in a row by libero Lani Matavao.  UVU now up 18-12 and UTA in danger of being down two sets at the half if they don't go on a run quick!

Utah Valley first to 20 despite two straight kills by UTA's Jalie Tritt. UVU with only four attack errors in the match.  They lead 20-15. Shewell aces Ford and UTA is being dismantled.  UVU up big with many set points to play with at 24-15. 

UVU up 2-0 as they really have run away with both sets.  UT-Arlington can't slow their offense down.

Set 3:

Tied 5-5 early in Set 3.  Ford with a kill and a block assist early on, but then goes to the jump serve and hits one ten feet out of bounds. UTA starts off hot on offense in the set and gets kills on six of their first seven swings.  UTA leads narrowly, 9-8. 

Can UTA be first to 15?  They get first to 10 on a Brianna Brown kill.  UTA 10-8. The Maverick offense is blazing in this set.  Reagor gets a kill and UTA is 9 for 11 with no errors in the set after Tritt chips in.  UTA leads 13-10. Nock and Shewell get back to back kills to bring UVU to within one.  Jalie Tritt gets her 11th kill of the match to give UTA the lead 15-13 at the media time out.   It still feels like UVU has the edge with all the energy in the gym.  Will be real interesting to see if UTA can be first to 20 after being first to 10 and 15. 

UTA rolling a bit after UVU loses a challenge on a touch and then a Nock error.  UTA leads 17-13, their biggest lead of the set.  However, UVU gets three straight points on a Kaela Kennedy kill and then Brianna Brown of UTA makes two straight errors - shooting one shot long and then another into the net.  UTA takes a timeout with just a one point lead now.  UTA 17, UVU 16.

UTA finally in position to win a set.  Up 20-17 after Utah Valley plays a ball that would have gone long.  But the rally continued and Ford and Puckett get a block.  UVU forced into a timeout down four after a Brown kill for UTA.  Jalie Tritt having a great match.  She's at 12-1-20 (.550).  UTA 21, UVU 17.

UVU gets three straight and UTA has to take a timeout as the Wolverines are close to tying the set.  Ellis and Vagana team up on two straight tandem blocks and then a Medeiros ace has UVU to within one.  UTA 22, UVU 21 at the timeout.  Vagana has six blocks. 

Ford's 11th kill gives UTA their first set point of the match.  24-22.  UVU gives UTA two free balls in the last rally.  Reagor missed on one shot, but killed the other to give UTA the third set win 25-22.

UVU 2, UTA 1 going into the 4th set:

Set 4:

4-4 tie early in Set 4.  UTA got a serve receive overpass kill by Tritt that UVU just let fall to the floor.

Paige Reagor, of all people, gets a line drive ace off the UVU back row and then comes right back and hits a serve into the net.  UTA has the set lead 9-7.  Brianna Brown gets UTA first to 10.

UTA clinging to a one point lead after a Brown kill is followed by a UTA service error.  UTA 12, UVU 11. Matavao serves an ace as Wells and Skinner for UTA turn and look and watch it fall on the end line.  That has us tied at 13. UTA runs the middle on free ball and Reagor gets the kill to send the set unto the media timeout with UTA up 15-13.

Kaela Kennedy and Kendra Nock team up on a block and UVU has the match tied at 15.  Tritt with a kill and then Reagor in on another UTA block gives UTA a two point lead, but then immediately after that UVU scores two points punctuated by a Shewell ace.  That makes it 17-17 and UTA calls the first timeout of the set. UVU caught in a weak offensive rotatton and UTA takes advantage pushing out two more points where Ford's 13th kill forces a UVU timeout. Tritt leads UTA with 15 kills.  UTA 19, UVU 17. UTA wins a rally where it looked like UVU had a ball down.  No challenge.  Instead, UVU takes a timeout with UTA getting to 20 first again.  Are we headed five?  Or can UVU right the ship and get the set.  They are certainly close enough to still win out.  UTA 20, UVU 18 at the timeout.

Ford with a HUGE block on Ellis and UTA has a 22-19 lead.  That's followed by a Charity Wilson error and UTA is in control 23-19.  Vagana and Ellis turn the trick on Ford and get a block  UTA 24, UVU 21.  After Shewell gets kill to momentarily get the crowd all fired up, Ford just scores on push to a wide open corner.  UTA wins Set 4 25-22 and we are going to a 5th set!

UVU 2, UTA 2.

Set 5:

Wilson with an early kill followed by a Shewell block.  Then Shewell bounces a kill off the block and UVU has an early 3-0 lead.   Only going to 15! Ellis makes it four straight with a cut shot and UTA has to call a quick timeout.  That was fast.  Could that be it?  UVU 4, UTA 0.

Shewell kill.  5-0.  UTA looks dead in the water. Another Shewell kill on a tip.  6-0 and UTA with a final timeout.  UVU just absolutely took the air out UTA's comeback. 

Ocampo for UTA finally gets UTA on the scoreboard.  Shewell, who now has 11 kills immediately answers.  It's 7-1.  Make it 8-1 at the switch after a Ellis right side kill hard off the top of the block.  I think this match is over.  UVU just got out to such a fast start here in Set 5.  Could be a runaway set.

10-3 UVU after another Shewell winner.  UVU needs just five to be our opponent tomorrow night.

A little life for UTA.  Too late?  Reagor gets a block, then a Ford back row kill has the Mavericks on a mini 3-0 run and UVU takes a timeout. UVU 11, UTA 6. Ford kill, Reagor block and now its UVU 12, UTA 8.

Kill by Nock gets UVU to within two of the match.  Service error UTA.  UVU 13, UTA 9.

Ford kill.  UVU 13, UTA 10. Service error. UVU has a first match point.

Ellis ends it and we will play UVU tomorrow night.

UVU 3, UTA 1. Final.

(3) UTRGV vs. (6) Tarleton

First Serve: 1:05 PM MT

Set 1:

Zech starts off hot for RGV with three kill in her first four swings.  RGV 4-2.  RGV with seven early kills in the set hitting .333 as a team.  An ace by Perez has the Vaqueros up 10-7. Breanna McDonough gets two straight kills and then DS Kenzie Kellerman drops in an ace and the Texans are within one.  RGV 11, Tarleton 10.

Tarleton then goes on a 4-0 run into the media time out to go up 15-13. Vaqueros committed two attack errors in a row (Zech, Key) that gave Tarleton the lead.  But, RGV goes on a 3-0 run with kills from Key and Zech and a Tarleton ball handling error mixed in.  Maldonado then commits a SECOND ball handling error and RGV regains the lead.  RGV 18, Tarleton 17 and the Texans take their first time out.

This set is going back and forth as the Texans get three in a row with a kill by Schirpik, a block by Bryant & Burke and then a left-side termination by Bryant.  RGV takes a timeout as now Tarleton is back on top.  Tarleton 20, RGV 18.

The see-saw continues.  RGV forces Tarleton to take their last timeout as the set is tied late at 22. Silva Dos Santos coming up big for the Vaqueros at the end of this set as she gets a tandem block with Emiliano and then a kill of her own to tie the set up.  

Lepescu gives RGV their first set point with a left side kill.  Then, Bryant answers back for Tarleton and the set will go to extras.  Tied at 24.  Key with a kill and the Vaqueros have another set point.  A Texan error gives the set to RGV 26-24.  Key had 5 kills and Zech 4 in the Vaqueros first set win.  Schirpik and Fitzmaurice with three errorless kills a piece to pace Tarleton.

Set 2:

Tarleton needs to get their kill leader Allison Bryant going.  She hit negative in the first set and has touched the ball 14 times, but only has two kills.  It's been a battle of left-side attackers so far in this match.  Lupescu for RGV with six kills hitting over .350 and Schirpik and Fitzmaurice without and error for Tarleton.  RGV 8, Tarleton 7.

Tight second set.  Tied at 10 after a McDonough kill for the Texans.  As the set moves to the middle portion, neither team can slow the other down.  RGV at .353 for the set and Tarleton at .288.  RGV holds a slim lead 13-12.  Claudia Lupsecu has been really impressive in this match. She has 9 kills and is hitting .412.  After Natalie Reyes posts an ace, RGV has a three point lead at the media timeout 15-12. 

The Lupescu onslaught continues and forces Tarleton into a timeout right after the media break. RGV on a 5-0 run now and the Vaqueros lead 17-12.  Time for Tarleton to fight back if they want to avoid going down two sets at the half.

RGV's offense running really smooth right now.  They lead first to 20 at 20-15.  Tarleton not serving tough enough to get the Vaqueros out of system much and RGV passing well.  Hitting .462 in the set. 

A short break in the action to take a look at RGV libero Perez.  Perez already wearing a hip wrap in this match came up a little lame in a rally.  After a short break, she seems okay and play resumes. Tarleton takes a timeout after Zech gets a kill for RGV and McDonough errors for the Texans.  RGV 22, Tarleton 17.

RGV takes control at the end of the set with a block by Giani and Key and then a Santos kill gives RGV their first set point.  After Tarleton gets a side out, RGV ends the set 25-18 with a Giani kill. RGV leads at the half 2-0. Lupescu, who has 10 kills with just one error and is hitting .450 has been the star of this match so far.

Set 3:

Tarleton grabs an early 8-4 lead after an RGV service error, Fitzmaurice kill and then a Burke ace. The Texans maintain momentum and the lead as we near the midway point of set three.  Two Vaquero errors in a row have the Texans up 11-6.  Then, RGV has to take a timeout as Fitzmaurice gets another kill and Tarleton has double up the Vaqueros 12-6 in the set. Fitzmaurice up to 7 kills and Schirpik has six errorless strikes for Tarleton. 

The Vaqueros are trying to make a comeback.  After a Lupescu kill, she then slams down an overpass and has her team within two.  Tarleton 14, RGV 12.  The Tarleton lead then evaporates completely as Maldonado errors for Tarlton and then Lupescu gets a solo block on a tight Tarleton set.  The Texans take a timeout as we are now tied in the set at 14.

Tarleton goes on a 4-0 run as Burke gets a block, then Bryant - who has played better - takes over the team lead in kills with 8, then McDonough kills a right side attack and Santos errors for RGV.  Tarleton 18, RGV 14.  Key now in double figures after two straight kills.  Texans want a timeout as RGV has crawled to within one at Tarleton 22, RGV 21.  Tarleton has led the majority of the set, but RGV trying to steal it here at the end and complete the sweep.

Bryant gets two kills and is up to 9.  Tarleton has three set points to play with.  Burke wastes no time in getting a block to cut the set lead in half.  Tarleton wins the set 25-21 and now RGV has two sets to the Texans one.

Set 4:

Tarleton grabs the early set 4 lead.  Burke got an ace to give the Texans and early two point lead.  Frank and Fitzmaurice then got a tandem block.  Giani tried to close the gap for RGV with a kill and then a Bryant return error got the Vaqueros close at Tarleton 6, RGV 5.  But Tarleton pushed back and forced Todd Lowery to send in DeAssis for the first time in the match for Nadine Zech, who is hitting .000. Two aces in a row by Tarleton libero Matti Theurer gave Tarleton a five point lead at 10-5 and the Vaqueros had to stop the action with a timeout.

Tarleton, as they have for the last several weeks, showing tons of emotion and a Bryant kill, her 10th has the Texans pumped up.  They lead 13-8 half way through the set trying to send this to five. Madison Frank has had a huge set for the Texans.  She gets her third kill of the set to go along with a block and then another ace by Tarleton, this time by Burke has Tarleton WAY up on RGV now 16-8 and threatening to run away with the set.  RGV in trouble here in Set 4.

Frank gets a solo block, her 6th total block of the match and Tarleton remains in control at 18-10.  Looks like we are going 5!  Despite Lupescu nearing 20 kills, Tarleton is content to play the side out game in this set at this point.  They lead 23-16 after a McDonough shot from the right side runs the tape and falls in.  RGV challenges the McDonough shot and they win the challenge.  Call reversed and so Tarleton has a 22-17 lead.

Tarleton trades points and then gets a Santos service error to give them set point.  They've got plenty to play with after they were in the net making the score 24-19.  A Bryant kill ends it and Tarleton takes Set 4 25-19 and has a chance at a reverse sweep.

Lupescu has 20 kills and 9 digs to be one shy of a double-double.  Key has also played well and has 14 kills.  Emiliano has 46 assists in four sets.

For Tarleton, Bryant and Fitzmaurice each have 12 kills.  Fitzmaurice is two digs shy of a double double and setter Hodges needs one dig for a double-double as well.

Set 5:

Teams trade points early on.  Neither side taking control.  Tied at 5 after Key's 16th kill for RGV. Key gets another key and Bryant errors long for Tarleton and Mary Schindler can't wait for the switch to get her team a little breather.  She wants a timeout as RGV has a 7-5 slim lead.

Giani blocks Burke and the Vaqueros have an 8-7 lead at the switch. Burke and McDonough get a block on DeAssis that followed a kill by Fitzmaurice, her team leading 14th and now Tarleton has taken the Set 5 lead.  Tarleton 10, RGV 9.  Timeout RGV.

Giani goes up for a big strike that lands close to the corner.  It's ruled in, but Tarleton wants to challenge.  The call is overturned in Tarleton's favor and Tarleton has 1n 11-9 lead.

Burke tandems with McDonough on Tarleton's 12th block of the match and they have the lead 12-10, but Perez is down on the floor hurt for RGV.  Getting trainer attention. Perez gets lifted off the floor by coach Todd Lowry and a trainer.  Hoping for the best.  She is really hurting - that's obvious.

Error by Tarleton makes it 12-11 in their favor.  This is going to the end.  

Fitzmaurice kills makes it Tarleton 13, RGV 11. Santos kill.  Tarleton 13, RGV 12.

Lupescu with a monster kill to tie the match at 13.  She has 23 kills and 9 digs.

Net violation on Tarleton that they will challenge.  Perez left quad being iced on the sideline after coming off.  RGV call stands and they have match point.  Key blocks Fitzmaurice for the RGV win and they stave off the Texans trying for a reverse sweep.  RGV wins Set 5 15-13.

Final: RGV 3, Tarleton 2.

Lupescu is the star with 23 kills.  Key had 17. Emiliano had 53 assists and Perez, who had to exit with injury posted 23 digs.

For Tarleton: Fitzmaurice had 15 kills, Bryant 12 and McDonough 10. Hodges with a double-double with 33 assists and 10 digs. Madison Frank had seven blocks.

(3) RGV will face off with (2) Grand Canyon in the semis tomorrow.  Time to get prepared for Radio!  Listen in as SFA tangles with ACU.  Start time moved to 5:12 CT.

(7) California Baptist vs. (2) Grand Canyon

First Serve: 10:03 MT

Set 1:

Early on, GCU HC Tim Nollan challenged a touch call and GCU got the point overturned when the R2 determined a back row block occurred during the rally.  GCU 3-1.  Parrott started hot getting four kills in her first five swings.  GCU 5-1.  GCU was first to 10 as Wise/Jerue trade service errors.  GCU 10-6.  The teams then played a side out game to get the score to GCU 12-8, but then Catherine Krieger got two quick kills and at the media time out the GCU lead was down to 15-13.

GCU is siding out at an 80% clip and after a ball-handling error on GCU setter Reed, GCU has a four point lead 19-15.  At times in this set, CBU has struggled to pass and has been out of system a decent amount of time.  Parrott continues her onslaught as CBU is forced into a timeout after Parrott drops in her 8th kill of the first set on a tip.  GCU 22-16.  Biggest lead for the 'Lopes in the set.

CBU comes unravelled a bit down the stretch in Set 1. The 'Lopes make only three attack errors in set 1 and the Lancers don't consistently pass well.  GCU takes the first set and wasn't pushed all that hard at any point.  25-17.  Parrott 8-0-13 (.615) and GCU doesn't make a left-side error in the set.

Set 2:

CBU shakes up the rotation to start set 2 and starts out with Brown (S), Posada (RS) and Krieger (OH) all on the floor.  CBU continues to struggle on first contract and passing and miscommunications between setters and hitters are piling up in the match.  GCU 6-2.  GCU with no aces, but they continue to force the Lancers into bad options on first touch.  CBU has to take a timeout as the 'Lopes have built an early 11-5 lead.

Half way through Set 2 and GCU is up 12-7.  Parrott does not have a kill in the set as of yet.  That can't be a good sign for the Lancers.  Rola drops in an ace for CBU after two Walewska kills and CBU has the GCU lead down to three, 12-9 'Lopes.

Krieger having a good offensive match for CBU so far (6-0-10, .600).  GCU 15-14.  The Lancers take a timeout after they commit back to back attack errors - one by Chandler and another by Jerue.  GCU up 18-14.   CBU needs to keep testing Parrott in serve receive.  She hasn't passed to many really clean balls in this match.  GCU constantly playing from four to five points behind.  After a Mauser error, GCU is first to 20.  GCU 20-15.

Jerue is aced by Bella Anderson of GCU and CBU is letting the second set slip way.  22-15 GCU.  Anderson on a strong service hold.  GCU ends the set on a 7-0 run on really strong serving.  GCU has a two set lead and wins Set 2 25-15.  For the second straight set, CBU fades down the stretch.

At the half, Grand Canyon is hitting .400.  That combined with the Lancers inability to run their offense has spelled trouble so far.

Set 3:

Zany start to Set 3 as Chandler Gorman clearly hit a ball into the tape creating four touches for CBU, but it wasn't called.  Then, Parrott gets an assist on a crazy back set to give GCU at 5-2 lead.  Attack errors really mounting for the Lancers.  They have 14 and GCU only with 5 in the match so far.  After a challenge goes CBU's way, Grand Canyon's lead is two at 6-4.  After Parrott's 13th kill and a Gkiourda ace, GCU has a 9-5 lead. Uhlenhop adds a kill and the Lancers want their first time out down by five.

CBU looks done after another Parrott kill, this time from the back row and then a back-row attack after a poor CBU pass.  Grand Canyon's lead already six in the set, half way through at 12-6.  Parrott and Lifgren only have one attack error each as GCU continues to control the momentum up 13-8.  CBU really struggling now on offense.  After back to back errors by Rola and Posada, CBU takes a timeout with GCU up six, 15-9.  The Lancers are all the way down to .129 hitting now for the match.  GCU hitting a blazing .421.

The Lancers really haven't been able to get Michalina Rola going in this match.  She's hitting negative as Parrott continues to roll.  She gets her 15th kill and needs three digs for a double double with GCU up 17-11.  

Grand Canyon really hasn't been pressured in the match at all.  CBU got the 2nd set to one point a few times, but GCU has always had the answer.  They look like they are going to cruise to a quarterfinal win.  Up now 21-13 and Set 3 looks in control.  Just a few more points and the 'Lopes will have their sweep.

GCU getting in some subs now.. Frey in at OH, Reed in at MB and Schmitt in to serve as DS.  Tim Nolan using the blowout as a chance to get some bench players some PT.  GCU 22, CBU 16.  

Putting in the subs backfires a bit and Nolan has to return Parrott to the floor.  Reed called for net violation after a Frey error gets CBU to within two.  An ace by Rola and now the lead is down to one.  Parrott answers will kill number 16 and GCU pushed back out 23-21.  Parrott gets her final kill, her 17th and then an error by Posada gets GCU set 3 25-22.

Final:  GCU 3, CBU 0.  GCU advances to play the winner of UTRGV/Tarleton in the semis.

Parrott hit .593 and GCU as a team hit .366.  CBU led by Krieger with nine errorless kills while hitting .667, Mauser chipped in 8 kills.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Five Faves For 2023

 When I first began writing at this website, I posted things like this often.  I was covering the conference that SFA was playing in at the time (Southland) as much as I was our own club.  Broadcast opportunities emerged and the writing from a wider perspective narrowed a little, but it’s fun to return to an investigation of players and programs that we compete against in the WAC.  As teams came to Nacogdoches and as I travelled to do radio delivery of all our road games, a set of favorite (non-SFA) players began to bubble up in my head.  This post could be even longer, but here are five of my personal favorite players in the WAC and my reactions to watching them play in recent seasons.

Brianna Ford, UTA (OH, SR)

Ford is truly amazing.  A strong argument can be made for Tatum Parrott at Grand Canyon for the title of top outside hitter in the conference.  But, consider this, if you rank all the outsides in the WAC in kills per set, total kills, attack percentage, digs per set, blocks per set, and aces per set and then average up these ranks, Ford comes out ahead.  In particular, Ford has the statistical edge on defense where she posted 288 digs (2.74/set) and 87 blocks (.83 b/s).  Ford was just two total digs shy of having AVERAGED a double-double per match.  She fell one block shy of a triple-double just last week against CBU.  She was so hot in October that she went the entire month with 15 or more kills in every match and had seven double-doubles among the eight matches she played including two matches of 20+ kills.  The ball just sounds different coming off her hands. She’s one of the few players in the conference that can literally take over a match and place her entire team on her back.  Rarely do players impress me so much that I would walk into a crowd of opposing fans just to drop complements, but that’s exactly what I did the night UTA came to Nacogdoches.  Well after the match, I went out to my car in the parking lot which was parked adjacent to the UTA team bus.  I saw several people standing in a crowd, two of which were wearing “Ford 14” T-shirt jerseys.  Assuming these were relatives (they were), I walked right up to them, introduced myself and gushed about how Ford was my favorite non-SFA OH in the WAC.  What a fabulous career that includes over 1200 kills, 272 blocks and an overall mark of 3.30 kills/set.  I’m going to soak up watching Ford play in the WAC Tournament because I’ll truly miss keeping track of her when she’s done.


Klaire Mitchell, Grand Canyon (S, SR)

Do yourself a favor and just go Google “Klaire Mitchell ballerina”.  Mitchell is one of the most athletic setters I have seen in years. In this age of mid-major volleyball gravitating more and more to the 6-2 offense, a 5’7” setter has to be very, very special to run a one setter offense at a program as steady as that of Grand Canyon’s.  But that’s Mitchell – every bit the part:  graceful, technically proficient, emotional yet under control, commanding and always leading.  I just can’t say enough.  I’ve watched her each of these three years SFA has been in the WAC with complete awe.  Of course, the resume is there:  WAC Freshman of the Year in 2019, then two consecutive years of being chosen Setter of the Year and she gets my unofficial vote for that title again in 2023.  As I evaluated players for my All-WAC lists published earlier this week, I kept thinking back to many of GCU’s players – specifically Strasser, Uhlenhop and Lifgren.  Each of their numbers were higher than I realized.  At first glance, I was a little surprised that I wasn’t aware of this, but then I chuckled to myself and realized that it was Mitchell at the core of this.  Klaire Mitchell is what makes this team go and those “under the radar” players are made better by Mitchell’s quarterbacking.  People who know me well are aware that my favorite setter “type” is the 6’1” towering and often attacking setter that runs a 5-1 offense.  I’ll admit that the VERY first time I saw Mitchell live I furled my brow and thought: 5’7” setter running this offense? Really?  YES.  My doubts lasted only about one full rotation around the floor and then I became a huge fan.  Mitchell is in the Top 10 among active NCAA Division I setters for career assists with a ridiculous 4400+ to her credit.  She plays the position both intellectually and artistically.  The definition of grace under pressure, Mitchell has long been my favorite opposing setter and I’ll be sad to see her finish her amazing career.


Madeline Guffy, ACU (S, JR)

Sticking with the setter position in this list of favorites, here is my pick for the most underrated player in the WAC.  Guffy forced herself into a 6-2 timeshare with longtime ACU setter Madison Rohre in her first season as a Wildcat.  Former ACU head coach Alisa Blair, a personal friend and former assistant coach with us at SFA clued me in to her early in 2022.  This year, the steps forward were nothing short of phenomenal.  She’s one of two players on this list last (the other being Knudsen) that when I saw her play live in 2023, I thought “Woah… this gal has REALLY improved”.  When ACU came to SFA last month, the team as a whole didn’t play all that well.  Calling the match, that gave me a chance to isolate on Guffy a little bit and I remember thinking how much more fluid while still being technically sound she looked compared to matches last year.  She makes some fantastic decisions and has great hands in delivering the ball.  While possibly miscast as a 5-1 setter, ACU trusted her leadership and decision making so much that for the majority of this season, Guffy has run the Wildcat offense by herself.  Honestly, if she had a stronger cast of hitters to dish to, I think she’d garner more attention.  ACU is lacking in offensive punch – especially on the pins - where the team tends to become error prone.  The Wildcats come into the 2023 WAC Tournament limping a bit having lost eight of nine, but trust me, I will never, ever, ever forget 2017. Because I know what Guffy can do running an offense, this first match is one that those of us that have been around the SFA program for years are MOST DEFINITELY not looking past.  Luanna Emiliano (UTRGV) still has a leg up on her going into their respective senior seasons in 2024, but Guffy is most definitely one to watch.


Matti Theurer, Tarleton (L, JR)

I repeatedly let people know that my favorite part of the game is floor defense.  I love, love, love back row defense, so I always have a libero in my sights for lists like this.  You have to love stories like Theurer’s.  For two years, Theurer earned increasingly more important, but still rather subdued roles for the Texans.  Stuck behind libero Ana Costas, Theurer had to bide her time until this year when she earned the jersey.  She prepped at Canyon HS in New Braunfels which has actually produced several back row collegiate players in the last few years.  So, the pedigree was always there.  This year, she has really blossomed and with Hoang stepping aside here in Nacogdoches, Theurer might be a dark horse for top libero in the WAC going into next year.  She’ll likely go over 500 digs for the season on Thursday and that should be good enough for Top 40 in the nation.  Lately, Tarleton has shown a lot of attitude.  That win over Grand Canyon earlier this month really has the Texans believing they can surprise people in this years’ WAC Tournament.  As a team, they have quality at just about every position.  They really are a well-balanced club and the anchor on their back row is clearly Theurer both in terms of leadership and quality play.  I had already made her a pick on my All-Tournament lists published here at the blog before the season ending match between ACU and Tarleton.  Then, I sat on the front row in our team meeting room here in the hotel watching the match while Theurer amassed a career high 29 digs.  Thanks for making me look smart in front of my team, Matti.  I appreciate it and you’ve got a fan in Nacogdoches that loves your play.  Back row rules, man.  Back row RULES.


Kennedi Knudsen, Utah Tech (OH, SO)

The only newcomer to the WAC on this list and the only one that won’t be playing in the 2023 WAC Volleyball Tournament.  Let’s just get right to it:  I had never seen Knudsen live before calling the SFA/Utah Tech match on radio earlier this season.  I had done my homework; I knew who she was and what kind of numbers she had been putting up.  I had seen some video.  But DANG... then we get to warm-ups and I start watching her hit.  I’m telling you; she was the most impressive hitter I saw in pre-game warmups this entire season.  Like the aforementioned Ford, the ball just sounds different coming off her hands.  This gal can sky.  She was jumping out of the gym and slamming balls to the floor like a human highlight film.  Now granted, this was just warmups, but dudes, I’m telling you – it was intimidating.  That night she posted a double-double with 16 kills and 11 digs and while she only completely unleashed a time or two, my spotting sheet had her name circled in about four different colors of ink.  She must have wanted to make a statement as the season ended because in her final match of the year against Utah Valley, she threw down 25 kills on 40 swings while hitting .400.  On the bus ride to catch the plane to Phoenix, I mentioned Knudsen to head coach Debbie Humphreys citing the 25 kill outburst.  Humphreys reaction was swift: “That girl’s a problem.”  Indeed, Kennedi Knudsen is a problem.  A problem for the WAC for the next two seasons.  The Trailblazers had a down season overall, but I love identifying stud players on teams that overall haven’t quite hit their stride yet.  That’s Knudsen.  She’s my favorite player you don’t know about – YET.  Is this blog allowed to NIL sponsor an opponent athlete?  Nah, guess not.  But no matter… I’m starting the Kennedi Knudsen fan club and when she blows up these last two years you can thank me later. Behind Avery Shewell of Utah Valley, I think Knudsen is the best young OH in the league.  Just look at the outside hitters I had on my All-WAC picks list above her:  Parrott, Ford, Rola, Lepescu and Bilby are all juniors or seniors.  For that matter, so are all the OH’s that I gave an honorable mention.  As far as players with less than two years in the league, it’s Shewell, then Knudsen.  Buy now while the shares are low.

Monday, November 13, 2023

2nd Annual SFA VolleyBlog All-WAC Teams

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. 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.  For my take on this, 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.  

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.  

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 about typical All-Conference lists 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.

My take on this is simple:  Construct a first team, second team and third team that ARE ACTUAL TEAMS.  That is, my teams have two outside hitters, a right side hitter, two middle blockers, a setter and a libero.  That makes seven and then I add a wild card (WC) to each team to allow for a total of eight "starters" (imagine 5-1 plus extras or 6-2 structure).  I'm not a fan of a "1st Team All-Conference" list that has five outsides, one middle and two liberos with no setter or right side hitter.  That's not really a "team" as might be constructed at the start of a typical match.

I'll also throw in some "honorable mentions" because again, the spirit here is that honoring players is always good.  Why be stingy?

Disclaimer: (Yes, I need this.  My history in the Southland dictates this is necessary) This post was published BEFORE the official All-WAC teams were announced by the conference.  I do this independently and DO NOT discuss my picks with coaches or representatives from the institutions (including SFA!!) beforehand. 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 or two before the league announced the real winners so that the voting would be over or ending.  

I have called on ESPN+ or on radio a match involving every team in the league this year.  I have personally called and/or watched each team in the league play entire matches multiple times.  Based on what I do for a living, statistical analysis weighs HEAVY in making my picks.  But, I've been calling collegiate volleyball for a decade now and so the "eyeball" test is in here too.  But just know.. numbers/stats are what will always drive me.  Put numbers up or shut up is how I look at things in the sport world most often.

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 of athletes represented.  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.

NEW THIS YEAR:  I am including a statistical breakdown after each list.  This breakdown includes "Stat Pros" and where appropriate "Stat Lows".  A Stat Low is a ranking within the players' position group that places them in the bottom half of the starters in the conference for that statistic.

Without more delay except to say that a) I will be at the WAC Tournament all weekend long and would be willing to talk All-Conference picks with anyone who would like and b) you can always email me at with thoughts, let's get to it:

2023 SFA VolleyBlog 1st Team All-WAC

OH Tatum Parrott, Grand Canyon
OH Brianna Ford, UTA
RS Ielan Bradley, SFA
MB Izabella Ortiz, SFA
MB Paige Reagor, UTA
S Klaire Mitchell, Grand Canyon
L Haley Hoang, SFA
MB Emma Burke, Tarleton

Stat Pros:
Parrott: 1st OH in K, K/s, %, 3rd OH Bl/s
Ford: 2nd OH in K, K/s, %, 1st OH Bl/s, 4th OH d/s, 3rd OH ace/set
Bradley: 1st RS in K, K/s, %, Bl/s
Ortiz: 1st MB in BL, 2nd MB in Bl/s, 3rd MB in k/s, 4th MB %
Reagor: 1st MB k/s, 3rd MB in Bl/s %, 4th MB K, T5th MB in BL
Mitchell: 1000+ assists, 40 aces, 2nd S d/s, 1st S Bl/s
Hoang: 2nd L dig/s, T2nd L DIG, 1st L aces
Burke: 1st MB %, 2nd MB BL, K, Top 10 MB Bl/s, K/s

Stat Lows:

2023 SFA VolleyBlog 2nd Team All-WAC

OH Avery Shewell, Utah Valley
OH Michalina Rola, CBU
RS Tori Ellis, Utah Valley
MB Trista Strasser, Grand Canyon
MB Alissa Uhlenhop, Grand Canyon
S Luanna Emiliano, UTRGV
L Kiraliz Perez, UTRGV
MB Luisa Santos, UTRGV

Stat Pros:
Shewell: 5th OH k/s, 4th OH %, 1st OH ace, 2nd OH BL
Rola: 3rd OH K, 4th OH k/s, Top 10 OH %, dig/s
Ellis: 2nd RS k/s, bl/s, 3rd RS K, 6th RS %
Strasser: T5 MB BL, Top 10 MB Bl/s, %
Uhlenhop: 2nd MB %, 4th MB Bl/s, Top 10 MB BL, k/s
Emiliano: 1000+ assists, 1st S aces & d/s
Perez: 1st L dig/s, T2nd L DIG
Santos: 3rd MB K, 4th MB BL, Top 10 MB k/s & %

Stat Lows:
Rola: 20th OH Bl/s
Strasser: 14th MB K
Uhlenhop: 13th MB K

2023 SFA VolleyBlog 3rd Team All-WAC

OH Claudia Lupescu, UTRGV
OH Kennedi Knudsen, Utah Tech
RS Tanishua Joseph, SFA
MB Caleigh Vagana, Utah Valley
MB Laura Walewska, CBU
S Madeline Guffy, ACU
L Matti Theurer, Tarleton
OH Arianna Bilby, Seattle

Stat Pros:
Lupescu: 5th OH %, 4th OH BL, 6th OH ace
Knudsen: Top 10 OH in k/s, K, Bl/s and ace
Joseph: 2nd RS %, 4th RS Bl/s
Vagana: 1st MB Bl/s, 3rd MB BL
Walewska: 5th MB %, Top 10 MB BL, K
Guffy: Top 5 S in assist/set, assists, dig/s and ace
Theurer: Top 3 L in d/s and DIG
Bilby: 3rd OH in k/s, 4th OH K, 6th OH dig/s, Top 10 OH in % & BL

Stat Lows:
Lupsecu: 14th OH dig/s, 15th OH K
Knudsen: 17th OH %
Vagana: 22nd MB k/s, 20th MB K, 21st MB %
Walewska: T15th MB Bl/s, 16th MB k/s
Guffy:  Low Bl/s for 5-1 S

2023 SFA VolleyBlog Honorable Mentions All-WAC

Paris Key (RS, UTRGV), Alleah Dallas (MB, SFA), Allison Bryant (OH, Tarleton), Andrea Spasojevic (OH, Southern Utah), Bryley Steinhilber (OH, ACU), Jayden Flynn (S, SFA), Megan Hodges (S, Tarleton), Elif Teksoy (S, Seattle), Ali Wells (L, UTA)

Coach of the Year:  Debbie Humphreys, SFA
Player of the Year: Ielan Bradley, SFA
Setter of the Year: Klaire Mitchell, Grand Canyon
Libero of the Year: Haley Hoang, SFA
Freshman of the Year: Tanishua Joseph, SFA

Tanishua Joseph, (RS, SFA)
Elif Teksoy (S, Seattle)
Nicole Mauser (RS, CBU)
Lani Matavao (L, Utah Valley)
Nadine Zech (OH, UTRGV)
Sydney Reese (MB, Utah Tech)

OH: 40% related to kill stats, 25% related to hitting percentage/efficiency, 25% defense stats, 10% serving stats with adjustments made for 6 vs. 3 rotation usage and observation

RS: 70% offense with half of that related to hitting percentage/efficiency, 30% blocking with slight adjustments made for observation

MB: 60% blocking metrics, 40% offense with half of that related to hitting percentage/efficiency with slight adjustments made for observation

S: assist metrics as they relate to 5-1 vs. 6-2 usage, serving, slight consideration of dig/set, significant adjustments for observation, no fixed percentage breakdown like OH, RS, MB

L: dig/set, serving, significant adjustments for observation, no fixed percentage breakdown like OH, RS, MB.

"Observation" includes all of the following:  notes taken while calling matches, conversations with coaches during year, appearance of leadership and demeanor while on court and on bench while watching/calling matches, decision making, interactions with teammates.  All of these things are considered but would not move a particular player up or down more than one or two "slots" within position based on objective statistical measures.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Senior Scripts 2023

The following is a transcript of the 2023 Senior Day Read (November 4, 2023) done to honor our current senior and graduate student class completing their time at SFA.  The original paragraphs were written by Peter Trainor, Student Assistant for Strategic Communications.  He then sent them to Amanda Paver, our Volleyball Sports Information Director whose official title is Assistant Director for Strategic Communications.  Amanda forwarded them to me and I edited the paragraphs fairly heavily inserting various statistics and rearranging the material.  I took a fair amount of liberties with the text I was sent but Peter deserves a ton of credit for doing the original research and getting this project started.  This was my 18th straight year of delivering the Senior Read on Senior Day.  Anyone who has has to put up with me barking these out knows that I really love it and invest a lot of passion in the delivery.

The yellow highlighted numbers were updated quickly after the match by hand, so all of the statistics here are accurate as of BEFORE the match played on Saturday, November 4, 2023.

In some cases (on the fly) these were cut down by a sentence or two live, but this is the original transcript I had in front of me.

Here is this years' transcript:

This years’ Senior Day honorees are at the core of what has now been a multiple year run of sustained success as the ‘Jacks exited the Southland Conference and have taken the WAC by storm these last three seasons.  Two of those we will recognize transferred to SFA and four have spent their entire collegiate careers in Nacogdoches.  All of these ladies have aided the current club to a 25-3 record and a perfect 14-0 here in the Pressure Cooker during 2023.  We want to present each of these six to you and tell you a little bit about their overall accomplishments while wearing Ladyjack Purple.


First up is #1, graduate transfer middle blocker, ALLEAH DALLAS.

Alleah came to SFA this year after her time at Bethune-Cookman University where she was once named preseason blocker of the year, twice won defensive player of the week awards and also won rookie of the week at one point and was a pre-season all SWAC honoree.  She finished her time as a Wildcat fourth in program history in total blocks. This year at SFA she has amassed 111 kills, hit .336 – good for 7th best in the WAC, blocked 78 balls with a 1.04 block per set rate which is 6th highest in the conference.  A force at the net, Alleah Dallas

Next, another transfer to Stephen F. Austin... she came to SFA last year by way of Northwestern State, libero #7 HALEY HOANG.

While suiting up for SFA, Hoang has won defensive player of the week or libero of the week multiple times including twice this season.  Last year, she was All-Tournament at both SMU and here at an SFA Tournament at the end of her junior season was named WAC Libero of the Year while tallying a ridiculous 5.01 digs per set and 546 total scoops – both of which saw her stay among national leaderboards all season long.  At the WAC Tournament last season, she was named to the all-tournament team.  She was named 2023 pre-season libero of the year, and currently leads the WAC in digs per set. Haley has totaled 1809 digs and 140 aces in her career to this point.  Haley Hoang has not lost in this building, a perfect 28-0.  Overall, she is 51-8 as a Ladyjack.

The QUEEN of the back row… #7 Haley Hoang.


Next, From Isabella, Puerto Rico, numero dos, Ariana Pagan!!

Ari is a five-year starter for the Ladyjacks and has played in an amazing 504 sets during her SFA career. In 2019, she was the only freshman on the team to make a start and was third on the team in digs. In her sophomore season she started 27 of 29 matches and was Top 50 in the nation in service aces,  Three times Ari has had seasons with over 30 aces and currently has 129 for her career.  As a junior, Pagan had 353 digs occasionally stepping into the libero jersey when the team needed her steady passing in that role.  In her first ever WAC tournament match, Ari served up 8 aces against Chicago State, which is tied for second most in a match all time at SFA.  As a senior, Ari started all 31 matches, was SFA-All Tournament twice, named WAC offensive player of the week twice and had a nine-match streak of double-digit kills.  At the end of the season she was named Second Team All-WAC and prior to this year named to the preseason ALL WAC list.  She’s added another all-tournament nod to her resume this season, had a career high 17 kills in Coach Humphreys 800th career win against Boise State and earlier in the year here against UTA Pagan tallied her 1000th career point.  And fans... TODAY, Ari was able to pass the 1500 dig mark for her career!  In five years, Ari has only lost in Shelton Gym THREE times and a career record of 124-26.  


Now, let’s go back to the middle and welcome senior middle blocker #10 Ashley Procious.

Ash made an immediate impact when she arrived on campus in 2020 by earning court time early in her freshman season that saw her tally 17 solo blocks.  She blocked seven balls in her first ever collegiate match.  Procious went on to lead the 2020 club in total blocks with 80 and also led the team at a rate of .99 blocks/set.  That season she had a career high 9 blocks against Louisiana-Monroe and hit over .400 eight times.  Procious has 105 career blocks and a career attack percentage of .297.  In 2022, Ash missed the entire year due to a knee injury but you can almost always find her with a big smile, singing and dancing and she has been a huge inspiration as she’s worked her way all the way back to the floor for the 2023 season.  


Time for the pride of Yorkville, Illinois…. Senior setter #12 Maddy Bourque!

Maddy is a four-year starter for the Ladyjacks having played in over 400 sets so far in her career. Earlier this season, Maddy became just the eighth Ladyjack in SFA history to record 2,000 assists during her SFA career. Her grand total now stands at 8th all time at SFA and 3rd all time at SFA among setters helping run a 6-2 offense.  Maddy has hit her career high of 31 assists three times, most recently in a wild four-set win at Utah Tech.  Bourque has 92 career aces and 627 career digs, her career best in that category being 16 at ACU last season.  Maddy has led her team in assists each of the last three seasons. Maddy’s leadership during her four years at SFA have resulted in a first place Southland Conference finish in 2020, advancing to 2nd round of the NIVC in 2021 and an NCAA Tournament appearance last year.  Bourque’s teams are 51-3 at home. Multiple times in gyms I have heard opponent coaches and fans remark about Maddy’s near perfect “setter-hands”.they’ve dished out 2111 assists.


How about senior right side, #16 Ielan Bradley!!

Ielan is a four year starter for the Ladyjacks having played in 369 sets and amassing a ton of weekly and season awards along the way.  As a sophomore, Ielan was named the Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Week. As a junior, the AVCA named Bradley as an honorable mention to the Southwest All-Region Team. The recognition did not stop there as Ielan was named to the SMU All-Tournament Team and the SFA All-Tournament Team twice this current season for the Ladyjacks. September of this year was a busy month for Bradley as she was named WAC Player of the Week twice, named the SFA Tournament MVP, and later was the second Ladyjack this season to pass 1,000 career points in a match at Seattle. Just one month later in October, Bradley claimed her third WAC Player of the Week award. Ielan was a vital piece to the 2022 WAC championship team as she recorded 46 kills and hit .426 over the tournament and had nine blocks which led to her being named the WAC Tournament MVP. The previous week she had been named First Team All-Conference. Coming into this year, Ielan was the pre-season WAC Player of the Year.  Ielan has 250 career blocks, has hit over .300 and tallied over 300 kills in each of the last two years and fans... TODAY… TODAY... on SENIOR DAY… got her 1000th career KILL !! 


Fans, you know I’m usually across the way on a headset, but our regular PA announcer for the past two seasons Tyler Tawney has been a vital piece to the Ladyjacks and their fans over the course of the last 2+ seasons. Tyler has helped fill the Pressure Cooker with a booming voice to raise the intensity and energy levels. His skill on this mic has helped bring passion and energy every game day for Ladyjacks Volleyball.  And catch this... Tyler is undefeated on the mic!!  He currently holds a perfect 28-0 home record as PA Announcer.  The iconic voice of Shelton Gym these last two seasons, Tyler Tawney!!